Very few people are perfectly strict deontologists.  For example, suppose there’s a terrorist who has atomic missiles pointed at the 100 largest cities in the world, and that he will launch them and kill us all unless I can give him a single hair from the head of this blog’s co-author, Will.  I ask Will for one of his hairs, and he refuses.  I offer to buy it, but he says that it is not for sale.  How many people would really say that, because of the absolute natural rights that serve as side constraints on my action, I should not try to take one of Will’s hairs by force in order to save billions of innocent people?

The point is that most people allow for at least some utilitarianism in their moral frameworks.  I think this is correct.  After all, what is it about natural rights that justifies them taking precedence over the welfare of billions of people, as they would in the thought experiment above?  It’s ridiculous to have absolute rights determine correct action; there has to be some room for consequentialist considerations somewhere.

That’s one reason that I’ve never found Nozick’s Chamberlain example, which Will wrote about below, particularly convincing.  The Chamberlain does a good job of making crude egalitarian leveling look ridiculous, but does it really refute something more moderate, like mildly progressive taxation?  Maybe there’s nothing unjust about the final distribution in the Chamberlain example, but using consequentialist considerations, it seems like we could (and should) do better, at least in theory, by redistributing a bit of Wilt’s money to poor kids or something.  Does the Chamberlain really show that something like this is morally unjust?  I don’t see it.

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