Talons Philosophy

An Open Online Highschool Philosophy Course


Organ Donation Ethics – EmmaJ

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My personal ethics can be simply summed up as 1) Treat others how you want to be treated and 2) happiness must be pursued with an awareness of the people around you. As Eleanor Roosevelt says, “Do what you feel in your heart to be right – for you’ll be criticized anyway.” In the study of Ethics, like all areas of philosophy, there is never a definitive answer and different people will have different opinions on what is right and wrong based on their own unique experiences. I believe that as long as you have good intentions and you can make peace with your decision, it can be considered the “right decision”. Every moral dilemma is unique and there are more variables than could ever be properly represented in an ethical calculus equation, I don’t there is or ever will be the perfect formula.

In terms of the essays we have studied in class, I agree most strongly with John Rawls’ Theory of Justice because I feel it is closest to my personal morals. When the Veil of Ignorance comes into play it forces people to have compassion for all areas of humanity and develop rules for a society where all are given basic liberties and equal rights. I also appreciate the idea that some inequalities must exist so long as they are beneficial to everyone, especially the disadvantaged. I believe that slight inequalities, so long as they are not excessively harmful, help move society forward and motivate people to work to improve themselves and increase their own success and happiness. Additionally, the happiness gained from helping empower those who are less fortunate is a higher level happiness than can ever be purchased.

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In theory Utilitarianism seems like a good idea, especially when carried out by self-aware thinkers full of integrity, however these conditions aren’t common in the real-world. Pursuing one’s own pleasure and avoiding pain are the perfect conditions for creating a crude, narcissistic and stagnant society. I believe it is far too easy for utilitarianism to be abused and used to justify unethical actions. From genocides to nuclear bombs, some of the most horrible things in history have been done for “the greater good”. While “majority rules” may be good for deciding what type of pizza to order, it is too simple to make decisions pertaining to human lives.

I align with Kant’s ideas regarding Good Will and that the right things must be done for the right reasons. If you have good and noble intentions it is easy to live with your decisions regardless of the outcomes they may create. I also agree that people, or more specifically rational beings, should not be used as a means to an end and that everyone has value. However, this point becomes murky when it comes to the topic of my ethical inquiry: deceased organ donation.

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Deceased organ donors are people who have either been in accidents that render them brain dead or who have suffered a cardiac death. Deceased organ donors can be any age and a single donor can save up to 8 lives and benefit up to 75 people. At first deceased organ donation in Canada may not seem like a very serious ethical dilemma, people are free to consult their personal morals and register to become an organ donor if they so choose. However, this system is not working and many people believe it needs to be changed. While organ donors save many lives every year, the majority of people waiting for an organ transplant don’t receive one because they die first. This is due to the fact that hundreds of healthy, useable, and in demand organs are buried and cremated every day. Deceased organ donation also raises many tough questions like “what does it mean to be dead?” or “what does it mean to be alive?” and “is there an afterlife?”

A large misconception about deceased organ donation is that it is condemned by most religions but this is not the case. Major world religions including Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, and Buddhism all support organ donation or encourage their followers to act on their own conscience. In many cases these religions refer to organ donation as an honourable act of charity and love.

When it comes down to it there is really only one big problem: no one wants to think about dying. According to the Canadian Transport Society, 90% of Canadians say they support organ donation but less than 20% have made plans to donate. People tend to avoid conversations regarding organ donation with their loved ones and put off making plans until it is too late. This issue is only exaggerated by Canada’s current Opt-In System for organ donation.

There are currently two types of models in place for organ donation globally: Opt-In, where citizens are required to sign up on registry to express their wishes to become a donor and the more controversial Opt-Out system. In an Opt-In or Presumed Consent system all citizens are assumed to be organ donors unless they sign up on a registry to express their wishes to not donate their organs. While presumed consent may seem extreme, it has successfully increased the organ donation pool in countries including Spain, Greece, Finland, and most recently France. On January 1st, 2017 the presumed consent law came into effect in France and since then Canadian politicians have begun to express their interest in implementing similar laws. This idea is especially popular in Saskatchewan where less than 1% of eligible people are registered organ donors.

