Question to Ponder

Question to Ponder January 26, 2009

If one would save more lives becoming a medical doctor rather than a dentist, how could they ever justify becoming a dentist (and what would be the political ramifications of your answer, if your underlying principle is valid)?

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  • One reason might be that in becoming a dentist one avoids, to a greater extent than becoming a doctor, the likelihood of being put in a position where one is tempted or pressured to do evil. It is the duty of Christians to live their lives in such a way that we not only don’t sin, but we also avoid the near occasion of sin.

    Another is that one’s interests and aptitudes lie more with dentistry than with other medical practices.

    There might be a Kantian “if everyone did that” argument against the former, I suppose, but Kantian arguments have their limits.

  • Jeremy

    This strikes me as a silly question. Any person who sets out to ‘save more lives’ will choose doctor, unless more lives are being lost to dental problems. Our action will follow our heart.

  • “One reason might be that in becoming a dentist one avoids, to a greater extent than becoming a doctor, the likelihood of being put in a position where one is tempted or pressured to do evil.”

    Marathon Man? 🙂

  • Jeremy

    I would ask you to ponder the question and the implications of it as it relates to debates within the political field. You will see it addresses one specific form of debate by bringing it into a real world situation, and asks, how valid is it really if one addresses the situation within a narrow context (such as quantity).

  • Kurt

    I’m with Zippy – some people are just meant to be dentists.

    Of course, I may just be trying to justify a career choice as a tax lawyer, in which case I will save neither lives nor teeth.

    • Kurt

      I would agree, some people are meant to be dentists; but now takes this further into the political sphere and the implications of this.

  • blackadderiv

    I would think that when a person is deciding what career path to choose, they may legitimately have other considerations than how many lives they could save.

  • Policraticus

    Kantian arguments have their limits.

    No they don’t. Don’t you ever say that.

  • David Nickol

    It seems to me there is an assumption that everyone ought to be fighting a battle against abortion. Over on dotCommonweal there is a discussion about how Catholics can find common ground with each other to continue the fight against abortion when some supported the “conventional” pro-life approach (vote Republican and try to get Roe v Wade overturned) while many others voted for Obama. One of the comments said, in part

    I do not understand what stops anyone, even if you oppose criminalization, from getting involved in any of these activities [crisis pregnancy centers] and supporting them. This is the pro-life movement. What would keep a moderate prolifer from being directly involved in these efforts, which are specifically anti-abortion, in addition to other efforts to strengthen the social safety net in our communities.

    What I took this comment to mean is that if you are not working for the overturning of Roe v Wade, the least you can do is get involved in some other area of the anti-abortion struggle like crisis pregnancy centers.

    I am not totally sure what Henry is hinting at, but I have long believed that everyone has the right to choose the area to which he or she devotes resources (time and money). If someone is concerned about animal welfare, the environment, the preservation of landmark buildings, prison reform, AIDS prevention, or any of thousands of other worthy causes, he or she need not feel obliged to work for the pro-life movement because, according to many, it is the most momentous issue of our time. Everyone has different talents, abilities, and interests, and different things that move them. So don’t expect everyone to work for the cause that you think is the most important. (If I knew more about St. Thérèse of Lisieux, I think a reference to her might be pertinent here.)

    • David

      I think your comment goes a long way to unpacking some of the political implications of what people have already said on here. If they think it is fine for someone to choose a way in life which is beneficial but not quantitatively the “most life-saving,” then this has implications as to how one can and might act within the political sphere as well. Thus, for example, if people ask someone “Why don’t you post on abortion?” to someone who finds it important to deal with the issue of torture, perhaps it is because something about the issue of torture attracts them and is part of the work they are to be involved with.

  • Jeremy

    Henry,
    I’m not sure what particulars you wish to have addressed? If a person want’s to be personally involved in saving lives, then they will choose to be a doctor. If a person want’s to see abortion outlawed, they will become a pro-life activist. If a person want’s to see an end to war, they will become an anti-war activist. If a person want’s to overthrow the current regime, they will become a revolutionary. Most of these decisions have very little to do with how many lives will be saved, however, where the information bolsters their cause, they will use it.

    Political ramification – By paying attention to what a person actually does, you can tell where their priorities are.

  • No they don’t. Don’t you ever say that.

    What if everyone said that Kantian arguments have their limits?

  • Marathon Man? 🙂

    LOL. I don’t expect that opportunities to torture someone are a part of many dentists’ everyday existence. On the other hand, dentistry could be a very morally dangerous profession for someone with a sadistic streak :-/

  • What if everyone said that Kantian arguments have their limits?

    Then I expect that Policratius would find himself with diminished job prospects lol.

  • Jessie

    Um, just a thought but shouldn’t we be praying that God show us which apostalates he wants us to do? Then, you do what God has called you to do with a spirit of service. Denegrating other people because their apostalate is not what you would have them do or not how you would do it is probably not a good idea. Perhaps, though called to be a dentist, his advocation against abortion will lead to its outlaw and thus the dentist will “save” more lives than the doctor ever could.

