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2: Torture, Death, and the “Greater Good”

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  • We do ethics so that we can understand how to live a good life and do good things and how to avoid living a bad life and doing bad things. Many important questions about living, however, ask us to also consider death. This Unit brings together a few related issues that are the opposite of living well: torture, poverty, euthanasia, capital punishment, and abortion. These are not cheery topics to consider, but they are some of the more important, and polarizing, moral questions that confront society today. At the heart of most of these questions lies two important assumptions: pain and death are bad. But what does this say about living? And what type of life do we care about living? Through examining the issues in this Unit, we’ll come to a better understanding of what is valuable about living (and dying).

    Chapter 7, The Ethics of Torture by Martine Berenpas, discusses the motivations for, but also the serious problems with, torture. Chapter 8, What Moral Obligations do we have (or not have) to Impoverished Peoples? by B.M. Wooldridge, discusses the difficult problem of balancing our own autonomy and rights to the fruits of our labor with what we ought to do for those that need our help. Chapter 9, Euthanasia: Pro and Con by Nathan Nobis, discusses the situations where death might be preferable to life and the possible concerns of allowing people to pursue medical options to end their lives (and get help doing it). Chapter 10, An Argument Against Capital Punishment, discusses the reasons for executing criminals and the potential problems for policies implementing it. Chapters 11, Common Arguments about Abortion by Nathan Nobis and Kristina Grob, lays out many of the more popular arguments that are presented for and against and abortion and points out many of the problems that plague them. Chapter 12, The Better (Philosophical) Arguments about Abortion also by Nathan Nobis and Kristina Grob, goes through the more nuanced philosophically-inspired arguments about abortion and illustrates that the most rational conclusion to draw is that most abortions are morally permissible and ought to be legal.

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