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Moral rules must be universalisable

One of the commonly accepted principles in ethics, put forward by Immanuel Kant, is that only those ethical principles that could be accepted as a universal rule (i.e. one that applied to everybody) should be accepted.

So you should only do something if you're willing for anybody to do exactly the same thing in exactly similar circumstances, regardless of who they are.

The justification for this rule is hard to find - many people think it's just an obvious truth (philosophers call such truths self-evident). You find variations of this idea in many faiths; for example "do unto others as you would have them do unto you".

To put it more formally:

A rule is universalisable if it can consistently be willed as a law that everyone ought to obey. The only rules which are morally good are those which can be universalised.

The person in favour of euthanasia argues that giving everybody the right to have a good death through euthanasia is acceptable as a universal principle, and that euthanasia is therefore morally acceptable.

This alone does not justify euthanasia

This is sound, but is not a full justification.

If a person wants to be allowed to commit euthanasia, it would clearly be inconsistent for them to say that they didn't think it should be allowed for other people.

But the principle of universalisability doesn't actually provide any positive justification for anything - genuine moral rules must be universalisable, but universalisability is not enough to say that a rule is a satisfactory moral rule.

Universalisability is therefore only a necessary condition, not a sufficient condition for a rule to be a morally good rule.

So, other than showing that one pre-condition is met, universalisibility doesn't advance the case for euthanasia at all.

How similar can situations be?

Every case is different in some respect, so anyone who is inclined to argue about it can argue about whether the particular differences are sufficent to make this case an exception to the rule.

Universal exceptions to universal rules

Oddly enough, the law of universalisability allows for there to be exceptions - as long as the exceptions are themselves universalisable. So you could have a universal rule allowing voluntary euthanasia and universalise an exception for people who were less than 18 years old.

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Date: 2015-01-02; view: 1062


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