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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.

Some states mandate an automatic death penalty for murdering a law enforcement

Some states mandate an automatic death penalty for murdering a law enforcement officer. How can this possibly be just when it elevates the victim above that of common civilians? I agree with the Aristotelian conception of justice as only partially overlapping that of morality but consistency is crucial to rationality in both judgment and conduct. Actions ought to be judged similarly unless there are morally relevant dissimilarities between them so a law-abiding or even a vindictive police officer, already armed and aware of the risks of his profession, is the same as any other civilian, both legally and morally. Common law jurisdictions work on the basis that all citizens are equal in intrinsic worth--wouldn't the imperative be to either entirely repeal the death penalty for murder or use it in every single instance?

I'm going to largely duck your last question: I doubt even the most enthusiastic proponents of the death penalty believe it should be imposed for every murder. Most jurisdictions distinguish between first-degree murder, second-degree, etc., precisely because not all murders are morally serious enough to merit the death penalty (which it is not to say that any murder merits the death penalty).

But on to your main question: Should the death penalty be automatic for murdering a law enforcement officer but not automatic for murdering anyone else? I can think of three possible rationales for an affirmative answer. I'm not sure I find any of them convincing, but I'll leave that to your judgment.

The first is that killing law enforcement is morally worse than killing someone else and so automatically deserves a harsh punishment. Your position seems to be that this is not so: That in order for killing law enforcement to be morally worse than killing someone else, there must be something about the officer that lends the officer more 'intrinsic worth' than the typical citizen. I agree that is probably not a very promising way of explaining how killing law enforcement might be morally worse than killing others. But a slightly more attractive thought is that killing law enforcement reflects more negatively on the character of the murderer than does killing someone else. Perhaps killing law enforcement shows greater contempt for law and legal norms.

A second possible way to defend the automatic death penalty in such cases is to suggest that because police work is inherently dangerous, the law should impose additional penalties on killing law enforcement in order to discourage such killings. Law enforcement are unusually vulnerable to be killed, so preventing them from being killed may require punishments that are harsh and unambiguous. A further consideration of this sort is that perhaps it would be harder to recruit police without this harsh penalty for killing them.

A final rationale rests on what's often called the 'expressive' theory of punishment. This view says that punishment is justified as our moral condemnation of a criminal's wrongful act. If the killing of police induces greater outrage than the killing of others, then (according to this theory), those who kill police should be shown less leniency than those who kill others. Obvious question to ask here: What, if anything, justifies our greater outrage at killing law enforcement? It might seem that this rationale ends up requiring, or collapsing into, the first: that those who kill police show themselves to be morally worse than those who kill others.

And let me add: Great question! (To my knowledge, philosophers haven't taken up this issue directly.)

I feel that it is okay for private citizens to break certain laws. As a matter

Law
I feel that it is okay for private citizens to break certain laws. As a matter of fact, when that law is unjust, I feel that it is a private citizen's duty to break that law. On the other hand, if someone is acting as a public official or as an authority figure then they should follow the law down to the last letter. Is this opinion valid or just inconsistent?

There are a few different issues in the air with your question.

Whether it's morally permissible to break the law depends on whether, or under what conditions, there is a moral obligation to obey the law in the first place. This is an old philosophical question, perhaps addressed most memorably by Socrates in the Crito, where he argues that it would be wrong for him to escape from Athens to avoid his death sentence. The question of whether (and how) we have a moral obligation to obey the law has come to be known as the question of "political obligation." (http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/political-obligation/). Philosophers disagree about whether such an obligation exists. 'Philosophical anarchists' maintain that there is no obligation to obey the law as such (though there may be an obligation to obey laws that require us to do what we are morally obligated to do anyway). Those defending political obligation offer a variety of different arguments, appealing to the notion of a 'social contract,' a duty to rescue, duties of gratitude, etc. The general strategy there is to try to show that political obligation is a species of some other obligation we should recognize.

