thought experiment: best friend’s funeral

I have a problem of being too quiet during class discussions. I can’t ever find my break into one, though I’m aware all I need to do is raise my hand. A year ago in community college I told myself to not be so quiet during discussions, because I know I always have something to say, but I’ve convinced myself by now it’s all the cause of thinking I’ve had no worth in my opinion, or wanting to be too much of a sponge absorbing what all my peers want to say, thinking of myself as being in some sort of outside perspective, simply watching, and not being a quick enough thinker. I’ve been having some ideas as to what I can do about this, but those ideas I still need to flesh out internally.

In my ethics class there was a thought experiment that came up, in a lecture promoting virtue ethics, that went something like this:

  • Imagine your best friend has just died, you’re at their  funeral with two friends, a utilitarian and a kantian. You’re grief stricken, crying, inconsolable.
  • Utilitarian friend offers a pill that promises to wipe out the grief. You’ll still remember the friend, but you won’t feel any pain at their death ever again.
  • Kantian friend considers the categorical imperative and gives a thumbs up. Taking the pill doesn’t use anyone as a mere means and can be universalized.
  • Would you take the pill?

I know this would require a lot of supplementary info for one who doesn’t know much about these ideas, but cutting that out would still show the basic problem, and I’m not  knowledgeable in all this to try, so on to the question..

There were a lot of people in the discussion that brought up interesting points to the question, like they’d be considerate of their friend in various ways, like maybe they had a feeling their friend would or would not have wanted people to grieve for them at their funeral, maybe there was some kind of will they wanted respected, maybe the manner in which they died would point to the appropriateness of the mourning.

People were looking for external factors to base their grief upon, but after thinking it through I’ve found out my response, much thanks to the discussion. The focus on whether we grieve or not is not dependent on the outside factors, but rather on the inside factors.

I don’t think any of those things matter, in whether or not I should grieve for my best friend at their funeral. We have to consider what kind of person we would be to our best friend if we did grieve for them, if we didn’t grieve for them. A  person would grieve as much as they need to for their best friend; to erase the grief would erase a part of what the best friend meant to us. That reflection would show to those other two friends at the funeral, though I know their interpretation of the grief would be different. I think of how this could build us as a character to mourn for our best friends. Hopefully it wouldn’t need to last long once we’re allowed to let the rest of the factors, the external ones, come into play.

So I wouldn’t take the pill. I’d want myself and the world to know how much it meant to me to lose someone I love as much as the grief can show.

One of my core beliefs is the idea that the love we are willing to share with the world can be a direct reflection of the pain we went through. The pain could be devastating experiences, and/or simply the realization that at face value there’s a lot of shitty things going on in the world, and those shitty things want precedence. An openly loving person knows what is at stake, puts much of their love on the line, knowing it can all go to waste. The risk is worth it, more than keeping what love one has to themselves, hiding it, reserving it for a limited amount of people. As valuable as that love can be, it can be more easily robbed. It would serve them well for it to be robbed, to feel that pain, and then we would notice how much love they really had. I think my flowery language might seem too flowery for people, and I notice that, but oh well it’s just my belief.

Love reflects inner pain, pain reflects inner love. It’s equally reciprocal. That’s the point I’m trying to make.. sheesh that did a better job than the previous paragraph hah..

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questions: happiness, refusal, punishment

Is happiness the most important purpose in life?

Let’s think of the things I want. I want to own a grand piano, I want to travel, I want to have political power in my local city or school districts, have a family well down the road, be a teacher, maintain my friendships, attend river clean-ups, donate money to a charity, etc. List some of your own things. If we ask the grand proverbial question of “why” we want these things, you can answer as many times as you want, just keep asking why and why and why. I want all those things because I believe it would bring me happiness to have these things, and you want what you want because it would do the same. We all try to be happy. It doesn’t get more basic than that.

This question is relevant given that I had just written an essay in defense of Utilitarianism, the moral theory that states we must asses what is write or wrong by looking at the consequences of our actions, what makes something right is what will promote the most amount of happiness and well-being for the most amount of people and by extension other beings and things. The right thing to do is what will benefit everyone and everything involved in the action. We do a cost-benefit analysis in our head, sort of: What is the best choice given the circumstances? My mom is vegan, I’m not, but if she asks me what I want to eat I deffer to her diet, because my diet includes all of hers, and that way she doesn’t have to prepare two kinds of meals and we can both equally enjoy the meal. All because it would bring more happiness, less pain, in the long run. High standard applied to a not tooo moral situation, until we start bringing up the cost for maintaining the kinds of mainstream diets and those effects, as we know.

I’ve been a utilitarian until recently, right now I’m in a grey area on morality. I’m in an ethics class, learning so many perspectives. I feel like virtue ethics might be the new direction I come to agree more with and adopt, but we haven’t covered that yet.

Is it wrong to spend money on expensive food when people are dying of hunger?

Under Utilitarian thought one can say that it is, though my gut reaction says no. I wouldn’t fault anyone for doing that, unless they did it in spite. But the standard I place on myself is different. I’m not willing to buy something too expensive when I know I can buy a cheaper version of it, as long as the quality doesn’t drop dramatically more than the price. Whether one contributes to helping world hunger doesn’t matter on my stance, though I hope people are always doing everything in their power to help others. I ration my money because I know I want to have enough available to contribute to some kind of charity or expense. The little I can do I do, but I’m not looking for any recognition for it so I’ll leave it at that. So my answer is a little grey, but push me on it and I’ll say yes.

If someone is drowning and you refuse to help, are you responsible for his death?

