A injures person B
In the next day or two I'll be
asking you to consider and discuss a question that you might
want to think about ahead of time a bit. It's a big question,
a really crucial one. In fact, much of Plato's Republic
centers around this important question.
The question is what we would call
an existential question, not just a theoretical or academic question.
That is, it is a question that concerns the quality, direction
and meaning of your personal existence, and is not just a theoretical
question that you can answer one way or the other and have it
not affect your life and existence.
Further, it is a question that
we have all already answered for ourselves at some level, consciously
or non-consciously. One of the important jobs that philosophers
set for themselves is to raise to the level of conscious thought
and discussion questions that we have all already thought about
at some basic level. This question is one of those.
Here's the question:
Suppose that some person, we'll
call him A, perpetrates some injury on person B. The details
of the injury aren't really important to this question right
now. Maybe A beats up B, or steals from B, or lies to B, or tortures
B, or cheats on B, or kills B, or fires B, or anything that clearly
is unjust and wrong, which B does not deserve, and which clearly
hurts B. A knowingly perpetrates this injury on B, knowing that
it will do harm to B -- maybe it will harm B physically or emotionally
or socially or in any of the myriad ways that one person might
injure another. In other words, A does some very bad thing to
The question we'll be considering
is: Who is more personally damaged in that interaction, A who
perpetrates the injury, or B who suffers the injury?
The question is not whether A or
B is the more despicable person. The question is not who is the
more morally reprehensible person. The question is not who is
the worse or better person. The question is: who is more damaged
by the interaction. Who is hurt more? Who will suffer more personal
harm as a result of the interaction? Who is more damaged overall:
A, who perpetrated the injury, or B, who suffered the injury?
That's the question.
Now just to sharpen the focus of
the question, let's further suppose (as Plato does in The
Republic) that A completely gets away with it, never gets
caught, and no one ever finds out that he or she is the one responsible
for injuring B. So he is never punished for what he did.
B, however, is clearly damaged
by the interaction. S/he has been beaten up, tortured, stolen
from, had their reputation damaged, been fired, been killed,
or whatever the injury was.
And the question again is: Who
is more damaged overall by that interaction?
Just to sharpen the focus a bit
more, let's imagine (as Plato does in The Republic) that
person A doesn't even feel any guilt about what s/he has done
to person B. So there are no feelings of remorse or regret or
sorrow for committing the injury. And no one ever finds out about
it, so person A doesn't feel bad at all.
I'd like you to think about this
question a bit, namely, which of the two, A or B, is more damaged
by that interaction. Who is more harmed? I'll be asking you to
discuss this question in class in the next few days.
Now I suspect that someone in class
might say: "Well I think person A is more damaged because
A will be punished for this evil act in an afterlife."
This may very well be true. (Plato
even suspects it probably is true, as you'll discover if you
ever decide to read the unassigned parts of The Phaedo.)
Person A might, after he dies, go to some hellish unsavory place
of punishment, or may be reincarnated into some monstrously unpleasant
life form, or whatever. But for purposes of this question and
discussion, we will be temporarily setting aside that possibility.
When Plato asks this question in The Republic, he too
asks us to consider the question only in terms of *this* life
here on earth, not in terms of any after life. So the question
again is: In terms of this life on earth, which of the two persons
in the interaction, A or B, is more damaged by that interaction.
That is, who will suffer the greater losses?
I'll be interested to hear your
answers to this question, and your reasons for those answers.