When Bad Thoughts Happen to Good People: A Thought-Experiment
by Howard J. Curzer
Bernard Williams quotes Charles Fried's
description of an emergency situation in
which a man (call him Joe) must choose between
helping his wife and helping a stranger.
Famously, Williams goes on to remark,
It might have been hoped by some (for instance,
by his wife) that his motivating thought, fully
spelled out, would be the thought that it was
his wife, not that it was his wife and that in
situations of this kind it is permissible to save
That is, Williams maintains that in this situation
Joe should help his wife simply because
of their loving relationship. His first thought
should be to help her, and he should have
no second thoughts. In particular, he should
not even consider the question of whether
helping his wife is morally permissible.
A Permissibility Thought would be "one
thought too many."