Wednesday, October 23, 2013

But Is He a Libertarian?

Amia Srinivasan poses a problem beloved of the denizens of the Ivy League seminar table:
Suppose I’m walking to the library and see a man drowning in the river. I decide that the pleasure I would get from saving his life wouldn’t exceed the cost of getting wet and the delay. 
Note: she doesn't say "are you permitted try and save he drowning man?"  On conventional principles, even a libertarian is permitted to do an act of kindness to another, just so long as it is clear that he doesn't hve to.   The question is whether you are permitted to be a loathsome shit walk on by?  Ms.  Srinivasan asserts:
If you say yes, then you think the only moral requirements are the ones we freely bring on ourselves — say, by making promises or contracts. ...  Since I made no contract with the man, I am under no obligation to save him.
In essence, the conventional current libertarian view.  You would be correct to surmise that she is not crazy about this view. "Ethically outraging," she says; she asserts that this and kindred views "grate against our commonsense notions of fairness."

She might want to explore the question further with Stephen Gilbert, Liberal Member of Parliament from St Austell and Newquay. News reports say he was standing on the House of Commons Terrace overlooking the Thames when he saw a body float past. At first he thought it was dead; then to his consternation he saw it quiver. Apparently not stopping to reflect on the philosophical implications of his action, he threw her a life buoy. She grabbed it, and was fished out a short way down stream.

"“I think it is what anyone else would have done under the circumstances" he told a local paper.” Maybe, and maybe not.

No comments: