The perfect, absolute, and incomparable Kendi

Tuesday, US Independence Day.🎆

0433 | [ Continuing my study of Scanlon’s book, What We Owe To Each Other… ]

I’m on page 214, and Scanlon says something that I want to take note of. He writes,

“Suppose, for example, that we are considering a principle defining our obligations to help those in need.”

Now, if by “those in need” he means “other versions of Kendi” or “reincarnations of Kendi,” then those so-called others are not Others, but rather they are versions of my Self.

Now, I don’t know about helping Others, but as far as helping my self goes, I don’t see why I need a reason (or principle) to define an “obligation” to help. Why do I need a reason to lock me into an obligation to help, when I already have a strong desire to help? I mean, why wouldn’t I want to help my self? Why wouldn’t anyone not want to help themselves as much as they could? I don’t see why one needs a further reason to “obligate” oneself to help oneself, other than the simple fact of a strong, built-in desire to help oneself?

But if one needed an additional reason to help oneself, it would be that since nobody else can help as well as my self since nobody else can act with total knowledge of me but my self, I have a special duty to my self to help my self. Since, without me, I won’t get any real help at all!

As far as helping Others (ie, not other versions of my self, but genuine-others who are not like me at all) goes, I don’t want to help because I don’t think that I know how! I have no right to presume that I know how to help. I think that the best that I can do to help a genuine-other is simply to not-intentionally get in their way; this is a negative action. And if I’m caught by some strange fancy to help a genuine-other in a positive way, then it can only be by simply to do what they ask me to do in total obedience, without presuming to know what’s best for them. But, I don’t think that I can have any obligation to help a genuine-other — and, in fact, I might have an obligation in most cases to not to try to help. Furthermore, I’d have to be pretty darn sure that any positive actions I decide to perform that is intended to help a genuine-other are not going to result in my being negligent of or contradictory to the one true and actual duty that I do have (to my self).

Now, all this said, there’s different ways to help the self, which depend on the ways that one knows one’s self. Without knowing the self as the Form of the Good, and seeing that all reality is transcendent/abstract — ie, at once concrete and at once idea — one cannot help oneself very well. When we act out of self-ignorance, we harm our selves. On the other hand, when we act out of self-knowledge, then we help ourselves. It isn’t a matter of “universality” of particulars. It is a matter of the “transcendent” quality of truth. Every self is a self, insofar as it is a self — whether the self is a rock, or a Kendi, or the Universe. And every self is self-itself — perfect, absolute, incomparable.


1754 | [ Continuing my study of Scanlon’s book, What We Owe To Each Other… ]

Scanlon now dedicates a section to the topic of “aggregation” of good. So far, it looks like Scanlon is not a utilitarian in this respect — and it is likely that we share a common position on this matter. He gives the example of a hypothetical situation to consider whether and how numbers might matter in moral judgments. The situation is one in which I must consider whether to save a large group of strangers or a small group of strangers, but I am limited to saving only save one of the two groups.

So, I wanted to spend some time thinking to myself about what my own moral intuitions say that I should do in such a situation.

Actually, I have no idea. I might actually be prima facie inclined to save the smaller group, since I tend to prefer quality over quantity. Very likely, I will use some other criteria to determine which group to save — such as whether the act is safe for me or not, whether I think that I can be effective in my goals, which group is easier to reach, etc. From the group’s point of view, it may seem quite random since the criteria that I will use to decide which group I will help will be based on considerations that have nothing to do with the group members personally.

Although, to be honest, I don’t think that I am actually obligated to save either group at all — not even if doing so were at little to no cost to me. In Plato’s helmsman example, the helmsman of a ship cannot be proud of having delivered all of his passengers to the other shore without having lost anyone to the sea because the helmsman cannot know whether the person’s life is better or worse on account of the person living longer. It could be the case that the helmsman is simply prolonging some misery, or allowing time for a greater misfortune to befall a person by their having survived the voyage. Therefore, I would not be eager to save either group, ceteris paribus. And I would definitely not feel as though I ought to do anything to help either group. And since I am not obligated to help, if I do choose to help either group, they would owe me nothing in return.

The only legitimate reason I would have to choose one group over the other is if I have knowledge. And since the only sort of knowledge that I can have is about my self, I would have to know that there is a self in the group(s). If there were indeed a self in the group, then I would have a strong desire to help, with or without any further obligation. The greater the likelihood of a self being in the group, the greater my desire to help; the lesser the likelihood, the lesser my desire to help.

That said, whichever group is chosen (and for whatever reason it is chosen), the rules of morality would only apply to how I save them. That is, I think that I can only have rules that tell me what is and isn’t permitted in the manner and way that I help the chosen group.