Taking organ donation systems a step further, some people believe that consent is not necessary for organ donation and that people should have a duty to donate organs for the good of the society. Some ethicists even go as far to say that it is immoral for a person to decline consent for donation of their organs. These ideas support the Conscription Model, simply put the state owns your body and anyone who can donate must.

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In a utilitarian society I believe the most likely system for organ donation would be an opt-out system. The happiness resulting from people gaining extra years of life would likely override any unhappiness regarding presumed consent. Additionally, the ability to register to abstain from donation would at least appease those against organ donation and provide them with a personal sense of happiness. However, in a utilitarian society I believe there is a serious risk for abuse happiness for the majority that could lead to inhumane methods for obtaining organs more extreme than organ conscription. For example, supporting the needs of “the greater good” could lead to the justification of the sacrifice of a living person in order to save the lives of 8 sick people. When laws only exist to uphold the happiness of society the rights of individuals are not protected.

Categorical Imperative

A main point of Kant’s Categorical Imperative is “Act in such a way that you always treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never simply as a means, but always at the same time as an end…” This may seem to be in conflict with organ donation as it can be interpreted as literally using someone as a tool to survive. However, under an opt-in system and even an opt-out system where people can easily abstain, I believe Kant would support organ donation. Organ donation is done with a good will, it is meant to save the lives of others and therefore it is good. Furthermore, once an individual is in a braindead or has suffered a cardiac death they are no longer able to really Be or exist as a rational being.


A Theory of Justice

I believe that behind the veil of ignorance everyone would recognize the demand for organs and agree to put policies in place to increase donation, knowing full well that they may be the person in need or the person donating. I believe that the most likely system put into place would be the opt-out system because it would provide a larger donor pool and increase the chances of sick people receiving an organ in a timely fashion. I also believe that there would be a focus on government regulation of organ donation in order to ensure the distribution of organs is as fair as possible. In a Rawlsian society illegal organ harvesting and trade wouldn’t occur since it is the powerful preying on the vulnerable.

I believe that every theory of ethics or moral system would support organ donation in one way or another. Can’t it be assumed that for an otherwise terminally ill person a new lease on life would be the ultimate happiness for not only them but their loved ones as well? For this reason I support organ donation and the implementation of a Presumed Consent Law. I also encourage you to look into becoming an organ donor and have the uncomfortable but necessary conversations with your loved ones.




Euthanasia By Nadine and Alyssa

Throughout the past few week in class we have been discussing morals and philosophers views on ethics. While diving into an exploration of some ethical issues one stood out for us, that topic being Euthanasia. Euthanasia is the intentional killing of another person as requested by them as they may be facing terminal, painful illness and would rather end their lives immediately than fade away slowly and painfully with time. There are different types of Euthanasia.

  • Voluntary euthanasia: When the person who is killed has requested to be killed.
  • Non-voluntary: When the person who is killed made no request and gave no consent.
  • Involuntary euthanasia: When the person who is killed expressed a wish to the contrary.
  • Assisted suicide: Someone provides an individual with the information, guidance, and means to take his or her own life with the intention that they will be used for this purpose. When it is a doctor who helps another person to kill themselves it is called “physician assisted suicide.”
  • Euthanasia By Action: Intentionally causing a person’s death by performing an action such as by giving a lethal injection.
  • Euthanasia By Omission: Intentionally causing death by not providing necessary and ordinary (usual and customary) care or food and water.

Euthanasia is currently illegal in most of Canada and many other countries around the world. As with all ethical problems, there are two side; for and against. The present law in Canada does not distinguish between euthanasia, assisted suicide and other forms of murder.  The key consideration is the intention to cause death.  Consent or motive – even one of compassion – does not change the reality of killing a human being.


People who are against Euthanasia are just that for a multitude of reasons.

Many believe that allowing Euthanasia to become a legal norm would weaken society’s value for human life. People with disabilities and illness may soon be viewed as burdens to society as they have the option to die sooner and no longer use up our hospital’s resources and space, a view that would negatively impact the mental health of millions of patients. Every human being has the right to be valued equally in society. By legalizing Euthanasia some may develop the mindset that the weak should simply be disposed of, a view that is detrimental to the equality of our society. Human life should not be a means to an end, it is a good in itself and should be treated as such.

