Recipes for Moral Paradox
by Andrew Sneddon
Paradoxes play famous roles in philosophy.
Mark Sainsbury's well-known definition is
that a paradox is "an apparently unacceptable
conclusion derived by apparently acceptable
reasoning from apparently acceptable premises."
Michael Clark has argued that some
important paradoxes do not fit this model,
and that hence we should have a more ecumenical
notion of paradox. Either way, the
philosophical import of paradoxes is clear.
Saul Smilansky notes that, despite the famous
role of paradoxes in philosophy, very
few moral paradoxes have been developed and
assessed. Smilansky's point is particularly apt
if we concentrate on paradoxes about values
or moral reasons. Some paradoxes that have
been examined by ethicists concern neither,
at least in certain formulations. For instance,
the toxin paradox and paradoxes of deterrence
have interested ethicists, but their subject matter
is philosophical psychology: by invoking
scenarios in which agents will not later want
to do something that they now have reason to
intend to do, these paradoxes probe questions
of the nature of and relations between intention,
desire, and knowledge. Smilansky offers
ten moral paradoxes to fill this gap. However,
Smilansky's general observation is well-taken:
despite his efforts, ethicists have not examined
very many moral paradoxes.