Don’t be a Kant

June 8, 2011 at 11:50 am (Humans, Logic and philosophy)

Should Sick People Be Paid to Risk Their Lives?

The fact that such questions need to be asked – such questions as whether it is acceptable to receive payment for testing drugs, or for donating blood and organs, or for any other kind of voluntary behavior – is, I think, a fundamental indictment of the intellectual decay of our society.

Peers and friends have always been surprised by my virulent hatred of this subject. I am convinced that if they understood the nature of the discipline – those self-gratifying, masturbatory arguments known collectively as deontological ethics that are almost without exception ridiculous, juvenile and unworthy of discussion – they would feel very much the same way. Only the most wretched and utterly idiotic of men could think that, for instance, it is worthy of debate whether it is ethical to kill an innocent person to save five equally innocent lives. Of course it is, and the illusion that this question is somehow worth pondering is a tragic failure of human rationality.

I have no doubt that all deontologists would be utilitarianists if some unfortunate event was to strike them instead; say, if they were the ones who have to decide between selling an organ and watching their parents suffer; or if they were the five people on the tracks, soon to be run down by a trolley. That is because deontology is designed fundamentally to preach, to tell other people how to act. Deontological ethics had always been, and will always be, a luxury of the rich, the bourgeois of developed nations. “Dignity”, “humanism”, “moral righteousness” are their catchphrases because they cannot hide their moral insecurity in anything but abstract terms. For them, of course it is perfectly unacceptable to work for sweatshops, or to prostitute, or to do such various unimaginably vile things that only the poor and downtrodden would ever dream of doing!

Meanwhile, millions and millions of the poor and unfortunate – those that the first-world bourgeois claim to protect – suffer and perish for the lack of access to a good job, to genetically-modified crops, to free trade and free market. For them, ethics has never crossed their minds. Or rather, it is a meaningless term for them. For them, to be ethical is quite simply to do what is best for one and his family, to survive and hopefully to enjoy surviving. And, quite appropriately, they find any other definition of ethics utterly incomprehensible.

Even amongst the lower middle-classes of Hong Kong (a quite prosperous city) with whom I grew up with, I find no sign of any comprehension of deontological ethics. Among the many to whom I have asked the “trolley problem”, all found the answer immediately obvious, and similarly all found the existence of any contrary answer to be unimaginable. It is only in the upper classes of the Western world that we find this peculiar formation of ethics: that it is somehow ethical to impose your judgment on an unknown stranger eight thousand miles away and forbid him from doing something, all in the name of protecting him.


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