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One important trait of moral principles is that they should be impartial. They

One important trait of moral principles is that they should be impartial. They should not favor one person over the other simply because they are two different individuals. But in my country, we have laws giving special considerations to senior citizens and persons with disabilities and pregnant women. These groups of people are given special lanes at fastfood restaurants, cinemas and bank lanes. I sometimes feel unjustly treated when I spent an hour waiting in line while a senior citizen come in, make his transactions and leave the place in just a minute. I am fully aware that the reason they are treated in such a special way is because of their special conditions but it seems that the treatment is still unfair. After all, whatever they may suffer for waiting long in line are possibilities that I myself can experience. My questions then are: Are these special treatments unjust for the majority of us who are not in the same conditions? Do these violate the condition that moral principles should by nature...

'Impartiality' is in no way a simple moral concept. Yet one thing most moral philosophers would agree upon is that impartiality cannot be plausibly equated with treating everyone the same. Rather, impartiality seems to have both an exclusionary and and an inclusionary aspect. Here's what I have in mind. Being impartial means not allowing a certain fact or consideration about people to influence a choice or a policy. A judge who routinely convicts defendants with mustaches while routinely acquitting the clean shaven makes her decisions on the basis of a fact or consideration — the state of a person's facial hair — that ought not influence her decisions. Here she fails to be impartial because she does not exclude from her decision making a factor she ought to exclude. Conversely, suppose a judge issues her rulings without regard to whether the evidence provided indicates a defendant's guilt. Here she fails to be impartial because she does not include a factor she ought to include in order to be impartial.

Taken together, these two factors indicate that impartiality is linked to equality, not in the sense that impartiality requires everyone be treated exactly alike, but instead requires that everyone be treated equally on the basis of all and only the considerations that are morally relevant to a decision or policy.

The issues thus raised for your examples of special accommodations, etc., for senior citizens, the disabled, and pregnant women is whether the characteristics that distinguish these individuals from others are morally relevant to how we should distribute goods such as places in lines, etc. In other words, such accommodations would violate impartiality if the characteristics on the basis of which the accommodations are being made are not morally relevant to how the accommodations ought to be distributed.

Unfortunately, a full treatment of these issues would take more space than we have here. But I hope you can imagine how those defending such accommodations would try to defend them against the charge that they fail to be impartial. With regard to the disabled, senior citizens, and pregnant women, they might argue that impartiality requires that certain goods be distributed in ways that do not disproportionately burden anyone — and perhaps having to stand in long lines is simply harder for those groups than for others. They would, then, accept your claim that our actions or policies "should not favor one person over the other simply because they are two different individuals." Yet they would also claim that such accommodations don't rest merely on the fact that the individuals who benefit from there are different from others in some way. They instead rest on the fact that these individuals have some morally relevant characteristic that justifies treating them differently.

I don't offer this proposal with the expectation that this settles the issue for good. Rather, the point here is that impartiality does not mean treating everyone the same -- it means treating everyone the same with regard to certain facts about them but differently with regard to other facts about them -- and it is possible to offer arguments to the effect that treating people with different characteristics differently need not violate the demand that our choices and policies be impartial.

'Impartiality' is in no way a simple moral concept. Yet one thing most moral philosophers would agree upon is that impartiality cannot be plausibly equated with treating everyone the same . Rather, impartiality seems to have both an exclusionary and and an inclusionary aspect. Here's what I have in mind. Being impartial means not allowing a certain fact or consideration about people to influence a choice or a policy. A judge who routinely convicts defendants with mustaches while routinely acquitting the clean shaven makes her decisions on the basis of a fact or consideration — the state of a person's facial hair — that ought not influence her decisions. Here she fails to be impartial because she does not exclude from her decision making a factor she ought to exclude. Conversely, suppose a judge issues her rulings without regard to whether the evidence provided indicates a defendant's guilt. Here she fails to be impartial because she does not include a factor she ought to include in order to be...

Is it a valid argument that it is okay for someone to be homosexual because they

Is it a valid argument that it is okay for someone to be homosexual because they were "born that way?" This argument seems to lack merit to me, and I believe the reasoning should be that there is nothing morally wrong with it aside from having certain religious conflicts. Pedophiles could be born the way they are, but nobody condones their actions, because there is something arguably wrong with what they want to do. I just seek another point of view on these issues, and possibly a few examples of things that may in fact be morally justified simply because one was born a certain way.