The philosopher Immanuel Kant said that rational human beings should be treated as an end in themselves and not as a means to something else. The fact that we are human has value in itself. Our inherent value doesn’t depend on anything else – it doesn’t depend on whether we are having a good life that we enjoy, or whether we are making other people’s lives better. We exist, so we have value. It applies to us too as we shouldn’t treat ourselves as a means to our own ends meaning that lives should not be taken for the sole reason that it seems like the most effective way to alleviate suffering. To do that, through the eyes of this moral argument, would be to disregard people’s inherent worth. This view is known as the Slippery slope argument, the idea that allowing something seemingly harmless to happen may enable it to eventually spiral and escalate to allowing more worse things, currently unthinkable things, to become the norm. If Euthanasia were to be legalized and made a norm, many believe that vulnerable people will be put under pressure to end their lives. It would be difficult, and possibly impossible, to stop people using persuasion or coercion to get people to request euthanasia when they don’t really want it.

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Euthanasia is usually viewed from the viewpoint of the person who wants to die, but it affects other people too, and their rights should be considered.

  • family and friends
  • medical and other careers
  • other people in a similar situation who may feel pressured by the decision of this patient
  • society’s balance in general

To outline each and every argument against Euthanasia out there would make for a monstrous blog post, so instead here are some of the most common arguments against Euthanasia in point form:

  •  Voluntary euthanasia is the start of a slippery slope that leads to involuntary euthanasia and the killing of people who are thought undesirable
  • Proper palliative care makes euthanasia unnecessary
  • There’s no way of properly regulating euthanasia
  • Allowing euthanasia will lead to less good care for the terminally ill
  • Allowing euthanasia undermines the commitment of doctors and nurses to saving lives
  • Allowing euthanasia will discourage the search for new cures and treatments for the terminally ill
  • Euthanasia undermines the motivation to provide good care for the dying, and good pain relief
  • Euthanasia exposes vulnerable people to pressure to end their lives
  • Moral pressure on elderly relatives by selfish families
  • Moral pressure to free up medical resources
  • Patients who are abandoned by their families may feel euthanasia is the only solution

In contrast, there are many who believe that Euthanasia is something that should be made legal for all people. There are a few different moral approaches that have come to this conclusion.


Consequentialism & Utilitarianism would focus on looking at the consequence of the affected people of the situation. John Stuart Mill said in his famous essay that

“good consequences are simply happiness, and happiness is pleasure and freedom from pain – not only physical pain but also distress of other kinds.”

The idea of this explains that there is the possibility of producing most pleasure and the least pain for everyone involved. Mills also stated

“ good consequences depend not only on the quantity of pleasure but also on the quality of the experiences which produce it and of the human being which is developed by them.”

According to this, the right action is something that promotes in oneself and others in a higher happiness.

Another approach to this issue would be Deontology, the idea that some or all actions are right or wrong in themselves because of the type of actions that they are. In this article by Elizabeth Telfer, she explains this concept by stating:

“Examples of these would be John Locke in the seventeenth century, Richard Price in the eighteenth century and David Ross and H. A. Prichard in the twentieth. Some Deontological philosophers speak in terms of duties, others of rights, but for our purposes they may be grouped together. However, we need to distinguish between two kinds of rights. Some rights, commonly called negative rights, are rights not to be treated in certain ways, and there are corresponding duties not to treat the owners of these rights in these ways. Other rights are positive rights to receive goods or services. Other people may have a duty to provide these, though it tends to be difficult to decide exactly who, as with such rights as the right to work.

