Aug 20, 2008

what does "morally permissible" mean?

There are several ways to define "morally permissible." One is to break the words apart, to define "morally" and then "permissible." However, there is a more holistic way.

In Ethics in the First Person, Deni Elliott defines permissibility thusly:
A moral system differentiates among behaviors that are morally prohibited, those that are morally permitted, those that are morally required, and those that are morally encouraged.... Permitted [means] behavior that is within the bounds of the moral system. It is morally permitted to act in any way that does not cause others unjustified harms.
In short, "permitted" is the lowest bar for moral behavior. Anything that is not morally forbidden is permitted.

Another way to look at it: we tolerate permissible behavior, even if we disagree with it or find it distasteful. Jovan Babic, in "Justifying Forgiveness," found in Peace Review, March 2000, explains:
Tolerance is the demarcation line between that which is permissible and that which is impermissible. In practice, what is morally permissible is what is in a way morally indifferent, and it is the subject of legitimate freedom, while what is morally impermissible can absolutely not be tolerated and its tolerance (by others) would mean abandoning the basic principle of moral evaluation (in oneself).
"Legitimate freedom," to Babic, means a choice between actions without any sort of moral stricture--either proscription, encouragement, or obligation.

Context can be crucial in determining whether a moral choice is permissible. Consider Carla, who wishes to play a board game.

1. Choosing to play Monopoly instead of Risk is (probably) morally insignificant; either choice is morally permissible.
2. Choosing to play Monopoly instead of finishing her chores and homework could be morally prohibited.
3. Choosing to play Monopoly in a marathon to raise money for cancer research could be morally encouraged.
4. Choosing to play Monopoly according to the rules could be morally required.

The crucial thing to note regarding the current resolution is that the affirmative, in showing that trading one life for many is morally permissible, does not have to prove such an action is right, but only that it isn't wrong.

I'm still searching for other good definitions of "morally permissible." If you find one, let me know.

13 comments:

Captain Princess said...

"Morally permissible" struck me in the same way that it struck you, but with one possible addition.

The notion of special circumstances would cleave the permissible from the required (or intolerable) neatly enough, if well explained.

okiedebater said...

This isn't directly related to this post (sorry), but do you think it would be possible to run a form of kritik based off of innocence?

Example:
If it were possible to find a few good sources and a philosophy that essentially says that there are no innocent people (or let's say less than 3, the minimum number necessary for the resolution), then the resolution could not occur, making it pointless to debate it.

Does that fact that there is a resolution mean that it MUST exist (as the Aff would likely respond), or is this a fair (though perhaps unusual) line of reasoning? Any thoughts?

okiedebater said...

An addition to my previous comment...

The Aff could respond with the phrasing of the resolution. It is phrased "it IS morally permissible..." rather than saying "it WOULD be morally permissible" or "it COULD be morally permissible", both statements that would address the topic if it did not exist (as the neg in my previous comment could argue). This means that this resolution can (and/or does) occur, and is therefore worth considering.

Anonymous said...

Where I debate anyways...

1. Judges won't buy the res. K
2. Judges think it is unethical and will pick up the other debater just because of it.

Overall, it is just not a good idea (for where I debate anyways).

Sexy Beast said...

If you feel like offering a Kritik, I have one that will probably be accepted. On the Neg, you may argue that because Kant says that it can never be morally permissible to kill, then the res. must be negated. Kant explains this by saying that "killing" and "morally permissable" are logical contradictions, thus cannot be true.

Just a thought.

Ann O'Nymous said...

@okiedebater
The problem with your critique is that no one innocent needs to exist to debate the resolution. "A just society ought not use the death penalty," was last year's topic, and there aren't any Utopian just societies.

Christine said...

okiedebater, i think it's a valid point since the resol states "is", meaning that the situation is not hypothetical (unlike the just society resol). although the fact that both the one being killed AND the ones being saved are all considered "innocent", meaning they are all in the same (perhaps moral) state, so whether or not the term in its purity exists is irrelevant; we just use the term to suggest that all the people are equals (not sure if that arg will hold and it definitely needs more warranting). there are a few articles that say innocents don't exist, but you might have better luck running that argument as an overview or an off-case rather than as a full-out k. that way, you can kick the innocents arg if the judge doesn't like it or the aff wins that it's abusive and still have a case to win with.

