Philosophy Now 37:39-40 (2002)

Arnold Zuboff
University College London
For a while in this article it seems impossible to articulate a compelling reason for refraining from killing an innocent stranger with the press of a button when this would earn one a small prize and would be done with absolutely guaranteed immunity from any punishment or other harm (including even an instantaneous elimination of any chance of a guilty memory, achieved through hypnosis, and an ironclad commitment from God not to condemn the killing). After many failed attempts, a compelling reason for not pushing the button is finally articulated. A distinction is demonstrated between merely apparent, mistaken desires and real desires. One might, for example, have merely an apparent, mistaken desire to be drinking the stuff in a mug of hot mud if one mistakenly believed that the stuff was hot chocolate. One would not really desire to be drinking that stuff. A desire, which must always be based on some belief about what its object is like, would always be open to correction along with the belief on which it depended. This realisation leads to the sweeping principle that one can only really desire what one would be desiring with a hypothetical perfect grasp of all that is involved. If one desires something only because of not fully grasping what that thing is, then one does not really desire it. What one really desires, then, regarding this stranger and pushing the button has to be what one would desire if fully experiencing, among other things, the entire value of the stranger's life from his own as well as every other angle along with the small value for oneself of the prize received on killing him. This equal concern for all is morality, and what is compelling in morality is that what it commands is what everyone really desires.
Keywords morality  ethics
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ISBN(s) 0961-5970
DOI philnow20023762
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