There are two negative rights, found in most lists, which are particularly relevant to voluntary euthanasia. These are: the right not to be killed, corresponding to a duty not to kill, and the right to liberty corresponding to a duty to respect others’ liberty. I shall say a little about each of these. The notion of a duty not to kill seems at first to rule out euthanasia of any kind, and those who oppose euthanasia sometimes seem to think that all they need to do is to say ‘Thou shalt not kill’ in a suitably solemn voice. But we do not regard the prohibition of killing as absolute: we may think there can be justified wars or justified capital punishment, or that killing in self- defense or defense of others is justified. And it is easier to justify voluntary euthanasia than the killing in these other cases, where the person who dies does not choose to do so. If the reason why in general we ought not to kill is that life is a person’s most precious possession, then that reason can be overturned if the person no longer wants to live.”
-Elizabeth Telfer

The Moral theory of Egoism; the belief that the right action is always that which has the best consequences for the doer of the action, or agent, would further find that Euthanasia should be a legal right.Similar to topic one, this is more about how the doer of the action presents itself to something that benefits him/her. Such as a selfish family member that would rather have the money one gets from a fallen family member.Aristotle’s policy in life is not to pursue our own pleasure but to develop our own flourishing or foster our best selves. This however is the opposite of Egoism. One must find and develop a non-egoistic self. Someone who possesses moral virtues, which includes the act of regarding others values. Such as the idea of a death with dignity. Euthanasia lets someone have their values preserved and their better self is seen at the end, rather than a declined better self.


In general, those who are for Euthanasia believe that legalizing it and making it accessible to the people who are in dire pain would make their better self shine through at the end of their lifespan, would benefit many families and would give them the freedom to control their own lives.

Like many topics in this world, Euthanasia is extremely controversial. As it stands, Euthanasia is illegal in most of Canada, but there are many arguments against it. As is the case of all ethical situations, there are pro’s and con’s, what you believe and which philosopher you agree with is an opinion thats entirely up to you to form.





The Almighty Google and a Tidbit on Whales

wittgensteinWhen starting to think about “what is philosophy”, I found myself pulling up the Google webpage and searching exactly that. What I found was a solid definition stating that “Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with reality, existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language.” After reading this definition, I still found that it had changed nothing about the concept of philosophy for me. So I searched a bit deeper and come across another more casual definition. “Philosophy can refer to the most basic beliefs, concepts, and attitudes of an individual or group”. Now here is a definition I can talk a little bit more about. Now this is a definition that I can actually picture in my mind. It helped me imagine and think about my basic beliefs, concepts, and attitudes as an individual. I believe that everyone has a purpose on this planet physically and mentally. I believe that I, as an individual will lead my own path based off of my decisions, values, and ambitions in life. With this definition to go off, the wheels started turning in my head. I started to truly recognize what philosophy was to me. Are you ready?

Philosophy is like a collection of books, each with different ideas, storylines, and dialogue. However when you bring all of these novels together you get an enriching plethora of knowledge, reasoning, and arguments. Philosophy is whatever people want it to be, whether it’s talking about whales (and yes, I just had to fit whales somewhere in this talk), or what is the meaning of life. It’s all relevant and important in terms of philosophy. When you talk about a thought with someone, for example; “why not just weigh the fish?” you can talk and talk and bring your own ideas to the table, your own beliefs, concepts, and attitudes on the subject. That is what philosophy is all about, bringing your ideas to the table and saying “why not this? This is what I believe.” Philosophy is the organic breaking down of a subject influenced by your own beliefs, concepts, and attitudes.



Contemporary Moral Problems: Right Acts, Rawls & Inequality 11.26.13

The second installment of our discussion of Contemporary Moral Problems, beginning with “What makes right acts right?” and continuing into Rawls’ “Theory of Justice.” Enjoy!



Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do?

Thanks to eternal #Philosophy12 participant and friend GNA Garcia for sharing this Harvard University course on Justice. Covering topics from murder, to cannibalism, and ethical conundrums well-beyond, the popular Harvard class (billed as “the most popular class in Harvard history”) is available freely on the Youtube. Embedded above is the first episode, which tackles the Moral Side of Murder:

If you had to choose between (1) killing one person to save the lives of five others and (2) doing nothing even though you knew that five people would die right before your eyes if you did nothing—what would you do? What would be the right thing to do? Thats the hypothetical scenario Professor Michael Sandel uses to launch his course on moral reasoning. After the majority of students votes for killing the one person in order to save the lives of five others, Sandel presents three similar moral conundrums—each one artfully designed to make the decision more difficult. As students stand up to defend their conflicting choices, it becomes clear that the assumptions behind our moral reasoning are often contradictory, and the question of what is right and what is wrong is not always black and white.

