Everyone has moral obligations (And we’re talking about them way too much)

eth1by Daniel A. Kaufman

“The most disturbing aspect of ‘morality’ seems to me to be the frequency with which the word now appears; in the press, on television, in the most perfunctory kinds of conversation… There is something quite facile going on, some self-indulgence at work. Of course we would all like to ‘believe’ in something, like to assuage our private guilt in public causes, like to lose our tiresome selves; like, perhaps, to transform the white flag of defeat at home into the brave white banner of battle away from home. And of course it is all right to do that… But I think it is all right only so long as we do not delude ourselves about what we are doing, and why. It is all right only so long as we remember that all the ad hoc committees, all the picket lines, all the brave signatures in The New York Times, all the tools of agitprop straight across the spectrum, do not confer upon anyone any ipso facto virtue. It is all right only so long as we recognize that the end may or may not be expedient, may or may not be a good idea, but in any case has nothing to with ‘morality.’ Because when we start deceiving ourselves into thinking not that we want something or need something, not that it is a pragmatic necessity for us to have it, but that it is a moral imperative that we have it, then is when we join the fashionable madmen, and then is when the thin whine of hysteria is heard in the land, and then is when we are in bad trouble. And I suspect we are already there.” —Joan Didion [1]

Applied Ethics has been largely a blessing to philosophy, having reinvigorated a philosophical discipline that had somewhat run aground on metatheory, while also providing philosophy with a new basis on which to demonstrate its relevance, within an increasingly inhospitable Academy.

But there also have been some rather substantial downsides. We are increasingly inclined to examine every dimension of human life and activity through a stiff moral lens — applied ethics rarely takes up the softer, more nuanced normative concepts that one finds in, say, virtue theory, favoring instead the hard, black and white language of obligation — and more often than not, the lens is either Utilitarian or Kantian, which means that the approach is maximally black and white, un-nuanced, and abstract. These are not the subtle morals of a W.D. Ross, in which prima facie duties jockey for position, in an ever-shifting context that makes different demands, in different circumstances, in which even overridden duties continue to exert an influence, and where practical reason and judgment are constantly engaged [2]. No, this is the morality of pleasure/pain units and categorical imperatives and of easy charges of immorality and great opportunities for moral posturing.

It is thus that a number of our most eminent moralists have turned every schoolkid’s lunch into a moral disaster; every hard-earned dime spent on entertainment into an unconscionable disregard for the poor; every cent devoted to the education of one’s children into an outrageous deprivation of a more deserving stranger. Not too long ago, one would have simply dismissed such people as jerks and told them to shut up, but today, we give them chairs at Princeton and cushy gigs at NYU, and praise them as the consciences of our civilization. (One could devote a paper in itself to the level of moral insecurity that must obtain for an entire culture to lionize these sorts of nags and scolds, in the way we have done.)

This ubiquitous and crude moral attention has created in many quarters an unpleasant, morally hectoring atmosphere, which, I believe, is more likely to turn people off of their duties than to encourage their embrace. The late Bernard Williams, the greatest moral philosopher since the Second World War, concurred and said, regarding this brand of moralizing:

“Some … writers aim to increase a sense of indeterminate guilt in their readers. Peter Singer is an example, and in his book Practical Ethics, he is evidently more interested in producing that effect than he is in the theoretical basis for it, which gets very cursory treatment. As moral persuasion, this kind of tactic is likely to be counterproductive and to lead to a defensive and resentful contraction of concern. This can be seen in research and, at the present time, all around us.” [3]

This counterproductiveness is due, in part, to the fact that few people really like “moral saints,” whom Susan Wolff described as those whose single-minded pursuit of moral virtue and conformity to moral obligation dominate and “crowd out the nonmoral virtues, as well as many of the interests and personal characteristics that we generally think contribute to a healthy, well-rounded, richly developed character.” [4] In part it is because we are all aware that no one really is a moral saint and because most of us find being lectured by hypocrites irritating. And in part it is due to the fact that most of us understand that in real life — as opposed to artificial thought experiments — we are confronted with many types of obligations and many varieties of value, all of which have their appropriate place and time, the identification of which is difficult and resistant to formulaic treatment, which is why it requires a lifetime to get right.

I say all of this by way of an introduction to my discussion of Dan Tippens’ piece, because what he is doing is decidedly not in this vein. Well, 99% not. Dan’s essay is thoughtful, his motivations for writing it are personal and heartfelt, and the essay is completely lacking in anything resembling moral hectoring or posturing. It is, in many ways, an ideal example of the genre. And it is for this reason that the sense in which it is 1% like the sort of Applied Ethics I’ve just described stands out so much.

That 1% is the part in which we view far too many things, too often, through a moral lens. I love Dan’s essay, and I love the place from which it comes in his heart. I just wish that it wasn’t an essay on moral obligation and duty. Let me be very clear on this point. My objection is not to our conceiving of and interacting with our loved ones, at the end of their lives, through what we might broadly call, an ethical framework, which can include everything from the virtues to the humane sentiments. No, my criticism here is to the application of the much narrower framework of moral obligation and duty, which is the typical province of Applied Ethics and is the subject of Dan’s essay.

In the context of our interactions with the terminally ill, the moral framework is clunky and ill-fitting. Dan suggests that terminally ill people, even when in hospice, retain their “societal duties,” by which he means things like “the obligation to work against global warming and growing inequality.” These examples are taken from Oliver Sacks’ recent article in the New York Times, on the subject of his own terminal illness, but Sacks, sensibly, mentions such obligations, only to set them aside, comfortable in the knowledge that his role in such things is over — “No time for anything inessential” is how he (rightly) thinks of them — and they are in the capable hands of the next generation [5]. Dan, however, uses them to show that the taskmaster of obligation never relents, even when a person is on his way to the grave.

“Perhaps … terminal patients have a moral obligation to improve the retention rates of hospice volunteers,” Dan speculates, reflecting a more than fair concern for the tremendously difficult, often miserable job that those who care for the terminally ill take on. Surely, we would hope that patients in such care would be appreciative and generous to those who care for them. But terrible pain and the fear of imminent death are almost unimaginable burdens for those who are not themselves experiencing them and undoubtedly, those who are most likely to stumble with regard to how they treat their caregivers are the ones suffering the greatest levels of such pain and fears. What purpose is served by insisting that they have a “moral duty” to be nice, because otherwise the number of people willing to work hospice may decline? The very suggestion sounds weird and the sort of action that normally would follow, should one fail to obey it, seems sadistic. Dan tries to mitigate this by claiming that while terminally ill people have full moral standing, they are “not fully culpable,” but this does little to assuage the overwhelming sense that the moral frame of reference is, here, terribly misapplied.

A significant part of Dan’s motivation is a concern for the dignity of the dying. Traditionally, this concern is manifested in a number of protocols that govern how caregivers treat those in end-of-life care: making sure that people are not left lying in their own urine and feces; ensuring that staff treat their elderly wards with respect; and protecting against all manner of what is commonly known as “elder abuse.” But Dan’s concern is different. His worry is that the dignity of dying people is undermined, when we no longer hold them morally accountable: “Treating the terminally ill as beings who aren’t capable of robust moral competences is like treating them as young children,” he writes.

Well, yes. Certainly, people who are near the end of their lives continue to carry moral responsibilities, but my issue, here, is with how often we want to invoke such responsibilities and in what contexts. Undoubtedly, a geriatric Bonny and Clyde, on a final tear through town, would be deserving of condemnation, and (perhaps more realistically) we would want to express our disapproval of and discipline the nursing home tenant who insists on being “fresh” with female residents and members of staff. But this is not the sort of thing that Dan has in mind. Rather, his concern is with a failure to include the terminally ill in “moral activities,” because doing so somehow diminishes their standing or status, and it is to this that I object.

For one thing, I am wary of the concept of “dignity” at play here. It strikes me as largely a matter of appearances and would seem to involve not a small amount of play-acting. Depending on how “terminal” a person we are talking about, the fact is that they really are done with respect to the sorts of activities we’ve been discussing. Global warming, inequality, and even the paucity of hospice workers are systemic, pervasive, long-term problems, and the idea that the average person, with a few months left to live, is going to have any sort of substantial effect on any of them is a fiction. If the concern, then, is with whether there is some appearance of involvement in causes, then one could easily argue that great flurries of moral activity at the end of life are entirely counterproductive. After all, who is less dignified, in this sense of appearances — the person who is comfortable with their age and condition and who gracefully passes on the “cause-torch” to those who will follow him, or the person who continues to push and push, despite its practical uselessness, all in some effort to portray moral vigor? Indeed, I would argue that there is some similarity between the sort of thing that Dan is describing and the elderly person who refuses to age gracefully — to cede the territory of beauty and sexual attractiveness to those who are his juniors — which is anything but dignified.

But this really is the least of my problems with Dan’s desire to “moralize” the terminally ill. My biggest issue is that the focus on obligation and duty actually diminishes our interactions with our loved ones, in their final weeks and months, because it renders this final, precious portion of life less personal, less intimate, and ultimately, less significant. Some philosophers may think that the moral framework represents the highest, noblest level at which human beings interact with one another, but this only represents the extent to which even (or perhaps, especially) very smart people can fall under the grip of a theory, to the exclusion of common experience and common sense.

To confront something through the moral frame of reference is to do so at a distance. On most accounts, like those of the Utilitarian and the Kantian, moral obligation and duty are abstract — they are determinable by reason, generalizable as principles, and applicable by way of criteria. Our interactions with others through this framework is consequently procedural and by design, impersonal. The moral point of view, in the duty and obligation game, is that of the Impartial Observer, not of the friend, the lover, the brother, or the son.

