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Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Heresy against Liberalism

that is against liberalism itself, not against the democratic left (as the word is used in the USA Canada and the United Kingdom) or the pro market right (as the word is used in continental Europe). Liberalism has a few core principles. One is that, other things equal, freedom is better than servitude. Another is that discussion is good, that it is better to examine our beliefs and find contradictions, and, even, in ideological liberalism that the truth emerges from free and frank discussion. I was raised liberal. I think there are some questions which don't bear examination. I am a heretic.

In particular, I do not think we should examine the question of the dollar value of a human life. It would be nice if we could conclude that it is infinite, but I think this view does not stand up to examinination. In practice we do not minimize the risk of death at the expence of everything else. Even if we did, we can currently save lives at some expence (very modest if they are babies in the third world). This means that we decide which lives to say. Until there is no way to spend money to save a life, placing infinite value on another life is saying that one person is worth more than all those we could save.

Finally Thomas Schelling points out that if we accept any income inequality (and we all do) and respect peoples choices at least when we would make the same choices in their shoes (a very very weak claim compared to the first principle of liberalism) then we must conclude that the life of a rich person is worth more dollars than the life of a poor person. This conclusion is intollerable to me.

Now there have been attempts to get around this impasse by rejecting consequentialism. One might attempt to find a fundamental distinction between risk and certainty of death. I find that totally unconvincing. One might distinguish between doing evil that good might come and doing something which certainly has bad undesired consequences (this is my attempt to state the Jesuit doctrine of dual effect). I find this totally unconvincing. I am unable to confute the logic of Schelling's argument. I like logic.

I am willing to abandon logic.

I refuse to consider Schelling's argument. I do not accept it. I will not attempt to refute it. I confess my heresy.

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