The Skeevy Anesthesiologist

Photo by Matías Ramos on Unsplash

I’m currently writing something about capacities and how they relate to morality. I thought of a scenario and just assumed it had been written about and discussed before. So, I tried to find some of the discussion. Unfortunately, I came up empty. This scenario is so obvious that I can’t believe I’m the first person to think of it. Not being in academia, a lot of the literature is behind paywalls and not accessible to me. That’s my best guess for why I can’t find anything. But, even if that’s the case, it’s strange that this hasn’t been popularized like Trolley Problems and Chinese Rooms. So, I figured I’d give my two cents.

Here’s the scenario*:

There’s an anesthesiologist. Whenever he gets a female patient, he cups her breasts while she’s under. He does no physical damage and leaves no evidence. He gets a thrill out of it and no one else, including the patient, ever know that it happened. Is he doing something wrong?

I’m pretty sure that everyone, at least I hope everyone, agrees that the anesthesiologist is doing something wrong. It’s a violation or molestation or assault or something like that. But why? His act has only one consequence, it gives him some pleasure. No one feels any pain or displeasure at all. No one’s life is affected in any way except for the anesthesiologist, and his life is better for it. It seems like a strict utilitarian has to say that the anesthesiologist is doing good. He is increasing the sum total of happiness at no cost.

I can’t accept that, though. He is clearly doing something wrong, very wrong. But I can’t come up with a coherent reason why without needing the help of things I don’t believe in. It’s easy if you believe that God sees all or something like that. It’s also easy if you think of goodness as being an essence and anyone who would grope a patient is missing at least some of that essence. But, I don’t believe those things. Maybe the categorical imperative or some form of contractualism could be formulated for this scenario, but I don’t exactly believe those either. Virtue ethics could stipulate that it’s wrong because a good person wouldn’t form that habit, but I can’t think how it would explain what makes the act wrong. That’s why I really wanted to see what people had written about this scenario and why I’m so disappointed that I can’t find anything.

Anyway, if you have any thoughts that might help, let me know. Or if you know of any discussions that I’ve missed, please point me in the right direction. Philosophers like to talk about violinists being grafted onto your body and brains in vats. I can’t believe a pretty run of the mill pervert has never come up before.

*I feel like I need to explain where this came from. I was trying to think of the basis for something being wrong. Every bad thing that I thought of had bad consequences or set a bad precedent. So, I started to wonder if there are any bad things that don’t have bad consequences or set bad precedents. This is what I thought of. I know it couldn’t happen. Anesthesiologists work as part of a team, for starters. (Although, if the rest of the team were in on it and enjoyed it, it would create even more pleasure. . .) In my defense, it’s not like the Ship of Theseus or the Ring of Gyges are particularly realistic.

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