Bathroom Thoughts

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Let me give you a simple example of what I’m going to call ‘familiar double-standards’. Suppose there is an ethical dilemma whereupon you are stranded upon an island with three other people. There is no food and eventually the decision is reached that someone, chosen at random, must die, so that the rest can eat his or her flesh to survive. Two people agree with this, but the chosen person disagrees with being eaten. Do you agree and kill this person for food, or do you disagree and try to find a means for all of you to survive (although there is none)?

Now, as a mostly-utilitarian person I thought it would make sense to have as few suffer as possible, for the good of the many. But notice how the situation ALWAYS changes when it is someone you know, in place of a total stranger whom you have no attachment to? For example, would you eat a friend? A family member? Do remember they are unwilling to be eaten in this particular scenario.

As a result of such considerations, our ethics and decision-making changes substantially. We have one set of ethics for strangers, and another for people who are important to us. This inconsistency,  I feel, is detrimental to knowing our true thoughts on the matter. As such, I think it would be productive to assume that in any ethical scenario, one should place one’s family or friends in the given situation, to ensure the weight of the decision is properly appreciated.

Extending that, one could say that every human life in a given dilemma is ‘important’, in the sense where each person is to be thought of as family. Perhaps when we consider all humanity as our family, some of our views may change.


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