Justification in Death: Why killing may not always be wrong
While there are numerous societies, each with their own codes of conduct, there is an universal agreement between the most popular: Murder is wrong. It's incredibly difficult to dispute this argument. I think, however, that there are some justifiable killings in this life. Three particular issues that are still strongly debated are the killing of animals, the killing of human fetuses, and the killing of convicted murderers. These topics have been debated in the moral community for quite some time now, and they form a large portion of political discussion in American society today. Without a wealth of knowledge and information about each of these topics, it is difficult to truly understand their complexity and importance that they have for contemporary society. On each of these moral issues, I think that there is adequate justification for each of my interpretations and evaluations of these problems. I think that meat-eating is an acceptable practice, under the condition that the animals are treated well and have their pain and suffering reduced from the levels common in factory farming techniques. I think that abortion is justified in the case of rape and danger to the mother; however, contraception failure and other lesser justifications are not acceptable. Finally, I think that the Death Penalty is an acceptable practice because it balances out the scales of justice and morality.
Before I begin my analysis of these issues, it is important to define my theory of Independent Moral Standing, or IMS as it will be referred to as. I believe that a being has IMS when they are sentient, specifically having the ability to feel pain and suffering. At this point, they must absolutely be considered when planning out an action. If there is the possibility that
the being may experience pain, then the action must be stopped or altered, unless there is a greater pain that could be caused by inaction. In this particular instance, there is a valid justification for causing this pain. By not considering the interests of the other beings in this sense, we act outside of our moral intuition. Pain is a terrible sensation and it should be reduced as much as possible. This theory is applied in some fashion to each of the moral issues, and it is clear that that interest is the most important factor in my analysis.
The ethical debate for the eating of animals is quite an interesting one. Both sides of the debate bring up excellent points. Some very outspoken advocates for these issues include Peter Singer, R.G Frey, and Carl Cohen. Animals have full IMS because they most certainly can feel pain. Their lives should be as painless as possible, and if they are killed for meat, it should be done as painlessly as possible. In terms of these moral philosophers, I tend to agree with Singer and his call for the cessation of animal pain and suffering, but not necessarily his call for the whole of America to become vegetarian. I tend to agree with R. G. Frey and his argument against Singer. My own reasoning for this is very simple, and it relies on basic principles of nature.
In nature, biologists have defined several inter-species relationships that are often seen. The particular relationship we shall observe is the symbiotic relationship. In a symbiotic relationship, both creatures benefit from the cooperation of the species. A simple example can be found in an aquarium. In a complete aquarium, there are, of course, fish and a small snail. Between them is an example of a symbiotic relationship. The fish eat food and often defecate into the tank. The snail eats the feces, cleaning the tank and ensuring that the potential hydrogen of the water is not negatively effected. Both creatures serve to benefit from this relationship.
With the topic of meat-eating and animal farming, this principle should be taken into consideration. Looking at a typical farm, there is a symbiotic relationship between the farmer and his animals. The farmer provides food and shelter for the animal, who otherwise would have to risk themselves in the objective being that is nature. It is unsure whether they would survive to maturity. The farmer can ensure that they live a long and happy life. In return for a life of comfort and calm, the farmer eventually uses the animal for sustenance, such as meat or milk. While this may entail killing the animal, there is no question that the animal did live a happy, safe life. In this sort of relationship, I believe that meat-eating and farming as a whole is an acceptable practice. When the relationship becomes parasitic, it is no longer sustainable nor acceptable. Parasitic relationships describe those inter-species relations where only one party benefits. Factory farming could be considered a parasitic relationship. We take their lives, but we do not give them comfort or happiness. By keeping them in tiny pens, we break the natural bond between us. This infraction upon the rights of animals is not acceptable, and it should undergo reform. It does not require the full abolition of meat-eating, but we should take great measures to reduce the suffering.
The best argument against my own is the idea that we, as humans, have forced this relationship to occur. By essentially enslaving the animals, we have given little other viable choice for survival other than reliance upon us for nourishment and shelter. It only seems beneficial because we do not know the alternative. To this argument, I have to say this may be very true. The alternative, however, may be just as dangerous as the status quo. With the
addition or removal of any animal or species, there will always be some major issues in the ecosystem. I think that if we did emancipate all domesticated animals, the repercussions would be much worse than keeping the animals domesticated. Food shortages, overpopulation, and ecosystem destruction are some of the bad consequences that could
arise from that scenario. I think that, looking at the idea from an utilitarian perspective, it would actually be worse to do than keeping the animals domesticated.
Abortion is a very tricky moral issue. There are several motives at play in this particular sect of philosophy including the value to promote life and the value to protect human rights. Many organizations, including the Catholic Church, have taken special interest in this topic, and they argue very strongly from the moral perspective. This has been an incredibly difficult topic for me to decipher and come up with a moral solution that I feel is acceptable. My best solution entails an argument that is very similar to Judith Jarvis Thompson, but I have changed a few ideals.