For this reason, it should be employed sparingly and with a great attention to context. It may be the case that we ought to be kinder to animals, but if we begin treating this as a categorical moral imperative, to be applied to every fishing trip taken with a son or daughter, every intimate meal eaten with a lover, and every Fourth of July barbecue shared with family and friends, then not only are we going to have to engage in an awful lot of moral condemnation of an awful lot of people, but we are going to miss all of the things about these sorts of activities and experiences that make them the very material out of which our relationships with friends and loved ones are formed.

The same is true — even more so — of our interactions with the terminally ill, who, more often than not, will be our fathers, mothers, aunts, uncles, siblings, and friends. The weeks and months we have left with them are precious and should be spent intimately and unaffectedly. They are hardly a time for — as Joan Didion put it in my opening quote — “ad hoc committees and agitprop.” The best parts of Dan Tippens’ essay are found in those places where his feelings for the subject come through — in his reminiscences of his father’s terminal illness and his decision to volunteer as a hospice worker himself — and I find myself thinking about the incredible memoir he might write; one in which he would be free to connect his moral feelings and thoughts with his personal experiences, unfettered by the clunky apparatus of formal moral philosophy.

_____

Daniel A. Kaufman is a professor of philosophy at Missouri State University and a graduate of the City University of New York. His interests include epistemology, metaphysics, aesthetics, and social-political philosophy. His new blog is Apophenia.

[1] Joan Didion, “On Morality,” in Slouching Towards Bethlehem (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1965), pp. 162-163.

[2] W.D. Ross, The Right and the Good (1930).

[3] Bernard Williams, Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy (Routledge, 2006), p. 234, fn. 7.

[4] Susan Wolff, “Moral Saints, “ The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 79, No 8 (1982), p. 421.

[5] Oliver Sacks, “My Own Life,” The New York Times, February 19, 2015.

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76 thoughts on “Everyone has moral obligations (And we’re talking about them way too much)

  1. Welcome back Dan-K, your thoughtful contributions have been missed. Your commentary added so much value to the forum.

    The most disturbing aspect of ‘morality’ seems to me to be the frequency with which the word now appears; in the press, on television, in the most perfunctory kinds of conversation

    This is a very interesting phenomenon but I think it has been misdiagnosed.

    1. Society has become morally complex.
    Almost every human interaction has a moral component. As society has grown in complexity and size the number of moral interactions have grown exponentially. This explains in large part the increased “frequency with which the word now appears;“. Society has become morally complex.

    2. Society has become regulatory complex.
    But something else is happening. Society is becoming regulatory complex. This is the inevitable result of democracy. Let me explain this surprising conclusion. Democracies have parliaments and parliaments busy themselves with making laws. It is in large part their raison d’etre. So year after year parliaments churn our more and more laws that regulate our lives. That is the inevitable result of having law making parliaments. The natural result of this is that our lives become increasingly encumbered by regulations. This regulatory environment has shaped the way we deal with moral problems and the end result is the “clunky apparatus of formal moral philosophy.

    3. Morality has become hollowed out.
    We have reacted to the increased moral complexity of life with a dense thicket of regulations which have shaped the way we look at moral problems. At the same time we have become narcissist and freedom demanding. The consequence of this is that we grant ourselves the greatest moral latitude but continue to project high moral demands on others. In other words, our morality has become hollowed out. Our morality has become projective. We project moral demands on others while preserving a moral free zone for ourselves. It is easier to demand solutions of others than to enact the solutions ourselves.

    You pithily summed it up as follows
    unfettered by the clunky apparatus of formal moral philosophy.

    Regulated morality is indeed clunky. Morality is the way each of us lives, not the demands we place on others.

    more nuanced normative concepts that one finds in, say, virtue theory, favoring instead the hard, black and white language of obligation

    That is the heart of the matter. The concept of a principle based, virtue oriented life has drained out of society, leaving in its place a hollowed out, regulatory morality based on the language of obligation. We practice projective morality.

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  2. Hmmm… two very thoughtful and interesting essays, I thank you…

    I agree with DT that we should not treat the dying as children but as people. Therefore I find it contradictory when he claims that we should demand some moral obligations from them. This is how we treat children, grown ups we respect enough to let them reach their own decisions (within obvious limits). We all have a right to be nasty to each other (within limits).

    DK, though, doesn’t seem to get it quite right either, when it comes to treating the terminally ill as people. I don’t think they should get special treatment, or that we should let them get away with saying or doing things we disagree with just because they are dying. Instead we should respect them as human beings and engage with them sincerely. If time being in short supply is the only reason we feel obligated to spend it with someone terminally ill, it does not seem like a sincere engagement. In that case we should have taken care of our relationship earlier. What it does entail, however, is that if someone we love is in distress, we help that person, whether the distress is due to being terminally ill or otherwise. That is part of our sincere engagement with those close to us, and even to fellow human beings in general. To do so for superficial reasons is just as much keeping up an appearance as anything.

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  3. Dan Kaufman writes that the approach to applied ethics usually favours:

    … the hard, black and white language of obligation

    … and says:

    … more often than not … the approach is maximally black and white, un-nuanced, and abstract. … this is the morality of … categorical imperatives …

    I would agree entirely with this criticism of certain approaches to ethics. In practice, ethics is almost always a tension between and thus a balance between conflicting concerns. I’d thus largely agree with this essay.

    I wonder, though, whether the disagreement with Dan Tippens’s account is more apparent than substantial. One thing I noticed about Dan T’s essay was this (added emphasis above and in succeeding quotes):

    After broaching the topic of “what kinds of obligations terminal patients have”, Dan T suggests that “we can gain some insight from Oliver Sacks” who remarks that:

    “I want and hope in the time that remains to deepen my friendships …” and achieve other aims.

    And again, Dan says that a “kind of moral obligation” is “captured nicely by Sacks” when he says:

    “I still care deeply about the Middle East, about global warming, about growing inequality, but these are no longer my business; they belong to the future. I rejoice when I meet gifted young people — even the one who biopsied and diagnosed my metastases. I feel the future is in good hands.”

    It is worth noting that Oliver Sacks’s deeply humanist account does not use the language of “duty” and “obligation”.

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  4. Excellent essay and so refreshing to read a pragmatic, grounded account of a morality untainted by the ususal abstractions philosophers sometimes take to an extreme – like in the example of terminal patients’ moral obligations. I especially appreciate the notion of moral motivation which must animate us with a desire to be moral, not just a schematic list of oughts drenching us with guilt or fear.

    Labnut:
    “The consequence of this is that we grant ourselves the greatest moral latitude but continue to project high moral demands on others. In other words, our morality has become hollowed out.”

    Good point. It often seems like we are bombarded by moral imperatives that come from the head but have no heart. Religion died and is being replaced by Reason but we haven’t figured out how to get the feeling (motivation, sincerity) into the formula.
    Love = mc^2 doesn’t compute.

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  5. On the on issue of terminal patients and whatever moral duties they may have, I agree with Dan K (Aravis?). For instance, I thought that Oliver Sacks’s attitude regarding global warming etc. was not only understandable/excusable, but also sensible.

    (Note, this is despite me finding the “hard, black and white language of obligation” personally appealing, and my quickness in invoking its grammar and vocabulary when making moral arguments and judgments.)

    However, I take some issue with your preamble, in particular the suggestion that the “hectoring” of the likes of Peter Singer will turn people off their moral duties. Perhaps this is true to some extent, but at the same time, the growing popularity of the Effective Altruism (EA) movement argues against it. EA draws heavily on utilitarianism (and Peter Singer is a proponent), and the people involved seem to be quite fulfilled, at least judging by the testimonials I’ve heard.

    Nevertheless, I liked the essay. It’s an interesting counterpoint to the usual “language of obligation”, one that I’d like to see explored further.

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  6. Hi everyone.

    Just a few short remarks here. More later, as more comments come in.

    1. Labnut: if you note, I said that I wanted to clarify that I do *not* intend my essay to suggest that our interactions with the terminally ill should eschew the *ethical* dimension, only the more narrow moral one. The framework of moral obligation and duty is only one of several, within the larger framework of the ethical.

    2. Bjorn Carlsten: Whether or not EA is effective is an empirical matter, and I simply don’t know whether or not it is. (And I’m not sure I think anyone else does either.) Williams has some citations in Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy that suggest moral scolding and hectoring are ineffective, but that book is already decades old, so… That such behavior is obnoxious, however, strikes me as difficult to dispute, and that it is extra obnoxious, when the person doing it doesn’t follow his own precriptions is even harder to disagree with.

    3. Coel: I have difficulty replying to your comment, since I don’t understand it. Sacks is taking a position to which DT *objects*. Sacks’ point is that these sorts of social obligations no longer apply to him — or, at least, are significantly diminished — because he is on his way out of the world. The whole point of DT’s essay was to *disagree* with this.

    4. ToT: I’m not sure I understand your criticism either. I explicitly said that of course, terminal people retain moral obligations — see the geriatric Bonnie and Clyde and hospice groper examples — but what I am questioning is how often they are evoked and in what contexts.

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  7. I think it is worth noting some of the key differences between Dan K and Dan T’s positions, and some further positions of Dan K which I didn’t touch on in my paper:

    1. I contend in my article that societal obligations remain for terminal patients but patients have reduced culpability. Dan K argues that terminal patients really are relieved of these moral obligations when they learn of their impending death. To give you examples, let’s assume most of us have a moral obligation to prevent global warming to better future generations. I would still hold that terminal patients have obligations to not drive Hummers (which waste fuel and contribute to global warming), and not to eat beef which comes from farms which mass-produce cows. Should they fail to uphold these obligations, though, they will be less culpable.

