Quinn s Doctrine of Doing and Allowing (DDA)

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1 Quinn s Doctrine of Doing and Allowing (DDA) 1. Against Foot & Bennett: Recall Philippa Foot s proposal: Doing harm is initiating or sustaining a harmful sequence. (And allowing harm is failing to prevent a pre-existing harmful sequence from being completed.) Quinn offers a counter-example: Freeze You live in a very cold place. For years, every winter, you have been going over to your elderly neighbor s house to refuel his furnace just before it runs out. Today, just as you re about to head over, you hear a distress call from 5 people who are freezing in a distant cabin and need saving. To save them, you must leave immediately. Rather than fueling your neighbor s furnace, you leave immediately. You save the 5, but your neighbor freezes to death. Quinn points out that this seems much more like Rescue I (where you save 5 drowning people rather than 1 drowning person) than Rescue II (where you run over 1 person to get to 5 people who need saving). Yet, Foot s proposal would count it as DOING harm. There was no pre-existing harmful sequence which you allowed to play out. Your neighbor was not already freezing, or in danger of death. Rather, you seem to have done something which BEGAN or INITIATED a harmful sequence. Quinn thinks that it would be absurd to say that you killed your neighbor, however. You merely let him die. [Two questions: (1) What do you think? Did you kill your neighbor, or merely let him die? (2) DOES Foot s proposal really entail that you killed him? Perhaps there WAS a harmful sequence already in place, and you were merely keeping it at bay?] Recall also Jonathan Bennett s proposal that one does harm when very few of their possible movements will entail that harm occurs, and they choose one of them. Quinn s counter-example is a reverse variant of Bennett s Immobility case: Reverse Immobility Henry is in a room with a motion detector, which is connected to a bomb s detonator. If any motion is detected within the next minute, a bomb will go off in another room, killing Bill. If Henry remains perfectly still for one minute, the bomb will not go off, and Bill will live. Henry waves his arm and Bill is blown to smithereens. Clearly, Henry has made Bill die. However, on Bennett s view, he has merely ALLOWED Bill to die (since pretty much ANYthing he could do would entail Bill s death; only a VERY narrow range of movements namely, not moving at all! would not have entailed Bill s death). But, that is absurd. 1

2 2. Quinn s Proposal (Over-Simplified): Consider the following two cases: Respirator Action There are temporary electrical problems in a hospital which make it such that you can only keep 5 respirators going in Ward B by turning off 1 respirator in Ward A. You turn off the 1 respirator and that 1 patient dies. Respirator Inaction The same as the previous, except this time a circuit breaker has tripped and momentarily shut off the 1 respirator in Ward A. If you turn it back on, the 5 respirators in Ward B will shut off. You do nothing and the 1 patient in Ward A dies. Quinn believes that you act permissibly in BOTH of these cases. [Do you agree?] But, if the DDA were MERELY a matter of action vs. inaction, then what you do in the first case would be morally wrong (while the second would remain permissible). Quinn thinks this is mistaken. However, in a way, Quinn resurrects the action/inaction distinction, but with a twist. He casts the DDA in terms of positive vs. negative agency, as follows: Doing harm =df An agent does harm (or, in Quinn s words, exercises harmful positive agency) iff her most direct contribution to the harm is an action, whether her own action or that of some object, which she deliberately exerts (or fails to exert) control over. Quinn calls this positive agency. The italicized portions are very important. They are what distinguish his proposal from the simple action/inaction distinction. A series of examples may help to understand his view: (a) Bodily Action You shove someone in front of a moving car. (b) Action Upon an Object You steer your car into someone. (c) Inaction (Upon an Object) You re driving down the road at a safe speed when someone steps out onto the road in the distance. You remain motionless, and the car runs them over. Clearly (a) is doing harm. You also DO harm in (b), and you do it by acting upon an object (i.e., your car) to make it do harm. But, what about (c)? An OBJECT does the harm (namely, your car). And it doesn t harm someone because of something you MAKE it do, but rather because of what you LET it do. But, importantly, you had CONTROL of the harmful object. You COULD have prevented the car from harming someone (namely, by hitting the brakes). Because you deliberately did not intervene, Quinn says, your inaction in (c) counts as harmful POSITIVE agency rather than negative agency. 2

