Category Archives: ethics

The hope of a dilemma-free world is naïve where it is not power-hungry

screen-shot-2016-12-14-at-19-05-57The problem, says Dalrymple, with a nationalised health system’s

incontinent sharing of risk

is that

it deprives people of one possible motive for behaving responsibly. They believe, not without reason, that someone will always pick up the pieces for them at no cost to themselves. Irresponsibility thrives where there is no penalty for it.

He points out, however, that the problem with individualised insurance is that

it may place intolerable or unsustainable burdens on people through no fault of their own.

In short,

incontinent sharing of risk is unjust: too little sharing of risk is inhumane. Since both justice and humanity are desirable qualities, but not always compatible, now one, now the other, will be the more important; but the tension between them will remain.

Dalrymple writes:

That ethical decisions sometimes cannot be made that are indisputably correct, that entail no injustice or no inhumanity, is difficult for rationalists and utilitarians to accept. They want every division to be without remainder. They want a formula that will decide every question beyond reasonable doubt. They want a universal measure of suffering, so that the worth (in units of suffering averted) of every medical procedure can be known and compared. There is a cognitive hubris at play, according to which information will resolve all our dilemmas; and if our dilemmas have not been answered, it is only because we do not have enough information.

As for the doctor,

he cannot be so limitlessly compassionate as to deny patients’ responsibility where it exists, nor should he deny his patients his compassion by blaming them even when they are to blame.

Self-congratulatory posturing

Screen Shot 2015-09-04 at 08.50.54Kindness, writes Dalrymple,

turns into cruelty when it helps to maintain the need for kindness to be exercised; it then becomes an exercise in self-congratulation rather than in doing good.

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How to run a business

Screen Shot 2014-03-25 at 19.26.09Dalrymple recalls this scene, of some time past, at his local fishmonger’s:

An old lady, a pensioner, wanted a piece of fish for her dinner. He wrapped it, gave it her, and told her the price. She handed over her purse to him and he, seeing that she had little money, deliberately took far less than the price he had named. “Thank you, madam,” he said on handing back the purse, exactly as if she had been his most valued customer. It was all done with the greatest delicacy, and obviously with a generous heart. His business was a successful one, and its success was a precondition of his being able to act on his generous impulse.

Ethics 101

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Moralist                               Moral myope

Gollancz’s courage and moral insight

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On the proper use of children in moral argument, Dalrymple cites the case of Victor Gollancz (publisher of some of Orwell’s early work).

In the aftermath of the Second World War, Gollancz made a trip to the ruin that was Germany. The people there were malnourished, in rags and living in holes in the ground. Told on his return that the Germans deserved such a fate, Gollancz asked:

And the children?