such as abortion, gun control, and medical practices of all sorts (including vaccinations and
transplants). Legal arguments are often based on finding precedents—analogous cases that
have already been decided. Recent arguments presented in the debate over gun control have
drawn conclusions based on analogies that compare the United States with other countries,
including Switzerland and Japan. Whether these and similar arguments are strong enough
to establish their conclusions depends on just how similar the cases are and the degree and
number of dissimilarities and contrary cases. Being aware of similar cases that have already
occurred or that are occurring in other areas can vastly improve one’s wisdom about how
best to address the topic at hand.
The importance of analogies in moral reasoning is sometimes captured in the
—that if two things are analogous in all morally relevant respects, then what
is right (or wrong) to do in one case will be right (or wrong) to do in the other case as well.
For example, if it is right for a teacher to fail a student for missing the final exam, then another
student who does the same thing should also be failed. Whether the teacher happens to like
one student more than the other should not make a difference, because that is not a morally
relevant difference when it comes to grading.
The reasoning could look as follows:
Things that are similar in all morally relevant respects should be treated the
Student A was failed for missing the final exam.
Student B also missed the final exam.
Therefore, student B should be failed as well.
It follows from the principle of equal treatment that if two things should be treated differ-
ently, then there must be a morally relevant difference between them to justify this different
treatment. An example of the application of this principle might be in the interrogation of
prisoners of war. If one country wants to subject prisoners of war to certain kinds of harsh
treatments but objects to its own prisoners being treated the same way by other countries,
then there need to be relevant differences between the situations that justify the different
treatment. Otherwise, the country is open to the charge of moral inconsistency.
This principle, or something like it, comes up in many other types of moral debates, such as
about abortion and animal ethics. Animal rights advocates, for example, say that if we object
to people harming cats and dogs, then we are morally inconsistent to accept to the same treat-
ment of cows, pigs, and chickens. One then has to address the question of whether there are
differences in the beings or in their use for food that justify the differences in moral consid-
eration we give to each.
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