    2. I think that to fail to recognize that terminal patients have moral obligations (societal obligations included), is to take away some of their dignity – as you are now treating terminal patients as young children (beings without robust moral competence). Dan K argues that it is plausibly less dignified for terminal patients to continue to try to uphold societal moral obligations when they are actually unlikely to be able to make any sort of difference given their circumstances. He supports this by saying a person holding onto the “cause torch” instead of gracefully passing it on is like a person who refuses to age gracefully and continues with futility to try to look young- clearly the latter case is undignified.

    3. Dan K argues that focusing on moral obligations in most ordinary contexts involving terminal patients is actually is harmful because it diminishes the value to the interactions between loved ones. To look at a situation involving a terminal patient as an impartial moral observer diminishes your ability to interact with your loved one as a brother, sibling, loved one, etc. This could be seen as an a fortiori argument for not focusing on moral obligations.

    4. It is also important to note that Dan K was not arguing that we don’t bring ethics into the environment of terminal patients at all, nor was he advocating that terminal patients have *no* moral obligations *generally.* He was just pointing out that moral obligations ought to be considered in a more context-sensitive manner. For example, we should invoke the framework of moral obligations when a “terminal bonnie and clyde go on a last rampage,” but not in the ordinary interactions between a terminal patient and his/her family (see (3) to support this).

    I want to respond to some of his points later, but will wait for more comments before I do.

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  8. Dan,
    I wrote one comment and managed to lose it. I’ll make this one brief. I appreciated you comments on the Tibbens article. In my post-academic life, I was an RN in acute dialysis. I knew most of my patients would die in a short time. I started hearing the phrase “death with dignity” and became troubled for it seemed that the word was sliding into something else. Slowly, dignity became a nurses word and I thought that whatever was dignity was to be defined by the patient and no one else. I have seen families argue right over the bed of the patient. No dignity there. It’s just that we need to be very careful with these things. An insurance company has a very different definition than a diabetic young woman in renal failure.
    Enough for me.

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  9. Aravis,

    I can’t believe it. I didn’t think it was possible. But youre going to make me defend Peter Singer. You remark: “It is thus that a number of our most eminent moralists have turned every schoolkid’s lunch into a moral disaster; every hard-earned dime spent on entertainment into an unconscionable disregard for the poor.” Laying it on a bit thick, no? (Yes, we can safely assume our author had Singer, Unger et al in mind here although he dosen’t name names, he lets Wiliams do that for him. The Princeton remark was masterly praetorition.) I suspect part of what’s going on here is that by the time I was being educated in philosophy I was exposed to the milder, wiser Singer 2.0 while you might remember more of the blood and thunder Singer of ’72. He has been touring, as you know, with his new book “The Life You Can Save” and while we might still have objections to his positions it’s hardly as strident or even as black and white as you make it out to be here. While Singer still holds that we are obliged to give until our giving harms us more than it helps others, he now finds that people falling well short of this ideal can be regarded and can regard themselves as morally admirable, even very admirable. If you want to object that this winnowed sense of obligation can hardly be called obligation at all or can be defeated by non-moral considerations, I would be sympathetic but he still deserves credit for having some nuance. The milder version of his philosophy can be seen here: http://www.philostv.com/?s=singer&submit.x=0&submit.y=0&submit=Search
    (Btw, everyone, such really nasty scolds do exist and one of the worst is named Alistair Norcross. He gave a talk I attended that I found very distasteful to say the least.) I also have a problem with your remark that “Not too long ago, one would have simply dismissed such people as jerks and told them to shut up, but today, we give them chairs at Princeton and cushy gigs at NYU.” I don’t mind your objecting to these moral philosophers’ arguments but I do object to your seeming willingness to bounce them out of the Academy altogether. The stronger, more all-embracing view of morality is intellectually respectable and certainly deserves a presence in the debate. To run it out would be to fall short of academic ideals of debate and openness.

    Aside from these reservations I very, very much enjoyed the piece and the citations promise great future reading. I was particularly interested in your closing remarks particularly about the importance of feeling to philosophizing and how a memoir might be a kind of philosophizing. I was put in mind of Montaigne and Hume, who both held that good lives like good art are chosen according to good taste. I was very interested to find out you work in aesthetics. Thoughts on relationships between art and life?

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  10. As a hospice volunteer, I greatly enjoyed both these essays. Like Dan Kaufmann, I thought both authors were about 99% on the same page.

    Exploring the moral consciousness of the dying patient is an aspect of care that’s intuitive but that has not, to my knowledge, been fully articulated, so Dan Tippen’s essay strikes me as quite valuable to start the conversation.

    Caregivers do talk endlessly about patients’ behavior and our expectations of them in interactions with us (no violence, no verbal abuse, etc.), but we rarely, if ever, discuss patient moral obligations on a deeper level. In many patient care situations (I work in a hospital as a patient advocate and in an ER as well) caregivers are judgmental of patients, but we’re taught to suppress those emotions and remain compassionate and professional in all circumstances. Being non-judgmental is impossible to fully achieve, but it remains a core component of the value system and work ethic.

    In hospice, in particular, we must always take a deep breath and forgive everything. An accurate hospice diagnosis (less than six months to death) trumps all our judgements, trumps the patient’s “bad” behavior in the present and his/her “sins” in the past. The task at hand is to establish an intimate relationship with the dying patient. This is true in my experience across the board, with mentally competent patients and “altered” or dementia patients as well. Dan Kaufmann gets to the heart of this intimacy at the end of his essay. The patient’s only “moral responsibility” (if you want to call it that) is to be open to the possibility of intimacy, AKA love. Skilled caregivers, volunteers or paid, are good at promoting and evoking that openness.

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  11. (This comment was pending for awhile for editorial reasons, it was originally intended to appear directly after Ottlinger’s first comment)

    Aravis (further),

    I forgot to say that Singer is also careful not merely to hector but offer hope and encouragement. Recently he’s been using the language of “effective altruism”. People can look at his TED talk if they want to see a good example.

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  12. Aravis:

    “My biggest issue is that the focus on obligation and duty actually diminishes our interactions with our loved ones, in their final weeks and months, because it renders this final, precious portion of life less personal, less intimate, and ultimately, less significant. Some philosophers may think that the moral framework represents the highest, noblest level at which human beings interact with one another, but this only represents the extent to which even (or perhaps, especially) very smart people can fall under the grip of a theory, to the exclusion of common experience and common sense.

    To confront something through the moral frame of reference is to do so at a distance. On most accounts, like those of the Utilitarian and the Kantian, moral obligation and duty are abstract — they are determinable by reason, generalizable as principles, and applicable by way of criteria. Our interactions with others through this framework is consequently procedural and by design, impersonal. The moral point of view, in the duty and obligation game, is that of the Impartial Observer, not of the friend, the lover, the brother, or the son.”

    David Howard:

    “Dan Kaufmann [sic] gets to the heart of this intimacy at the end of his essay. The patient’s only “moral responsibility” (if you want to call it that) is to be open to the possibility of intimacy, AKA love. Skilled caregivers, volunteers or paid, are good at promoting and evoking that openness.”

    Yes, yes, and yes. The procedural and impersonal is no doubt influenced by the modern ubiquity of our Weberian rational-bureaucratic society (I suspect this might be a bit of what Labnut is driving at) and the consequent forgetting of an always-prior context of intimate relations, as Kaufman points out.

    Along the lines of Ottlinger’s question regarding art and life, it seems to me that this central point about intimate relations versus procedural interactions is one of the main themes in what may be the greatest single modern literary work on dying and caregiving, Tolstoy’s great novella The Death Of Ivan Illyich, particularly the role of the caregiver Gerasim, who does precisely what David Howard alludes to. I am very curious to know what both of our essayists might think of this work of Tolstoy’s and what relevance they believe it might (or might not) have to the question at issue.

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  13. David:

    I never suggested that Singer be “bounced out of the Academy.” I simply suggested that it says a lot about our own moral insecurity that we would lionize a person who tells us that we are immoral if we fail to live our lives “just above the level of a Bengali refugee” or that we are immoral for spending precious resources on care for our terminally ill loved ones, even while he spends tens of thousands of dollars a year on his own mother’s Alzheimer’s care.

    As for the kinder, gentler, less morally simplistic Singer, just recently, on BHTV, he proclaimed that supporting museums is “bad charity,” because there are starving people out there. (I wonder how much it costs to live in Princeton?)

    http://bloggingheads.tv/videos/35143

    But, yes, it is the Singer of “Famine, Affluence, and Morality” whom I find the most obnoxious. It’s there that we get the Bengali refugee stuff, as well as the observation that it is immoral to buy oneself a nice outfit. Even more obnoxious is the Peter Unger of “Living High and Letting Die,” in which we are told that we ought to eschew academic careers, so we can make more money to give to the poor — except, of course, for people like Peter Unger, who are already so deep into their academic careers and really can’t do anything else. They get to stay … in their cushy gigs at NYU.

    More seriously, the point is that once one has evoked the framework of moral obligation and duty, one has entered a rather unforgiving realm. The reason is that moral obligation and duty are taken to be overriding of all other considerations, which means that other considerations and other values are out. It is for this reason that I think this framework ought to be employed sparingly and rarely, and this is why I — like Didion, in the quotation at the beginning — find its constant evocation today very troubling. Witness the godawful “Social Justice Warrior” phenomenon that has made the internet such a toxic, inhospitable place.

    Finally, that you think “the stronger, more all-embracing view of morality is intellectually respectable” suggests that we are, indeed, quite far apart, at least on this issue. I find that view completely bankrupt, because it contradicts the most basic, fundamental facts about ordinary human life. This was, indeed, my main reason for citing Susan Wolff’s “Moral Saints,” which speaks directly to this point. The fact is that the outlook you are describing — and which Singer has built a very lucrative career upon — simply makes normal, human life impossible, and that can never be a respectable point of view, as the person making it will inevitably be a hypocrite.

