Double Effect, Reporting a Crime, Homophobic Family, and More
Q&A Radio: 3 May 2015
I answered questions on doctrine of double effect, the obligation to report a crime, cutting ties with homophobic family members, and more on 3 May 2015. Greg Perkins of Objectivist Answers was my co-host. Listen to or download this episode of Philosophy in Action Radio below.
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Segments: 3 May 2015
Question: Is the doctrine of double effect true? The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy says: "The doctrine (or principle) of double effect is often invoked to explain the permissibility of an action that causes a serious harm, such as the death of a human being, as a side effect of promoting some good end. It is claimed that sometimes it is permissible to cause such a harm as a side effect (or 'double effect') of bringing about a good result even though it would not be permissible to cause such a harm as a means to bringing about the same good end." How is this principle used in analyzing real-world ethics? Is it true? Why or why not?
Answer, In Brief: The doctrine of double effect is a Catholic doctrine used to side-step the awful consequences of their own moral code. It doesn't capture any useful or important facts about moral responsibility.
Question: When is a person obliged to report a crime? About ten years ago, as a nurse, I heard a patient planning to do something illegal – particularly, to lie to an insurance company about the relationship between her injuries and the car accident so that she could keep all the settlement money. At the time, I decided to disengage but not confront or report her. I opted for that due to concerns about patient privacy, the non-violence of the planned crime, and the fact that the insurance company could detect her lie from her medical records. Recently, I've been thinking about the situation again. I'm trying to come up with a principle to apply, and I'm getting all muddled. What is my moral responsibility to intervene or report when I know that another person is planning or has done something illegal – meaning, something that would violate someone's rights? Does my responsibility change if it's a friend (assumed in confidence) or stranger (overheard in public)? Does it matter if the crime has already taken place or is merely in the works? Where is the line regarding severity of the crime? (I'd obviously report if I even heard a stranger plotting murder.) Also, what if you might be harmed if you report, such as in the case of a gang murder? Is there some basic principle that can clarify when a person is obliged to report knowledge of a crime?
Answer, In Brief: As a general matter, you should report criminal activity to the relevant authorities. However, you should not sacrifice yourself (or others) in the process.
Question: Should I cut ties with my homophobic family? My boyfriend and I visit my family every year for Christmas, and every year they treat him rudely and unfairly. This is solely because they do not accept my sexuality, and they blame him for it. I have made it very clear that if their behavior continues, I will no longer visit them on holidays. They always agree to my terms, but as soon as we arrive, they immediately go back on their word. To make matters worse, I visited them alone this summer for my birthday. During my visit, the daughter of a family friend "just happened to stop by." It was very clear to me that this was a set up. When we received a moment alone, I told her that I was in a happy, committed relationship with a man. Her reaction showed that she was entirely deceived. I left the house, and I have not spoken to my family since. I have no desire to have a relationship with them. Should I permanently end the relationship?
Answer, In Brief: Your family's behavior has been appalling, and they should have to earn your forgiveness to have any relationship with you in future. If they choose not to do that – or if doing that isn't worth your time and effort – then you can just put the relationship on ice indefinitely.
Rapid Fire Questions (50:34)
- I'm considering buying a 'hemp vaporizer' to use to reduce my anxiety (I'm a very anxious person). Would this be a good idea, or would it just be avoiding the problem?
- Do you recommend that one refrain from all contemplation of their own death, aside from logistics? Or do you think pondering it is beneficial in some way?
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About Philosophy in Action
I'm Dr. Diana Brickell (formerly Diana Hsieh). I'm a philosopher, and I've long specialized in the application of rational principles to the challenges of real life. I completed my Ph.D in philosophy from the University of Colorado at Boulder in 2009. I retired from work as a public intellectual in 2015.
From September 2009 to September 2015, I produced a radio show and podcast, Philosophy in Action Radio. In the primary show, my co-host Greg Perkins and I answered questions applying rational principles to the challenges of real life. We broadcast live over the internet on Sunday mornings.
My first book, Responsibility & Luck: A Defense of Praise and Blame, can be purchased in paperback and Kindle. The book defends the justice of moral praise and blame of persons using an Aristotelian theory of moral responsibility, thereby refuting Thomas Nagel's "problem of moral luck." My second book (and online course), Explore Atlas Shrugged, is a fantastic resource for anyone wishing to study Ayn Rand's epic novel in depth.
I can be reached via e-mail to email@example.com.