Supposing there is an obligation to obey the law, how far does it extend? Are we ever permitted to disobey unjust laws, as you propose? Note that its being permissible to obey the law and its being a duty to break the law are different -- and in general, we should be more skeptical about the latter than the former. There are plenty of laws that may well be unjust but it would be surprising if we have a duty to break them. There are tax laws I think are unjust, but I'm confident I don't have a duty to break them. Drug laws often impose unjust penalties, but I certainly don't think I'm obligated to wander around in public displaying my illegal narcotics so that I can be arrested and subject to the unjust drug laws. So the central question here is whether it's ever morally permissible to break the law -- the situations where it's a duty to break the law are a subset of these, and likely rare.

Finally, you ask about acting as a public official vs. acting as a private citizen. The position you advocate has an estimable history. Kant, for example, in his essay "What is enlightenment?" (http://www.columbia.edu/acis/ets/CCREAD/etscc/kant.html) , argued that there are 'private' and 'public' uses of reason. One and the same individual who, say, advocates against a law in his private life (attending rallies calling for its repeal, for instance) is nevertheless obligated to enforce and uphold that law in her capacity as a public official.

What was the biggest procedural error made at Socrates' Trial that no fair legal

Law
What was the biggest procedural error made at Socrates' Trial that no fair legal system today would make? Why didn't those Greeks think about it back then?

The Athenians followed some sound procedures in their legal cases that we respect today, like having the jury decide one's guilt or innocence and letting the defense speak last. We know a fair amount about how courtroom speeches worked, not to be sure in Socrates' own time but in the decades after his death, because we have over 100 speeches by plaintiffs and defendants.

Plato tells us a lot about the trial of Socrates but we can't trust him entirely. After all his version differs from that of Xenophon. So anything we say will have to be provisional and attentive to the limitations on our evidence.

Some of the weaknesses of ancient trials followed from the difference in technology between then and now, which translated into a difference in credentials and proof. John Dillon's book SALT AND OLIVES spends a lot of time discussing ancient legal cases, and sometimes points out how things we consider trivially easy had to be argued in court then. For instance, an ID card and birth certificate today usually proves that you are the child of the deceased. Lacking those documents, the Athenians would make roundabout arguments. ("No one stopped me from going to the family funeral, so they obviously treated me as related to the deceased," etc.)

But from our point of view, the most glaring procedural difference between then and now is the absence of a judge. Each side made its case, and a jury decided (a large jury too, 501 in a capital case); but no one oversaw the proceedings. No one was there to declare some evidence inadmissible, or to distinguish between evidence brought forward and evidence relevant to a charge. So people could bring in all the accusations they wanted to, as long as the jury was receptive. (Aristophanes' comedy WASPS depicts jurors as vengeful old men. Venal, too: If a demagogue wanted them to vote his way, he'd threaten to end jury pay.)

A judge might have made Socrates shut up, when he wandered into talk of the gossip that had been circulating about him. But it might also have stopped his accusers from prosecuting a case as vague as theirs.

So why didn't the Greeks think about putting a judge in the courtroom? Because they had just finished taking the judges out of the courtroom. Before the full development of the Athenian democracy, many legal cases were heard by panels of judges that later went before a jury. The Athenians moved from judges to juries in order to make justice more democratic. In the process they lost some of the niceties of a tightly governed judicial system.

Do philosophers make good lawyers? If not is that due to a fault in the legal

Do philosophers make good lawyers? If not is that due to a fault in the legal profession or philosophy itself?

It's probably hard to generalise, since there are any number of other traits that make someone a good lawyer, apart from those shared with doing philosophy. However, I understand that law firms are very interested in taking people who have done a philosophy degree, and a good number of philosophy students show an interest in studying law. Several skills that are very important to philosophy are also important to law, in particular the abilities to make sense of abstract information and convoluted sentences, to construct arguments on both sides of a case, to anticipate objections and prepare replies, to spot fallacies and weaknesses in arguments, to integrate a wide range of different kinds of relevant information, and to write and speak clearly and persuasively, breaking down complexity into simple components. There may be other relevant traits that help as well, such as an interest in what is right or just, a good memory, motivation for hard work, and so on. On the other hand, IF philosophers are characterised by an interest in the truth, and IF a good lawyer is one who is interested in protecting their client or success (assuming a combative legal system like we have in the USA or UK), then there can be a conflict of motivation in the two professions, which would make philosophers bad lawyers unless they become public prosecutors! But these are big and controversial assumptions.