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  14. Occam’s Beard,
    Religion died and is being replaced by Reason but we haven’t figured out how to get the feeling (motivation, sincerity) into the formula.
    Love = mc^2 doesn’t compute.

    You are mainly right. Some observations:
    1. No, religion has not died. It has been diminished but it will never die, as we have seen in China and Russia.
    2. Getting the motivation into morality is the essential problem. There are several solutions:
    a) Catholicism. That works for me.
    b) Buddhism. That works for Ejwinner.
    c) Stoicism. That works for Massimo.
    d) The Jewish faith. That works for Aravis.
    e) Virtue ethics. This enriches Catholicism and is the basis for Stoicism.
    f) Add your own variety of faith.

    But what does not work is moral consequentialism. It is a cold calculus that lacks motivating power.
    All of these solutions have a single, deadly enemy, a culture of consumerism that celebrates hedonism and narcissism. That, combined with a self serving form of moral consequentialism, is the real enemy and it is winning ground.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I also really enjoyed this essay. However, I think we need to steer a middle course here between moral hectoring and moral negligence.

    I agree on the part that moral hectoring can be annoying (and enraging at times) and turn off people to even look at the issue. There is also research to show that for moral issues (such as racial biases), events that promote guilt and shame lead to increase in the very bias that was the target of the event so clearly the practical benefit of the strategy is questionable.

    With that said, I think there is an equal danger of ignoring key moral issues by not having it be brought up as a concern. Whether or not Peter Singer or other moral philosopher makes us feel guilty doesn’t change the situation, even if we can question how they try to address it (With Peter it’s actually questionable as clearly with the animal rights movement he has been tremendously successful). And in some situations, especially those of societal injustices, change is not going to occur without moral hectoring and other unpleasant methods so while as a general rule, I would not approve it, I would be careful to dismiss it all together.

    One possible solution that I think is promising is how psychologists have worked to address guilt/shame before they actually engage in the charged topic, which has shown to work much better at having people confront the biases they might have, even in the face of feeling guilty or shameful. The trick of course is how we can generalize this as most people now a days launch into full moral outrage, purposely trying to shame the other person and the other person naturally pulls away in anger.

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  16. Evening Aravis,

    Sacks is taking a position to which DT *objects*. … The whole point of DT’s essay was to *disagree* with this.

    If so then I had misinterpreted Dan T’s essay. I had taken him as lauding Sacks and his approach, which is why I suggested that the differences with your essay might not be that great.

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  17. Miles,

    I have added a link to Dan T’s essay now, but it is the previous one on this magazine, linked to also at the bottom of Dan K’s post.

    Coel,

    Dan T. did quote Sacks approvingly, but he differed from Sacks on that specific point, as Aravis/Dan K. points out.

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  18. A lovely essay from DK, humane and readable. I’m not so sure about the places in DT’s heart, tho. Sounded to me like he was criticizing the behavior of the dying, judging and scoring points off them. It would be less stressful on hospice workers if the dying all submitted to orderly assisted suicide protocols and stopped carrying on.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. A few quick thoughts.

    The overall thought is that I am of two minds about this piece, or more.

    Per Dan’s first citation, from Sacks, about continuing to fight global warming, a lot of people don’t give a fig about that long before they die, as we all know, so, while we might want to hold people to moral duties, we’re unable to actually do so in a democratic society.

    The second issue, though, I disagree. I saw Dan-T’s piece (thanks Labnut) as being about giving the dying moral free space as much as chiding them for ongoing moral obligations. And, that part of Dan-T is not about role-playing. And, for someone for whom this has been a large part of his or her life before becoming terminally ill, it is a denial of part of their core self to keep them from still fighting against nuclear weapons, global warming, or whatever.

    To take this back to Sacks: If he chooses to stop worrying about global warming, that’s his choice. If a family member who is a caregiver or heir says, “No, Oliver, you cannot write another check to Greenpeace even though you’re of sound mind,” that’s ethically wrong. And, in such cases, that would be the unaffected Papaw, the one who still wants to send a check to Greenpeace.

    I do think that Dan-K is right in seeing Dan-T as writing primarily from a virtue ethics POV. That said, we’re not all Socrates. But, per the other moral theories, we’re not all Mill or Kant, either. Some of us are eclectic. Maybe we contain moral multitudes.

    Finally, with a nod to Dan-K’s Wittgenstein: I think both Dan’s are using the idea of “moral obligations” very similarly, so I don’t think they’re talking past each other.

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  20. Dan K,

    I read Dan T’s essay as an interesting case study in ethical theory. What I found especially interesting–something that Dan T discussed at length in his response to a comment of mine–were the issues of ability and culpability with regard to the ethical situation of a dying person. Such issues, it seems to me, tap into deep general questions of ethics, connecting Dan T’s topic to such broader issues as free will.

    The argument of your essay appears to be:

    [P] Relevant ethical theory has negative societal manifestations: proliferation of ethics boards, guilt-tripping academics, ethical preoccupations that undermine authentic relationships.
    [C] Therefore, we shouldn’t think so much about relevant ethical theory.

    I question the truth of [P] but I’ll focus on the fact that [C] doesn’t follow.

    Any area of theory has the potential to be mis-valued by society and thus to give rise to social negatives. When this happens, it doesn’t mean the relevant theory is without value. To illustrate, a biologist or a physicist might become so absorbed in their lens on the world that it undermines their authentic relations with others, but this doesn’t mean we should think less about biology and physics as a society.

    Your apparent view that relevant ethical theory is inherently problematic–e.g. not a valid source of insight–should be argued for directly, as opposed to an assumption slipped by us behind a smokescreen of supposed social negatives caused by the theory.

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  21. Paul: It is the framework of obligation and duty that I find to be inherently problematic — at least, in that it is overused and has the negative effects you describe. I see nothing problematic in the evocation of ethics in the broader sense.

    As I said in the essay:

    “Let me be very clear on this point. My objection is not to our conceiving of and interacting with our loved ones, at the end of their lives, through what we might broadly call, an ethical framework, which can include everything from the virtues to the humane sentiments. No, my criticism here is to the application of the much narrower framework of moral obligation and duty, which is the typical province of Applied Ethics…”

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  22. Aravis/Dan-K I think I’m going to have to disagree a bit, at least with the caveat of reading between the lines.

    While Dan-T may have overstated things with a heavy use of “obligation,” I think he was doing so in context of the classical-era “good death,” which has always struck me as being about virtue ethics as much as anything. Certainly, Socrates, in telling Crito to repay the cock to Asclepius, doesn’t seem like he just digested some Kant 2,000 years in advance.

    I will admit that that does involve some reading between the lines. Or, some distinguishing of first-order and second-order meaning, perhaps more. (Dan can weigh in if he thinks I’m misreading him, but I don’t think he does.) Certainly, for those who order their life in fair part around moral duty, living the end of one’s life as a consistent fulfillment of moral duties is ultimately virtue ethics, not Kantianism.

    (And, that said, that’s another reason why I don’t think there are such things as pure schools of ethics! Utilitarians, after all, will “weight” some ethical issues higher than others. On what grounds do they do this? It’s usually not purely utilitarian.)

    Per an email I sent to Dan-T, I’m going to explain more of my interest in this.

    As I noted on his piece, I taught death and dying issues in college. It was as an adjunct, else, I’d be a professor today rather than an ink-stained wretch.

    But, it wasn’t to 21-year-olds. Rather, it was in Michigan, to adult-education collegians, mainly UAW workers using union benefits to try to get a degree before the next Ford or GM layoff. Needless to say, a class like this teaches a LOT differently to 41-year-olds, or 51-year-olds, than to 21-year-olds.

    Add in that I first taught it at the time of Jack Kevorkian’s first trial, and that it was just two years after I’d finished doing intellectual judo on my graduate divinity school education, and it was quite interesting indeed.

    This gets into broader issues, which also go back to classical times, most notably, Aristotle’s dictum that man is a social animal. (Sic on that as better translation than the “usual.”)

    Social interactions often involve obligations. Not all of them are necessarily moral; tit-for-tat altruism, even if done consciously rather than unconsciously, arguably is NOT. But, some of them are, even if our options for opting out are sometimes limited. Per Dan-T’s piece, and one commenter there, times like this challenge strongly temptations to selfishness. One arguably has obligations not to add more grit to the gears of the system. Besides, if the system gums up, it may gum up on YOU.

    This in turn gets a bit to what I called obligations to self, over there. (And, I’ll probably have more comment over there.) I think that, if we use the word “obligations” less rigorously than a Singer, or a Kant, a lot of people will recognize the gist of the idea.

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  23. Socratic, you may very well be right about how Dan T intended this. He said something similar to me in private conversation, just tonight.

    That said, I did also push a little bit against this particular application of virtue theory. The questions I raised about the concept of dignity in play and the comparison I made to the person who will not age gracefully were all directed at that reading of Dan Ts piece.

    I should say that I have told Dan T privately that I think he has a publishable piece here. All he needs to do is say more about the “ought implies can’ principle — vis a vis his remarks about culpability — go into greater depth on the concept of dignity he is working with, perhaps blur the lines a little between obligation and virtue, and look around at some more of the literature on the topic, but I think he has the skeleton of a publishable paper.

    Liked by 1 person

  24. I found DanK’s response interesting and insightful, and found myself agreeing with most of it. I think that DanK was a little more brusque with the stricter ethicists of our day than is needed, but there’s no doubt that such strict definitions of morality have rather muddied the waters than clarified them (helping to “hollow out” public discourse of morality, as labnut noted).