You can explore the world of justice on their interactive and multi-media website.



One Likes to Believe in the Freedom of Music ~ Dylan

This video was one episode of a T.V. show on CNN called Crossfire. The debate at the time was to discuss the proposed ideas of censorship on albums in music. The argument written down below is on the side of censors, represented here by John Lofton, newspaper journalist.  The argument at the time was spearheaded by the “Parents Music Resource Center,” which was an organization of concerned parents who were targeting specific musical artists for releasing what they deemed to be inappropriate content in their music. One of their main targets was musician Frank Zappa who is shown in this video fighting against this argument below.

All songs with inappropriate lyrics are immoral in content

All immoral content are to be censored

Therefore, all songs with inappropriate lyrics are to be censored

All X are Y

All Y are Z

/ All X are Z

This argument as it follows the form described above, is valid. And as with most arguments, the debate seems to boil down to the factual correctness and soundness of the argument. The premises here are completely subjective in this instance. Morality is completely an idea of your own mind and/or the ideas that were instilled in you by others as you grow up. Even the very idea of “inappropriate” is completely subjective to everyone’s own individual ideas. So on this ground, we can’t really say if these premises are true are not. Only your own personal opinion can decide whether it is factually correct or sound in your own mind. In my own personal opinion and as the title of this video (ripped from a Rush song) might suggest, I would have to say I am in a certain degree on the side of Frank Zappa, being completely bias since he is a personal hero of mine, but I also think that a great point is brought up by Zappa in the way of an anti-censorship rebuttal (4:35 in the video.) He basically says that hearing the deemed “inappropriate” side can help you make up your own mind on what is inappropriate to you. And I am completely for people making up their own personal decisions on any subject for themselves. But again, that is just an example of one person’s opinion on this subject. The factually correctness of this argument is completely up to you.

The result of the argument ended up becoming the Parent Advisory sticker put on album with lyrics deemed inappropriate. I think that this is an excellent argument to look at. The whole idea of censorship is such an important idea to discuss as humans. How far do we want to go in controlling other people’s work? Is it moral to censor things because we deem them immoral? And who gets to decide what constitutes as immoral? As I stated before, I personally believe that an artists work should be left up to the artist and that. But then again, is it for there to be a label to warn people about inappropriate lyrics in a piece of music so that they have a fair warning? Should there be a line of protection against things deemed inappropriate? Should there be censorship in music?



Burj Khalifa – Inspiring Morality (maybe)

Over-Analyzing Art

Converging on an aesthetics unit, I expected only absurdity from my philosophy class. Of course, beauty is something wonderful to talk about, and works of art are something fascinating to spend your time analyzing. The problem is that I don’t appreciate art, to the extent that people would expect.

I made this opinion very clear in the opening days of discussion, given the topic of art. I don’t feel art possesses everything that the majority of society typically pertains to it. It’s just art, don’t you realize? But it seems to be a popular topic of discussion, and is commonly perceived as ‘deep and meaningful’, regardless of any purpose behind its creation.

Obviously, my viewpoint on this was opposed, despite my self-proclaimed clever retorts. Regardless of my opinion, I still wondered why art gathers such attention, and is analyzed so often for meaning. And I concluded with this: art’s meaning is sought for because of its intangibility. People seek the meaning because the meaning cannot always be easily found.

A common parallel to this is society’s changing opinion and reflection on the meaning of the passages of the Bible. The way that we assess the verses given in the Bible changes with the transformations that our paradigms experience, as well. And we often seek far beyond, what could potentially be, a simple message.

Anyway, back to art. What’s important is that we examine art rigorously due to its intangibility. Which leads into the next point that philosophers examining art have made: all art possesses moral qualities.

Morality in Art

“Wait, what?!”. When first reading this idea, I was blown away with the stupidity these philosophers exemplified. While there were a few who had concluded all art had to have moral qualities, I found other rational ones (mainly Plato and Kongfuzi) who stated that art should inspire morality, but not necessarily be created for the purpose of. I felt this to be somewhat reasonable.

