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Found 1 result

  1. The dilemma of choosing empathy

    Hey guys, do you agree that empathy for other people is something we have to choose to engage in? That it is not automatic? And that it should be chosen for those that you care about? And if you don't do so, it automatically means you don't care about that person? Do you also agree that once you have embarked on the path of empathy in a case where you see someone under extreme suffering (like being burned alive or being physically tortured in the most ugly way) - whether friend, stranger or foe - it is impossible to maintain focus on any actual values except the need to be free from such pain? That it is psychologically impossible to empathize with the person in the scene and not feel an urge to end that suffering immediately? An urge that overrides anything else in your mind, no matter what positive values to your own life you would have to sacrifice for that? I could also ask: Do you agree that the most horrible pain is stronger than the highest pleasure, so both cannot be experienced simultaneously for weighing the pros and cons? Or I could ask: Do you agree that the only reason we can stand seeing Hitler tortured is because we don't feel any need to empathize with him? So now: What if - for some odd reason, be it like living under a dictatorship etc. - you had to make an explicit choice between being able to making love to someone or something you really enjoy most in life, or saving someone else that you are close to - maybe your parent or one of your siblings - from such extreme torture that he would otherwise have to endure for the rest of his life. To put it bluntly, your dictator has captured your close brother and says (and you have no prospect of escaping the country or winning a rebellion etc.): "You either give up any contact with your most sacred earthly pleasures and shun any contact with the opposite sex for the rest of your life, or we will physically torture your brother and physically harm him for the rest of his life, permanently, making sure he's fouled up beyond all recognition!" So it's a pure either-or choice. The reason I'm making up this scenario is not because I'm crazy, afraid it might happen, or think it is anywhere near likely to happen. But it couldn't be better suited for self-testing on values. It is not easy to really prove your values when there is no real conflict, so you have to come up with the most extreme scenario thinkable, however bizarre that may be. So unless you have any objections to the physical possibility of this scenario, please don't pester me with questions about "why would this happen". When making a decision here, the following things come to my mind: Should the amount of suffering that the brother has to endure play any role whatsoever in this decision making? Is absence of pain for someone you care about itself already a value? If yes, what would you have do to assess the situation? Wouldn't it mean you would have to try to simulate the pain in order to get some taste of what it is like? In order to achieve the maximum amount of empathy that you can still undergo without seriously harming yourself? That is, trying to put your hand on the stove for a little bit longer? Or putting the shower at maximum heat level and leave it that way until you're close to burning and run screaming out of the shower? Or hitting yourself into the balls until you almost loose conscience? Just to name a few things, and just to get an idea about what the brother would have to endure on a daily basis all the time. After all, you care about him, right, so you need to stay in the reality of his suffering. None of these simple pains like getting an injection, having a headache or a stomach ache, or stumbling and falling to the floor. Those pains are so common and known to you, you can easily expect someone to tolerate them. No! We are talking about the real pain here, and it's huge! Nothing you can easily imagine and just brush off as endurable. We're talking about the kind of pain that makes you wish to die immediately, if it doesn't stop right now! But your torturers will never grant you that wish. You cannot really know this pain because it would make your life unworthy of living. So you actually need to learn about it by experiencing it first hand as far as you have the nerves to. But then again, if it is psychologically impossible to maintain a focus on your own positive values that way, wouldn't this be the wrong approach? This would always mean, the brother wins. Or should you ask yourself the following first: How much is the other person worth to you independent of the amount of his suffering, that is, just in terms of how much his existence as a person means to you? Don't look at his suffering, don't look at his pain, just evaluate what you gain from him compared to what you gain from making love to a partner. Well in this case, the partner wins, of course. But then, assuming you choose the partner, you still have to psychologically deal with your brother anyway: With the fact of his suffering and the idea that you are restricting yourself from helping him. And in order to allow yourself the status of "I care about him, he means something to me", you really need to grasp the reality of his suffering, so you still have to empathize, and in order to empathize you have to put yourself under the aforementioned physical pain, too, in order to really get the picture. Which again would lead you to reversing your choice, the pain is so unbearable. Or committing suicide, because it's so unbearable regularly undergoing all these self-torture sessions just to stay in reality. The other option is - having chosen your partner - to psychologically treat your brother like a stranger and engage in no empathy for him for the rest of your life, to completely forget about him, pretend like he doesn't exist, in order to make the time with your partner worthwhile. Because otherwise, it would be "plus" the joy with your partner and "minus" the extreme pain you feel for your brother, which boils down to a zero sum - or rather negative sum - game. You would have to pretend like he died, even though this would mean you are doing something at least close to evading. In one sentence: You care about him, but you have to act opposite. Would this be the best thing to do? If, on the other hand, you were to choose your brother, you sure wouldn't have to deal with the pain problem and could spare yourself all your self-torture sessions. But now you have a bad conscience, because you have placed your brother above your partner. "It shouldn't have been him, it should have been my partner!", you revolt in deep shame. You have given up your highest value and most likely will contemplate suicide out of misery and due to the prospect of never being happy again. Which approach do you think is the proper one? Or would you just brush off the whole situation as one of those so-called "lifeboat situations" to which morality doesn't even apply? Also, do you think this is a perfect demonstration of why Bentham's calculus of value doesn't really work?
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