Consider what was discussed previously regarding both utilitarian perspectives for moral action and Kant’s Categorical Imperative. Now suppose (as I am sure has happened to you many times) that a homeless person asks for change or a dollar as you walk by them on the street. Now consider Nagel’s article on “Moral Luck”. Does giving a dollar to the homeless person increase overall happiness or achieve some other universally acceptable moral aim? Consider also that some interpretations of utilitarianism suggest that we should give everything except those basic things we need to survive.
Or do we in fact have a duty, as the Categorical Imperative may or may not suggest, giving the person a dollar? Because we do not always have access to the antecedent conditions which may have place the homeless person in that position, are we in fact morally capable of making a judgment as to whether or not we should give them a dollar?
For instance, what if this person has a drug or alcohol addiction which was largely the cause for them to start living on the street initially? Furthermore, what if this is the last dollar they needed to purchase more drugs which in fact result in an overdose? Are you directly morally responsible for this person’s death? And if we do give them the dollar, are we still obliged to consider what it is they aim to do with it? (Recall here the Case of the Inquiring Murderer.)
Briefly outline what the Kantian and consequentialist position might be for this set of circumstances and provide reasons as to why we ought to prefer one over the other. Remember to consider the four kinds of luck that Nagel describes and how they might apply to your proposed solution.
Required Reading: Thomas Nagel “Moral Luck” (PDF)
Recommended Reading: “Moral Luck”, Introduction & Section 1 – Focus on Nagel’s formulation of moral luck; not Williams. < http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/moral-luck/ >
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