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Positing a difference between acts and omissions: the principle of justice, Rachels’ cases and moral weakness


The difficulty in discovering a difference between killing and letting die has led many philosophers to deny the distinction. This paper seeks to develop an argument defending the distinction between killing and letting die. In relation to Rachels’ cases, the argument is that (a) even accepting that Smith and Jones may select equally heinous options from the choices they have available to them, (b) the fact that the choices available to them are different is morally relevant, and (c) this difference in available choices can be used to distinguish between the agents in certain circumstances. It is the principle of justice, as espoused by Aristotle, which requires that equal things are treated equally and that unequal things are treated unequally that creates a presumption that Smith and Jones should be treated differently. The magnitude of this difference can be amplified by other premises, making the distinction morally relevant in practical reality.

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