Are citizens in the US obligated to obey the law just because it is the law? If

Law
Are citizens in the US obligated to obey the law just because it is the law? If one reserves the right of civil disobedience, doesn't that imply that the state's authority is ultimate not legitimate? Thanks for continuing this site.

This is a difficult question! In fact, two difficult questions. I'm just going to tackle the second one, and leave aside how we should think about political obligation.

In the end, I think the answer is that legitimacy and civil disobedience are compatible. But it's going to take a while to get there. I’ll start with a working definition of civil disobedience, taken from perhaps the most influential political philosopher of the 20th century, John Rawls. He says civil disobedience is ‘a public, non-violent, conscientious yet political act contrary to law usually done with the aim of bringing about a change in the law or policies of the government’ (A Theory of Justice, p. 363). A couple of brief comments on this definition that will help us answer your question. If you don't agree with these, then you won't agree with where I end up.

1. Civil disobedience always involves doing something illegal. However, in most democratic countries, such as the US, civil disobedience is not itself a crime. If arrested and prosecuted, protestors are charged with breaking whatever law was broken by the act of civil disobedience (blocking a public highway, trespassing, etc.).

2. Ordinary violations of the law do not have the aim of changing the law or demonstrate opposition to a government policy. They do not seek to make a statement or communicate a message to society. People break the law for many reasons, apart from the usual ones of greed, self-interest and emotion that motivate criminals. For instance, they may break the speed limit without thinking they are doing anything particularly wrong, because they feel there is no strong moral reason to obey the speed limit. Or they may break the law because it conflicts with a personal moral conviction. This may be because they rank some other moral duty, e.g. to protect a friend, higher than the duty to obey the law; or it can be a case of ‘conscientious objection’. However, civil disobedience always aims to change some law or policy.

3. Civil disobedience aims to communicate to society the protestors’ condemnation of the law and their desire for the law to be changed. This message can only be communicated if the act of civil disobedience is announced. The public nature of civil disobedience also relates to the protestors showing that they respect and submit to the law. By allowing themselves to be identified and arrested, they show that by breaking the law, they are nevertheless not seeking to undermine the law.

On this understanding of civil disobedience, is it justified in the USA? Let’s assume that the state is legitimate, either because it is founded on consent (democracy) or because it is ‘reasonably’ just. In that case, the fact that we are breaking the law itself counts as a reason against civil disobedience if there is political obligation. But it can sometimes be right to break an obligation for the sake of some greater moral value. And so Rawls argues that if the aims of an act of civil disobedience are important enough, then the act can be justified on certain conditions. One of these is that all legal attempts to change the law have failed. Civil disobedience must be a ‘last resort’. Second, civil disobedience must be non-violent. The most important interest that the law protects is our safety. To threaten this is to act unjustifiably, says Rawls, because the aim of civil disobedience cannot be more important than the protection against violence.

For the state to be legimitate, we must have a right to political participation. This must involve expressing our dissent from the laws of the state. But this may not give us a right to civil disobedience. It may only give us the right to legal protest, e.g. if the state is already reasonably just. This only means that civil disobedience must be ‘exceptional’, and so will need to be very sensitive to the individual circumstances of the action we are trying to justify.