    SusanR makes an interesting remark in her last comment on DanT’s essay: “(…) most people who are, by nature or by choice, civil, will continue to be so under hospice care.” (Grumpier patients modify their behavior somewhat in response to social pressures in the environment.) The interest in this remark is that it reminds us that people will largely retain the personalities they’ve developed over a lifetime of experience. It’s placing an unnecessary burden on them to demand that they become someone wholly new in hospice – although, of course, perhaps paradoxically (perhaps not), the suffering and stress of their condition will redefine their personalities as their condition worsens.

    I’ll repeat a remark of my own, to DanT’s essay, that in review I thought of some importance to this issue (and links with DanK’s essay): “They felt they had been ‘masters of their fate’ for decades, and now found themselves the victims of fate. I suppose we can hold them accountable for this response, but why would we want to?” Why indeed? I actually have more issues with DanT’s essay than does DanK, but I think from a similar ground: Why now, as these people are passing, do we feel any need to find a moral right to their behavior, or think they still owe us anything, other than to be who they are?

    I’ve been reading Tetsuro Watsuji lately; he makes an interesting case that building a ‘top-down’ argument for ethics – that is, trying to determine principles first, that an individual must be accountable for – is simply a mistake. He argues that ethics always must be thought through ‘bottom up,’ on the presumption that ethical behavior always begins in social relationship. Rather than beginning with the question, ‘what obligations remain for the dying person in hospice?’ we should begin, with SusanR, by asking what ethical behavior actually occurs in the actual hospice social context.

    One last word about DanT’s friend Joe here: Joe really needs to review what his role demands of him, and check his own judgments at the door. Sam can’t use Joe’s judgments, and doesn’t need them. He needs what a volunteer provides (as I remarked previously) – reminder that he is a valued member of the community even to the last. Caring demands that.

    (I’m glad Gerald Herrin made a similar point, briefly but to the point, on this thread.)

    BTW: Interesting panel discussion on these issues at the Aspen Institute: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AkuEuq977d4.

    Coel: nice try; largely irrelevant. Hospice care ethics, please?

    Socratic: There’s no ‘good death’ – just death. Our disappointment with that creates many of the problems here.

    Liked by 1 person

  25. Aravis,

    ” , , , I think your assessment of Dan T.’s motives is unfair. Also, a little bit harsh. The guy lost his father, for God’s sake.”

    Unfair? I don’t know. Harsh, true, but I think it’s deserved. I lost my father, and most people did or will. I did not write an essay suggesting that he behaved rather badly in hospital, and that we have a moral obligation to discipline the dying!

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  26. Dan-K,
    the point is that once one has evoked the framework of moral obligation and duty, one has entered a rather unforgiving realm. The reason is that moral obligation and duty are taken to be overriding of all other considerations, which means that other considerations and other values are out. It is for this reason that I think this framework ought to be employed sparingly and rarely, and this is why I — like Didion, in the quotation at the beginning — find its constant evocation today very troubling. Witness the godawful “Social Justice Warrior” phenomenon that has made the internet such a toxic, inhospitable place.

    This sums up the matter rather nicely and I must thank Dan-K for articulating something so clearly that I had only felt but never analysed. It is a hollowed out, prescriptive morality that has no heart, no inner flame of motivation. It is the inner moral flame that makes morality both humane and loving, soft, kind and considerate.

    But what supplies that inner flame?

    When replying to Dan-T’s example of the adoption confidentiality dilemma I emphasised the importance of keeping one’s promise. What I nearly said then was what my parents often said to me “a gentleman’s word is his honour. A gentleman never breaks his promise“.

    Ah, that quaint and dying concept of the gentleman. I grew up with the example of a gentleman being held before me, that I should emulate and become. The mythical gentleman represented the perfect combination of all the virtues that made up gentlemanly conduct. The gentleman was the visible symbol, exemplar of virtue ethics.

    And so I grew up with an inner moral flame, based on a vision of virtue ethics, represented by an ideal gentleman. That was the kind of person I wished to be. That was how I wished to behave. That vision guided my behaviour. After a mostly atheist life I was confronted by the realisation that God does indeed exist. My consequent embrace of Catholicism exposed me to a new belief, that love was the central value in life.

    That was my personal journey and others take different paths through life. I deeply respect that, just as I hope they respect my path. But whatever the journey, we need an inner moral beacon that lights up our choices.

    The phenomenon that Dan-K describes so well is the consequence of a hollowed out morality that lacks a defining inner moral beacon and so it resorts to rule the based prescriptivism of rights, obligations and duties.

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  27. From today’s BBC news Sir Tim Hunt resigns from university role over girls comment

    A Nobel laureate has resigned from his position as honorary professor at a UK university after he made comments about the “trouble with girls” in science.

    This is a perfect example of the zealous activity of the righteous moral police and it illustrates Dan-K’s point of “the godawful “Social Justice Warrior” phenomenon“.

    Sir Tim Hunt showed poor judgement and a regrettable attitude with his clumsy attempt at irony, that much is true. But he honestly stated things as he saw them. We might not like what he said and the way he said it but his misguided honesty could be a useful occasion for self examination by universities. Striking down the unwise messenger serves mainly to satisfy our atavistic instincts. The poor fellow is 72 and probably one step away from dotage. We should give him another glass of sherry and hope for more amusing stories about his imaginary love life 🙂

    And so everything we say must go through a fine tooth comb lest we offend the Social Justice Warriors, reducing all we say to anodyne dissimulation. Heaven help us.

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  28. Astro:

    “I’m not so sure about the places in DT’s heart, tho. Sounded to me like he was criticizing the behavior of the dying, judging and scoring points off them. It would be less stressful on hospice workers if the dying all submitted to orderly assisted suicide protocols and stopped carrying on.”

    “Aravis,
    ” , , , I think your assessment of Dan T.’s motives is unfair. Also, a little bit harsh. The guy lost his father, for God’s sake.”
    Unfair? I don’t know. Harsh, true, but I think it’s deserved. I lost my father, and most people did or will. I did not write an essay suggesting that he behaved rather badly in hospital, and that we have a moral obligation to discipline the dying!”

    I lament that you saw my intentions for writing this paper, it seems, as having some kind of nazi-like hostility toward the dying. Remember that I did lose my father which means I know that every dying person is somebody’s father, friend, son, brother, (or mother, daughter, sister, etc). This means that I personally understand that there are many reasons to cherish terminal patients, and certainly not to want them to commit suicide.

    I also volunteered for hospice because I care about comforting others going through this hard time, which includes the hospice patients themselves. No, I did not get into hospice because i have the sadistic desire to discipline the dying on their way out… Lastly, much of my support for my claims came from the appeal to the dignity of the dying; that to continue to recognize that terminal patients have moral obligations is to grant them more dignity. This is far from indicating some kind of malicious intent toward the dying.

    On a content-related note, there are two things to say.

    “It would be less stressful on hospice workers if the dying all submitted to orderly assisted suicide protocols and stopped carrying on.”

    I do hope this is sarcasm, because it is clear that just because Eve might be causing some stress on Sally and have an obligation to reduce that stress, that doesn’t mean that it is best, that we want, or that we would even consider instructing Eve to commit suicide to remove the source of stress on Sally.. there are obviously ethical middle-grounds to take… I was trying to navigate these intermediate waters.

    Second, you said “I did not write an essay suggesting that he behaved rather badly in the hospital, and that we have a moral obligation to discipline the dying!” Neither did I, please see the entire second half of the paper I wrote, especially the part about their *prima facie excuse.* Not to mention I simply never said anything about *us* having a moral obligation to discipline the dying.

    Look, all I can say is that I hope in the future when it comes to touchy subjects you will read very carefully before launching accusations, because they have the potential to stifle what could be a very fruitful discourse about a new topic. I have benefited and learned so much from the commentators on here. Dan-K and I feel truly lucky to have had such a productive comment thread. For example Socratic, Ejwinner, David Howard, and Gerald Herrin were particularly insightful to me, and are causing very strong tugs at my intuitions on this topic. This is something very rare on internet discussion threads, in my experience. It saddens me that instead of getting comments from you which tug at my intuitions, they merely tug at my emotions (unfortunately negatively).

    I am sure it could have been beneficial for both of us to talk in a civil and charitable manner on here, and I am still happy to hear your comments and try to realize some benefits. But if your comments persist in having character-insulting content, forgive me but I choose to ignore them from now on.

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  29. I haven’t commented on either essay yet, partly because I’ve been busy editing the essays for next week and beyond (SciSal is going to go through a brief summer hiatus because of my vacations…).

    Still, first off let me honestly praise both Dan T. and Dan K. for their thoughtful contributions and charitable interpretation of what the other was saying. I believe they have laid out an exemplary dialogue of how intellectual conversations should go. Not only that, but they focused on something of very practical import, instead of “going” meta.

    That said, I do tend to lean toward Dan K.’s position in this case, mostly on the ground that it is closer to the ethos of virtue ethics that I have endorsed over the last several years. Talk of rights and, therefore, duties is a bit too Kantian for my taste. Even Bentham, the founder of utilitarianism, famously referred to the idea of natural rights as “nonsense on stilts.” So rights (and duties) are, naturalistically, simply legal and cultural agreement with make with each other about how to behave in a society.

    Part of the problem is that real life is much more complicated than the rule-based approach implied by talk of rights/duties is, which is why I prefer the character-based, situational ethics that emerges from the virtue ethical tradition. While both Dan’s agree that terminally ill patients should behave in certain ways (except in extreme cases where they are no longer in reasonable control of their words and actions), they also do agree that their circumstances are unusually trying by necessity, and that it is therefore reasonable to cut them more slack than we would a healthy person in the full of his life.