Thompson argues that abortion can be justified in three different instances: pregnancy caused by rape, pregnancy caused by failed contraception, and when the woman's life is at risk. I agree with two of those three circumstances. The only situation that I have an issue with is the failed contraception. The woman has assumed the risks that are involved with sexual intercourse. She was (or should have been) perfectly aware of the risks that it entailed. While I understand that the use of contraception indicates a disinclination to becoming pregnant, it was still an assumed risk. The contraceptive companies are perfectly clear that there is still a risk of conception. I see no justification in getting an abortion due to
The other point that Thompson brings up, is the concept of being a Good Samaritan. This concept I think is incredibly important when discussing abortion. I think that at any stage in its growth, the fetus has some moral value, because it is a potential life. It is not acceptable to receive an abortion for unjust reasons, because that is ignoring the fact that it is life. I think that the case for the rights of the fetus is even stronger after the point that it reaches sentience. At this point, the fetus does have significant IMS, and it cannot be harmed after this point. It is also important to mention that the state agrees with this concept in Roe v. Wade, especially because there is the chance of also causing the mother pain. In terms of development, the ability to feel pain is certainly an important landmark in the rights of life. I feel that it is important to not cause pain to anything including the fetus that you are carrying. Mothers should act quickly and effectively to ensure that they do not cause unnecessary pain. If they are successful in this endeavor, I have no issue with abortion.
The best counter-argument to my point entails the mother's own right to life and right to avoid pain and suffering. Shouldn't the mother be allowed to end the pain and protect her own life over the fetus? My response to this objection is that, yes, a woman does have the right to protect her own life. The mother's right to life does outweigh the fetus, because she has so much more to lose at this stage in her development. I will, however, still say that the mother is obligated to at least consider the potential life that she is ending. If she can possibly make the sacrifice, I would highly encourage her to do so and bring life into the world. If the mother does choose to make the choice to abort, they should do so quickly as to reduce the
possibility that the fetus will feel pain.
The death penalty in my mind is a very easy concept on an ethical basis. The concept of justice I think is incredibly important to keep in our society. Pretty much all moral philosophers will agree that punishment is a very important part of keeping society in order. From a legal standpoint, the death penalty is certainly legal, and I believe that it should stay that way. I think that the Retributivist argument is the strongest argument for this defense. There is without a doubt a sense of justice that must be enacted against bad acts. John Locke, a great philosopher, agrees with this point whole-heartedly. He acknowledged that this an important function of government to ensure that retribution is met. This is easily very true. The murderer has lost their independent moral standing, because they have committed a great moral crime. By committing this crime, they have relinquished their claim to moral standing. Therefore, adult murderers do not have any IMS when it comes to the right to not be killed. The method of killing, however, should not be overtly painful and cause unnecessary suffering. While death is appropriate, exorbitant pain is not. By causing such extreme pain, we act in an immoral manner, and therefore releasing our moral standing. As members of the moral community, we do not want to lose it, so we kill in a painless manner staying within our moral bounds.
Without the death penalty, there may be some vengeance type actions that will be taken by society. They will be either assaulted physically, or perhaps in a more devious and low way. By sentencing them to the death penalty, we acknowledge that they are still human and they are paying their price for their crime. It is a sense of respect for their humanity that we commit the death penalty. If they can act with dignity and acknowledgment of their wrong, they can be forgiven for what they have done. If the scales of justice are met, then everything is met. The families of those murdered are allowed to relieve their feelings of hate, and they
are able to move on from the tragedy.
The best argument I can foresee against my opinion is that this retributivist argument inherently argues that we should murder murderers, rape rapists, and torture torturers. Because we see this as absurd and immoral, they must still have some moral standing. I would say this to the objector: you have it backwards. It is not that the criminal still has moral standing, it is that we as a society still have moral standing. We do not want to relinquish our moral standing by committing the same crime that the criminal did. By lowering ourselves to their level, we do nothing more than give up our own rights. As a moral community, we can not abide by that kind of conduct.
This class has certainly opened my eyes to these important moral issues. I had never really considered the issues outside of the political realm. I was always more concerned about public policy, instead of the moral considerations. While I thought about my own set of morals when considering my political outlook, I never delved deep within myself. This course caused me to think more deeply about the topics and consider different opinions on them. While my basic intuitions about each issue were not changed, my explanation and logic behind them is much stronger. With the knowledge I have gained from this course, I feel that I can better explain my feelings and why my concepts are morally justifiable. The course did not change my opinions, but it did add numerous sources and logical conclusions to support my beliefs. I do now understand the importance of looking towards every issue and opinion with an open mind. Without doing so, it can affect my own development and the development of others as people. Ethics are an important concept in today's society, and it is important to understand them to be a better person.