Monday, October 3, 2011

The danger of deserve

Karl Smith:

On Facebook I think Robin framed the question as “how weak do temptations have to be before they make people less deserving of charity”

My clear answer would be that there is no level so low. Human suffering is bad. Reductions in human suffering are good.

Why humans are suffering is of concern to us in knowing when our interventions might be productive but it doesn’t affect whether they are warranted.

This is, in my view, precisely correct. The decision to impose a moral worthiness component to helping others is the source of a great deal of misery. For example, the moral implications of being HIV+ (in the early years of the epidemic) clearly reduced overall public health (due to stigma preventing patients from seeking care).

That isn't to say that some approaches that feel good may be counterproductive. If we are going to be good utilitarians then we really need to consider the global consequences of an action. Making one person better off at the cost of making many others miserable is typically a bad trade-off.

But, insofar as we can make lives better, does it ever make sense to ask if people deserve to have better lives?

1 comment:

  1. I agree that the logic of this argument is very strong, and it seems to me that the same argument applies to the morality of punishment.