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Ideas of Jonathan Glover, by Text

[British, b.1941, At Oxford University, then London University. Chairman of various government committees.]

1977 Causing Death and Saving Lives
§3.3 p.43 'Death' is best seen as irreversible loss of consciousness, since this is why we care about brain function
     Full Idea: It seems best to define 'death' in terms of irreversible loss of consciousness itself, since it is from this alone that our interest in the electrical activity of the brain derives.
     From: Jonathan Glover (Causing Death and Saving Lives [1977], §3.3)
     A reaction: I see the point, but this implies no further interest in a loved one who will not regain consciousness. What about subconscious acitivity, or dreamlike states without proper awareness of the external world?
§3.7 p.53 If someone's life is 'worth living', that gives one direct reason not to kill him
     Full Idea: I am arguing that, if someone's life is worth living, this is one reason why it is directly wrong to kill him.
     From: Jonathan Glover (Causing Death and Saving Lives [1977], §3.7)
     A reaction: This is an attempt to find a modern utilitarian criterion of value. A problem case would be someone for whom only sadism made their life worth living.
§3.9 p.55 The quality of a life is not altogether independent of its length
     Full Idea: The quality of a life is not altogether independent of its length.
     From: Jonathan Glover (Causing Death and Saving Lives [1977], §3.9)
     A reaction: A nice illustration of the fact that neat distinctions nearly always begin to blur when you think about reality. But a blurred distinction is still a distinction…
§4.4 p.71 Utilitarians object to killing directly (pain, and lost happiness), and to side-effects (loss to others, and precedents)
     Full Idea: Utilitarians have two direct objections to killing (the fear and pain, and the loss of future happiness), and two concerns about side-effects (the loss to friends and community, and the bad precedent and public anxiety caused).
     From: Jonathan Glover (Causing Death and Saving Lives [1977], §4.4)
     A reaction: This invites obvious counterexamples, of somewhat unhappy, lonely people, who can be quietly killed with no qualms. Who will be callous enough to do this deed for us?
§4.4 p.72 If killing is wrong because it destroys future happiness, not conceiving a happy child is also wrong
     Full Idea: The main utilitarian objection to killing (that it results in the loss of future years of happiness) seems an equally powerful objection to deliberately not conceiving a happy child.
     From: Jonathan Glover (Causing Death and Saving Lives [1977], §4.4)
     A reaction: This makes perfect sense, unless you give intrinsic value to existing lives, but none at all to potential lives. Virtue ethics helps here, but genetic engineering is a nightmare for Aristotle.
§5.3 p.78 Autonomy favours present opinions over future ones, and says nothing about the interests of potential people
     Full Idea: Respect for autonomy seems to give priority to decisions based on your present outlook, even if your future outlook will be quite different, and it gives no support for any sort of paternalism, or for considering the interests of potential people.
     From: Jonathan Glover (Causing Death and Saving Lives [1977], §5.3)
     A reaction: The first point does give a plausible justification for paternalism. Potential people are not a problem if respect for autonomy is not the only valuable thing. We presumably desire that future humans will be autonomous.
§5.3 p.79 If a whole community did not mind death, respect for autonomy suggests that you could kill them all
     Full Idea: If you found a whole community who did not mind dying (because it is no more to regret than going to sleep), then according to the autonomy principle there would be no objection to killing the whole community.
     From: Jonathan Glover (Causing Death and Saving Lives [1977], §5.3)
     A reaction: I presume you would at least ask them if they desired death! They might regret being put to sleep. And respect for autonomy need not be the only value.
§5.6 p.84 A problem arises in any moral system that allows more than one absolute right
     Full Idea: A problem arises in any moral system that allows more than one absolute right.
