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I would say a couple things: I can see where sonofabithcness is much stronger in closer proximity. It is easier for us to not respond to people far away because it is harder for us emotionally to grasp the gravity of the suffering. The person close to the child would not have this harder obstacle to motivation to help and so if even with the situation pressed right up against his face he still didn't help, it would be more than just the mind's natural ability to underestimate the importance of situations far away, it would be a more generally callous or malicious disposition. And such a disposition makes him a sonofabitch and us more passive victims of a mind that can't be brought to care or act adequately in ways that we have not been conditioned evolutionarily to care or act (our brains are wired to help those near, not those who are effectively concepts to us). But, nonetheless, if we can bring the realization of the real suffering far away to our minds more and more closely and yet still not act, we become more and more a sonofabitch ourselves, the more we steal ourselves against making an important sacrifice. And if we avoid really knowing about the suffering far away, either on purpose or implicitly, this bespeaks some degree of callousness and even active desire to remain callous. We deliberately allow ourselves to become more sonofabitch than we had to be. So, while I think you do a nice job of helping elucidate one part of why we don't feel as bad about the non-donator as we do about the non-rescuer, I think there is still what you call an ethical critique of ignoring suffering far away regardless. And I am really really unconvinced that we have no obligations without contracts. I find that a bewildering source of rationalizations that I can barely understand how anyone believes. I can understand if you are a radical subjectivist of some sort about morality. Maybe like Ayer in your example. But I don't get it otherwise and always thought that Thomson's article on abortion is an amazing feat of contortionism to justify abortion. She is willing to say there are no moral obligations even to cross a room and put your hand on their forehead when it could heal them. ALL to say under no conceivable circumstances could an abortion ever be morally criticized. It's warping all of morality out of fear that anyone would ever argue a woman had an obligation to carry to term. It's completely counter-intuitive to me. So, you have to make a case to me how we do not have moral obligations we did not actively sign up for first before I accept that. I mean, what is more basic to morality and obligations than that they involve things we have to do even against our strongest preferences sometimes? Finally, on Nietzsche, I don't see him as having contempt for the heroically charitable. There is a lot of praise for those who deliberately go under to create something great in the future. There is a "will to power altruism" that I intend to write about. What Nietzsche is attacking is pity, the demoralization of the object of help, the attempt to gain power over someone with the disingenuous claim that you are only being selfless. That's what's so repulsive. And where does he explicitly talk about his superior humans being free to murder? What his goal is is that values and valuable things advance, even if in some means to this will be things that are hard to swallow. But that's not an anything goes policy for higher humans by any means. So, those are my rough impressions for what they are worth.
Toggle Commented Sep 4, 2011 on The Good, The Bad and Peter Singer at
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Sep 4, 2011