This is an experiment I read about in a book I’m reading by Timothy Keller titled Jesus: Savior and King. It is attributed to C. John Sommerville, professor at the University of Florida. This is a thought experiment so let me know your thoughts please. Here goes:
Imagine you see a little old lady coming down the street at night, and she’s carrying a great big purse. It suddenly occurs to you that she’s very little and very old, and it would be incredibly easy just to knock her down and grab the purse. But you don’t. Why not?
There are two possible answers. The answer of the shame-and- honor culture is that you don’t because it would make you a despicable person, unworthy of respect. It would dishonor your family. People would despise you for picking one the weak. You would despise yourself for picking on the weak. It wouldn’t be strong–and its critical that strength is respected.
That approach, Professor Sommerville would point out is, self-regarding. You are thinking almost entirely upon yourself–about honor and reputation.
There’s a second train of thought that would keep you from taking the purse. In the second train of thought, you would imagine how painful it would be to be mugged and how hard it would be for the woman if she depended on the money in her purse and it were taken from her.
You ask yourself, “If I mug her, what will happen to her, and what will happen to the people who depend on her?” All else being equal, you want her to have a good life, so you don’t. That’s an other-regarding ethic–utterly different from the moral reasoning of a shame-and-honoring culture.
Having walked through these scenarios, here is the question, “How many of you would take the purse?” Of course you wouldn’t take it. Then answer this, Which train of thought is yours?” and Why?
- The shame-and-honor culture or
- The other-regarding approach?
Leave your answer in the comment section, please. After I feel those who are willing to participate have have done so, I’ll share a little bit more.
Until next time,