How Ethical Are You?

An old ethics question raises the hypothetical dilemma of the value of life

Jay Sizemore

--

Photo by Eric TERRADE on Unsplash

A philosophy professor at Portland State University, Peter Boghossian, went viral this week when he posed an old ethics question to his 124k followers on Twitter. He simply asked, “If the Louvre were burning and you could only save the Mona Lisa, or an old dog, which would you save?”

The tweet utilized the polling option and allowed people to vote on the issue. While not entirely surprising, the results still showed how wildly different people viewed this scenario through their own lenses of morality and estimations of value regarding the preservation of history and the transience of experience. Far more people said they would choose to save the Mona Lisa than one might have expected, though the dog still ended up winning the most votes.

This hypothetical scenario is usually presented by putting the choice of art preservation against that of human life. A somewhat famous poem by Linda Pastan called “Ethics” references this question, with the choice being between saving an old woman, or a Rembrandt painting, in a 1979 issue of POETRY.

In both cases, the question asks us to weigh the complexities of a moral dilemma that in reality we would have to choose under the duress of a moment pressured by imminent danger. It’s hard to imagine that many people actually living the experience of such a moment could see another person or an animal such as a dog that we consider in many ways to be on par with humanity, with many people owning dogs that they think of as members of their families, under direct threat of death and suffering, and that they could coldly choose to ignore them in favor of salvaging a painting.

The truth is, when in direct experience of such a moment, empathy and instinct would direct the mass majority of people to help someone or another life in need. But the segregation of the hypothetical scenario from the empathy of human proximity allows the mind to argue over things that it normally…

--

--

Jay Sizemore

Provocative truth teller, author of APNEA & Ignore the Dead. Cat dad. Dog dad. Husband. Currently working from Portland, Oregon. Learn more at: Jaysizemore.com.