Two things to pay attention to will be the consequences of the action of civil disobedience and the motivation for undertaking it. For example, civil disobedience can be divisive, it may encourage disrespect for the law, it could increase political instability. But these effects are mitigated when the protestors are willing to submit to punishment, which makes clear their general respect for the authority of the law, and so will minimise any encouragement of unjustified disobedience or general disrespect for the law. It also indicates the protestors’ strength of feeling and the fact that they are not acting for personal gain. This will diminish the antagonism and resentment that others feel if they disagree with the protestors, and are important for right motivation for the action. It is part of the definition of civil disobedience that it is motivated by a genuine sense of the law being morally wrong. We could also say that the protestors must have given careful thought to the appropriateness of the action. And this depends on a sensitivity to the social and political context. How unjust is the government generally? How unjust is the law? How much protest can society take? These questions cannot be answered in general.

Mill argued that instead of becoming annoyed with people who contest an accepted view, we should be grateful to them. They help open our minds, and they are doing what we should be doing – thinking for ourselves and aiming to get at the truth. We can argue a similar case for justified civil disobedience, that instead of looking at it as an irritant and disruptive to the smooth running of society, it is essential for the political health of the state and therefore a demonstration of good citizenship by the protestors.

None of this shows that the state is ‘ultimately not legitimate’, as you ask. It shows that legitimacy is compatible with civil disobedience. It is quite a 'conservative' answer. But if we can justify civil disobedience if assuming a conservative political position, then we can justify it all the more if we assume a more radical political position.

How much of the laws on the books today were written by philosophers of law? It

Law
How much of the laws on the books today were written by philosophers of law? It seems to me that the overwhelming majority of laws were written by people with JDs ergo people with degrees in which philosophy of law was not an important subject during their education. If they had more training in the philosophy of law would law be More efficient and fairer?

Disclaimer: I'm neither a JD nor a philosopher of law. But I don't think that will matter for the points I want to make.

My guess is that very few laws were written by people with training in philosophy of law, and not too many more by people with training in philosophy of any sort. But I'm not sure that should worry us.

The first reason is that laws in many countries—including the United States, where I live—are part of the democratic process. They neither are nor pretend to be examples of perfect justice or perfect efficiency. They're the result of various kinds of compromise and without a dictator, that's how it has to be.

Furthermore, in democratic systems, the question of what justice really demands isn't the only one we think should guide lawmaking. People can disagree about what's just. In democratic systems, the will of the voters counts. Suppose a legislative aide has been charged with drafting a law. Suppose she is well-schooled in legal philosophy. And suppose that the statute she's meant to draft doesn't fit her considered view of what the law should be. If it's something the voters clearly support, her contrary opinion won't matter. And unless the law is deeply and manifestly unjust, it shouldn't matter. We live in a democracy, not a philosophracy, to coin an ugly term. If the philosopher wants her view to prevail, she should run for office, or try to persuade voters by becoming a pundit or commentator. (I'd add: even then, it's a mistake to think that philosophers have more insight into what's just than everyone else does.)

Finally, suppose a proposed law seems fair and reasonable. Turning the proposal into a statute that will function efficiently in practice is a specialized craft. It calls for a practical understanding of how the courts, government bureaucracies, businesses, etc. actually work. There's no reason to think that training in philosophy of law makes someone an expert on any of that.

Do you think that contempt of court through judicial discretion is unjust

Law
Do you think that contempt of court through judicial discretion is unjust especially in jurisdictions that allow for jury nullification? Lawyers conduct character assassinations in the witness box all the time, and judges don't always enforce contempt rulings consistently even within the same day. I know character assassinations are something most philosophers and even some lawyers frown upon but as long as that CAN lead to uncovering the truth why not let up to twelve jurors decide for themselves--because judges either don't care or are unable to recognize this (not that they should) why does it matter what the judge thinks and why should lawyers care either? Juries decide serious cases and the role of judges in any just society is merely to enforce procedures, and even then they are not required by law to inform juries of the option of jury nullification and are not required to defend their state-protected deontic legitimacy.

Justice Joseph Story of the U.S. Supreme Court once wrote, “Every person accused as a criminal has a right to be tried according to the law of the land—the fixed law of the land, and not by the law as a jury may understand it, or choose, from wantonness or ignorance of accidental mistake, to interpret it.”

