Infinite Ethics

Infinite Ethics:

On grizzly bears:

One human being is worth more than an infinite number of grizzly bears. Another way to put it is that there is no number of live grizzlies worth one dead human being.
That really depends on who the human beings in question happen to be. I can think of some good examples of people I'd be willing to trade for grizzlies.

Ethics doesn't admit of infinites. "Never" and "forever" are neither for men (as Fritz Leiber wrote in "The Circle Curse"). We don't do ethics this way because ethics is always about balancing goods. Declaring one good to be infinite, even relative to another, means discarding entirely something else that is good. Do we say that human life is infinitely more valuable than horses? Well, people are often killed riding horses -- we should do away with the brutes! How about human life versus candy? Eliminate candy! Bacon? Fatty foods in general?

Of course, that depends on grizzly bears being in any way good. Are they good? The author deploys some Christian arguments, so let's talk about what Christianity says about the matter.

St. Augustine would have said that they were, because everything created is good. This is another reason to avoid assigning infinities, then: by effectively reducing the value of the opposite to zero, you are denying a truth about it. Everything that humanity has to make decisions about has some good. It may not be much, but it cannot be nothing. Therefore, nothing has infinite good.

(Since we are in the realm of specifically Christian ethics we must ask: What about God? Augustine would say that God has infinite goodness, and indeed is infinitely good; but that even in the case of God, humanity must make non-infinite calculations about him. After all, sometimes we have to turn our attention away from God and toward food, or charity towards fellow humans. Charity toward men is good, but even the best charity is not infinitely good -- and therefore, it has no value next to God. Yet it is certainly clear as a point of Christian ethics that God wants us to engage in charity. One might reply: "But since God wants it, you're really serving God by showing charity toward his creatures." Yes; and that's true of grizzly bears also, even if it is true to a lesser degree.)

The author cites the Bible as evidence that the land is cursed if people and livestock are being killed by savage beasts. The Bible also cites livestock dying of illness as evidence of a divine curse, but some livestock are always dying of illness in every nation.

What about David? He had to fight bears off the livestock. That doesn't look like proof of a curse on his nation, but the way in which he became brave enough to be a useful servant of God.

The presence of the bear can be a blessing or a curse, depending on how you encounter it. The difference doesn't depend on the bear. It depends on you.

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