I'd be surprised if there were sound arguments for the immortality of homosexuality, but I agree with your suggestion that whether or not LGBT persons are 'born that way' or not cannot provide a sound basis for the immortality of homosexuality -- nor can it provide a sound basis for its moral permissibility of homosexuality either!

Your remarks about pedophilia suggest why such arguments are unsound: That a person is born in some way does not imply that actions they perform because they were born that way are not wrong. If (as seems likely) pedophilia is harmful to children, that it is wrong even if pedophiles can't refrain from having sexual desires directed at children. 'He/she was born with property P; he/she does X because he/she has property P; therefore, X is not morally wrong' is not a valid inference.

But perhaps this misunderstands the force of the 'born that way' claim. Perhaps the force resides not in the idea that being 'born that way' makes a person's actions morally permissible but that being born some way excuses a person's actions. So the thought would be that if homosexuality is inborn, then engaging in homosexual acts is morally excusable. But notice that (1) the reasoning above indicates why this doesn't seem obviously right -- being 'born that way' doesn't always make the actions one performs morally permissible, and (2) this strategy seems to assume that homosexuality is wrong but should be excused because it is inborn. Notice that for this strategy to work then, we would need an independent argument for the immorality of homosexuality. After all, you can only morally excuse what needs excusing, namely, actions that are morally objectionable.

In general, popular moral discourse greatly overinflates the importance of whether a trait is chosen or inborn to whether or not actions motivated by that trait are immoral or not. In the case of homosexuality, its moral standing must turn on familiar moral considerations (harm, rights, etc.) -- not on whether LGBT persons choose that way of life or are bequeathed it by nature or nurture.

(John Corvino, the best known philosophical defender of gay rights, discusses the 'born that way' problem here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-corvino/born-this-way_b_3111186.html)

I'd be surprised if there were sound arguments for the immortality of homosexuality, but I agree with your suggestion that whether or not LGBT persons are 'born that way' or not cannot provide a sound basis for the immortality of homosexuality -- nor can it provide a sound basis for its moral permissibility of homosexuality either! Your remarks about pedophilia suggest why such arguments are unsound: That a person is born in some way does not imply that actions they perform because they were born that way are not wrong. If (as seems likely) pedophilia is harmful to children, that it is wrong even if pedophiles can't refrain from having sexual desires directed at children. 'He/she was born with property P; he/she does X because he/she has property P; therefore, X is not morally wrong' is not a valid inference. But perhaps this misunderstands the force of the 'born that way' claim. Perhaps the force resides not in the idea that being 'born that way' makes a person's actions morally permissible but that...

It is common to characterize emotions as unhelpful in moral discernment. When

It is common to characterize emotions as unhelpful in moral discernment. When faced with a situation that requires careful moral deliberation, emotion is often set aside, while reason and evidence are taken to be very important. Isn't always this the case? Do emotions really have no value in moral discernment, or they have to some extent but some philosophers have just neglected their part?

You're certainly correct that there is a tendency in suppose that reason and emotion are antagonists, and that with respect to morality in particular, we should be guided by reason rather than emotion. And there may be major figures in the history of philosophy (Plato comes to mind) who really did see reason and emotion as in stark and irreconcilable tension. On this view, reason and emotion are essential partners in moral thought and deliberation instead of implacable antagonists.

However, there's a pretty significant segment of philosophers, both historical and contemporary, who don't think that reason and emotion are such enemies when it comes to moral reasoning and decision. A popular view (one that I myself find attractive) distinguishes between moral truth and moral knowledge: Emotions, on this view, are not a source of moral truth, but do enable you to know moral truths.

Suppose that, as you end a day of busy holiday shopping, you see a fellow shopper carrying a large bundle of shopping bags. She slips and falls on a patch of ice, evidently injuring herself. Feeling dismay, alarm, and sympathy -- what we might call morally salient emotions -- you offer help to the fallen shopper. Let us suppose that it is true that

It is morally right for you to help the fallen shopper.

In this case, your emotions helped you discern this truth. Without the ability to feel dismay, alarm, or sympathy, you would not have known that this is what it was morally right for you to do. However, it is not the case that it is morally right to you to help the fallen shopper because you felt dismay, alarm, or sympathy. It is morally right to help her because she needs aid, is in pain, it would be generous, and so forth. So on this view, your emotions help you to discern moral truths, but are not the source of that truth. Emotions are aids to moral reasoning, but are not what moral reasoning is about.