Justice Story’s outlook has largely prevailed in American courts, and the standard formulation in most jurisdictions today is that though juries do indeed have a very real power to disregard (or “nullify”) a judge’s instructions in reaching a verdict, they are nevertheless duty-bound, morally, to follow those instructions, even though they cannot be punished for violating that duty.

The task of a trained judiciary, according to this view, is to interpret complicated laws correctly—something that ordinary citizens are sometimes unequipped to do. The judiciary’s role also goes beyond the mere enforcement of procedures. Instead, judges must interpret complex statutes in the light of case law, and an ordinary juror is sometimes no more able to perform such a task than to build a space telescope. Moreover, if lawyers were routinely permitted to argue law to the jury (instead of to the judge alone), they might easily trick gullible jurors into believing that the law was something quite different from what it really is. In classical Athens, by contrast, jurors were judges of both fact and law, and a common complaint against the Athenian system was that Athenian juries often decided cases contrary to law.

Now against this prevailing view, one might easily ask what a juror would be obligated to do if a judge gave instructions that were not merely imperfect or called for the enforcement of a bad law, but called for the enforcement of tyrannical laws or barbaric laws. If you like political philosophy, you might recall that, in the natural-law tradition as epitomized by John Locke, there are limits to what any government can impose on a citizen, and when human law contradicts natural law (however natural law is defined), our first obligation is to follow natural law. The Nazis’ laws were human laws, and often tyrannical, and in the United States, the fugitive slave law (for example) was enforced by juries until the beginning of the Civil War, and miscegenation laws were enforced by juries until the 1960s. Must a conscientious juror enforce such laws as these? Could a jury rightly “nullify” an instruction to apply such a law to a particular case?

Of course, tyrannical laws, or tyrannical instructions from a judge, are supposed to be overturned on appeal, and yet the typical juror has no guarantee that such an appeal will ever be heard—or that an atrocious result will actually be undone. In reality, in any legal system, the appellate courts sometimes fail in their duty. Is it possible, then, to embrace Justice Story’s version of a juror’s obligations, while at the same time admitting that there might be exceptional cases—cases where a juror has every right to refuse to follow a tyrannical instruction from the judge?

I believe it is possible, though I admit that the question is complex. One might still regard as morally binding the standard rule that now embodies Justice Story’s outlook: “the judge is the judge of the law, the jury is the judge of the facts.” Yet one might also believe that the rule could have exceptions. (In the United States, the most important opinion in this regard is Sparf and Hansen v. United States, 156 U.S. 51 [1895], and though Sparf certainly does uphold the standard rule, it nowhere states that the rule holds without exception.) What counts as an exception would then have to rest with the conscience of the individual juror, since leaving that question to the judge would effectively give the judge the same power to impose tyrannical laws or instructions as before.

Also, a juror could still be obligated to answer truthfully when asked about his or her opinions during voir dire, and the juror could still be excused or excluded from jury service by the judge. Nevertheless, the juror would have a right to refuse to convict if the juror discovered, after being empaneled, that he or she had actually been roped into the equivalent of a judicial murder, or some equally monstrous project.

The judge’s proper authority over the jury is a fascinating question of legal and political philosophy, but the common term “jury nullification,” it seems to me, is employed rather too broadly today, because it covers two very different kinds of situations: (1) situations where a jury nullifies (or disregards) a judge’s instructions merely because the jury dislikes the law or the instructions, and (2) situations where a jury honestly believes that a conviction would amount to an act of tyranny, incompatible with civilized government. (By analogy, it might be remembered that, in Plato’s Apology, Socrates insists that the jury is duty-bound to follow the law, and in the Crito, he argues that he is obligated to follow the law even if he disagrees with it. Yet there are also legal proceedings in which Socrates flatly refuses to do the bidding of the authorities—specifically, during the trial of the generals from the battle of Arginusae in 406 B.C., and in the arrest of Leon of Salamis, both incidents being related in the Apology.)

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?

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.

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