Ethical considerations and wicked issues
in Supreme emergency
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This chapter considers the challenging relationship between contemporary ‘rights-based’ ethical concepts and the more consequentialist ‘just war’ ethics that dominate government policy. The just war tradition evolves constantly. Only analysis of the Second World War has enabled ethicists to explain concepts such as ‘double effect’, ‘supreme emergency’ and ‘dirty hands’ in the terms which are understood today and fundamental to modern conflict. However, many contemporary philosophers consider ethics not in terms of balancing national security with the use of force, but regard individual rights as unassailable, transcending the consequentialism of realist politics, and aspire to normatise international relations. To provide context, two short case studies into ways governments have handled other complex technological and ethically challenging areas are considered: human embryology and fertilisation (the 1982 Warnock Inquiry), and genetic modification of crops (the 2003 public consultation). Whilst experts routinely consider the relationship between likelihood and consequence, such balanced views are not simple for the media to present, and ‘risk’ and ‘expert advice’ can prompt distorted scrutiny of complex ethical issues. While anti-nuclear opposition can afford selective, absolutist positions, governments must adopt consequentialist morality to provide for national defence, which is difficult to portray in public, particularly through modern media.

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Supreme emergency

How Britain lives with the Bomb

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