This ties in to my original conclusion, that people seek meaning because meaning cannot be easily found. I believe that while art (usually) does not possess inherently moral or immoral qualities, and external source can often gather one from their viewpoint. The only problem is, is there a way to assess the morality ‘well’? Works of art can be interpreted in many fashions, and the moral principle resulting from that interpretation could be vastly different depending on the viewer.

My favourite photo of this building

Yours Truly, The World’s Tallest Building Ever

This is the Burj Khalifa, in Dubai. It is currently the tallest standing building in the entire world. I’ll get into the details later, but pertaining to morals: what moral statements could you conclude from this photo?

I could say that this tower stands above the rest, and it is a metaphor for life: that one person should and could stand above the rest, towering over them, with great power and size. Or I could say that humans are capable of great things – look at the size of this building! We can do anything we set our minds to. Comparing the outskirts of the photo to the center, I could come to the conclusion that some people are meant to live poor, and others rich.

I could also reverse all those statements – that this photo is an example to show that we shouldn’t…(insert conclusion here). What I am getting as is that there are no normative aspects to assessing art in terms of morals. So why should we pretend like there are?

Often, critics will decide that a specific piece of art is portraying a specific moral concept. What we need to realize is that morality is not something definite. It is not certain. So we cannot treat it as such, when considering works of art.

The Photo – “The World’s Tallest Tower”

Some quick insight into the photo (not related to morals):

The image used above is, as said, a photo of the Burj Khalifa, and the surrounding city. Dave Alexander, a professional photographer, took it from a touring helicopter in 2008. Dave took it for the love of photography (art for art’s sake – first brought forth by Aristotle). Or you could say, the love of beauty, not just for art’s sake (George Sand). Either way, this photo can be viewed in a series of ways, consisting of metaphorical and literal, moral and aesthetic as well as descriptive and normative aspects. Seeing as this was taken for the purpose of normative appeal, here’s a quick analysis of its normative components.

The Photographer’s Critique

This photo possesses a lot of the material necessary for a stellar photograph. The colour contrast and density in specific sections of the city make the photo truly breathtaking… as well as interesting to look at. In addition to that, the tone of the weather, the use of horizons, and the depth of field are tuned to perfection. This photographer definitely took advantage of his opportunity. I am impressed – in a normative sense, this photo has every component necessary to be classified as ‘perfect’.



Network Marketing’s Impact on Teenagers

Ethics: http://ezinearticles.com/?Network-Marketing—How-to-Earn-Money-As-a-Teen-in-MLM&id=4238137

In today’s time, people are always trying to find something knew, everybody is bored of doing the same thing each day. The one thing that sets the current generation apart from the last few however is that we now have what’s called network marketing, it’s recently become popular especially among teenagers. The idea of “being your own boss” is much more appealing than having a job (just over broke). The concept of network marketing is that you don’t move forward with you making all the money, it’s your entire team/company developing a decent income together as one.

The beginning of this particular article states that “Network Marketing is a legitimate business opportunity that has created a lot of millionaires and allowed even more people to enjoy a life of financial freedom and pleasure.” This gives off the friendly impression that anyone can do it. Yes anyone can do it but not everyone finds this to be successful for them. When a teenager reads such a post, does it encourage them to start their own business through network marketing? Yes it does. Does it tell you how to be successful? Not really, it’s gives a brief overview saying that “if your like most teens and young adults you are an active social media user. You could promote products and services that you and your friends use often.”

What I see from this article is that young adults/teenagers should go out and start investing in a business now while their still young. Is this a good idea? How would this impact their lives if they succeed/fail? Think to yourself, how often do young adults make millions now a days, it’s starting to become more popular. What this article leans towards is that we should hop on now and invest into this “legitimate business opportunity”. So I leave you with this, should teenagers take the leap into life and take the lead as a role model for future generations to come or should they wait and go study in university first then working for someone else’s business allowing the next generation to take the leap instead?