     From: Jonathan Glover (Causing Death and Saving Lives [1977], §5.6)
     A reaction: Presumably the right to rest on Sunday doesn't conflict with the right to disabled parking on weekdays. He has, though, a point…
§6 p.86 Double Effect: no bad acts with good consequences, but possibly good acts despite bad consequences
     Full Idea: The doctrine of double effect says (crudely) it is wrong to intentionally do a bad act for its good consequences, but it may be permissible to do a good act despite its foreseeable bad consequences. (..Shoot an innocent man to avoid his agonising death?)
     From: Jonathan Glover (Causing Death and Saving Lives [1977], §6)
     A reaction: Glover rejects this principle, because he is a utilitarian. The principle implies a doubtful sharp distinction between an act and its consequences. If you foresee bad consequences, why do you go ahead and do it? I doubt if there are purely good acts.
§7 p.92 Acts and Omissions: bad consequences are morally better if they result from an omission rather than an act
     Full Idea: The acts and omissions doctrine says failure to perform an act, when there are foreseen bad consequences of the failure, is usually better than performing a different act which has the same foreseen consequences.
     From: Jonathan Glover (Causing Death and Saving Lives [1977], §7)
     A reaction: Is it better if my neglect causes famine in Ethiopia than if my theft causes it? Glover (a consequentialist) rejects this. Depends. What are reasonable expectations? Acts set an example. Minor bad acts are clearly better than callous negligence.
§7.4 p.98 It doesn't seem worse to switch off a life-support machine than to forget to switch it on
     Full Idea: If someone is being kept alive on a respirator and I switch it off, this makes death no more certain than if, when attaching the patient to the machine, I fail to switch it on.
     From: Jonathan Glover (Causing Death and Saving Lives [1977], §7.4)
     A reaction: In practice, though, neglect is more excusable than a bad act, and (crucially) bad actions always indicate a bad character, whereas neglect may indicate a good person who is very busy. Neglect can, of course, be very wicked.
§7.8 p.104 Harmful omissions are unavoidable, while most harmful acts can be avoided
     Full Idea: Harmful omissions are unavoidable, while most harmful acts can be avoided.
     From: Jonathan Glover (Causing Death and Saving Lives [1977], §7.8)
     A reaction: This does suggest why we get angry with bad actions, but are very tolerant of omissions. It is also easier to motivate positive actions than to worry about things undone. Omissions can be disgraceful.
§8.1 p.113 What matters is not intrinsic value of life or rights, but worthwhile and desired life, and avoidance of pain
     Full Idea: It is not wrong to kill because of the intrinsic value of life or consciousness, or because people have a right to life, but because we shouldn't reduce worthwhile life, or thwart someone's desire to live, or inflict fear or pain.
     From: Jonathan Glover (Causing Death and Saving Lives [1977], §8.1)
     A reaction: This is a utilitarian view. It is not clear how we decide 'worthwhile' without a notion of intrinsic value. It is unclear why this desire is respected if many other desires are not.
§9 p.119 Defenders of abortion focus on early pregnancy, while opponents focus on later stages
     Full Idea: Defenders of at least some abortions tend to focus on the early stages of pregnancy, when an embryo is very different from a baby, while opponents tend to focus on the later stages of pregnancy, when abortion resembles infanticide.
     From: Jonathan Glover (Causing Death and Saving Lives [1977], §9)
     A reaction: Seems true. If we ask which part of pregnancy we should focus on, the only plausible picture seems to be 'all of it', despite the confusing picture which results.
§9 p.120 If abortion is wrong, it is because a foetus is a human being or a person (or potentially so)
     Full Idea: The case against abortion rests either on the claim that the foetus is a human being (or a potential human being), or on the different claim that the foetus is a person (or potential person).
     From: Jonathan Glover (Causing Death and Saving Lives [1977], §9)
     A reaction: The obvious problem with 'potential' is that every time Jack meets Jill there is a potential birth. And an early foetus is barely human, and clearly not a person.
§9.2 p.122 If abortion is wrong because of the 'potential' person, that makes contraception wrong too
     Full Idea: It is hard to see how the 'potential' argument can succeed against abortion without also succeeding against contraception.
