Rachels, Chapter One: What is Morality?
Cases, Principles to Consider and the Minimum Conception of Morality

Baby Teresa

Jodie & Mary

Tracy Latimer

RACHELS' MINIMUM CONCEPTION OF MORALITY (core starting point for almost every moral theory)

Morality is conduct guided by impartial reason

  • Effort to guide one's conduct by reasons
    • To do what there are the best reasons for doing
    • Moral judgments must be backed by good reasons
    • Morality is 1st and foremost a matter of consulting reasons (12)
    • The right act is "where the weight of reason lies"
    • Best idea is one that has reason on its side
    • Morally right thing to do is determined by what there are the best reasons for doing (p. 12)
  • Impartially: While giving equal weight to interests of each individual who will be affected by one's conduct
    • Morality requires impartial consideration of each individual's interests
  • A conscientious moral agent is (p. 14-15) one who is
    • Impartial
    • Ascertains the facts
    • Scrutinizes principles
      • Are they sound? Are the being intelligently applied?
    • Listens to reason, even if this means changing one's views
    • Who acts on results of deliberation
  • Questions/issues
    • Role of feeling in ethics/morality?
      • Feelings are good as they show moral seriousness but the can be an impediment to figuring out what is right; When feel strongly believe we know what is right and close off to argument and reason giving
      • Feelings can be irrational or the results of prejudice
    • Difference between morality and taste
      • No reason needed for the taste judgments "I like coffee"; no such think as rationally defending ones like or dislike for coffee
      • In contrast, morality requires reasons and if they are sound others need to acknowledge them
    • Problem of distinguishing good from bad reasons/arguments


  • Baby Teresa:
    • Florida1992, anencephalic (without a brain-no cerebrum or cerebellum, but does have a brain-stem, so autonomic functions like breathing and heartbeat go on)
    • Most detected and aborted
    • Of those not aborted, are still born
    • 300 a year born and usually die in few days
    • Can know these babies not live long and that they will have no conscious life
    • Parents volunteered her (and doctors agreed) for organ transplants (kidneys, liver, heart, lungs and eyes) for other children who would benefit from it (2000 need transplants a year, never enough available)
    • Florida law prohibits removal of organs until donor is dead
    • Taking organs out would kill her
    • When Teresa died after 9 days, her organs had deteriorated and were worthless

  • Jodie and Mary
    • August 2000, woman discovered carrying twins joined at lower abdomen (spines fused, had one heart, and one set of lungs between them).
    • Jodie the stronger was providing blood for her sister
    • Some sets of conjoined twins do well (grow to adulthood and marry and have children themselves)
    • W/o intervention, Jodie and Mary die in 6 months
    • Only hope was to operate and separate them
    • Save Jodie, but Mary would die immediately
    • Parents refused permission to operate as this would hasten Mary's death and believed that "if it is God's will that both our children should not survive, then so be it"
    • Hospital believed it had an obligation to save one of the infants and got the courts to agree to operation to separate them
    • Jodie lived and Mary died

  • Tracy Latimer
    • Was a 12 year old in Saskatchewan who had cerebral palsy (brain disease that leads to muscle malfunction)
    • In 1993, her father (Robert Latimer) killed her (piped in exhaust fumes into pickup cab)
    • She weighed less 40 pounds
    • Had mental level of a three month old baby; nutrition via feeding tubes, rods in back, bedsores, "leg cut and flopping around"
    • Had major surgery on back, hips, legs and more surgery planned
    • Difficult to control her pain
    • Mother was relieved to find Tracy dead
    • Local jury and judge wanted to be lenient (one year in prison and one year probation), but Supreme Court overruled and sentenced him to mandatory 25 years in prison.
    • Still in prison
    • More information: https://www.robertlatimer.net/story/tracysillness.htm