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Being Good and Doing Good

personperson Where is my mind?'Merica! Veteran

I want to highly recommend this conversation between Sam Harris and ethics philosopher William MacAskill.

https://www.samharris.org/podcast/item/being-good-and-doing-good

It's long, at 2 hours so you might want to download the podcast to listen while you're doing something else.

They don't offer answers really but instead explore complicated ethical questions from many sides. For example, if you came across a child drowning in a swamp would it be alright not to save them because you didn't want to ruin your new suit you just spent $1,000 on? If not, would it then also not be alright to buy a luxury item when donating that money would save lives? How about spending money on space programs or arts programs? What if you were in a burning building and could only save one child and one of them was extremely bright and gifted and the rest were normal average children? Would you save the bright child? How about when there are limited resources to spend on medical treatments for kids, how would you feel about the hospitals using school records to give priority to the students with the best grades and highest IQs?

Lots of good food for thought.

Vastmind

Comments

  • personperson Where is my mind? 'Merica! Veteran
    edited October 2016

    How about the examples of not saving a drowning child because you don't want to ruin your expensive clothes and not donating your luxury item money to save lives?

    I think most people's moral intuition is that, of course it's wrong not to save the drowning child. But if it's wrong not to save the drowning child why don't we have the same sense about buying luxury items instead of donating the money to save lives? Moral philosopher Peter Singer makes the argument that there is no difference if the child is your neighbors child 10' away from you or a starving child halfway around the world, our moral obligation is the same. Is it? Why or why not?

  • This reminds me of interview questions I encountered in my career. No matter what answer you give, the scenario is then altered, again, again...
    Of course, in the strict moral sense, there is no difference between the drowning child before us and the starving child halfway around the world or halfway across the country or city.

    We as individuals tend to loose perspective when, in this case, the child is beyond our immediate field of awareness. Without answering the "Why or why not?", when the perspective changes, the awareness fades or even disappears. While the moral obligation may remain the same, the perception, the awareness does not. The dilemma, then, is not in the moral imperative, but in the perceptive and perspective awareness.

    Also, it is easy to see the "drowning child" in the lake, but miss the "drowning child" on the playground. , or the "drowning child" of any age in the same room....

    Peace to all

    lobsterperson
  • personperson Where is my mind? 'Merica! Veteran

    @Lionduck said:
    This reminds me of interview questions I encountered in my career. No matter what answer you give, the scenario is then altered, again, again...

    I think the purpose here is to take one scenario where maybe the answer is more obvious then compare it to another that is similar and not as obvious so we can better understand something.

    Of course, in the strict moral sense, there is no difference between the drowning child before us and the starving child halfway around the world or halfway across the country or city.

    We as individuals tend to loose perspective when, in this case, the child is beyond our immediate field of awareness. Without answering the "Why or why not?", when the perspective changes, the awareness fades or even disappears. While the moral obligation may remain the same, the perception, the awareness does not. The dilemma, then, is not in the moral imperative, but in the perceptive and perspective awareness.

    That's really great, I think you hit it on the head. In the OP conversation Harris brings up the example of a bomber pilot killing a mother and child and a soldier killing a mother and child with a shovel. The end result is the same but the emotional quality of the person needs to be different to do one act over the other. So I think when you say it's about an individuals awareness of the situation, that sounds like the distinction to me.

    Also, it is easy to see the "drowning child" in the lake, but miss the "drowning child" on the playground. , or the "drowning child" of any age in the same room....

    Good point, it usually isn't so simple in the real world.

    Peace to all

  • KeromeKerome Did I fall in the forest? Europe Veteran

    @person said:
    How about the examples of not saving a drowning child because you don't want to ruin your expensive clothes and not donating your luxury item money to save lives?

    I think most people's moral intuition is that, of course it's wrong not to save the drowning child. But if it's wrong not to save the drowning child why don't we have the same sense about buying luxury items instead of donating the money to save lives? Moral philosopher Peter Singer makes the argument that there is no difference if the child is your neighbors child 10' away from you or a starving child halfway around the world, our moral obligation is the same. Is it? Why or why not?

    I think it is not the same. These kinds of moral obligations stem from social rules that have we have evolved alongside for many years, and I think deep down we expect others to behave like us, to save the starving or drowning child. So in a way we delegate responsibility for doing the saving to those who are closest to the person in need.

    I still intend to listen to the Sam Harris lecture, but life has been a little busy this past week.

  • personperson Where is my mind? 'Merica! Veteran

    @Kerome said:

    @person said:
    How about the examples of not saving a drowning child because you don't want to ruin your expensive clothes and not donating your luxury item money to save lives?

