Law 798: Ethics and Public Policy
The seminar will begin with an examination of two recent issues of public policy that have excited much attention, that of the Bush administration on torture and that of the Obama administration on targeted killings. These issues are selected for examination because both involve high stakes moral dilemmas. We will then proceed to examine theories of morality in ethics to get a better understanding of the moral issues involved in such issues of public policy. We will explore: the difference between, and interaction among, consequentialist and non-consequentialist ("deontological") theories of ethics; the role of non-consequentialist prerogatives such as self-defense; the role of other exceptions to seemingly categorical moral norms such as the exception for victim-consent and assumption of the risk; the role of horrendous consequences which non-Kantian forms of deontological ethics regard as forming a "threshold" over which categorical obligations lose their moral force; the role of intention as marking a boundary of permissible consequentialist justification, relied on by the Allied bombing decisions during World War II in Germany and Japan and by the law of war more generally; the role of inevitability in harm caused in making permissible otherwise categorically forbidden conduct such as Bush's decision to shoot down United Flight 91 on September 11, 2001, killing all aboard; the "redirection" exception that Winston Churchill used during World War II to justify redirecting German V-1 and V-2 rockets away from central London to more remote suburbs where fewer civilians would be killed; the relative valuing of lives between foreign nationals and domestic civilians when policies are adopted to minimize loss of life; and related topics.