On p. 197 Glock writes that:
A German philosopher, it seems, is not expected to muster nine arguments for and ten against any given position, but to utter profound wisdoms, preferably wisdoms which are in line with a shared communal ethos.This might well sound like mockery, and I think it is intended to. But Glock cuts the laughter short. The ridiculous German philosopher is contrasted with Peter Singer who, according to Glock's account, favors killing hemophiliac infants even though, as adults, they are likely to "find life definitely worth living," because they will be a burden to their parents and because the parents could probably have a healthier and happier child instead if they decided to 'replace' the hemophiliac one. I take it that Singer does not support killing sick babies against their parents' wishes, but that he thinks (or thought once upon a time) that parents who decided to kill a sick child in order to replace it with a healthier one were making a wise decision, assuming that doing so would be possible, legal, etc.
Glock identifies such a view, whether or not Singer still holds it (or even if he never did), as "a particular failure of rationality." The failure in question is:
the failure to reconsider one's premises in the light of unpalatable consequences, and the tendency to seek refuge instead in self-serving animadversions against 'orthodox' or 'conventional' morality and 'lay' intuitions. [p. 198]Glock goes on to contrast "the characteristically serious air of Germanophone moral philosophy" with the "gung-ho spirit," "cavalier spirit," and "exquisitely bad taste" of "some analytic philosophers working in applied ethics."
He then gives a fictional example to illustrate the kind of far-fetched thought experiment favored by such ethicists, and remarks:
There may be a place for casuistry; but that place is in the consideration of genuine moral dilemmas, dilemmas that could confront minimally decent and sane human agents. In this kind of casuistry, by contrast, moral problems seem to be treated mainly as an excuse for trying out one's pet theory or showing how clever one is.So is the profound German moral philosopher all right after all? Apparently not: "a philosophy the methods and results of which are predetermined by prior practical commitments is wishful thinking at best, and deceitful rhetoric at worst."
So our moral commitments should not be so fixed that they are immune to rational criticism, but if reasoning about morals leads to "unpalatable" conclusions, then we have reasoned badly. What is and is not palatable, I take it, is to be determined by what lies within the sphere of minimal decency and sanity.
This is far from rigid or specific, so I can easily imagine many philosophers refusing to take it seriously. But it seems quite right to me. The problem is that proving this kind of position right seems to be impossible, and it is not universally accepted. People like Singer and McMahan, it seems to me, sometimes stray beyond the limits of the sane and the minimally decent. And instead of a universal outcry, or a (bored, embarrassed, or angry) refusal to engage with their work, they are given attention, money, honors, etc.
Is it their work that is changing the general sense of what is decent and sane, or is it because this sense is already changing that we pay so much respectful attention to their work?