“Network marketing is the big wave of the future. It’s taking the place of franchising, which now requires too much capital for the average person.” — Jim Rohn, America’s Business Philosopher

One last point is a quote made by Albert Einstein stating that you should “try no to be a man of success, but a man of value”. Is it good for these teenagers to be developing their own business at such a young age? How would this impact their morals and personal opinions on finances?



Jennifer: When Can I Grab My Purse?

We live in a world of abundance. From ipods to Purdy’s chocolate to ornamental shrubs, objects that far exceed the basic requirements for life (and for happiness) are commonplace. Meanwhile, fellow citizens in our own backyard and around the world are suffering from preventable diseases, malnutrition, and exposure.

This solemn reflection should pull on our heart strings and cause us to reevaluate, then significantly alter,  our lifestyles. But somehow, we remain largely unaffected. Most people, myself included, have the ability to quickly avert their eyes and ears, turning away from the plight of other human beings and back towards the tech toys, the chocolate, and the fake plants. This disturbing attitude caused me to wonder: How can we compartmentalize, blocking out the needs of others in order to satisfy our own desires? When is it okay to do this, if it is at all?

In the middle of the flight you are on there is a change in cabin pressure, triggering oxygen masks to drop down from a panel above you. As per the instructions given at the beginning of the trip, you put on your mask before assisting the child beside you. Many people would argue that this action is not selfish because you must take sufficient care of yourself before beginning to help another person. In a larger context, we are fully righteous in assuring that we are feed, housed, and healthy in advance of giving aid. But wait a second? I never even suggested that fulfilling our own needs could be in any way wrong. It is our desires that are in question.

After putting on your own mask, you reach up to help the child who is travelling alone by grabbing their oxygen bag and helping secure it to their face. You’ve done good. The action you just performed was thoughtful, caring, and morally right, just like the volunteer hours and charitable donations shared by millions each year. Despite the dire situations billions of humans are subjected to, many still have been assisted by the kind hearts and giving souls of those who find themselves in more fortunate circumstances. Sensing a need, tons of people are willing to pitch in, do their part, or help the best that they can.

Now, you’ve helped one child, but you see that another a row back can’t reach their mask either. Suddenly,  the pilot’s voice is in the cabin, warning of more stormy weather ahead. The kid will probably be helped by someone else, you think. I’d rather grab my purse and make sure I have everything I need, just in case.

In the words of moral philosopher Peter Singer, “Should [you be praised] for giving so much or [criticized] for not giving still more?” Where do we draw the line? How much does a person have to give to have given enough? Does “fair share” matter?

First, let’s discuss the idea of “doing our part.” Personally, I think that that statement is ridiculous, just a high-and-mightly approach to humanitarianism. Compared to what we have and what we have the ability to do, most of us in the position of helping aren’t doing crap. And since this is the reality of most, someone doing their “fair share” will still see a massive hole not being fixed. Would there really be more children than capable adults on the plane? No. But just because you’ve done your part does not mean that the other child is not still aimlessly reaching for air.

In the airplane analogy, nothing in your purse was probably of enough consequence to justify ignoring the needy youngster; similarly, nail polish or a gold wristwatch are unlikely to be as important as the purchases a Red Cross of World Food Programme could make with the same sum. Yet, we make those trivial purchases all the time. They make us feel good as buyers or make others smile as receivers. They make our lives easier or add beauty to a space, just as the designer of the item intended. But how can we compare any of those outcomes with the life we could have saved?

Adding another layer to an already complex debate, there comes the idea of saving for a purpose. What if the money someone is neglecting to donate is going towards their retirement, or their child’s university, or even an emergency fund? There is no assurance that giving it all away means that we’ll be cared for in the event that we need aid ourselves. However, some people are willing to take that risk. A few years ago, a man named Zell Kravinsky decided to donate his kidney to a random stranger after he learned of the horrible wait list times. But what about the risk? Well, “he says that the chances of dying as a result of donating a kidney are about 1 in 4,000. For him this implies that to withhold a kidney from someone who would otherwise die means valuing one’s own life at 4,000 times that of a stranger, a ratio Kravinsky considers “obscene.” ” Shall we consider Kravinsky to be the new Mother Theresa?

