Extreme Harshness Can Be Morally Right
by David Sims
THE following quote is from an article on the CNN Health Web site:
None of them knew Williams had Ebola, Tete says. Both of Williams’ parents have tested positive for Ebola. Another woman who also ran to Williams’ side was rushed to a hospital days later. Soon afterward, a neighbor was tasked with he difficult task of telling her 9-year-old daughter that mom is never coming home. And Duncan lies in a hospital bed in Dallas, critically ill. All of them contracted Ebola trying to do good. Helping Williams was the right thing to do — the right thing with devastating consequences.
The point raised here has nothing to do with the fact that this took place in Africa. Let’s try to understand the moral attitude that the writers of that article hope to persuade us to adopt. They’re claiming that “the right thing to do” is the thing that killed an additional nine people, people who would not have acquired the ebola virus and died of the disease if they’d done something else. Something harsh, even. Like shooting Marthalene Williams dead and incinerating her 7-months-pregnant body until it was nothing but ashes. Williams and her unborn baby were doomed anyway, and the “immoral” harsh approach would have hastened their deaths by about two days, while the nine people who caught ebola from Williams while trying to help her, and who subsequently died, would still be alive and could stay alive for many years.
Morality is supposed to be a form of wisdom. It isn’t supposed to be stupid. And it is stupid to sacrifice greater goods in order to obtain lesser ones. Risking the lives of healthy people in order to help contagious sick people whose disease is nearly always fatal, and for which there is no cure, is stupid for the same reason that it is stupid to sell ten dollar bills for five dollars each. Harshness in treating others can be moral, and kindness can be immoral by reason of stupidity in the pursuit of the wrong outcome.
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