“Being ethical was not about being pure, he realized; it was caring about suffering.” Strangers Drowning was a read outside of the realm of genres I am accustomed to and was suggested by the professor of a Public Health ethics course I took several months ago. It covers the philosophical concept of the “do-gooder” the altruist who always acts in what he/she views as favoring morality. Do-gooders are extreme in the sense that they value every human life with equal worth to the extent that they would behave towards strangers as they would with family members. The moral dilemma of whether to save a drowning family member vs. multiple drowning strangers was posed, and the do-gooder would choose the strangers if the number of people was perceived to be great enough to exceed the value of one family member. At first glance, they may seem very benevolent, but the real-life examples the author portrays illustrate how altruism can actually be interpreted as inhuman. Those who turn a skeptical eye towards do-gooders state that without “selfish morality” towards friends and family, we are blind servants of the world rather than loyal creatures of kinship. They believe do-gooders lack the blindness and innocence that allows most people to carry on with life without having to question every action they take. Do-gooders are always thinking of how their actions would affect others (i.e., choosing to fast or be homeless because the money spent on such things is better off feeding those in a third-world country).
Another interesting point mentioned in the book is that being ethical is not necessarily about being pure, but about caring about suffering. To be ethical is not to abide by inviolable principles, but to consider the consequences of a situation. The example presented was that if Anne Frank is hiding in your house, the ethical course of action is not to be honest with the Nazis at the door, but to lie. To be ethical is to relieve suffering.