Ethics of Emergency

In: Novels

Submitted By saurabhgarg
Words 704
Pages 3
One of Ayn Rand's essay's is particular interesting. It's in the Virtue of Selfishness, and it's called the Ethics of Emergencies. The title describes how some people base their ethical principles on emergency situations. The classic example is the "lifeboat" scenario. There's a few variants, but essentially the story is that you're stuck on a lifeboat with some other people, and there's not enough water for everyone to survive the trip to shore. In order to live, you have to sacrifice someone else.
The lesson of the scenario is that you have to choose between your life and the life of another person. There is a fundamental disharmony of interests, and it's kill or be killed. Which means in life, you're either a murderer, you are a victim, or you can sacrifice your life for other people.
What happens next is that this scenario is taken to be some kind of proof of moral principles. You're expected to learn the lesson of the conflict, and decide on a method of conduct that conforms to it. Will you choose to be a murderer? Or will you voluntarily sacrifice yourself for the greater good? These are your options.
The problem is that these ethics-derived-from-emergencies are anti-contextual. It's just not true that there is a disharmony of interests. We don't have to choose between killing and dying in day to day life. We don't have to choose between sacrificing ourselves to others or others to ourselves. So abstracting general principles from these situations is a really bad idea. The principles are based on such a radically alien context that they're not relevant at all.
By trying to use these situations as a representation of real life, it actually becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you accept that life is full of conflicts of interest, you'll act accordingly and create conflicts where there are none. You'll seek to sacrifice yourself where no sacrifice is…...

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