This position is attractive because it seems to reconcile two plausible claims. On the one hand, a person who lacks the right kind of emotional sensitivity is unlikely to appreciate what her moral obligations are and unlike to act reliably in morally praiseworthy ways. A person who (for instance) lacks all sympathy, respect, care, and so on, ends up morally deaf, cognitively cordoned off from moral realities. (At its worst, such a person exhibits psychopathy.) At the same time, emotions are imperfect signals of moral truth. Sometimes a person is sympathetic with, or cares for, someone who doesn't morally deserve sympathy or care. In other words, from a moral perspective, our emotional reactions need to be shaped or cultivated in the right way -- and the 'right way' is in accordance with reason.

You're certainly correct that there is a tendency in suppose that reason and emotion are antagonists, and that with respect to morality in particular, we should be guided by reason rather than emotion. And there may be major figures in the history of philosophy (Plato comes to mind) who really did see reason and emotion as in stark and irreconcilable tension. On this view, reason and emotion are essential partners in moral thought and deliberation instead of implacable antagonists. However, there's a pretty significant segment of philosophers, both historical and contemporary, who don't think that reason and emotion are such enemies when it comes to moral reasoning and decision. A popular view (one that I myself find attractive) distinguishes between moral truth and moral knowledge: Emotions, on this view, are not a source of moral truth, but do enable you to know moral truths. Suppose that, as you end a day of busy holiday shopping, you see a fellow shopper carrying a large bundle of shopping bags. She...

Moral disagreements seem to suggest that there may be an objective moral truth

Moral disagreements seem to suggest that there may be an objective moral truth out there but it seems next to impossible to discern about it. Is there a way out of intractably difficult moral disagreements so that both opposing sides will be able to discern the truth of the matter being discussed, or the situation is just hopeless?

In no way a simple question! First, you ask whether the "opposing sides" in a moral disagreement can "discern the truth" of the moral issue at hand. That raises some terrifically complex questions in moral epistemology, namely, just how do we know moral truths at all? From experience? From the testimony of others? By reasoning? By means of some sort of intuition or perception? Some combination of these? I propose we set those questions aside and focus on some narrower questions about moral disagreement itself: Why do people morally disagree, and is there a suitable way to resolve these disagreements?

Much depends on precisely where the source of the disagreement resides. Let's distinguish four sources of moral disagreement.

Many moral disagreements turn not on moral claims but on disputed questions of fact. For instance, suppose that two people disagree about the morality of capital punishment, one believing it morally justified, the other believing it morally unjustified. However, they may well agree about all the relevant moral claims but disagree about some crucial question of fact (for example, whether capital punishment deters crime). In other words, their moral disagreement doesn't stem from any disagreement about moral values, obligations, etc., but about non-moral matters. They agree about which non-moral questions matter to the morality of capital punishment, but disagree about how those questions are to be answered. Here we can hope that resolving their disagreement about the non-moral question will in turn resolve their disagreement about the moral question.

Sometimes disagreement results when people agree on basic moral claims but disagree about the application or meaning of particular moral concepts. Again, consider the morality of capital punishment. Two individuals might agree that capital punishment is morally justified if it does not treat a criminally cruelly -- but they might in turn disagree about what makes treatment cruel. (You can imagine what this disagreement might revolve around: Is it cruel to deny someone further life? Does it matter how painfully the person dies? Is killing a person any more cruel than having them spend their lives in jail? Etc.) Resolving this sort of disagreement is a bit tougher, but I think we still have reason for optimism. Often times our moral convictions are infused with concepts we use without fully understanding them ('cruel' in this case), and perhaps through some dialogue with others, we can clarify these concepts and thereby resolve our disagreement.

Things get tougher still when the disagreement stems from disagreement about the weight or significance to attach to different values or considerations. Suppose again a disagreement about capital punishment: One believes that capital punishment is wrong because it is cruel, while acknowledging that it is also deserved. The other believes that capital punishment is not wrong because it can be deserved, while acknowledging that it is also cruel. They disagree, then, not about what values or considerations are relevant to the question at hand, but about what weight or significance to assign to them. Here resolving their disagreement seems a bit more difficult, but at the very least, the disputants are working within the same moral frameworks (while disagreeing about what those frameworks entail).