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  30. I feel an apology to DT is in order for my perceived incivility. This format makes it rather too easy to land blows. I should have couched my reaction to DT’s essay more judiciously. . . . Reading DT I couldn’t help remembering the magnificent death of the grandfather, old chamberlain Brigge, near the beginning of Rilke’s “Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge”, a book fixated on death and hospice: “…And what a death it was: two months long and so loud that it could be heard as far off as the manor farm. . . . How the chamberlain would have looked at anyone who asked of him that he should die any other death than this. He was dying his own hard death.”

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  31. More on moral obligations.

    Many “moral obligations” are actually and ultimately matters of enlightened self-interest and may not even be moral. See the parable of the “unjust steward,” whatever it’s actual (and highly disputed) ultimate meaning was. I suspect (warning: Neo-Cynicism alert!) that we often label these as “moral obligations” in attempts to hide our apparent egotism from ourselves. But, I suspect that, in turn is a dying vestige of the Judeo-Christian tradition. No classical Greek would have felt any hybris over benefiting from enlightened self-interest. Maybe we’ll unlearn more of that, without being selfish in a wrongful way, or without trying to apply some newer gloss, like quasi-Randian ideas, to it.

    Now, back to obligations and virtue ethics.

    Let’s accept that certain actions are labeled as “moral obligations,” whether they actually are or not. How are they in the service of virtue ethics?

    Simple, to whip out Massimo’s favorite ethical philosopher, Aristotle. It’s about final causes, or goals. Moral obligations are not what they are qua moral obligations, but as tools to the end of a more virtuous style of life. And, this is how I square the circle of the two Dans.

    I think Dan-K is on this same line, in general, if not on every nuance. And, yes, Dan-T talked to me a bit, too. I also agree that Dan-T has the makings of more here. Perhaps if, rather than “obligations” in a seemingly Kant-like sense, and worries about schools of ethics, he rephrases this as “social ethics,” in terms of social and transactional relationships, that will take the ball further down the road. Per Philip, since we seemingly develop ethical ideas as obligations within larger social networks in general (including social networks with god[s] for relations with a believed divinity, IMO), I think this covers that better than overarching schools.

    Jarnauga I’ve read Illych multiple times. I do think it can serve as a good caveat. The protagonist eventually escapes from “primitive” ideas of moral recompense for right moral acts, and eventually reaches a state of more “authenticity.”

    EJ, I have to disagree. Yes, some ideas of “good death” may not be all they’re cracked up to be. But, unlike lesser animals, we know we’re leaving images and ideas — including images and ideas about ourselves — to the future. This is the positive side of not quite Dan-K’s “dignity,” but similar.

    Rather, it’s that “authenticity.” To get back to Socrates, or forward to existentialism there’s a good death if, in dying as well as living, I am to mine own self true. I disappoint, or I don’t disappoint, to the degree I die authentically. A “good death” follows a good life in that sense.

    ==

    Dan-T “vs” Astrodreamer Without talking about “obligations,” this is an opening for “how do we talk about death or serious illness” to others.

    Per Hippocrates, first, do no harm. Second, try to be realistic. In such situations, I normally say something like “I hope you’re doing as well as can reasonably be expected.”

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  32. Dan T. Thanks for your thoughtful response to my exaggerations. Anger towards the dead is not uncommon and often quite justified. Your paper left you wide open to the claim that you felt some. That you could interpret that all-too-human anger toward the dead as nazi-like, suggests that perhaps some self-forgiveness is in order, perhaps your service in hospice is a form of penance? However, please consider that I am reacting to the text, not to you personally. The first-person text skims over a great trauma and by omitting any reference to emotion, immediately invites the reader to fill that void and speculate on the emotional reaction of the author to his father’s death. Is this an effect you desired and encourage, or should attempt to foreclose? Is this the effect of mainstreet and academe bringing different ways of reading to bear on a text?

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  33. Hi Aravis, I didn’t realize you were going to approach this topic from the angle you did… and I really enjoyed it! My replies to Dan Tippens’ essay reflect the exact concerns you bring up here. It is not that his essay was bad, most of it was really well done, but to my surprise and confusion here and there the moral legalist would suddenly appear (Why? What did it add to the compelling points being made?).

    I love Dan’s essay… I just wish that it wasn’t an essay on moral obligation and duty. Let me be very clear on this point. My objection is not to our conceiving of and interacting with our loved ones, at the end of their lives, through what we might broadly call, an ethical framework, which can include everything from the virtues to the humane sentiments. No, my criticism here is to the application of the much narrower framework of moral obligation and duty,

    That is a perfect summary of my impression, which if I was not clear enough in my first reply to DanT, I hope was clear in the last where I specifically critiqued his emphasis/use of duty and obligation, where he could have approached the subject from the perspective of values (and where I gave explicit examples of a relevant virtue and human sentiment).

    And in part it is due to the fact that most of us understand that in real life — as opposed to artificial thought experiments — we are confronted with many types of obligations and many varieties of value, all of which have their appropriate place and time, the identification of which is difficult and resistant to formulaic treatment, which is why it requires a lifetime to get right.

    I come from a “virtue ethics” background, though I dislike the term “virtue” for some of the reasons you mention here. Given the complexity of life as we have to live it, I prefer the term “value”, “trait”, or “character” ethics, as it seems more about striving to find balance in our character which we hope to “get right”, than achieving some abstract “virtuous” or “good” life (much less “good death”).

    As it happens, I had the same read as you, contra Socraticgadfly’s claim that DanT intended a virtue ethics based concept of duty or obligation. If this is the case, I guess I did not read through the lines properly, and think the essay could be improved by using less heavy “lines” ☺

    While there was an example or two in your essay I could quibble about, that would be beside the point. I really liked it and hope you (and Massimo?) can start shifting ethics at the academic and street level in this direction

    While I don’t have much time to write this week, now I don’t feel like I have to. I can simply relax and enjoy the exchange (as I am able) between you and Dan Tippens! Two very capable writers.

    Liked by 1 person

  34. Hi Massimo,

    Sorry to hear about the coming summer hiatus, though I’m sure that we’ll come back quite energized afterwards. I’d also like to thank you for formally spelling out a definition of morality, which each essay did fail to provide us with (making it a bit difficult to not “go meta”). Here you said, “So rights (and duties) are, naturalistically, simply legal and cultural agreement [with each other] about how to behave in a society.” This is exactly the sort of thing that I want to hear from those in charge. My own comment regarding the origins and purpose of this dynamic has rightly been tabled for a more appropriate occasion.

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  35. Hi everyone,

    I think I should do not only some clarificatory work, but also some elaboration on my claims.

    First, it has repeatedly come up that I seemed to slide in and out of virtue-like talk and obligation-like talk. This is correct. In the interest of being honest, this only became apparent to me from the ensuing discussion thread (and obviously from Dan-K’s great piece here). This was one valuable thing pointed out in this thread.

    I think this is what confused people, and I want to clarify and elaborate on some issues now: I was saying that terminal patients have moral obligations to society. I offered two supporting reasons for this. One looked consequentialist, and the other looked like it came from virtue ethics.

    The consequentialist support was the analogy I drew between promoting hospice volunteer retention rates and global warming; we feel we have an obligation to better the lives of current and future people despite slight costs to ourselves. As long as you don’t see the costs to saying “thank you” to volunteers or keeping them out of morally compromising situations to be too high, then this consequentialist argument supports my claim.

    The virtue ethics support came from the dignity argument. And this is where there are two things which need to be disambiguated, because I jumbled them into one paragraph. Here is that paragraph:

    “Perhaps a terminal patient has a “get out of jail free” card regarding his moral responsibilities. To say otherwise may be construed as a lack of empathy for the patient. I think that this reaction is not only incorrect, but it is also a view that robs terminal patients of their dignity. Treating the terminally ill as beings who aren’t capable of robust moral competence is like treating them as young children. Not only do we intuitively think this is not the way we ought to view them, terminal patients themselves generally do not want this. Many report that they want to be treated with “normalcy.” Part of this involves our acknowledgement of their moral standing — that they still have moral obligations.”

    There are at least two things at work here:

    1) what should *our* attitude be toward terminal patients, such that their dignity is upheld?

    2) what does *our* attitude have to do with generating a moral obligation *for terminal patients?*

    re 1) I argued that our attitude toward terminal patients should be that they still have societal moral obligations, but that they are excused should they fail to hold them. Let me try to spell out how I get would like to reach that conclusion:

    First, many terminal patients I have interacted with who are of sound mind have indicated that what upsets them greatly and makes them feel alienated from their family and community is when they aren’t treated with “normalcy.” This can be anything from not discussing certain financial matters with the patient which they used to, to not making risky jokes with the patient (for fear they might upset him), to changing the way moral attitude we have toward the patient – that he really doesn’t have robust moral responsibilities anymore. This seems to diminish patient dignity- as now we aren’t treating them like we do the rest of the community – we are treating them like they a leper; someone we keep our social distance from in noticeable ways; a foreigner in a familiar land.

    Second, having the attitude toward terminal patients that they have moral obligations, I think, will actually *enrich* the intimacy between families, volunteers, and patients. The reason for this comes from the point made above. When you treat a terminal patient normally, they don’t feel *alienated* from their family or community, thereby providing more intimacy to your interactions.

    Many terminal patients (my father included) reported feeling very close to their doctors because their doctors would remind them that they *had to do certain things.* For example, that they *had* to take certain medications. This provided the patients with a sense of normalcy. In adult life, people aren’t afraid to remind you of things that you have to do in various contexts, this is part of our normal daily life. As you can imagine, when people find out that somebody is terminal, they tend to visibly behave extremely differently toward the patient, and this makes the patient feel like an outsider.

