There may be a temptation to regard one life as trivial when compared with seven million. What difference will a choice of life or death for Smith make when compared with the millions who will surely die whatever you choose? Or perhaps we could say that it is not so much that one more life is trivial compared with several million, but rather than morality should not have anything to say about such a difference. Bernard Williams could be taken to be describing such a view when he talks of a moral agent for whom ‘there are certain situations so monstruous that the idea that the processes of moral rationality could yield an answer in them is insane: they are situations which so transcend in enormity the human business of moral deliberation that from a moral point of view it cannot matter any more what happens’. Williams constrats such a view with consequentialism, which ‘will have something to say even on the difference between massacring seven million, and massacring seven million and one’. One can certainly sypmathize with the agent who is so horrified at the scale of a massacre that she fhinds it difficult to deliberate rationally in the circumstances. This does not, however, support the view that from a moral point of view it cannot matter anymore what happens. If there really is no moral difference between massacring seven million and massacring seven million and one, the allied soldier arriving at Auschwitz can have no moral reason for preventing the murder of one last Jew before the Nazi surrender. The Nazi himself can have no moral reason for refraining from one last murder. While Williams’s moral agent is berating the universe for transcending the bounds of rationality, the consequentialist is saving a life. It is not hard to guess which of these agents I would rather have on my side.
Alastair Norcross, ‘Consequentialism and the Future’, Analysis, vol. 50, no. 4 (October, 1990), p. 255
I have experienced pains no more severe than a broken wrist, torn ankle ligaments, or an abscess in a tooth. These were pretty bad, but I have no doubt that a skilled torturer could make me experience pains many times as bad.
Alastair Norcross, ‘Comparing Harms: Headaches and Human Lives’, Philosophy & Public Affairs (Spring, 1997), vol. 26, no. 2, p. 146
Since, according to maximizing utilitarianism, any act that fails to maximize is wrong, there appears to be no place for actions that are morally admirable but not required, and agents will often be required to perform acts of great self-sacrifice. This gives rise to the common charge that maximizing utilitarianism is too demanding. […] How should a utilitarian respond to this line of criticism? One perfectly respectable response is simply to deny the claims at the heart of it. We might insist that morality really is very demanding, in precisely the way utilitarianism says it is. But doesn’t this fly in the face of common sense? Well, perhaps it does, but so what? Until relatively recently, moral “common sense” viewed women as having an inferior moral status to men, and some racs as having an inferior status to others. These judgments were not restricted to the philosophically unsophisticated. Such illustrious philosophers as Aristotle and Hume accepted positions of this nature. Many utilitarians (myself included) believe that the interests of sentient non-human animals should be given equal consideration in moral decisions with the interests of humans. This claims certainly conflicts with the “common sense” of many (probably most) humans, and many (perhaps most) philosophers. It should not, on that account alone, be rejected.
Alastair Norcross, ‘The Scalar Approach to Utilitarianism’, in Henry R. West (ed.), The Blackwell Guide to Mill’s Utilitarianism, Malden, Massachusetts, 2006, p. 218
[T]o the extent that we view morality as not simply a human creation, a device whose sole purpose is to ensure cooperation among humans, and thereby promote human flourishing, we have powerful reasons to reject the view that the interests of animals are less significant than the like interests of humans. Such a rejection will render much animal experimentation morally unacceptable. This is not a conclusion that will be eagerly embraced by the scientific community. It is, however, the conclusion best supported by a careful examination of the relevant moral reasons.
Alastair Norcross, ‘Animal Experimentation’, in Bonnie Steinbock (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Bioethics, Oxford, 2007, p. 666