The Moral Black Hole

Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 12 (3):291-301 (2009)

Abstract

It is commonly believed that people become selfish and turn to looting, price gouging, and other immoral behaviour in emergencies. This has been the basis for an argument justifying extraordinary measures in emergencies. It states that if emergencies are not curtailed, breakdown of moral norms threaten (‘the moral black hole’). Using the example of natural disasters, we argue that the validity of this argument in non-antagonistic situations, i.e. situations other than war and armed conflict, is highly questionable. Available evidence suggests that people in such emergencies typically do not display panic reactions or exaggerated selfishness, and that phenomena such as looting and price gouging are rare. Furthermore, a version of the moral-black-hole argument based on the mere possibility of a moral black hole occurring runs into problems similar to those of Pascal’s Wager. We conclude that we should be wary against applying the moral-black-hole argument to non-antagonistic cases.

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Per Sandin
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences

References found in this work

The Right to Lie: Kant on Dealing with Evil.Christine M. Korsgaard - 1986 - Philosophy and Public Affairs 15 (4):325-349.
Formulating the Precautionary Principle.Neil A. Manson - 2002 - Environmental Ethics 24 (3):263-274.
Crisis.Reinhart Koselleck & Michaela Richter - 2006 - Journal of the History of Ideas 67 (2):357-400.
Just War and the Supreme Emergency Exemption.Christopher Toner - 2005 - Philosophical Quarterly 55 (221):545-561.

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