I agree with Peter Singer that, as paraphrased by Wikipedia, “people living in abundance while others starve is morally indefensible.” Building on this statement, it only seems logical to conclude that luxuries are wrong and “we should keep on donating money until the cost to ourselves is more than the benefit we would give.” Singer knows that many people feel that such restrictions are too demanding, or are too great of a change to their current lifestyle. I think I fall in the second boat, practically. However, I also feel strongly about aligning my actions with my thoughts. Right now, the “shameless idealist” in me is trying to figure out where to go. Is it ever okay to grab my purse?



The Ethics of Care

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GNA Garcia recommended the inclusion of “Care Ethics” to our readings and other supplements for the Ethics unit. Following from the link she shared on Twitter, the Ethics of Care refers to:

The moral theory known as “ the ethics of care” implies that there is moral significance in the fundamental elements of relationships and dependencies in human life. Normatively, care ethics seeks to maintain relationships by contextualizing and promoting the well-being of care-givers and care-receivers in a network of social relations. Most often defined as a practice or virtue rather than a theory as such, “care” involves maintaining the world of, and meeting the needs of, ourself and others. It builds on the motivation to care for those who are dependent and vulnerable, and it is inspired by both memories of being cared for and the idealizations of self. Following in the sentimentalist tradition of moral theory, care ethics affirms the importance of caring motivation, emotion and the body in moral deliberation, as well as reasoning from particulars.

Aside from the many Global Issues or Me-to-We club members taking up the study of Philosophy at our school this semester, I think there is something to this notion of ‘care’ within social constructivism, where each of us bears a responsibility to ‘maintain the world of, and meet the needs of, ourself and others.’ Isn’t this at the heart of learning through dialogue, through sharing our thoughts and vulnerabilities toward the betterment of ourselves and our societies?

The resource linked above introduces not only a great deal of thinking about care ethics, but a host of other peer-reviewed philosophical thinking, and I hope you find it useful during our upcoming study and dialogue about ethics. My own interest is piqued by the end line of the introduction, which states that the ethics of care was “originally conceived as most appropriate to the private and intimate spheres of life, care ethics has branched out as a political theory and social movement aimed at broader understanding of, and public support for, care-giving activities in their breadth and variety.”

Personally, the study of philosophy and ethics has always led me toward a reckoning with their manifestations in building a just society, and maintaining a functioning political structure. Rhetorically, the first strides of my own syllogism works out something like this:

        • What is all of this thinking for if it is not to help us light the way toward a better world?  
        • And how do we go about creating this better world without the structures of our existing democracies? 

An article that I wanted to share at some point during this unit, but which seems to find its place here, looks at Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms as a form of Applied Ethics:

I suggest the Supreme Court is using the Charter to implement ethics at an individual case level, while keeping the law intact at the general level […] much as the old courts of equity did. When the King’s courts’ strict application of the common law caused unconscionable outcomes for unsuccessful litigants, equity, as the “court of conscience,” acted in personam to prohibit victorious parties from enforcing their judgments. It put a “gloss on the common law.” Although operating in a very different way legally, the Charter can be viewed as allowing 21st-century judges to realize similar goals.

Long the bane of conservative thinkers who see the Charter as an untenable step toward liberal social engineering, the Charter seems uniquely poised to confront the future of globalized democracy. Writing in the Harvard Law Review, Israel’s former president of its Supreme Court argued that “Canadian law serves as a source of inspiration for many countries around the world.”

Indeed. A 2011 study of influential constitutional documents found that alongside the waning potency of the American founding documents,

the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, adopted in 1982, may now be more influential than its American counterpart.

The Canadian Charter is both more expansive and less absolute. It guarantees equal rights for women and disabled people, allows affirmative action and requires that those arrested be informed of their rights. On the other hand, it balances those rights against “such reasonable limits” as “can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.”

Those of you chomping at the bit to begin to bridge our work toward the culminating Social & Political Philosophy are humbly invited to beging playing with these ideas, as well as other notable current events that may find their application in politics, but whose origin comes from ethics.