    So, I think that when we make a person feel alienated by not recognizing their moral responsibilities, we not only take away from their dignity, but contra Dan-K, we also *diminish* the intimacy between the patient and those around him.

    (I do hope people in the medical profession such as David Howard and Ejwinner will comment on this and give me their thoughts).

    re 2) assuming you agree with me about what *our* attitude should be toward terminal patients, what does this have to do with what their *actual* moral responsibilities are? Well, to borrow what massimo said, if our moral obligations are generated by legal and *social* agreements and we all socially agree that we ought to view terminal patients as having moral obligations, then that is sufficient to say that they *just do* have these moral obligations.

    Now you could say, couldn’t we just shift our attitude and act like they have moral obligations but still acknowledge that terminal patients don’t *really* have any moral obligations? Here, I actually want to borrow Dan-K’s argument about “play acting.” If we merely are faking that terminal patients have moral obligations for their own good, then we seem to be engaging in a patronizing charade with terminal patients.

    So, the best option, I was thinking, is to acknowlege that terminal patients have moral obligations, but to acknowledge that they have prima facie excuses for many of them. You might think that granting them excuses also seems patronizing, but I don’t think so. Excuses are a part of ordinary life. Mature adults speak in the language of excuse all the time, while they do not speak in the language of blanket relief from societal moral obligations all the time. In other words, excuses are more consistent with normalcy.

    Essentially what I was trying to do is strike a middle-ground between treating the terminally ill like they have moral obligations thereby restoring their sense of normalcy, while still allowing some moral freedom (by granting them the status of excused). I fear that if we take the more relaxed approach of Dan-K, we actually risk alienating terminal patients thereby reducing their dignity and diminishing interactions with loved ones. But I think that “the clunky apparatus of formal moral philosophy” made it difficult for me to explicitly articulate what I was going for until you all helped point out confusions and errors.

    So I was thinking that there are both virtue ethical reasons and consequentialist reasons to support the claim that terminal patients have moral obligations, unfortunately I muddled these in my essay and had to rely on others to help me fish them out of the dirt. Thanks again for that, but perhaps this is a step in the right direction to what Dan-K suggested I try to do- blur the lines between moral obligation and virtues.

    If you endorse what I have said here, then you can see my previous paper as an elaboration on one moral responsibility terminal patients have that we can all agree to (or not, this can be debated).

    Let me concede that much of this is speculative and would need to be developed much further, but I hope commentators here and Dan-K can contribute. I hope Massimo chimes in on this as well.

    On a final note, I highly, highly, highly recommend this paper by Dan Moller of UMD. I actually emailed him about this paper before I submitted it here, and in his response he attached this paper which I referenced in my essay. I don’t think it got the attention it deserves by our readers. Here is the abstract and reference:

    “This paper spells out the following line of thought: (A) How much we care about various things is in constant flux, even as the world remains as it was. Internal affective shifts due to changes in mood, arousal-states or even hunger cause us to be more or less concerned about something. (B) Further, there often isn’t any fact of the matter about how much we ought to care about something. As I argue, it isn’t the case that there are prudential or moral norms that fix how worried we should be about every state of affairs in the world. (C) And this suggests that what we should do, both prudentially and morally, is often subject to our affective shifts, at least if how much we (permissibly) care about something is an important element of practical reasoning.”

    Moller, Dan (2014) Drunk and in the Mood: Affect and Judgment, Journal of Moral Philosophy 1-21, doi: 10.1163/17455243-4681061

    I look forward to hearing from everyone, and I hope this mini-essay wasn’t too taxing of a read.

    Liked by 1 person

  36. Astro,

    “Anger towards the dead is not uncommon and often quite justified. Your paper left you wide open to the claim that you felt some. That you could interpret that all-too-human anger toward the dead as nazi-like, suggests that perhaps some self-forgiveness is in order, perhaps your service in hospice is a form of penance? However, please consider that I am reacting to the text, not to you personally. ”

    Look, I said this in my essay, “After my father died, I wanted to comfort others the way other volunteers had comforted me.” I think this is a good enough indication of my motives to warrant a much more charitable response, as opposed to speculating that my service in hospice was a form of “penance” or “self-forgiveness.”

    The most important thing. though, is this: even if both of these speculations of yours were true, they would still just be ad hominems and irrelevant to the essay’s points. Please just evaluate the arguments, see what your intuitions tell you, and then express them to everyone here on the forum for us to consider. I think this is more valuable than focusing on what my intentions were.

    One last thing is this: I don’t hold anything against you here, astro. Can I really be surprised and offended that someone would question my intentions given the topic I was writing on? I say lets just move forward with the discussion.

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  37. Dan-T,
    suggested I try to do- blur the lines between moral obligation and virtues.

    I think you have touched on a most important point. The way we think about ethics is not normally constrained in rigid boxes. I think that intelligent ethical thinking takes the form of a spiral. Like a helicopter, our minds scan over the situation, considering it from different angles. Each angle is another ethical viewpoint. Then we narrow our point of view, finally settling on the most appropriate for that situation. The most appropriate view may by rule based, virtue oriented, consequential, duty or rights based. We will only know if we have considered the problem in its particular context, from all points of view. Once we have surveyed the issue there is still the problem of how we choose between competing points of view. I suggest that virtue ethics is the central guide to that process and that it makes sense of competing viewpoints.

    This is very similar to the Six Thinking Hats of Edward de Bono where you consciously put on each of the six different thinking hats to consider the problem from six points of view.

    I think we should call this ‘The Six Ethical Hats of Massimo Pigliucci‘ in honour of our host. I have been trying trying to neatly divide ethical theory into six categories and give each one a hat of a different colour but I can’t devise six neat categories. I hope someone else can finish the job for me.

    With this, my last comment, I will say good night and special thanks to both Dan-K and Dan-T for excellent, stimulating and thought provoking essays. They were greatly enjoyed. This is the first time this format was used. It was a marvellous idea and I hope we see more of it.

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  38. dantip,

    actually, a lot of the issues here intersect with regulatory questions about patient rights and responsibilities. Not all such issues are covered by existing regulations, but the regulations carry implications. Should Joe tell Sam’s son he’s adopted, he may not be exactly violating Sam’s right to privacy, but the implications of the regulations are that his behavior would be considered unethical. Conversely, this releases him from any ethical responsibility should he choose not to say anything to Sam’s son. All this should be explained to him in his training as a volunteer; unfortunately, volunteers are often thrown into the mix without much training.

    Is treating patients as though they had lesser responsibilities due to their situation treating them like children or diminishing them? The regulations governing patient responsibilities (and their implications) are specifically designed to avoid this. What these regulations are designed for is to enhance the patients’ ability to remain themselves as much possible, given their condition (and thus dovetails with their rights). Should their behavior prove seriously egregious, they will receive counseling; there will also be family meetings, and efforts to determine whether the care given is appropriate given the patient’s antagonism to it – and other such efforts to find some way to meet the patient’s needs within community resources available.

    However, regulations concerning patient responsibilities – since they are maximized in the interest of the patient – do not cover the kind of questions you raise, about avoiding putting caregivers at ethical risk. Not only has Sam not violated any regulation with his confidence, he hasn’t transgressed any boundary implicit in those regulations.

    One problem here is that Joe appears to be assuming a) that Sam has told the truth; b) that he has an ethical demand greater than that of the role he performs; and C) that breaking confidence might lead to an ethically justifiable outcome.

    But he doesn’t know the whole situation. Sam’s son might be a small-minded sadistic creep who secretly hates his father, and then spends the next weeks making Sam’s life miserable. Or he may advertise the situation, causing Sam embarrassment in the community. Or, to discover his blood-parents, he may force Sam to spend his last days in litigation. (And court-ordered DNA tests may prove that, guess what? Sam’s son really is Sam’s son, and Sam was lapsing into a fugue when he spoke to Joe.)

    Is Joe really willing to go down any of these roads because *maybe* his ethical concerns trump health-care policy?

    It should be remembered that health-care workers have *very* limited knowledge of the people who come to to them for care. The complexities and subtleties of the patients’ previous lives and experiences are beyond our ken, let alone our judgment. Really, the best attitude is to let go, and do what the role demands; if followed sincerely and with compassion, the role will absolve us of a multitude of sins. (And be assured, someone will tell us when they don’t.)

    Liked by 1 person

  39. SocraticGadfly,

    We will have to agree to disagree on the issue of the possibility of a ‘good’ death’ for now. The issue has serious implications for the current issue, hospice care, but unfortunately encompasses so much more.

    I did make a brief remark about it on my blog *. I admit I’m still sorting the matter out, not because I don’t have a position on it, but because I do see that such notions as ‘a good death’ and ‘death with dignity’ serve very important social purposes right now, and perhaps will for some time to come.

    Thus the issue has to be approached philosophically, rather than politically. (Ethically, this means that its possible resolutions will be found in individual or small group attitudes.) But the philosophical consideration of the issue has taken many twists and turns over the centuries; every philosopher of real note has checked in on it, either overtly or – more frequently – covertly, even if only by re-iterating a religious view they ascribed to.

    Interestingly, it is in fact a question science can never answer. Science can tell us how the organism perishes, and perhaps how we feel about – ‘perhaps,’ because, after all, we already know how we feel about it. But it can never determine what constitutes a good death – or a good life, for that matter; let alone define dignity for us.

    But that risks going ‘meta’ here, and I have no interest in that in the current context.
    —–
    * http://nosignofit.wordpress.com/2015/06/10/the-good-death-or-just-dying/

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  40. Dantip, you write:

    “Please just evaluate the arguments, see what your intuitions tell you, and then express them to everyone here on the forum for us to consider. I think this is more valuable than focusing on what my intentions were.”