    I think most people's moral intuition is that, of course it's wrong not to save the drowning child. But if it's wrong not to save the drowning child why don't we have the same sense about buying luxury items instead of donating the money to save lives? Moral philosopher Peter Singer makes the argument that there is no difference if the child is your neighbors child 10' away from you or a starving child halfway around the world, our moral obligation is the same. Is it? Why or why not?

    I think it is not the same. These kinds of moral obligations stem from social rules that have we have evolved alongside for many years, and I think deep down we expect others to behave like us, to save the starving or drowning child. So in a way we delegate responsibility for doing the saving to those who are closest to the person in need.

    I still intend to listen to the Sam Harris lecture, but life has been a little busy this past week.

    In reality that is the difference. I think the point about thinking about it differently though is to see if our social and evolutionary instincts are the correct one. It pits our moral intuitions against our reasoning.

  • @person said:

    They don't offer answers really but instead explore complicated ethical questions from many sides.

    B)
    I like Sam Harris as he is a scientist and Buddhist Ninja. However two hours is too long to listen to anything ... except maybe the sea, open fire crackling, river gurgling, baby talk etc ...

    By always asking how I am wrong, I gain insight into not being righteous ... which is my default mode. When will I ever learn ... :3

    personVastmindDhammaDragon
  • smarinosmarino florida Explorer
    edited October 2016

    It's actually a very simple proposition, but long conversations based on theoretical examples serve no purpose other than to activate our egos. To do good is to be good, they are one and the same. In the truest sense, there is no one at all doing good, there is simply good activity.

    If we are operating from our ego, then we are trapped as always in duality, where one thing is good and another thing is bad. But when we operate from where we are when we meditate properly and get "us" out of the way (mindfulness that we use when we get off the cushion and carry throughout the day), that is enlightened activity, and there is no more good or bad, there is no more "us", and no separation, there is simply doing the right thing at the right moment with skillful means. For this we cannot have a set way of operating, fixed ideas, formulas, etc.

    Every situation is constantly changing, ALL things including ourselves are in a state of constant change, and what may have been appropriate behavior one moment could quickly develop into inappropriate very quickly, in which case something else would need to be applied w/ skillful means.

    ShoshinlobsterDhammaDragon
  • DhammaDragonDhammaDragon Carpe Diem switzerland Veteran

    There is no enlightenment but only enlightened activity, someone said....
    Me neither, I can't really sit down to listen to anyone, even Sam Harris, who I like a lot, for as long as two hours.
    I have a lot of good to do.

    There is compassion and there is idiot compassion.
    What seems right in a scenario, could seem completely out of place in another.
    What seems good at a given moment, may seem wrong on hindsight.
    Context is everything.

    I like to do good, but I don't care if that makes me good.
    That would be too much ego rationale for this losely-tied bundle of skandhas...

    lobster
  • personperson Where is my mind? 'Merica! Veteran
    edited October 2016

    Is just being good enough or does it need wisdom?

    If we're a good person we don't need to plan our actions so that we make sure to do good ones, they should just come naturally.

    However, in the examples above a fully good person without a broad sense of the world may only do good to whomever is right in front of them. In metta meditation practice we work on broadening our circle of love so it moves beyond ourselves and our immediate circle. So we should make efforts to widen our understanding of suffering in the world.

    On the other hand maybe doing good to those in front of us is the end result of the path though, being direct and present to what is here is wisdom. Buddha only directed his energies at those around him, he didn't send off letters or emissaries to help those far away.

    lobster
  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    Ripples in a pond, @person, ripples in a pond. It's passing it forward that reaches the goal.

  • DhammaDragonDhammaDragon Carpe Diem switzerland Veteran

    It is unfathomable nowadays the effect that our actions could have at a major scale.
    Someone at one end of the world types a message and it could reach the homes of millions of people all over the world -and affect their lives- in a couple of seconds.

    lobster
  • @person said:
    Is just being good enough or does it need wisdom?

    Good post @person,
    It does require wisdom. Most of us are in a condition unaware of how for example doing good to bad people is unwise. Allowing fools, charlatans and destructive people to rule us, advise us or be our role models.
    We feel that acting a part and saying we are honest, humble, wise, compassionte or having such a reputation is the same as having such qualities. On a personal level I feel it is best to think of ourselves as hypocrites, ignorant and certainly not as wise or compassionate as we imagine ...

    Let us take a Buddhist example. People will be kind to lax teachers, animals and ineffective or preferred teachings. Will they be kind to their own ignorance, inner animals and ineffective or partial adoption of dharma? Most of us are hypocrites. Hypocrisy and play acting can be exposed through practice, counter measures and the ripples, waves and tsunamis of our capacity to empower others movement ...

    Sometimes we go a little beyond our comfortable, exterior public spirituality ...
    http://malamatiyyam.blogspot.co.uk/2013/12/malamatiyya-in-wikipedia.html

    person
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