     From: Jonathan Glover (Causing Death and Saving Lives [1977], §9.2)
     A reaction: It would even make it wrong not to introduce a given man to a given woman, if you thought they might be attracted! Maybe 'incipient' would be a better word than 'potential'? A person has been 'initiated'? Do words matter that much?
§9.3 p.123 Conception isn't the fixed boundary for a person's beginning, because twins are possible within two weeks
     Full Idea: It is suggested that conception cannot be the boundary for the beginning of a genetic person, because monozygotic twins can split at any time during the first two weeks.
     From: Jonathan Glover (Causing Death and Saving Lives [1977], §9.3)
     A reaction: Interesting, but not convincing. If I suddenly learned that I could fission into twins tomorrow, I would be no less of a single person today.
§9.3 p.125 If viability is a test or boundary at the beginning of life, it should also be so for frail old people
     Full Idea: Supporters of the theory that 'viability' is the boundary at one end of life have to explain why it is not equally relevant at the other end.
     From: Jonathan Glover (Causing Death and Saving Lives [1977], §9.3)
     A reaction: A very nice problem for what looks at first like an intuitively good test. Someone dependent on a dialysis machine is not 'viable'. Before modern medicine, this objection was much less forceful. But I'm not 'viable' if I have to be fed.
§9.3 p.125 How would we judge abortion if mothers had transparent wombs?
     Full Idea: How would we react to abortion if mothers had transparent wombs, so that foetuses were visible?
     From: Jonathan Glover (Causing Death and Saving Lives [1977], §9.3)
     A reaction: Nice. Ultrasound scans have done this. The feeling of 'quickening' has always made a difference. Should these empathies affect our judgements?
§9.4 p.127 You can't have a right to something you can't desire, so a foetus has no 'right' to life
     Full Idea: It seems that the bearers of rights must at least have the capacity to desire what they have a right to, which is something the foetus does not have.
     From: Jonathan Glover (Causing Death and Saving Lives [1977], §9.4)
     A reaction: Obviously we could say a person has a right to something they don't desire (such as freedom). How about: a mental defective has the right not to be laughed at, even if they don't understand the mockery?
§9.4 p.127 Persons are conscious, they relate, they think, they feel, and they are self-aware
     Full Idea: We think of 'persons' as conscious, able to form relationships, capable of thought, having emotional responses, and having some sense of their own identity.
     From: Jonathan Glover (Causing Death and Saving Lives [1977], §9.4)
     A reaction: A notable addition to Locke's definition is the capacity for relationships. So are autistic children not persons? Is feeling necessary? Mr Spock is then in trouble.
§11.1 p.138 Being alive is not intrinsically good, and there is no 'right to life'
     Full Idea: There is nothing intrinsically good in a person being alive, and the idea of a 'right to life' should be rejected.
     From: Jonathan Glover (Causing Death and Saving Lives [1977], §11.1)
     A reaction: If pleasure or benefit can be intrinsically good, I don't see why life can't be. The notion of a 'natural' or 'self-evident' right does look dubious to me. Rights are earned and given. Robinson Crusoe has no rights.
§11.1 p.139 What is wrong with killing someone, if another equally worthwhile life is substituted?
     Full Idea: If the only objection to killing (or not conceiving) is the impersonal one of not reducing the amount of worthwhile life, there seems nothing wrong with eliminating one worthwhile life if another is substituted.
     From: Jonathan Glover (Causing Death and Saving Lives [1977], §11.1)
     A reaction: This invites us to value a life in itself, rather than for what it makes possible (e.g. 'worthwhile' activity). It doesn't follow that the life is 'sacred' - only that it has some intrinsic value. And why not?
§11.1 p.140 Apart from side effects, it seems best to replace an inadequate foetus with one which has a better chance
     Full Idea: If a foetus or baby has a poor chance of a worthwhile life, it may be directly wrong not to replace it by a baby with a better chance - though this consideration may be outweighed by side-effects.
