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Huemer's paradox of weak deontology is devastating
I think this is a really good argument
I’ve previously said that I think Huemer is at his best when he’s arguing in ways that coincide with utilitarianism.
Huemer starts out laying out two principles.
“Individuation Independence: Whether some behavior is morally permissible cannot depend upon whether that behavior constitutes a single action or more than one action.”
This is intuitive—how we classify the division between actions shouldn’t affect their moral significance.
Second “Two Wrongs: If it is wrong to do A, and it is wrong to do B given that one does A, then it is wrong to do both A and B.”
This is obvious. Huemer gives an example to justify it, but if properly understood, this principle is trivial. Now Huemer considers a case in which two people are being tortured, prisoner A and B. Mary can reduce the torture of A by increasing the torture of B, but only half as much. She can do the same thing for B. If she does both, this clearly would be good—everyone would be better off. However, on the deontologist account, both acts are wrong. Torturing one to prevent greater torture for another is morally wrong.
If it’s wrong to cause on to experience one unit of harm to prevent 2 units of harm to another, then an action which does this for two people, making everyone better off would be morally wrong.
There are lots of ways that deontologists might object to this, each of which Huemer refutes decisively. I won’t delve into the details of all of those. Huemer argues for another case, writing “Now, if one still thinks that Mary’s turning of the first dial entitles her to turn the second dial, consider a final torture scenario: Delayed Torture Transfer: As in the original Torture Transfer Case, except that Mary performs only Adjustment 1, harming A to help B. She then quits her job. Ten years later, Mary is working in a different prison, where, alas, more unjust torture is occurring. She comes upon a situation exactly like the one she encountered ten years ago. Coincidentally, the same two prisoners are involved, having been arrested for something else. This time, Mary decides to perform only Adjustment 2, harming B to benefit A. I take it that the standard deontological intuition is that both of Mary’s actions are wrong. In particular, Mary’s earlier unjust act is irrelevant to whether she may perform Adjustment 2 ten years later. But if so, then we should say the same when the time delay between the two actions is reduced--say, to one second.”
This seems like a pretty devastating objection. If you shouldn’t harm then haring two to prevent 2 greater harms would be bad, even if it made everyone better off. This is immensely counterintuitive.
If you’re not convinced, read the original paper. Huemer is quite impressive when he argues for utilitarianism.