Sexy Beast said...

And what do you guys think of the logical contradiction kritik?

okiedebater said...

To anonymous:
That is very true. It would all come down to knowing the judge in your round, and the kinds of tournaments you debate at. Most of my tournaments are small local ones, and judges probably wouldn't like kritiks. However, at a tournament like NFL Districts, it'd probably be more acceptable. It all depends on your judge and area. (Also, I plan on avoiding ever saying kritik: it sets off mental alarm bells)

To ann o'nymous:
There is a major phrasing difference between those. That resolution makes it clear that is debating an ideal, what "ought" to be done. It is possible (though very, very unlikely) that an ideal society could be formed. This therefore puts the debate in the hypothetical, but worthwhile, realm. (Also note, societies and the death penalty clearly exist)
If, however, it can be proved that there are no innocent people (and never will be), it becomes pointless to debate.

To Christine:
Regarding moral equality between the persons, the problem becomes that if the Aff throws away the innocence element in favor of equivalent morality, it can change the ultimate decision.

For example, if the Aff uses utilitarianism (as many probably will) and does this, then the Neg could create a reading of the resolution that is more along the lines of "It is morally permissible to kill one serial killer to save the lives of two serial killers". In that case, the Neg could argue that with the moral equivalence, the one serial killer should be allowed to live and the two serial killers should be allowed to die as they pose a greater threat to society (in this case, the greatest number). Note: this could be contradictory to a Neg that is running the value of life, unless the lives of potential victims are brought u

This is a very strange example, but if the Aff throws away innocence for moral equivalence, they throw away an important element of the resolution (potentially opening up arguments of not adequately affirming the resolution?)

I do like your idea of running it as an overview or off-case. I'm just trying to figure out what case would work well with it. Deontology implies morality, which could be view as implying morality and immorality (or innocence and guilt).

One idea I just had was to have one contention saying there is no innocence. Another contention could then state that EVEN IF there were innocent people, no one (neither individual or society) could truly determine who is innocent.

Also, if this resolution is upheld, allowing the killing of an innocent person, how much more easily could it justify killing people who are not innocent? Would it become acceptable to kill violent criminals, or anyone who could harm several people? This points out that with rule utilitarianism it could potentially harm the society. It is looking past the resolution a little by extending beyond just innocent people, but it still may be worth bringing up as an argument in a NC.

To sexy beast:
I believe an Aff could refute the Kant argument with an aggressive cx and strong pathos arguments. If you're saying it's NEVER morally permissible to kill, then here are some potential cx questions:
"Is it permissible to kill someone who is about to kill you?"
"Is it morally permissible to kill someone who is about to kill one of your family members?"
"Is it morally permissible for a society to kill someone with the death penalty?"
While there are potential responses to this (such as "The resolution states that the person being killed is an innocent person, so all these scenarios are non-topical"), the sheer intuitive and emotional appeal of the questions is hard to refute. I like using logic, but sometimes it's too hard to convince a judge to go against what they "feel" is right.

Sexy Beast said...

Cool, I forgot all about situational exceptions. However, since the resolution states that you'll be killing an "innocent" person, then the neg would have more ground in offering that "It is a logical contradiction for it to be morally permissible to kill and INNOCENT person."

Anonymous said...

That's what I'm running as an observation; that the negative can't pin "100% or vote neg." on me. :D

J.S. Mill said...

Could you put a turn on a Kantian case with the principle of double effect? I think you could but...

Anonymous said...

okiedebator said:

Also, if this resolution is upheld, allowing the killing of an innocent person, how much more easily could it justify killing people who are not innocent? Would it become acceptable to kill violent criminals, or anyone who could harm several people?

What i was thinking about this was that the negative could argue that the person that "may harm several people" might not be physically killing, maybe they have some disease that could spread and harm others, does that make them guilty of some crime? Is it ok to kill those people to save more? they're still innocent in my opionion.