Finally, disagreement is likely to be nearly intractable when the disputants simply do not bring the same set of moral concepts or the same broad moral framework to the disagreement. If the alleged cruelty of capital punishment (or alternatively, its allegedly being deserved) simply does not register with one of the disputants, then it seems hard to envision how they might resolve their disagreement. It's almost as if one or the other of the disputants is simply blind to what, in the eyes of their opponent, is a morally relevant consideration. It's tough to know how the disputants can rationally engage one another in a meaningful way given the source of their disagreement.

So in short, no, moral disagreement is not inherently hopeless. It can often be rationally resolved -- but there is no guarantee of such resolution, and when resolution emerges, it often emerges only very slowly. As with many things, when it comes to moral disagreement, patience is a virtue.

In no way a simple question! First, you ask whether the "opposing sides" in a moral disagreement can "discern the truth" of the moral issue at hand. That raises some terrifically complex questions in moral epistemology, namely, just how do we know moral truths at all? From experience? From the testimony of others? By reasoning? By means of some sort of intuition or perception? Some combination of these? I propose we set those questions aside and focus on some narrower questions about moral disagreement itself: Why do people morally disagree, and is there a suitable way to resolve these disagreements? Much depends on precisely where the source of the disagreement resides. Let's distinguish four sources of moral disagreement. Many moral disagreements turn not on moral claims but on disputed questions of fact. For instance, suppose that two people disagree about the morality of capital punishment, one believing it morally justified, the other believing it morally unjustified. However, they may well agree...

Is glory a worthy goal for a person? In an Astérix book, Abraracourcix, the

Is glory a worthy goal for a person? In an Astérix book, Abraracourcix, the chieftain, tells his wealthy brother in law that all of the latter's money is not a match for glory. The brother in law replies that Abraracourcix's glory could not pay the "oxen hooves pie" they were having at the time. This seems to be false in the times of "reality television": glory can be readily turned into money. Actually I suspect glory has always given people some access to material goods. But my question is rather whether glory is valuable for other reasons, specifically whether glory is valuable from an ethical point of view.

A nice place to start in thinking about this question is book I of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/nicomachaen.1.i.html
There Aristotle addresses the nature of happiness and consider the pros and cons of three sorts of lives: the life devoted to pleasure, the life devoted to money, and the 'political' life (or the life devoted to honor). You don't say in your question what you have in mind by 'glory,' but it seems similar to what Aristotle had in mind by honor, namely, others bestowing on us recognition or other goods as a mark of our merit or virtue.

Aristotle argues that the best life is not devoted to honor. Here is the main passage where Aristotle argue for this:

A consideration of the prominent types of life shows that people of superior refinement and of active disposition identify happiness with honour; for this is, roughly speaking, the end of the political life. But it seems too superficial to be what we are looking for, since it is thought to depend on those who bestow honour rather than on him who receives it, but the good we divine to be something proper to a man and not easily taken from him. Further, men seem to pursue honour in order that they may be assured of their goodness; at least it is by men of practical wisdom that they seek to be honoured, and among those who know them, and on the ground of their virtue; clearly, then, according to them, at any rate, virtue is better.

I see Aristotle as making several points against pursuing honor or glory. The first is that whether we are honored or glorified depends upon others' opinions of us, which can be fickle. (Think of all those reality TV stars that have been so quickly forgotten!) Honor and glory are therefore not very reliable or stable goods. Moreover, honor and glory are not, Aristotle says, "proper" to us. That we are honored or glorified by others tells us what others are like — what they believe is good or virtuous — but only indirectly what we are like. And it seems likely that others can accord us honor and glory for the wrong reasons. In the end, Aristotle argues, what we want is not to be honored and glorified for our virtue but really to be virtuous.

I'm inclined to think Aristotle is right: Honor and glory are not inherently or unconditionally good. They are good only to the extent that we are honored and glorified for attributes or accomplishments that are genuinely good or worthwhile. That said, it's important not to exaggerate Aristotle's conclusions though. We shouldn't conclude that glory and honor are bad or worthless altogether. As social creatures, we need the recognition or esteem of others. Presumably the best life is one where we are honored or glorified by others because of our genuinely valuable attributes or accomplishments. Glory, we might say, is the icing on the cake only if the cake is actually a good cake.