  • To go right to the political realm: I think it’s generally good that some people focus their energies on particular political issues. While problem x may be of overall graver concern than problem y, that doesn’t mean that every single person must devote more of his time and efforts to problem x. We are generally better served if some people make problem x their focus and others make problem y their focus. If every pro-lifer made abortion their political focus, then we might see progress faster on that issue, but we’d also see other issues not getting the attention they deserve.

  • David Raber

    What if everyone said that Kantian arguments have their limits?

    Then I’d be a damn fool to disagree with them.

    But more to the point, my guess is, “I am the Pope.”

  • Phillip

    Because if there were lots of doctors but no dentists then there would be people dying of complications of malnutrition, etc. Beyond that some people don’t want to be doctors. Some want to be dentists and laywers and theologians etc.

    Why the question?

  • Instructive question & purpose, Henry. I think the problems arise (and have arisen) when those Catholics who focus on issue X suspect (rightly or wrongly) that those Catholics who focus on issue Y don’t see the importance of issue X (and vice versa). Secondarily, it has certainly been the case that some who focus on issue X fail to recognize that — objectively — issue Y is more grave, and on the other hand, those who focus on issue Y can fail to recognize that while Y might be more grave, attention must also be paid to issue X, and there’s nothing wrong with some Catholics focusing their attention & energy on X.

  • David Nickol

    Because if there were lots of doctors but no dentists then there would be people dying of complications of malnutrition, etc.

    Phillip,

    That should not matter to the person making the choice between being a doctor and a dentist. He or she should choose based on the number of lives that can be saved. There will, of course, reach a point when there are so many doctors and so few dentists, that becoming a dentist will save more lives than becoming a doctor. In that case, the person is obligated to become a dentist until some equilibrium is reached.

    Beyond that some people don’t want to be doctors. Some want to be dentists and laywers and theologians etc.

    Perhaps some people don’t want to be doctors, but there are lives at stake! I don’t see how anyone with the ability to become a doctor can refuse to become a doctor when lives are at stake. If such a person refuses and instead becomes a theologian or a lawyer or a stay-at-home-parent, he or she must do so only with a proportionate reason.

  • Phillip

    Since not all have the talents to be a doctor, using one’s talents to the best to serve the overall good would be what is best. Even if on has the abilities, there is not need for a proportionate reason to be what one wants to be. That’s the nature of God given talents. No need for proportionate reasons.

    Now when it comes to abortion, that’s a different matter, though I don’t know why I bring it up.

  • Hey, some citizens of the Reich have other fish to fry rather than worrying about what is cruising by in the trains.

  • If one would save more lives by feeding starving children rather than by asking questions on a blog, how could one ever justify asking questions on a blog ?

  • “Perhaps some people don’t want to be doctors, but there are lives at stake! I don’t see how anyone with the ability to become a doctor can refuse to become a doctor when lives are at stake. If such a person refuses and instead becomes a theologian or a lawyer or a stay-at-home-parent, he or she must do so only with a proportionate reason.”

    David –

    That’s a rather overly analytic, stoicly driven way of understanding ‘vocation’, no? Surely desire, authentically formed with a developing understanding of the Good, guided by Christ in whatever form one may find Him, constitutes the foundation of one’s chosen path. There simply is no way to determine when one’s becoming a lawyer, teacher etc. involves a conscious refusal to become a doctor, so the premise is really a false one. Nor can the complexity of desire fit the criteria of ‘proportionate reason’ since desire is, as such, in excess of our reasoning capacity even if it gradually gives itself over to our reason.

    Furthermore, ability is never discovered without desire. People are not computers programmed with a set of skills, who then examine a grocery list of career paths. It’s as if you set up a God with a blue-print for our lives, and all we need do is decode this blue print through a rigorous application of intellectual analysis. If only it were so easy!

    This means that if one becomes a theologian, a lawyer or a stay at home parent, one has taken the momentum of his or her being in that direction out of a complex combination of factors, the primary factor being one’s desire. Those who have the aptitude – and aptitude is first discovered in desire – to become doctors do so.

    Becoming a doctor is not like learning a language (though it involves this), because being a doctor is a way of being; it is not simply a vestment one chooses to wear. It involves variables that escape the gaze of our systematic, discursive analysis. It involves that mysterious innate drive toward the good, which is always in excess of our cognitive capacity to understand – we might say that the understanding of our vocations emerge as we enter them, and are revealed to us the more we become what we have chosen.

    The blue print model you advocate may be easier to understand, but it is much further from the truth, and it reneges on the glorious mystery of being human.

    Besides ‘lives at stake’ cannot be the sole criteria of judgment since life has meaning far greater than simply the proliferation of health. I think the community of martyrs is testimony enough of this fact.

    One might also remark that Aquinas certainly had the capacity to be a doctor – or if you’d like a more contemporary example, Von Balthasar and de Lubac certainly had the capacity to be doctors. But they didn’t, and thankfully so. Ponder their lives for a moment and you might “see how anyone with the ability to become a doctor can refuse to become a doctor when lives are at stake. “

  • SB

    This post is inapplicable. Very few people would have the capability of being both a doctor AND a dentist. But there’s nothing whatsoever stopping the people who are constantly agitating about Gaza, torture, Guantanamo, etc., from just once turning their attention to abortion without the whole argument being, “Oh, well, abortion may be bad, but my political opponents are hypocrites!!!!”