Ethics 101 and The Right to Self Preservation

19 Jun

It is my contention that the right to self preservation is an atheist right. I will show this through a classic conundrum: supposing there are two men on a raft in the middle of the ocean, but the raft can only hold one, what do you do?

Rose and The Guy from Titanic

“Clever” ethics professors pose the “two men alone on a raft” question. This pseudo-conundrum is not so difficult. The answer is as follows:

(a) You are an atheist, or someone whose god(s) does not punish or think people are wicked/sinners. The answer is simple: you can ask yourself questions about “How much you care about the other person?”, “How willing you are to kill them?”, etc. and if you find that your desire for preservation outweighs the other life *sploosh!* off the raft they go! It’s a simply matter of calculating your self-interest correctly.

(b) You’re not an atheist. You must take into account who owes more to whom (between the two of you) and who is more beneficial to the Whole/God/the City. Questions like: “Who is younger?” “Who is a father?” “Who is a better person?” = “Who has the more important life?” Whoever comes out the best in this line of questioning gets to stay on the raft.

A not-so-clever professor responds: “I’ve got you! What if all that comes out even! You’re in a pickle there!” Actually no. It should just be clear that neither party can do anything to the other. Instead they can draw straws, cast lots, open up a fish and read the entrails, wait for an omen/sign or something like that. The bottom line is neither one has the right to choose because both are equally deserving.

A more clever professor responds: “What if the two men, neither atheist, have different moral standards? You were assuming they could agree on whose life is more important. What nonsense!” Of course it is a possibility that they have different standards. However, (excuse the coming switch to first-person) I must decide in light of the law-standard I abide by. If I decide that the law requires me to sacrifice myself for whatever reason, I must do whatever I can to bring about that end (including stopping the other guy from disobeying the law by sacrificing himself.)  If the law tells me that I am the deserving one and he refuses to die, I may consider him the aggressor and (if my law allows) attack him or (if my law does not allow me to attack) die condemning him.

So you see, the “right to self preservation” is atheist in origin and this conundrum isn’t so difficult (for anyone) after all. Hurray!




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