Causing Death and Saving Lives
Glover (Jonathan)
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Back Cover Blurb
  1. Questions about killing are among the most acute of moral problems.
  2. Often, however, our thinking about them is confused and clouded with emotion, so that someone who supports capital punishment may well condemn abortion2, using diametrically opposed arguments in each case.
  3. Jonathan Glover examines the arguments we use in prohibiting or justifying the killing of others and considers the practical problems that we have to face. He looks at the moral difficulties posed by the advance of modern medicine, at theories of capital punishment and, turning to wider social and political concerns, at the justifications advanced for assassination, revolution and war. Throughout, humanity and logic combine to make this a clear, concise and necessary book for all concerned with a broad range of vital contemporary issues.
  1. This book discusses the moral problems involved in killing and saving lives. It is a philosophical book, but is written for anyone interested in these topics and assumes no familiarity with philosophy.
  2. Some of the topics discussed could in certain ways be handled better by those with experience which I lack. Any totally nonmedical person is bound to feel some presumption in suggesting what would be the right decision for a doctor to take in a matter of life or death. Some doctors have great experience of these choices and their outcomes. And there are lawyers with greater understanding of complexities which I merely gesture at in suggesting here and there that reform is desirable. There are sociologists who are better informed about suicide, and criminologists better qualified to discuss the effect of capital punishment. And I have discussed the morality of war despite having only an amateurish interest in the thinking of strategists.
  3. But, after noting these limitations, I am less apologetic about them than might seem appropriate. This is because the questions discussed here are related to each other. Attitudes to suicide and euthanasia, or capital punishment and war, cannot rationally be kept totally separate. And what we say about any of these topics has links in one direction with general philosophical views about why it is wrong to kill, and has implications in another direction for social policies involving either saving lives or risking them. No one is qualified to talk about all these problems, but something is lost if, as a result, each is discussed only out of the context of the others.
  4. There are two limitations about which I feel more regret. I had intended to discuss the relative importance of saving lives in the order of social priorities: the sort of issues raised when economists doing cost-benefit studies wonder how to weight the saving of lives or some increased risk to life. I have read and thought about these questions, but they now seem much more difficult than I expected, and my thinking is still too confused and tentative to include here. The second limitation is the absence of any proper treatment of the problems of killing animals. I am inclined towards the conventional view that animal life is much less important than human life, but my reasons for this when written down have a disconcerting air of intellectual dishonesty, as though they were merely constructed to rationalize my non-vegetarianism. So they are not included here.
  5. My original motives for writing this book were the interest of the questions involved and my own lack of any clear and defensible answers. Now, I have two hopes for the book. One of its aims is to persuade people to change opinions which they already hold. This is because some of the views criticized here cause much unnecessary misery, while others lead to loss of life that could and should be avoided. The conventional view that philosophical discussions are quite remote from having any practical upshot, such as prevention of suffering or loss of life, has very little to be said for it.
  6. The second aim does not entirely harmonize with the first. It is to encourage people to work out views opposed to those argued for here. If discussion of these questions is to get beyond mere exchange of intuitive prejudices, it is necessary to work out fairly systematically the implications of different general approaches. Obviously no opinions on these topics will at once gain general support, and perhaps this is especially true of some of those put forward here. But I would be very pleased if this book helped people who disagree to work out their own views more clearly by contrast.

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