A nice place to start in thinking about this question is book I of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/nicomachaen.1.i.html There Aristotle addresses the nature of happiness and consider the pros and cons of three sorts of lives: the life devoted to pleasure, the life devoted to money, and the 'political' life (or the life devoted to honor). You don't say in your question what you have in mind by 'glory,' but it seems similar to what Aristotle had in mind by honor, namely, others bestowing on us recognition or other goods as a mark of our merit or virtue. Aristotle argues that the best life is not devoted to honor. Here is the main passage where Aristotle argue for this: A consideration of the prominent types of life shows that people of superior refinement and of active disposition identify happiness with honour; for this is, roughly speaking, the end of the political life. But it seems too superficial to be what we are looking for, since it is thought to depend on...

I've read and heard some atheist philosophers (like Peter Singer) argue that it

I've read and heard some atheist philosophers (like Peter Singer) argue that it's our capacity to reason that makes us moral. But this would seem to imply that we can take advantage of people who don't exercise or do not fully have this capacity, like young children. Is this point valid?

Let's begin with the statement "our capacity to reason makes us moral."

Philosophers often distinguish between moral agents and moral patients. These are somewhat technical terms, but the rough idea is that an individual is a moral agent just in case that individual can be properly held morally responsible, that is, it can be correct to say of that individual that it has an obligation to do A, a duty to do B, etc. Adult human beings are typically thought of moral agents — they are capable of acting rightly or wrongly. Bacteria, for example, definitely aren't moral agents. An individual is a moral patient if facts about it make it worthy of moral consideration. Moral patients have some property or status that necessitate moral agents taken those individuals into account in their moral reasoning.

Philosophers disagree a little about what makes an individual a moral agent -- and a lot about what makes an individual a moral patient. Some philosophers, such as Kant, thought one and the same property (in Kant's case, rational agency) makes an individual a moral agent and a moral patient. Kant's view seems vulnerable to the criticism you offer in your question.

But it's important to recognize that these are separate issues: When you say that Singer believes that our capacity to reason "makes us moral", I take you to mean that he believes that our capacity to reason makes us moral agents. But notice that it's a further question whether our capacity to reason also make us moral patients, and it doesn't follow from the claim that 'X makes someone a moral agent' that 'X makes someone a moral patient.' Singer is an excellent case in point: He thinks that rational capacities make us moral agents, but the capacity to suffer makes us moral patients. That's why (for example) he thinks that we human beings (who are moral agents because we have rational capacities) have moral duties toward animals (who are moral patients because they have the capacity to suffer) despite animals have no moral duties at all (because they lack the requisite rational capacities to be moral agents). So the inference you draw in your question does not appear valid: The claim that our rational capacities makes us moral agents does not imply that we can "take advantage" of those who lack those capacities (young children, as you mention). Such beings may be moral patients to whom we have obligations despite their lacking the properties that make them moral agents.

Let's begin with the statement "our capacity to reason makes us moral." Philosophers often distinguish between moral agents and moral patients . These are somewhat technical terms, but the rough idea is that an individual is a moral agent just in case that individual can be properly held morally responsible, that is, it can be correct to say of that individual that it has an obligation to do A, a duty to do B, etc. Adult human beings are typically thought of moral agents — they are capable of acting rightly or wrongly. Bacteria, for example, definitely aren't moral agents. An individual is a moral patient if facts about it make it worthy of moral consideration. Moral patients have some property or status that necessitate moral agents taken those individuals into account in their moral reasoning. Philosophers disagree a little about what makes an individual a moral agent -- and a lot about what makes an individual a moral patient. Some philosophers, such as Kant, thought one and the same property...

I have trouble understanding the value of moral luck as a concept. If I am a

I have trouble understanding the value of moral luck as a concept. If I am a conscientious juror who weighs the available evidence, deliberates in good faith, then returns a guilty verdict, yet the defendant is in fact not guilty, then I have in every sense met my moral burden. I am not "wrong" in the moral sense because I did everything asked of a citizen placed in that situation. My guilty verdict was, rather, incorrect. Moral luck does nothing to explain or illuminate the situation. My decision more likely resulted from an incomplete investigation or a poor defense. To claim that it is bad moral luck that my beauty attracts many suitors and enhanced my chances of infidelity is as absurd or empty as to claim that beauty is good moral luck because attractive people are perceived to be more credible.