This one challenges the answer I just gave on the previous question. I was so passive about that, but here my attitude changes. I answer with my gut and try not to overthink when I do this, but anyways…

Well, there do exist laws that would make it so you’d have some grain of responsibility, at least where you were able to prevent such a death. And to some good extent; I would want someone to help me if I were drowning, and not stand by, if they could definitely help it. I would want to help someone drowning if I could definitely act. There’s always the risk of not succeeding, but that risk stays at 0 when I do nothing. This is all assuming one could do it. If one can’t or is too afraid of losing their own life in the process then I wouldn’t fault them, but there is knowing refusal to help. That complicates it certainly, by how much will depend on the person.

This raises my concern with my previous answer, as I said. But the difference here is willingly not helping a drowning person, versus knowing that there are starving people. One can argue that I might not be responsible for the starving people, or that I’m responsible for helping them, and I’d agree to the latter idea to some extent. In the drowning scenario, I mean I’m not directly responsible for the drowning, but as with the starving people I can take responsibility and at least try to save the drowning person to the best of my ability. I’m not sure I cleared anything up with this.

Btw I’ve drowned three times in my life, was resuscitated two times, at childhood. That last day it happened was the last day I’ve ever felt confident I could swim in any depth. It doesn’t stop me from trying, or keep me from getting in swimming pools or rivers. I’ve done both, and I’ve still swum in deep parts since; Where the trouble comes is the constant reminder of it when I do try swimming, and it panics me within 5 seconds. So I have trouble enjoying it. This is probably something I need to address in therapy.

Why do we punish people?

Because we want justice. I’ve used the term deservance, but it’s the same thing. Punishment is a great deterrent of doing some pretty bad stuff. Louis CK put it best when he said “the law against murder is the number one thing preventing murder.”

People don’t want to be punished for it. I know I don’t. And I feel like he’s talking about me when CK mentions the quiet people.. cause I’m so quiet. :E

I’m reminded of the golden rule. it’s the most popular rule, and it’s a good one too. Don’t wrong me cause you wouldn’t wanna be wronged. Punishment is the idea of people wronging others and not getting away with at least some inconvenience, right? And it’s reciprocal on the judges as well. Since I can agree that I’d need some time away from society from hurting people, then I’d put others away. Where the we cross the line for me is the death penalty. I’d accept being killed as punishment for killing others. But we know that innocent people have been sentenced to the death penalty. I wouldn’t want to be send to my death if I was falsely convicted into the death penalty. I also wouldn’t want to send an innocent person to such fate. That’s why I’m completely opposed, because I won’t risk an innocent life if I can help it. At least maybe we can agree that a truly guilty person who merits such a punishment deserves to be away from the rest of society forever.

Is it alright to torture terrorists to extract information?

“They know what they’re signing themselves up for,” is my gut reaction. Or maybe they didn’t, either way my answer is simple. Violence is generally not my method of getting anything done; the only exception is violence in self defense. I know most people in the US don’t agree with me on not torturing them, but I guess that’s that.

When is it ok, if ever, to disobey the law?

I understand evil as how a professor of mine pinned it: unjustified suffering. Ya know, doing unreasonable things to otherwise innocent people, or beings. Innocence I understand it as not being guilty or not having responsibility for a given action.

If a law is being applied unfairly, biased against one particular group for no logically reasonable purpose, maybe disobedience has merit.

I’m not sure how else to put it. Interesting how just yesterday I was thinking of such exact question, and I kept breaking stuff down and putting it back together to end up with that answer, or something very similar.

Anyways, that’s enough questions.. now on to the more important stuff.

 

till god do his part

This article released recently explains the underrepresentation of atheists in America. It was a surprise at first but I’m understanding the reasoning mentioned in the article. I haven’t had a tough time with being an atheist in a religious family; it was a combination of my mother accepting me making a decision as an adult as well as how aggressively passive my parents were with me. Though I haven’t been too vocal about where I stand, I’ve made it clear what I thought whenever it was relevant. 

In high school I did not like the idea of picking a major that I had to stick to for the rest of my schooling that would be critical for my career and going to university straight off graduating. It was too heavy an option to make. And then I later learn that a lot of incoming freshmen come in undecided and that  declared majors are always being changed and how expensive it has been to take out loans and how much that alone hinders one’s ability as a homebuyer and what else. Not even knowing these things I told myself Nah I don’t even know myself. I don’t know what my values or priorities are or what I am capable of, so I won’t take that route, not yet without knowing myself.

Philosophy is the strongest tool there is to understanding oneself and the world. It should not be taken for granted the ability to discover one’s values on their own through carefully managing through the various methods of thought that major philosophers have been able to find. It’s too bad those classes are not a priority by the time highschool ends. At least not where I’m from.

For those who either did not want to think hard about their own purpose or did not yet have the mental framework to think with the depth needed to conclude a purpose for oneself (*cough school era kids/ ppl who don’t or won’t care enough) religion made sense! It is an easy guide to carry with you. All this morality layed out for you, now follow it! No sir, sorry sir, but I just am not happy following an outdated book or unscientificly based doctrine when I can instead try what the philosophers did and come to my own conclusions about this world. Find my place in this world, on my own. Make my own path. Sure it was more difficult to do but it feels worth it.

Of course I feel higher than a sheep of an outdated system that had precedent and dominated the generation they were born into. Maybe my ethics are not as great as theirs (note I have not written much yet about my ethics/morality; I will), but I love that I came to my beliefs on my own. I don’t need that system for comfort whenever I look into the sky and remember we are alone in this universe, as far as we know right now. Loneliness and uncertainty does not scare me. Death does not scare me. God does not scare me.

My arms extend to each person in the world. Let us celebrate the scared. Cheers! To the closeted atheists in America and the world! Your struggle is so much more than mine; You keep me looking up to the umiverse in awe and inspiration to fight, not waiting for God to do his part.