Thursday, August 30, 2007
Any moral philosopher will be familiar with the objection to consequentialism that it demands unreasonable sacrifices from individuals, the thought being that just because some benefits, dispersed very widely over time and space, will flow from some act massively detrimental to some individual's interests, it is not unjust for that individual to refuse to perform that act. Rawls' argument about the separateness of persons is of this sort, for example. I'm broadly in agreement with this objection, but I was thinking that consequentialism has another problem with sacrifices as well. Unless a sacrifice is maximally beneficial, consequentialism condemns it as unjust. But if someone wants to sacrifice themselves, it hardly seems to be an issue of justice, unless by sacrificing themselves they are violating other obligations - to care for someone, or something. Part of the problem here seems to be about identifying the victim of the injustice: unless some other obligation is violated, it is hard to see how there could be anyone who is wronged by a chosen sacrifice, since the person who suffers chose to. This is a general problem for consequentialism, of course, but it seems particularly obvious here.