On moral nose
in From reason to practice in bioethics
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John Harris famously rejects basing views in bioethics on what Orwell called "moral nose": detecting wrongness by how something "smells". This chapter supports his view that moral intuitions without critical evaluation can reflect mere prejudice. But it gives reasons for giving some of them more respect than he allows. When moral nose merely reflects disturbance at the unfamiliar, or at the disruption of categories based only on tradition, it has no credentials at all. But sometimes, as in Orwell's reaction to Stalinism ("there is something wrong with a regime that needs a pyramid of corpses every few years... the Russian regime stinks") or in the reactions of many of us to Guantanamo, they are based on our human responses to killing and cruelty. Moral intuitions coming from these human responses can be an early warning system it is dangerous to ignore. They should be over-ridden after a strong case has been made that the alternative will be, in human terms, even worse.

From reason to practice in bioethics

An anthology dedicated to the works of John Harris


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