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9 years ago: Who is you?

9 years ago: Who is you? April 16, 2013

April 16, 2004, on this blog: Who is you?

The problem with many of the hypothetical predicaments posed by ethics profs is that they also involve a hypothetical, abstract and undifferentiated “you.”

Consider the following all-too-real hypothetical: You see an old man sleeping in the doorway of a church. His blanket is thin and the night is cold. What do you do?

The answer depends on who “you” are. You may be a local beat cop. You may be the pastor or a parishioner of that church. You may be a professional social worker. You may be a volunteer at the local homeless shelter. You may be a member of the city council. You may be the old man’s daughter or niece or his long-ago college roommate or Army buddy. You may be a stranger who lives across the street from the church. You may be a despised Samaritan just passing through. You may be an airman first class who made a wrong turn on his way to the county clerk.

Regardless of who “you” are, you are responsible. But the nature of your responsibility — particularly in the longer term — differs according to the differentiated responsibilities of the various examples above. These differing responsibilities are complementary. They are not — despite the popular American confusion — exclusive.


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