# The Drowning Child Argument

Discussion in 'Ethics, Morality, & Justice' started by Faure, Dec 14, 2011.

1. ### FaureRegistered Senior Member

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44
What do ya'll think of the following argument that one often sees:

Imagine you're walking along wearing $100 shoes near a pond and you notice a child drowning. You can, without risk to yourself, save the child from drowning. But you'll wreck your shoes in the process. Here's the argument: 1) You ought to save the drowning child. If you failed to save the child for the sake of your$100 shoes, you would be doing something extremely morally repugnant.
2) There is no morally relevant difference between the drowning child in front of you and some child dying in the developing world of preventable diseases for which good aid organizations exist.
3) So, you ought to donate significantly more to help folks dying in the developing world of preventable diseases, and failing to do so is as bad as failing to save the drowning child.

The tough thing about this argument it it seems to me extremely plausible, but it has the conclusion that we're all doing something really morally wrong. And it doesn't feel right to just dismiss it with a shrug and a thought like "yeah maybe we could all stand to do more to help the less fortunate but such is life".

3. ### chimpkinC'mon, get happy!Registered Senior Member

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4,416
Hmm...
I'm inclined to agree.
Guess I need to send Doctors Without Borders some cash.
Wondering at what point we get to spend money on ourselves guilt-free though. Maybe we don't? In which case my therapist is leading me into immorality...

I tend to feel overwhelmed with the misery of the world if I think about it too much.
So for my own peace of mind I tend to deal with the misery of the people right in front of me.

5. ### keith1Guest

This is exactly the purpose the person with the thousand dollar shoes keeps the person with the \$100 shoes around for. Somebody has to do the dirty work.

7. ### FaureRegistered Senior Member

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44
Could you elaborate?

Is the idea that you have no obligation to help others because there are people out there with more money than you?

8. ### keith1Guest

No, spin it around the other way.
The filthy-rich set back on their laurels, while letting the semi-rich and lesser middle-classes do the brave work of supporting the civilization's needs and maintenance.

9. ### Ripley⁠Valued Senior Member

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1,411
Being a real live bystander is very different from being a distant incidental observer.

As a bystander one becomes intimately associated within the gravity pull of an occasion—one becomes involved.

Watching a video clip of an incident is inferential, plausible, I suppose probable. Why? Because there's this weird layer lacking in candidness that separates the observer from the media. And behind that, lies the child.

So as a bystander, one's moral caliber is directly put to the test.

As a distant observer, one's conscience.

10. ### wynn˙Valued Senior Member

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Someone trying to practice this kind of altruism consistently, would go mad.

11. ### cosmictravelerBe kind to yourself always.Valued Senior Member

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33,264
Helping others is a very nobel thing to do. Sometimes there are people that only want to take advantage of your sympathy and take your donations for their own use instead of using it for the real needs. This kind of manipulation happens in various ways. Sometimes a tax free charitable company is established and its operating overhead uses over 70 percent of the donations for compensation of its employees and the rest sometimes goes to help others. Then there are those who steal the donations in other countries that were supposed to make certain that those funds were used correctly but only used them for themselves and their friends. Many times we never know where the donations actually end up even if we are told that they do get to those in the greatest needs. Charity begains at home so that's where I make myself useful to make certain that I am helpful to others in need by donating my time and energies to help others.

12. ### CifoDay destroys the night,Registered Senior Member

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685

Herein lies the crux of the argument. Seeing a member of my society in distress gives me more compunction to help them so as to preserve that society from which I reap my benefits.

Who would I be saving on the other side of the planet? A child who, the day (or even moments) before, was holding a (hopefully unloaded) AK-47 and chanting "Kill all Americans!", one who watched with joy as his sister's genitals were mutilated, or one who helped stone to death an old half-blind beggar for stealing a loaf of bread?

13. ### chimpkinC'mon, get happy!Registered Senior Member

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I agree-in an emotional sense...but I think Faure's point still stands. I think of the difference of being on the scene of a car wreck when it happens versus supporting an ambulance service. If you are able to provide first aid to the injured before the ambulance gets there, that may be crucial.
The only essential differences are time, location and logistics. The moral obligation is similar, methinks.

But they have their utility value...

Those at the top are just there for the rest of us to look at. We need that carrot dangling that we can never reach, to keep slaving away. We hopelessly aspire to be them, though we never will be.
Thus they serve without serving.
Vote Republican!

Last edited: Dec 14, 2011
14. ### wynn˙Valued Senior Member

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But even with members of one's own society, one often cannot be sure.
What if the stranger you are helping is a pedophile, a closet Neonazi, someone who raped his grandmother, ...?

15. ### Anti-FlagPun intendedRegistered Senior Member

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3,714
I think that pretty much sums it up.

1. It's easier to distance yourself and your conscience.
2. Easier to suggest ones you can't see could be less deserving (although you have no idea who the drowing person is - you easily could be saving a bad person in your own society)
3. Capitalism. The rich need to keep the poor people poor to profit from them - which is why they won't give the wealth away as it's what they wanted in the first place. :shrug:

16. ### chimpkinC'mon, get happy!Registered Senior Member

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4,416
It is our obligation and in our enlightened best interest to maintain our society...
That's a separate judgment though, and may or may not be true.

Too...our society is becoming globally connected. Our ability to ignore the consequences of third world child mortality is reduced: one of them is that women will have more babies to make sure they have surviving children...thus worsening the problem...and causing more poverty, more social disruption...and we are economically connected.

17. ### Robittybob1BannedBanned

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Without trying to save the whole world on your own, I always thought, if only everyone helped out just one person, what a different world this would be.

18. ### Anti-FlagPun intendedRegistered Senior Member

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That only works if people stop fucking over everyone else.

Helping one person is often the way someone decides to justify their bad actions and ease their own conscience.

19. ### Robittybob1BannedBanned

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If they have a conscience that would be half the battle. If they did it to look good in society, that's hardly conscience. You can't tell a person's motive for doing something.
There used to be a test and they would say "everything is done for a selfish reason".

20. ### wynn˙Valued Senior Member

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15,058
When the blind help the blind,
both fall into the ditch.

21. ### Robittybob1BannedBanned

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In today's world Health and Safety would have insisted the ditch is covered so the blind won't be in danger of falling in.

22. ### steampunkRegistered Senior Member

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278
This has nothing to do with morality. It would be criminal to let the child drown. Morality is based upon preference. That's what differentiates it from a crime.

23. ### chimpkinC'mon, get happy!Registered Senior Member

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Can you explain how morality is based on preference?