Autonomy and the Moral Symmetry Principle: Reply to Frowe and Tooley

Res Publica 24 (4):531-541 (2018)
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Helen Frowe has recently objected to Michael Tooley’s famous Moral Symmetry Principle, which is meant to show that in themselves killing and letting die are morally equivalent. I argue that her objection is not compelling but a more compelling objection is available. Specifically, Tooley’s rebuttal of a proposed counter-example to his Moral Symmetry Principle has two problematic implications. First, it undercuts the very principle itself. If we reject the proposed counter-example, then any instance of the Moral Symmetry Principle will actually demonstrate the moral in-equivalence of killing and letting die. Second, it commits us to the view, which Tooley wishes to avoid, that we are just as obligated to refrain from doing wrong as we are to prevent others from doing the same. I conclude with a brief discussion of a more general concern regarding Tooley’s basic strategy. My focus here is quite narrow. My claims, if plausible, only show that the Moral Symmetry Principle is unsound and thus cannot serve as a basis for the view that killing and letting die are morally equivalent.

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Jacob Blair
California State University, Hayward


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