If This Metaphor for Climate Change Doesn't Change Your Behavior, Maybe Nothing Will
Questioning the power of individual choice.
Theron Pummer posed this question of ethical vagueness in a post for Practical Ethics. After all, humanity has gotten to the point where our questionable choices have tipped the scales to the point of causing global climate change. But our single actions are like plucking one hair, Pummer explains.
In a more morbid example, Pummer writes about a more stylized version from Derek Parfit's book Reasons and Persons from the chapter Five Mistakes in Moral Mathematics. In this section, the author argues why “the share‐of‐the‐total view” is flawed and why we should “accept the marginalist view, which appeals to the difference made by each act, why we should not ignore either small chances, or effects that are trivial or imperceptible.”
Consider a man lying down on a table with a cloth over his face. One person puts a drop of water on the cloth; nothing happens. But if 1,000 people each place one drop of water on the cloth, the man will gradually become uncomfortable to the point where the exercise becomes waterboarding.
“Each of the 1,000 people can, it seems, claim that their act made no negative difference at all, since the victim can’t tell the difference between adjacent settings (we can suppose there’s no phenomenological difference whatever to the victim between adjacent settings),” Pummer writes. “It seems there is vagueness about when the victim’s pain level increases.”
Yet, each act contributes in some way whether it's deciding to vote with your dollar and shop local rather than go to a chain grocery store, or unplugging a device once its done charging rather than leaving it plugged in.
“Here, and now, is where we live. We don’t think, or feel, globally. We don’t worry about others as much as we worry about ourselves. And we don’t worry about the future as much as we worry about the immediate.”
Pummer argues, “In cases where it is genuinely indeterminate whether your act makes the world a worse place, you have a moral reason not to perform this act. I’m simply thinking that it’s worth avoiding acting in a way such that it is indeterminate whether so acting makes the world a worse place.”
There are ways to mitigate this moral vagueness. Solutions include the SunPort outlet, which draws its power from renewable energy, and the Nebia showerhead, which cuts water usage by 70 percent.
However, making these choices or not isn't always clear to us, writes David Ropeik, an instructor at Harvard. “Here, and now, is where we live. We don’t think, or feel, globally. We don’t worry about others as much as we worry about ourselves. And we don’t worry about the future as much as we worry about the immediate.”
The Nobel-prize winning economist Elinor Ostrom argues that, contrary to the widespread theory, with the right governance, humans are likely to forge peaceful solutions to coping with resource scarcity.
Understanding thinking talents in yourself and others can build strong teams and help avoid burnout.
- Learn to collaborate within a team and identify "thinking talent" surpluses – and shortages.
- Angie McArthur teaches intelligent collaboration for Big Think Edge.
- Subscribe to Big Think Edge before we launch on March 30 to get 20% off monthly and annual memberships.
Rediscovering the principles of self-actualisation might be just the tonic that the modern world is crying out for.
Abraham Maslow was the 20th-century American psychologist best-known for explaining motivation through his hierarchy of needs, which he represented in a pyramid. At the base, our physiological needs include food, water, warmth and rest.
Using a new process, a mini-brain develops retinal cells.
- Mini-brains, or "neural organoids," are at the cutting edge of medical research.
- This is the first one that's started developing eyes.
- Stem cells are key to the growing of organoids of various body parts.
Does believing in true love make people act like jerks?
- Ghosting, or cutting off all contact suddenly with a romantic partner, is not nice.
- Growth-oriented people (who think relationships are made, not born) do not appreciate it.
- Destiny-oriented people (who believe in soulmates) are more likely to be okay with ghosting.
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