Steve Long and the Moral Object – 2

Let’s follow up on Steve Long’s critique of recent moral thinkers on the moral object.

Basically, some recent thinkers will contend that the object of the act is what I find attractive about my action. Example. What I find attractive in the golf course when I wield a club is the swing, the hitting of the ball by swinging. I don’t do this so as to ruin the turf. But it sometimes (often?) happens I do ruin the turf. That would be a side effect. But I only choose / intend the swing qua hitting the ball.

So far, fine.

Problems come, however, when this notion runs rough-shod over the intrinsic order of cause-effect discernible in nature. Say it is evident that such-and-such a dose of pain killers will kill anyone to whom it is administered. Then, intelligently to administer that dose to anyone must be to kill them. There is no other intelligent description of the act. There is no other intelligent way of committing that act. Granted, some people are out of their minds. They might be sick with horror over their loved one’s pain. Say he is screaming constantly. So, they stick the needle and administer the deadly dose of pain killer. But that person is acting from sick emotion. Out of his mind. Not acting intelligently.

I am focussing and saying: Let’s look at the act intelligently done. My contention – following Long – is that precisely because the act is known to all to be the lethal administration of pain-killer that the one moral object that this act can constitute, the one direct action that this constitutes, is killing. The doctor of course does not will death for death’s sake. But this is the means he chooses, directly, to obtain the further goal, the cessation of pain.

Craniotomy is another one. What mother would possibly disagree that the crushing of the skull is simply the “reshaping of the skull to fit the child through the canal”? To crush the baby’s skull immediately causes death. This is the immediate, per se effect of the physical act. Hence, intelligently to commit the act just is intentionally to kill. One might be out of one’s mind. But that is a different story.

New scenario. Say my son is lodged in a narrow cave. On the far side of him is a nuclear bomb that will totally annihilate the planet. All I have to do is push the ‘off’ button. All I have is a sharp knife. The only possible way to get to the button is to dismember my son. How should I look at this situation?

Well, the new morality says: I can propose to myself “the reshaping of these limbs such that space is opened up for me to get to the bomb and save the planet.”

But the old morality – which is ever ancient and ever new – says that to do so is in fact hideously to murder my son so as to achieve the good end of saving the planet. The old morality says: In this awful case, you can’t do anything harmful to your son. Never harm. The old physician’s adage. So, you must suffer. You must take up your cross and suffer.

But back to the new morality. I suppose they would go further. I suppose they would say: SINCE the ‘object’ is what you find attractive about the act, then the ‘murdering act’ in fact becomes simply the reshaping of the parts and removal of physical matter. And for what end? To save a planet with 10 billion people. Then they would say, “But it is unfortunate your son dies. Is it ‘proportionate’? Heck yes: Because 999,999,999,999 others are saved.”

But the old morality just looks at the act straight in the eye and asks its perp: “You know, don’t you, that you have just committed an evil deed, so that good may come. Can you seriously say that you did not? Is the order in nature so far beneath your intelligence that you can run rough shod over it, shaping as you will, under the narrative description you choose? And where will this stop?”

In fact, how can it stop at the conclusion: “This act is permissible”? It cannot. For the proportion of lives is so drastic that the new morality has to go on and say that dismembering the child is what one ought to do.