     From: Jonathan Glover (Causing Death and Saving Lives [1977], §11.1)
     A reaction: I can't disagree with this. In early pregnancy, if we object to termination, why can't we object if the more 'worthwhile' child is not conceived. We want good human lives.
§11.4 p.144 It is always right for a qualified person to perform an abortion when requested by the mother
     Full Idea: I think it is always right for a qualified person capable of performing an abortion to do so when requested by the mother.
     From: Jonathan Glover (Causing Death and Saving Lives [1977], §11.4)
     A reaction: There seems to be a question if the father is vehemently opposed. Glover concedes the right of a doctor to refuse. What if it is late in pregnancy, the baby will be instantly adopted, and the mother's motive seems malicious?
§11.4 p.144 Abortion differs morally from deliberate non-conception only in its side-effects
     Full Idea: Abortion differs morally from deliberate non-conception only in its side-effects.
     From: Jonathan Glover (Causing Death and Saving Lives [1977], §11.4)
     A reaction: This conclusion follows from a denial of any intrinsic value to a foetus, which in turns seems to imply that an adult human has no intrinsic value. Something must have intrinsic value, or nothing has any value at all.
§11.7 p.149 The sanctity of life doctrine implies a serious increase of abnormality among the population
     Full Idea: Accepting views about the sanctity of life of the foetus commits us to a policy of drastically increasing the proportion of the population who are seriously abnormal.
     From: Jonathan Glover (Causing Death and Saving Lives [1977], §11.7)
     A reaction: This is a utilitarian view, and one with which I sympathise. We can't steamroller women's feelings for some greater dream about humanity, but the larger picture is vital to the discussion.
§12.2 p.155 The 'no trade-off' position: killing is only justified if it prevents other deaths
     Full Idea: The 'no trade-off' position: killing may be justified if it prevents other deaths, but not in defence of the quality of other lives, or by the miserable life of the person killed.
     From: Jonathan Glover (Causing Death and Saving Lives [1977], §12.2)
     A reaction: As a utilitarian, Glover opposes this, since death is not the only source of unhappiness. Would we (if necessary) kill a terrorist who was burning down all our art galleries or churches? I would, if it was the only way.
§13.2 p.174 One test for a worthwhile life is to assess the amount of life for which you would rather be unconscious
     Full Idea: One test for a worthwhile life is to assess the amount of life for which you would rather be unconscious.
     From: Jonathan Glover (Causing Death and Saving Lives [1977], §13.2)
     A reaction: A nicely chilling question. Enthusiasts want never to sleep. If I would prefer to be unconscious 20 hours every day (for a long period), there doesn't seem much point, does there?
§13.5 p.181 Autonomy seems to acquire greater weight when the decision is more important to a person
     Full Idea: The appeal to autonomy has much more force where the person's decision is of great importance to them (as in suicide), than it has when it concerns a lesser decision (such as whether to wear a seatbelt).
     From: Jonathan Glover (Causing Death and Saving Lives [1977], §13.5)
     A reaction: This is presumably uncontroversial. Planning regulations show the intrusiveness on an individual is crucial. I trim your hedge, or your hair, or your tonsils, or your beliefs…
§14.2 p.186 The Nazi mass murders seem to have originated in their euthanasia programme
     Full Idea: It is argued that the mass murders of the Nazi period had their small beginnings in the Nazi euthanasia programme.
     From: Jonathan Glover (Causing Death and Saving Lives [1977], §14.2)
     A reaction: This is the 'slippery slope' problem, and it seems undeniable that killing gets easier as you do more of it (e.g. on a farm). But not all slopes are slippery, if the focus is retained on reasons and justifications.
§15.1 p.191 Involuntary euthanasia is wrong because it violates autonomy, and it has appalling side-effects
     Full Idea: Involuntary euthanasia can normally be ruled out, because it falls foul of the autonomy objection, and it is likely to have appalling side-effects.