3 [Note that there will be lots of cases where you deliberately refrain from intervening but only because you know that you cannot do so. For instance, from the 10 th floor of an office building, you remain motionless at the window as you see a car on the street below hit someone. You failed to prevent the harm, but you lacked the power to do so. In such instances you never exercise positive agency over the situation.] 3. Quinn s Proposal (For Realsies): Perhaps the above seems fine to you. If it does, then so far, so good. BUT, it gets weirder. My four examples above were a bit misleading. Quinn actually divides category (c) into two sub-categories, depending upon whether or not one deliberately fails to act in order to bring about the harm. To understand this difference, consider these 2 cases (based on Quinn s Rescue III & IV): Rescue III A driverless trolley with 5 doses of anti-venom is rushing toward an emergency scene where 5 people are dying of venomous snake bites. You are a bystander, standing near the train tracks as it is about to pass by. Unfortunately, there is one innocent person unconscious on the tracks. Nearby, there is an emergency button which will apply the brakes to the trolley if pressed. If you press it, the trolley will come to a halt and the one person will be spared. However, the 5 will not receive their anti-venom in time. You do nothing. The trolley kills the one, and the 5 are saved. Rescue IV You are near some train tracks about to administer 5 doses of antivenom to 5 snakebite victims when a trolley approaches in the distance. Unfortunately, there is one innocent person unconscious on the tracks. You could abandon your snakebite victims to run a short distance and press a button which will halt the trolley in time to spare the one. However, the 5 (who urgently need the anti-venom) will die while you are away. You begin administering the cures while the trolley passes by, killing the one. In both cases, the harm is the result of an OBJECT S action namely, the trolley s movement down the tracks. In both cases, you fail to prevent this action even though you COULD HAVE prevented it; i.e., you had CONTROL over the object s action. However, the REASON for your inaction was very different in the two cases: In Rescue III, you DELIBERATLY refrained from intervening because you WANTED the object s action. Sure, you didn t want the harm, but you DID want the trolley to move forward. As Quinn puts it, in Rescue III, the agent deliberately fails to control it because he wants some action of the object that in fact leads to the harm. In short, you failed to intervene because you WANTED the action of an object to occur, and that object s action was harmful. In Rescue IV, your failure to intervene was NOT deliberate. You did NOT make your decision out of some desire that the trolley move forward. 3

4 Quinn would say that, in Rescue III your inaction counts as positive agency (i.e., doing harm), while in Rescue IV it counts as negative agency (i.e., allowing harm). Therefore, he concludes, your failure in Rescue III is impermissible, while your failure in IV is permissible. [Do you agree?] In any case, when reading Quinn s proposal, the word deliberately should be read with all of this in mind. [Note: As Quinn points out, other factors will alter these verdicts; e.g., in Rescue IV, your failure to stop the trolley would be morally wrong EVEN THOUGH it counted as negative agency if any of the following applied (these are just a few examples): Job: It was your job to keep the tracks clear of debris, and you were on duty. Relation: The person on the tracks was your mother. Contract: In a contract with the person on the tracks, you d sworn to protect her. Fault: You re to blame for her being unconscious on the tracks. In these scenarios, Quinn says, she d have a special right to your aid.] 4. Objections: Consider Rescue III again. You have two options: (a) Do nothing. The trolley will run over the one person on the tracks, but the 5 snakebite victims will be saved. (b) Stop the trolley. The one person on the tracks will be spared, but the 5 will die. Quinn says option (a) is wrong because you are killing the one by your inaction. (Or, in his terms, you re exercising harmful positive agency over the one, but you get the idea.) So, you should stop the trolley. You should pick option (b). But, wait a second. What does Quinn s account say about your action in (b)? You stop a trolley and 5 people die. Seemingly, then, you act upon an object which leads to harm. But, that counts as POSITIVE agency on Quinn s account! Seemingly, then, on his own account, your options are: (a) Do nothing. Your positive agency kills one. Five are saved. (b) Stop the trolley. Your positive agency kills five. One is saved. Is Quinn REALLY suggesting that, given the choice between killing one to save five, and killing five to save one, you should do the latter!? That is absurd. 4

5 Reply: Utterly mysteriously, Quinn says that your causing of the deaths of the five in (b) doesn t count as positive agency because you re merely withdrawing aid. In his words, because your action is a certain kind of withdrawing of aid, it naturally enough seems to count as negative agency. [WTF? You can t just dismiss a decisive counter-example to your proposal without modifying your proposal. Quinn owes us an explicit statement of his revised account.] Now consider Trolley again. You have two options: (a) Do nothing. Five will be hit by a trolley. One on a side track will be spared. (b) Pull the lever. The trolley will be diverted onto a side track where it kills one, but the five on the main track will be spared. Intuitively, most people say that you should (b) pull the lever. But, on Quinn s account, in (b) you are acting upon an object in such a way that you make it cause harm. Doesn t this mean that, in (b) you are KILLING one to save five? And so, isn t this wrong? Reply: Quinn points out that, if you chose (a), you d be DELIBERATELY failing to intervene because you WANTED the trolley to remain on the main track (so that it would not hit the one). But, this TOO counts as positive agency. So, your choices are really between: (a) Do nothing. Your positive agency kills five (via inaction) and spares one. (b) Pull the lever. Your positive agency kills one (via action) and spares five. Clearly, killing one is better than killing five. So, you should pull the lever. Solved! [Not so fast. As Frances Kamm points out (Intricate Ethics, 2007), this would entail that doing nothing in Trolley is morally equivalent to DIVERTING a trolley away from one onto five! But, most people intuit a moral difference. Though most people would pull the lever in Trolley, few believe that it is morally OBLIGATORY. It s permissible to do nothing, most would say. However, we d unanimously agree that it is morally IM-permissible to divert a trolley from one to five.] [On your own time: What would Quinn s proposal entail for the Respirator Action and Respirator Inaction cases?] Rights: Like Foot, Quinn grounds his doctrine in the positive/negative rights distinction. There are only three possible ways things could be, and options (2) and (3) are absurd: (1) Negative rights are stronger. This grounds the DDA. Both Quinn & Foot endorse (1). (2) Positive rights are stronger. We d be obligated to kill the 1 in Crowded Cliff, Organ Harvest, etc.! (3) Positive and negative rights have equal weight. Collapses into consequentialism. 5

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