By James R. Otteson
A safeguard of the 'classical liberal' political culture, utilized to cutting-edge ethical and political matters.
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Additional info for Actual Ethics
If you don’t exercise your judgment you are not fully realizing your own personhood; the corollary to this is that the more you try not to judge others, the less do you respect their personhood, while possibly allowing your own to atrophy. There is, then, no contradiction between holding, on the one hand, that a person should be allowed to make decisions about his own life, that it is not our place to intercede forcibly, and that he should face the natural consequences of his decisions and actions, while also holding, on the other hand, that if the person is making bad decisions, we can, and perhaps should, tell him so.
Thus however intellectually appealing a moral “cosmopolitanism” might be, whereby each of us views every other one of us as deserving of equal concern and consideration, it is, as we might put it, naturally impossible for us to put that into practice because it is inconsistent with fundamental principles of our nature. Again, that is not to say that we cannot concern ourselves with other people’s interests: obviously, we do that every day. The claim is rather that it is extremely unlikely for most people under ordinary circumstances that they could act on the principle that everyone’s interests have exactly as much weight as everyone else’s.
Does this explanation, then, clear up exactly what will count as real and positive hurt, and thus deserve punishment, and what won’t? For the most part, yes. There will still be hard cases; we shall consider some in a moment. But this distinction will serve us well in the majority of cases. Let us see how by looking at Peter Singer’s famous hypothetical scenario, the Pond Case. 26 As Singer frames it, the person does not wade in to help the child—perhaps because he is in a hurry, perhaps because he does not want to get his clothes dirty, or perhaps because he believes others will take care of the child.
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