Ethical Reflection and the Caterpillar Who Thinks
“The caterpillar who thinks about how its legs work falls on its chin, the story goes.” The issue is all about reflection and its role in ethics. The quote is taken from an interesting blog thread titled “The Caterpillar Effect in Ethical Reflection” found on The Splintered Mind blog November 19 2007.
This issue raises questions as to whether there are some aspects of life and behavior that we really shouldn’t analyze potential acts or alternatives too closely and we would do better to simply follow our own natural impulses or follow along what others have decided to do. Can unbridled introspection and reflection slow necessary responses and lead to wrong rather than good decisions? Are there not certain decisions that we must make, such as driving our automobile, where we must allow our learned automatic responses to respond rather than reflecting on the implications of what we intend to do as we are driving? Cannot this analogy be similarly applied to making ethical decisions? In clinical ethics, there is the doctrine or principle of the “double effect”, permitting a bad consequence in order to obtain a good effect. You can read all about it at Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy website.
An example would be to the treating of pain in a terminally ill cancer patient with morphine with a dose to relieve the pain which might in this patient accelerate the patient’s death. This principle has been expressed in various ways and there have been significant criticisms about the logic or interpretation of the principle.
My question is that when a physician is attempting to relieve the suffering of the patient such as described above, should the physician begin an introspective analysis or reflection of whether the motivations leading to his or her decision is fully in keeping with the principle of “double effect” or if there was the slightest intent to bring the patient’s suffering to a permanent end, rather than simply relieving the pain at the moment. If the latter, would that mean that the morphine should not be administered because the criteria for permissibility of the “double effect” would not have been attained. One can think of other examples of problems in ethical reflection.
I would like to know what my visitors think about reflection and its role in ethics. Is reflection always a good or like the thinking caterpillar simply inhibit doing something necessary? ..Maurice.
Graphic: Photograph taken by me today of clouds and mountains reflected in a puddle of rain water on a muddy path in Towsley Canyon, Santa Clarita, California.