After such posts as The Role of Disease, I feel the need to try to outline an ethical theory that incorporates my “extremist” positions. I’ll admit that I am no ethicist. In fact, I sort of despise ethics since I am a non-dualist and don’t even buy the idea of ethical vs. unethical. Hence, I am not up to date on the literature and may just be rehashing something that has already been done. On the last philosopher’s carnival someone mentioned something about dialog philosophy blogs, and so I think I’ll try that.
Disclaimer: This post could be sort of disturbing to those that do not think about this on a daily basis or have biases on the nature of death.
Penguin: If I understand your viewpoint correctly, then in order to solve the overpopulation problem, you want to kill people?
Hilbert: You very much misunderstand. I do not want to kill people. I do believe that death is a natural part of life, though, and to keep people alive beyond their natural death is unnatural.
Penguin: But you’re a scientist. Are you suggesting that we throw away all of our scientific progress in medicine and health care to just let people die?
Hilbert: “Progress” is a relative term. Do you really believe progress is only moving forward? There is a saying that goes something like, “Two steps backward is better than one step forward when standing at the edge of a cliff.” I truly believe that we may be at that edge.
Penguin: In that case, we would probably lose many great works of art and (as may worry you Hilbert) mathematical works. People would probably die before mastering enough math to be able to produce anything new.
Hilbert: That is a risk we already have. You can’t predict accidents. Also, I may not have been as clear as I should have been. I definitely do not advocate throwing all medicine away. It is a more naturalistic approach than nihilistic. I don’t think it is natural to die from accidentally cutting off your finger and then due to randomness it gets infected and spreads, etc. Non-terminal illnesses should be treated. You are not just prolonging the inevitable in that case.
Penguin: You are riding a fine and dangerous line, in my opinion. According to your viewpoint, we are all going to die, so can you clarify what your seemingly arbitrary distinction between terminal and non-terminal really is —
Hilbert: –death is not a disease. I think you are missing the point. Our culture has this obsession with attempting to cure everything. It is built into our language. “We are trying to cure the major problems of the world.” This makes an assumption that these diseases are problems. Suppose we cure all the “major” diseases. More will pop up. It is natural. Something has to keep our population in check. So it seems like a futile battle. In fact, the newer ones that will appear will be worse than our current ones.
Penguin: You really think that this is ethical still? Let’s test it. It seems as if you’ve appealed to some utilitarian ethics there. It is in the interest of the general population to not increase suffering by curing diseases and having worse ones appear. As everyone knows, utilitarianism is flawed. What about Rand’s egoism. How am I to exercise my free will if I am dead?
Hilbert: I think this works extremely well with Rand. I do what I want to do. You do what you want to do. When we die, we die. Then we have natural death and not this culturally forced altruism (which probably doesn’t exist) trying to “save” everyone when we all just die anyway.
Penguin: I think that you missed an important point of Rand. There are people who love helping people or inventing medicine. Your “naturalism” is saying that they shouldn’t meddle with this stuff. But Rand says that if that is what they want to do, they should do it.
Hilbert: I already said that there are places in society for medicine and healing and helping. I didn’t say that people should die in isolation suffering their pain with no one around until they die. If people want to be there to help and comfort, that is fine. In fact, instead of trying to cure the disease, medicine could shift to help the comforting process. Pain killers tend to take away lucidity. Is there a way to comfort and keep the person fully functioning?
Penguin: OK. I don’t subscribe to Rand anyway. Surely you cannot claim that this fits with care ethics.
Hilbert: I feel that I have already shown that naturalism fits perfectly into the ethics of care.
Penguin: What about the families, spouses, and friends of the person dying?
Hilbert: It doesn’t matter when a person dies. That will be an issue at any stage of life. I don’t like this conversation anymore (remember I don’t subscribe to ethics), so I’ll just conclude with some remarks. If my natural death theory happens to not fit into some ethical theory, then I feel that the theory has tacit assumptions about the nature of death somehow being wrong or unethical which invalidates that theory as a good system of ethics.
Well, that was an interesting experiment. Everyone who wants to work out some ideas should try the dialog format. Half the time I couldn’t tell which side I was arguing. Also, I already anticipate some of your responses and couldn’t address them, because I didn’t want to make this too long.