Moral luck is a tricky concept. The examples you offer in your question illustrate why.

Philosophers use the notion of moral luck to refer to situations where a person is subject to moral judgment for something which is (at least in part) outside of her control. A common example: Two drivers side by side speed recklessly through an intersection. A pedestrian enters the intersection from the right, and the driver on the right strikes her. The driver on the left speeds through the intersection without injuring anyone. That the driver on the right struck the pedestrian is to some extent a matter of luck (the pedestrian could just have easily having been entering from the left side). So too, that the driver on the left did not strike the pedestrian is to some extent a matter of luck (again, the pedestrian could just as easily entered from the left with the result that she is struck by the driver on the left). In his seminal article on this topic, Thomas Nagel distinguishes four different kinds of luck. (http://people.brandeis.edu/~teuber/THOMAS_NAGEL_Moral_Luck.pdf) This example corresponds to 'resultant luck,' luck having to do with the fact that outcomes of our actions are not entirely within our control. The right side driver, we might say, had "bad" resultant luck inasmuch he may well be blamed for a bad outcome that was outside his control. The left side driver is the beneficiary of "good" resultant luck since, despite driving recklessly, he did not injure anyone thanks to facts outside his control and is likely to escape blame altogether.

As to your two examples: I agree with you in the conscientious juror case that moral luck doesn't explain much — but that's because if you deliberate conscientiously, etc., you aren't morally blameworthy for reaching the wrong verdict. While factors outside your control explain why you reached the wrong verdict, your reaching that verdict doesn't reflect any moral wrongdoing on your part (you weren't careless or inattentive in considering the evidence, etc.). Moral luck requires both:
(a) a person is blameworthy for some act
(b) but that act (or some feature of it, such as its outcomes) is at least part the product of luck
As I see it, (a) doesn't hold in this example. (Incidentally, this might be an example of what epistemologists have come to call epistemic luck.)

Your second set of examples raises a slightly different set of issues: they concern constitutive luck, luck relating to traits outside one's control. (I'm assuming beauty is such a trait). You seem to be pointing out that one and the same trait can be good moral luck or bad moral luck depending on other factors. That's a good observation, though it doesn't undermine the claim that luck can often explain good or bad outcomes.

Moral luck is a tricky concept. The examples you offer in your question illustrate why. Philosophers use the notion of moral luck to refer to situations where a person is subject to moral judgment for something which is (at least in part) outside of her control. A common example: Two drivers side by side speed recklessly through an intersection. A pedestrian enters the intersection from the right, and the driver on the right strikes her. The driver on the left speeds through the intersection without injuring anyone. That the driver on the right struck the pedestrian is to some extent a matter of luck (the pedestrian could just have easily having been entering from the left side). So too, that the driver on the left did not strike the pedestrian is to some extent a matter of luck (again, the pedestrian could just as easily entered from the left with the result that she is struck by the driver on the left). In his seminal article on this topic, Thomas Nagel distinguishes four different kinds of luck. (http...

A very close relative of mine admitted to committing a murder, but revealed few

A very close relative of mine admitted to committing a murder, but revealed few details about the crime. Do I have an ethical obligation to report what I've heard, even though I doubt very much that there is enough information there to lead to an indictment/trial/et cetera? Of course legally I'm not expected to incriminate an immediate family member, but my conscience seems to be pushing me towards reporting the information despite the lack of any significant real world consequences for the relative.

Before reporting the supposed crime, I'd ask myself a lot of questions:

First, how strong a piece of evidence is an admission of guilt? Increasingly, psychologists and legal scholars are discovering how remarkably common "false confessions" are: http://courses2.cit.cornell.edu/sociallaw/student_projects/FalseConfessi...
Is there any reason your relative might admit to this crime aside from having actually committed it?

Second, you say that there is not enough information to lead to an indictment or trial. But of course that determination isn't yours to make, and it may be that once your relative is under suspicion, an investigation will yield more information about the crime, information that could lead to your relative's being indicted. So do you really know what you claim to know, i.e., that there's not enough evidence to indict (as opposed to your not having access to sufficient evidence to indict)?

