Applied Ethics

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Competence and the condemned

I recently returned from an NEH-sponsored seminar on punishment at Amherst College. I learned an enormous amount and am full of ideas for papers on punishment.

One moral issue surrounding punishment that has not received enough attention from moral philosophers is the somewhat perverse insistence that those on death row can only be executed if they are competent to be executed. This issue was thrust back in the public eye in the last year or so thanks to the case of Charles Singleton. Singleton was convicted of murder in 1979, and while on death row, he developed symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia: Singleton heard voices that threatened to kill him, and came to believe that he was the center of a vast corporate and government conspiracy. The state of Arkansas ordered in 1997 that Singleton be given antipsychotic medications which, ironically, reduced his schizophrenic delusions but also enabled him to meet the existing legal standard for competency to execute. That standard, established by the Supreme Court in Ford v. Wainwright, held that an individual is competent to be executed if he understands that he is to be executed and the reasons for his execution. Singleton was executed in January 2004.


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Ethics posts over at Close Range and Rational Hunter

I thought I would point to two interesting ethics posts by Marc Moffett, master blogger at Close Range and Rational Hunter, philosopher of language at the University of Wyoming, and self-proclaimed hunter/gatherer. In this post, Marc wonders, assuming that a certain kind of compatibilism is true, whether utilitarianism is the only ethical theory that can justify the recent government reclassification of weight problems as diseases, thereby making these problems coverable by medicaide. In this post, Marc denies that “responsible hunting” causes the massive pain and suffering of animals usually assumed by those interested in discussions of animal welfare. WRT the latter post and the Rational Hunter blog in general, it is interesting to see someone who values hunting, fishing, and the outdoors thinking out loud about ethical and lifestyle issues concerning animals and the environment.

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Terrorism and Innocence

I’m currently working on a paper about terrorism, and I decided my first post would concern one of the main issues in that paper. It might seem to be common sense that what is wrong with terrorist acts like the attack on the World Trade Center is that such acts target innocent persons. In fact this is pretty much the traditional account: traditional just war theory states that one limitation on the conduct of war is that one may never intentionally kill innocent persons. (However, in a just war it is sometimes permissible to do things that you foresee will result in the unintended deaths of some innocent persons, via the Doctrine of Double Effect or something like it.)

Now I happen to think that the traditional account is true: what makes terrorism particularly morally abhorrent is that it takes innocent persons as its targets.


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