    Fair enough. To simplify I’ll just consider your final condensation of the matter.

    You write:

    “So, the best option, I was thinking, is to acknowledge that terminal patients have moral obligations, but to acknowledge that they have prima facie excuses for many of them.”

    I have no argument with that conclusion, nor can I imagine that very many people would. My intuition is that it’s fine, tho I must say that I can’t entirely follow or agree with some of the steps you take to reach it. One point that I question is the attempt to normalize the experience of dying. It seems to me that there is no situation that is more abnormal, and that patients who lament the lack of ‘normalcy’ are to some extent simply describing one of the several downsides of dying. I also wonder at the desire to make death less ‘alienating’. Isn’t dying a process of alienation – from life, loves, and even obligations?

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  41. Dan-T’s point is well taken: we never cease being moral actors, but the source and strength of our duties and obligations are internally computed. We should always be free to responsibly exercise our options, to the extent we are able. There is no single short list of moral ‘obligations’ for everyone.

    Dan-K’s crucial point then comes as a bit of a surprise, especially given the impressions that his avatar, Aravis, has left me with in the past: “Some philosophers may think that the moral framework represents the highest, noblest level at which human beings interact with one another, but this only represents the extent to which even (or perhaps, especially) very smart people can fall under the grip of a theory, to the exclusion of common experience and common sense.”

    This is a beautiful and subtle thought, indeed: the wisdom of the common man and woman. That is something to invest in.

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  42. I’m much more on Dan T’s side of this than Dan K’s, but in all of these two threads, I think the loveliest thing was written by David Howard above:
    “The patient’s only “moral responsibility” (if you want to call it that) is to be open to the possibility of intimacy, AKA love.”
    It’s a beautiful line which could well be applied to all people.

    Which brings me to my main question: What exactly are these moral obligations from which some people think we are to be excused when we’re diagnosed with cancer? I’m not sure I can think of even one. If I am diagnosed and have less than a year to live, that doesn’t give me the right to be violent, nor obnoxious. I might well be forgiven for being obnoxious, but that would also be true after a divorce, or the death of a loved one. It’s simply because I’ve suffered an emotional trauma, and am not in full control of my emotions.
    I wouldn’t feel released from my obligations as a parent (like the father in Dan T’s essay, who needed to unburden himself, but was still enough of a father not to do it to his son). I wouldn’t see any need to rethink my vegetarianism.
    Oliver Sacks wrote about giving up thinking about global warming, but that was not because global warming was no longer morally relevant to him, but because it was never a very important part of his life, and because he feels a sense of urgency, and knows well that change on global issues is slow, and will not come in his lifetime. It’s a practical consideration, not a moral consideration. (If a Greenpeace activist repudiated green issues in the hospice, then I would be surprised: someone who has devoted a lot of their life to the environment, would most likely want to continue with it, because it is a major part of their life.)
    I just don’t see how being near death releases us from any obligations. The global warming point is frankly a little silly, because the disastrous changes are going to happen after all of us are dead, whether we’re terminal or not.

    So I think Dan T’s essay can in fact be read not as an essay about the obligations of the dying, but about the obligations of all of us to support the hospice system (in the knowledge that most of us are going to intersect with that system, in fact, when we are dying).

    Finally, I agree with Dan T’s point about dignity, and think that for those who don’t like the word dignity, they could consider reciprocity instead. One of the things patients hate about the medical system is the feeling that it does things to them, without listening in return. Establishing full human relationships with doctors and with volunteers, with all the responsibilities (and even difficulties) which human relationships imply, is one of the things which makes the health system better.

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  43. I have to use up a second comment here, because I see that part of my question was answered in the previous thread.

    Dan T said: “Keep in mind that I was arguing that *societal* obligations are still present for terminal patients, I left aside all other moral obligations that obviously are still present for terminal patients.”

    Then I think the main stumbling block is that no-one agrees on what societal obligations are. Dan K speaks somewhat mockingly of “effort to portray moral vigor”; “agitprop”; “committees”. I would guess that means that Dan K doesn’t think much of many moral social movements. That’s fine, but if a person doesn’t feel that way, then I don’t see why her perceived obligations will change at the end of her life. In the previous thread SusanR put it very succinctly: “I live morally because I choose to do so. I don’t need someone to tell me that it is still my obligation now that my life is ending.”

    In fact, I feel very negative about Dan K’s attitude toward political or social action. If a person is committed to social action, then it is hardly Dan K’s, or anyone’s, place to tell them that the fact of their impending death means that they should forget all that. That their social commitment is silly. One example which leaps to mind is gay people in the early days of the AIDS epidemic. Some who campaigned for gay rights found near the end of their lives that they wanted to withdraw and spend their last days with loved ones. I don’t think many people would be sympathetic to activists who criticised them for that withdrawal. But Dan K seems to me to be making the equivalent, but opposite criticism: he is telling those who didn’t withdraw, those who campaigned until the very end, that they were wrong. That in fact, their status as being soon-to-die meant that they were released from the campaign to which they had been dedicated; that they ought to be doing something more self-oriented, less public spirited. (Because they may still have private obligations, but, if I understand Dan K’s argument, they no longer have obligations to social action; therefore they ought to follow their private obligations exclusively.)

    I don’t think any of us has the standing to say that. Perhaps I’m misinterpreting or overinterpreting what Dan K meant. I’m open to correction.

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  44. I strongly agree with the rational ideas expressed in ejwinner’s own blog (see his ref. above) that life has no meaning, no after-life is likely and people should have some right and means to end unbearable suffering during dying but would suggest that he is off target when he attacks, -“the illusion of Good Death”.

    It is not DEATH itself but the manner of human DYING that can be bad and/or have some gross indignity attached to it. He should be prepared to support movements which campaign for end-of-life “rights” irrespective of their arguments unless strongly abhorrent to him. Interestingly, the UK society chose to rename the old Voluntary Euthanasia Society aptly as Dignity in Dying and generally refers to assisted dying rather than assisted suicide.

    That we have this need for carers for the elderly and/or infirm is largely down to improved living standards and medically-assisted living: the counterpoint to this last is legally-available medically-assisted dying and is “the elephant in the room”.

    “It is somehow thought to be wrong that people who are approaching death and are terminally ill should take into account the suffering, expense and misery they are causing…” and “For all of one’s life up to that stage, altruism is regarded as rather a good thing, a virtue. If one sacrifices oneself in a modest way for one’s family, that is also thought virtuous. I do not understand why one should not be allowed to exercise that virtue at the very end of one’s life, or have it assumed that this is an idea that has been put into one’s head by somebody else.” Lady Mary Warnock (a contemporary of mine) said this supporting legally assisted suicide during the Assisted Dying Bill 2nd Reading in the UK House of Lords.
    (see 18 July 2014, Lord’s Hansard
    http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201415/ldhansrd/text/140718-l0002.htm#14071854000536

    About the question of morality of (and towards) increasingly helpless and dependent people: as far as Dan’s hypothetical problem any “confidence” he becomes privy to should be treated as hearsay and not divulged to third parties or at least not without gaining express permission from the first party.

    More generally the moral autonomy dimension depends on the perceived degree of physical and mental deterioration of the patient, even though similar to others each case being unique.

    Take me, I am 94, mostly unable to fend for myself for the last 7 years though financially and medically autonomous, not “terminally” ill and merely in that incurable condition -old age, still mentally competent enough to enjoy SciSal and much else available on the Internet since 2011. With no after-life in prospect I see no “loss” at death: I shall simply cease to EXIST, unknowing, experiencing nothing. Yet that non-event for me (obliteration) will be an event that impinges on others so does have moral dimensions: of this I remain aware whilst mentally competent.

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  45. I don’t often visit this blog, but when I do, I prefer DosEquis. With a desire to listen, understand, and perhaps comment if so provoked.

    I benefit from your exchanges. Very civil structured disagreement. Too bad life is not entirely like that, …yet (check the game board rules/modify behavior before drama inputs exceed capacity to resolve conflict load without violence).

    My take-aways were ethical objectivity/subjectivity, moral relativism, will-to-power (whether or not to impose), and preparation for death coping mechanisms (varying needs for theism, atheism, philosophies to deal with pain, tragedy, death).

    Kant rejected objectivity (Stephen R. C. Hicks – Explaining Post Modernism). Rand apprehended the word to make her exclamation point. I value the thinking of both, including criticism for and against. Ideas in opposition can potentially be beneficial if integrated to transcend violence and improve civilization.

    One commenter mentioned Alastair Norcross in negative light. Not being familiar with same I searched and discovered his “PUPPIES, PIGS, AND PEOPLE: EATING MEAT AND MARGINAL CASES”.

    http://www.colorado.edu/philosophy/heathwood/pdf/norcross.pdf

    Yikes! The gist here was morally there is no difference between factory ranching chickens and torturing puppies (both satisfy trivial tastes). The idea of torturing puppies either causes a horror reflex (as it did in me) or perhaps for those void of empathy, it does not.

    Reconnecting to “Everyone has moral obligations (And we’re talking about them way too much)”, I say we are not talking about them enough. The dying still having moral responsibility, preparation for death in general, coping mechanisms (religion, virtue ethics, atheism), potential healthcare duty conflicts, all are emotional relationship domains humanity is attempting to navigate by the charioteer of intellect.

    Subjective attributes of what constitutes the greater good for society are legislated and imposed upon all by the will-to-power of government and enforced through threat of violence. Will individuals and governments contribute to building an empathetic civilization or not?

    http://empathiccivilization.com/

    That’s an on-going conversation worth having.

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