     From: Jonathan Glover (Causing Death and Saving Lives [1977], §15.1)
     A reaction: The only defence of it is if the prospects are utterly horrible and the subject cannot grasp them. However, is this true of children or the very old. Paternalism may be appropriate, if the decider has reliably depressing knowledge?
§15.1 p.191 Euthanasia is voluntary (patient's wish), or involuntary (ignore wish), or non-voluntary (no wish possible)
     Full Idea: Voluntary euthanasia is done at the request of the person themselves. Involuntary euthanasia is killing someone in their own interests, but disregarding views they could express. Non-voluntary euthanasia is killing someone who cannot express any views.
     From: Jonathan Glover (Causing Death and Saving Lives [1977], §15.1)
     A reaction: Seems a clear and satisfactory distinction, despite the possibility of borderline cases. A look of pain on a face? An inarticulate person? Deliberate ambiguity? Misunderstanding?
§15.6 p.197 Maybe extreme treatment is not saving life, but prolonging the act of dying
     Full Idea: It is often suggested that medical intervention which goes beyond easing pain or distress is not saving life but 'prolonging the act of dying'.
     From: Jonathan Glover (Causing Death and Saving Lives [1977], §15.6)
     A reaction: This is an important idea to keep in mind, but still a very difficult call to make. It needs to be presented to those who fight for life, at any cost in money, time, medical resources, or suffering. May people probably give up unnecessarily.
§16.3 p.210 Societies spend a lot to save known persons, but very little to reduce fatal accidents
     Full Idea: There is often a big discrepancy between what a society will spend on saving the life of a known person in peril, and what it will spend to reduce the future level of fatal accidents.
     From: Jonathan Glover (Causing Death and Saving Lives [1977], §16.3)
     A reaction: This is a good point in favour of utilitarian approaches, which ask for impersonal calculation (which presumably embody an ideal of justice, buried somewhere in utilitarianism). But it isn't just 'sentimentality'.
1990 Introductions to Utilitarianism and its Critics
Pt Five p.152 You can't separate acts from the people performing them
     Full Idea: A mistake of consequentialists is to treat actions as though they can somehow be isolated from the people performing them.
     From: Jonathan Glover (Introductions to Utilitarianism and its Critics [1990], Pt Five)
Pt Five p.152 Duty prohibits some acts, whatever their consequences
     Full Idea: The deontological view is that some acts are absolutely prohibited, regardless of consequences.
     From: Jonathan Glover (Introductions to Utilitarianism and its Critics [1990], Pt Five)
Pt Five p.154 Aggression in defence may be beneficial but morally corrupting
     Full Idea: Forming the intention to use nuclear retaliation if attacked may both be the best way to avoid the catastrophe of nuclear war and at the same time be morally corrupting.
     From: Jonathan Glover (Introductions to Utilitarianism and its Critics [1990], Pt Five)
Pt Four p.121 How can utilitarianism decide the ideal population size?
     Full Idea: There are deep problems for utilitarianism in trying to work out what the ideal population size would be.
     From: Jonathan Glover (Introductions to Utilitarianism and its Critics [1990], Pt Four)
Pt Six p.196 Rule-utilitarianism is either act-utilitarianism, or not really utilitarian
     Full Idea: Rule-utilitarianism seems either to collapse into act-utilitarianism, or else it is only partly utilitarian.
     From: Jonathan Glover (Introductions to Utilitarianism and its Critics [1990], Pt Six)
Pt Two p.38 Satisfaction of desires is not at all the same as achieving happiness
     Full Idea: Objections to utilitarianism as maximisation of preferences: faded past desires or the desires of the dead; obtaining desires and happiness are different; fewer desires are easier to satisfy; pain is good if it can be removed.
     From: report of Jonathan Glover (Introductions to Utilitarianism and its Critics [1990], Pt Two) by PG - Db (ideas)