I don’t know why exactly, but as I try to think my way through the philosophical and moral morass raised by the fake President’s response to the virus, these words keeping ringing in my cranium: killing or letting die. That’s a distinction philosophers try to make. In a way it’s an easy. one. You stick a needle in a person’s arm and you inject poison. That’s killing. You (say you are a doctor) don’t stick a needle in a person and don’t inject anything. And the person dies. That’s letting die. Seems pretty clear, maybe.
Judith Jarvis Thompson writes that most people believe killing is worse that letting die. But she thinks up an elaborate example to cast provisional doubt on that assertion, as follows:
1. Alfred hates his wife and wants her dead. He puts cleaning fluid in her coffee, thereby killing her, and that
2. Bert hates his wife and wants her dead. She puts cleaning fluid in her coffee (being muddled, thinking it ’ s cream). Bert happens to have the antidote to cleaning fluid, but he does not give it to her; he lets her die. 1
Alfred kills his wife out of a desire for her death; Bert lets his wife die out of a desire for her death. But what Bert does is surely every bit as bad as what Alfred does. So killing isn ’ t worse than letting die.
So I guess I am wondering if the fake President’s plan is perhaps a form of letting die. His plan to just let the pandemic burn seems to me to parallel Bert’s failure to give his wife the antidote. Burt withholds the cure; the fake President fails to supply the leadership and the plan to curb the virus.
This is the sort of stuff stick in my brain these days.