Hi Stefan and everyone else. I was just turned onto an article that Stefan posted on his blog entitled "Hanging By A Thread: Flagpoles, Lifeboats, and the Edge of Ethics," and I wanted to discuss what he wrote. I tried posting the following as a comment on the article itself, but I'm not quite sure if it worked. The thing said that the comments needed to be moderated, so it wouldn't appear immediately, but when I pressed the post comment button, I didn't get any kind of confirmation whatsoever. I'm not sure if that's normal. In any case, I didn't want the comment to get lost, so I'm starting this thread (this way I can see that it worked for sure!). Without further ado, my reaction:
Interesting article; I'm disappointed that I didn't see it sooner. I'm not sure if you intended this as a response to our earlier conversation on this topic, but some questions still remain.
First, the reason that I was worried about the situation is that in your book, you suggested that it would be wrong to kick in the window. In this discussion, it seems like you've reversed that position. Am I understanding you correctly? If so, we agree.
Second, you say that the window-kicker might "guess wrong," and smash the window when the owner of the window would not actually have granted permission to do so. I'm curious whether you would think the window-kicker to act wrongly if he kicked in the window with full knowledge that the owner would not have been willing to grant him permission. That is, is it immoral to infringe on someone's property rights in order to save one's own life if one knows that the property owner would not have granted permission to do so?
(To anticipate your frustration, I recognize that there are a lot of "if's" there. The reason it's important is not to establish what the right rule would be in those particular circumstances. I ask in order to understand how we are to think about property rights: are they absolute, or can they be bypassed for certain kinds of reasons? To put it another way, is there ever a reason in which someone would not be morally entitled to having their property rights upheld? I think that's a question that deserves answering, and it just happens that this "lifeboat" example is helpful in teasing out the issue.)
I look forward to hearing your answers!