Scientists ought not (sometimes) play ethicist… or how utilitarianism is a problem

What a perfect example of what Socrates was on about — people who know one thing really well and think that means they know all the things — GAG!  

Here’s where it gets a little personal — I have a good friend from high school whose daughter has Down Syndrome.  The daughter’s name is Tessa and every day she makes her family happier — sometimes challenged too, but happy.  Tessa herself is a very happy little girl.  She’s generally healthy, she’s learning things at her own pace and she certainly has interpersonal relationships with her parents and older brothers.

To say that my friend should have aborted Tessa is outrageous — and simply short-sighted.  I’ll always maintain that Tessa’s mom COULD have morally decided to abort ANY of her children (Tessa’s brothers are older and “normal”).  That would be her decision based on her own circumstances.  I cannot judge that.  What I CAN judge is the argument made by an older white man without experience with Down Syndrome concluding that the world would be a happier place without Tessa.

I can also judge the ethical theory he uses to reach that conclusion — all of you ethics folks should (or will) recognize utilitarianism at the heart of this.  Perhaps Dawkins application of utilitarianism is a perfect and appropriate application of the theory, so the problem IS the theory (notice the neat objection there to the whole thing… hmmm… hint, hint…).  

Think about it all this way, IF you want to make something for dinner and follow a recipe perfectly — BUT, the food tastes awful, the problem is in the recipe — in this analogy, the recipe is the ethical theory.  Dawkins followed utilitarianism AND he got a morally repugnant result.  Thus, the problem is utilitarianism.  

(To be honest, I think the actual problem is probably the limited data he fed into utilitarianism… but, you can now see how to make an objection to an ethical theory — you’re welcome 🙂 ). 



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