Third, you say that there aren't any "significant real world consequences" for the relative if you report this. But again, that's not clear and not solely up to you to determine. Do you believe in good conscience that your relative ought to suffer the punishment associated with murder (a lengthy prison term, or in some places, execution) if the relative in fact committed the crime, and if so, why? (Here's a quick primer on how to think about the ethical justification of criminal punishment: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/punishment/)

Lastly, I'd point out that in most legal systems, you would be required to "incriminate" a close family member unless the individual is your spouse. So are you willing to play such a role in the potential prosecution of this family member?

Before reporting the supposed crime, I'd ask myself a lot of questions: First, how strong a piece of evidence is an admission of guilt? Increasingly, psychologists and legal scholars are discovering how remarkably common "false confessions" are: http://courses2.cit.cornell.edu/sociallaw/student_projects/FalseConfessions.html Is there any reason your relative might admit to this crime aside from having actually committed it? Second, you say that there is not enough information to lead to an indictment or trial. But of course that determination isn't yours to make, and it may be that once your relative is under suspicion, an investigation will yield more information about the crime, information that could lead to your relative's being indicted. So do you really know what you claim to know, i.e., that there's not enough evidence to indict (as opposed to your not having access to sufficient evidence to indict)? Third, you say that there aren't any "significant real world consequences" for the relative if...

If we accept that caring for disabled members is an obligation of all society,

If we accept that caring for disabled members is an obligation of all society, is it permissible to prevent people from disabling themselves?

I’d be interested to know exactly what’s motivating your question, but here’s a stab at the reasoning that might be behind it:

Suppose that a society is (collectively) obligated to care for the disabled. Caring for the disabled imposes burdens on the rest of society. But it’s wrong for us to knowingly act so as make ourselves (more) burdensome to others. So it would be wrong for us to knowingly act so as to disable ourselves, and since it is permissible to permit others from wronging us, it is permissible to prevent people from disabling themselves.

Before we address the soundness of this reasoning, I’d note that very few disabled persons have chosen to be disabled. In the vast majority of cases, disability either doesn’t stem from a person’s choice at all (the disability is traced to genetic or environmental causes) or results from a choice that carried a risk of disability (working in a dangerous profession like logging, engaging in a dangerous form of leisure). Most societies address these with schemes of insurance, either government-provided or through the private market. The idea there is to spread the risk of inherently dangerous activities (such as driving a car) across a large population. That isn’t inconsistent with certain people bearing more of the risks (bad drivers, those who operate logging companies). And of course, there’s health insurance in order to distribute the risk of being alive!

So I suspect that if you have in mind individuals intentionally disabling themselves, that phenomenon is rare. But does the reasoning I outlined above support the conclusion that it’s morally permissible to try to prevent others from intentionally disabling themselves because that’s burdensome to others? On the one hand, maybe the best reasons we have for putting suicide barriers on bridges or requiring that consumer products be safe is that these policies preclude people from harming themselves in ways that result in disabilities for which others in society will ultimately bear the costs. On the other hand, we sometimes permit people to impose burdens on us through means other than disabling themselves. Pollution burdens others. So does procreation (societies end up caring for many children who are abandoned, etc.) This suggests that whether we have a right to prevent others from burdening us may not depend on how they cause that burden — whether by disabling themselves or through other activities or choices. In the end, my guess is that the best account of when someone else can permissibly burden us, versus when it is permissible for us to prevent them from burdening us, turns on how important the ‘burdening’ activity is.

A final note: Even if it is permissible in general to prevent people from disabling themselves, that moral permission has limits. I doubt that it would be morally permissible to (for example) install surveillance cameras in every dwelling in order to prevent people from disabling themselves through drug abuse, ‘failed’ suicide attempts, etc.

I’d be interested to know exactly what’s motivating your question, but here’s a stab at the reasoning that might be behind it: Suppose that a society is (collectively) obligated to care for the disabled. Caring for the disabled imposes burdens on the rest of society. But it’s wrong for us to knowingly act so as make ourselves (more) burdensome to others. So it would be wrong for us to knowingly act so as to disable ourselves, and since it is permissible to permit others from wronging us, it is permissible to prevent people from disabling themselves. Before we address the soundness of this reasoning, I’d note that very few disabled persons have chosen to be disabled. In the vast majority of cases, disability either doesn’t stem from a person’s choice at all (the disability is traced to genetic or environmental causes) or results from a choice that carried a risk of disability (working in a dangerous profession like logging, engaging in a dangerous form of leisure). Most societies address these with...