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The Forum > Article Comments > Pippa’s dilemma: the moral demands of affluence > Comments

Pippa’s dilemma: the moral demands of affluence : Comments

By Scott MacInnes, published 25/10/2012

Socrates may have been right when he said that ‘the unexamined life is not worth living’.

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I have asked the Editor’s indulgence in making two further comments: the first, out of respect for the views of those who inspired this article; the second, in appreciation of my daughter, whose thoughtful comments on drafts of all my articles has been invaluable to me.

1. It would be unfair of anyone (including myself) to form any firm opinion about the views of the participants in the program based on my interpretations of a few isolated comments they made in the course of this brief conversation on air.

Such a medium is not conducive to any kind of philosophical analysis, which always involves all sorts of qualifications and clarifications around meanings of terms, which I am sure they would want to make if they had more time.

Given the constraints of the medium, I believe they did an amazing job at teasing out so many of the relevant considerations in such a compelling way. And I am grateful to them for providing the stimulus for this essay. If I have misrepresented their views in any way, I apologize unreservedly.

In this context I am reminded of the following words in The Ascent of Man from Jacob Bronowski, one of my intellectual heroes:

“All knowledge, all information between human beings can only be exchanged within a play of tolerance.....Every judgment..stands on the edge of error and is personal.”

2. While reading the final draft of this essay, my daughter was reminded of a wonderful quote I gave her many years ago, which she thought summed up something of the personal process going on for Pippa in resolving her dilemma.

"All the greatest and most important problems of life are fundamentally insoluble...They can never be solved, but only outgrown. This "outgrowing" proved on further investigation to require a new level of consciousness. Some higher or wider interest appeared on the (person’s) horizon, and through this broadening of his or her outlook the insoluble problem lost its urgency. It was not solved logically in its own terms but faded when confronted with a new and stronger life urge."(Carl Jung)
Posted by Scott MacInnes, Monday, 29 October 2012 10:25:22 AM
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A thoughtful and confronting essay, calling for insight as well as the courage to speak about oneself in such a revealing way. It should be read together with the author’s subsequent comments in Life Matters (Monday, 15th October).

There is an interesting contrast between Damon Young and Peter Singer; the latter’s views, as a younger man, seem closer to Kant than to utilitarian theory. What, if anything, can philosophers and psychologists (Doris McIlwain) contribute to help resolve such issues? Can they do a better job than theologians?

Wittgenstein said the true measure of a man is not in his achievements but in what they cost him - in the price he had to pay to himself.

If this makes sense we need to look twice at Scott’s idea, supported by McIlwain in Life Matters, that ‘great art, literature and music’ are (along with our deepest personal attachments to others and to nature) ‘fundamental to the good life’ and ‘ground our moral concerns’.

I’m not at all sure that those who see Mother Teresa as exemplary of the Good Samaritan would agree; her willingness to give up everything is enhanced, rather than diminished, by the extent of her sacrifice. We might well say the same about Sydney Carton’s final act of love and atonement in Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities.

I thank the author for raising this issue and for reminding us of the importance of a question which is both difficult to answer and impossible to ignore.
Posted by maxat, Monday, 29 October 2012 10:31:48 AM
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' It would enlarge her own being immeasurably and would most likely have significant flow-on effects for others.'

But for how many years.

Here's the solution. Find an art lover 50 years her junior, and give them the tickets. And make sure it's an aboriginal girl with as many other minority group cards as possible.

'without thereby sacrificing anything of comparable moral significance'

There's the clause, who judges this? And how many degrees of separation, and to what % of certainty of the alternative course of events being realized?

' We would not be sacrificing anything significant if we continued to wear our old clothes, and give the money to famine relief. By doing so we would be preventing another person from starving'

But if you weren't to buy the clothes, the child who made them would lose their job, and his whole family starve.

'On the contrary, we ought to give the money away, and it would be wrong not to do so.'

For some evil dictator to take and to further enslave the people?

To what degree are you responsible for the course of events relating to every single minute decision of your day. Could the analysis paralysis, that wasted time have been used to do a meals on wheels service for an old lady. You bastard!

I could tread on an ant that would cause a cataclysmic course of events that could mean the end of the world.

Now, where to find that ant!
Posted by Houellebecq, Monday, 29 October 2012 10:48:02 AM
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If everyday as I walk past that pool there is 1 million kids drowning in it there will quickly come a day when I go to work another way. Perhaps I will learn to cope with leaving my shoes off, rescuing a few but the problem is so big that I will eventually face the decision point where I put my needs ahead of the greater needs of others.

Not sure of the going rate but from memory it used to be something like $5 could buy a lifesaving vaccine for a child. For around $30
I can get clean water for a family in Haiti for several years

I know that stuff but I still will use that $5 or even the $30 or more on things that are not essential, I'll buy Morcona when I could give up coffee (and sometimes spend the $5 on a single cup of coffee and a biscuit). I've knowingly swapped a coffee for the life of child unfortunate enough to be born in parts of the world that I don't see and I suspect most of us do something similar on a day to day basis. I had a pub dinner last week, around $22 dollars. I might have saved the lives of a few children with that.

It's not just overseas flights, a new car, a bigger home, a piece of art. The basic ethical problem is the same on the small scale, once we are past that we are quibling over the price not the value part.

Proximity has to matter or we would drive ourselves nuts with the fallout, I'd spend whatever I have and borrow some to save the life of my own child. I'd put my own life at some risk to save a stranger who was nearby but if you are not nearby, not someone I'm personally close to your needs are going to end up balanced against far lesser needs and wants of mine regadless of how deserving your case.

Posted by R0bert, Monday, 29 October 2012 12:38:18 PM
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