Episode 646 An Ethical Dilemma
Hello podcast listeners. I recently received an email from a listener stating the following:
“Two spouses approach retirement.
The healthy, active partner wants to travel extensively in retirement, sailing and traveling by bus to see America. The infirm spouse would like to travel, but would rather fly and stay in hotels and not be far from home or doctors too long.
The healthy partner wants to care for the beloved infirm partner, and still realize the dream of travel.
What to do?”
This is one of those conundrums that we may not individually face but then again we very well might face something very similar. Different people but similar differences that come into conflict. What to do? How do we go about choosing which way to turn?
This situation which is what we called it when i studied it “situational ethics” many years ago. It was a summer school at Harvard under the tutelage of Lawrence Kohlberg. I wanted to get a handle on teaching ethics to my philosophy students at that time. It now seems like a lifetime away.
Kohlberg had developed a system for approaching these situations in a systematic way that claimed to be just, or fair. It was all based on a theory put forth in a book entitled “A Theory of Justice” by John Rawls. It was a very interesting session in trying to understand moral reasoning that might be applicable in all situations and across cultures.
This dilemma presented by my listener brought back memories of the lessons taught. I may have scrambled the details a bit but I think I can recall enough of them to shed light on this particular case.
I am thinking of the veil-of-ignorance that was useful in this situation. It rests on the idea that for a fair judgement to be made we must always consider who is involved. In this particular case it is just the two. Then we have to accept the principle that in order to be fair we must choose the least fortunate. Who is in the least favorable position?
We can decide this by pretending to throw a veil over the two. Then assuming which one would we least like to be ourselves. Which one would we choose? Which person has the most to loose or stands in the weakest position?
Of course all this assumes that all other options have been examined. Perhaps there is a way that both parties could get what they want in the first place. However, that wasn’t presented in the story. We can not add or subtract from the detail or limits originally proposed.
Of course this isn’t necessarily the way life is. There may very well be work-arounds. There very well might be possibilities that could alter our choice. I was working with just what was presented.
Sticking to this particular situation I would have to choose to go with the infirmed. We would fly. Not stay long. And I would care for my beloved partner as I desire. Sometimes we have to modify our wishes with reality. Once again the existentialist win the day. Sysiphus smiles and leans against his rock and pushes it up the hill. He has learned to love his rock.
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