the title of this post is actually larger than the scope of my speculation about where the moral self resides.
yesterday evening at dinner with friends, we talked about the difficulties that young people face in high school. shenzhen students, it was agreed, face the pressure of tests. however, in general, their social worlds are simple and relatively innocent. in contrast, western high schools tend to have less pressure to perform well on tests, but many more social challenges of the sex, drugs, and rock and roll variety.
this is where the conversation became interesting.
my friends insisted that smoking pot was one of the worst things a student could do, leading to all sorts of depravity. i don’t advocate smoking pot, but did point out that it seemed to me less reprehensible than cheating on exams. counter point: my friend said that everyone cheated because the scores were so important. cheating was therefore understandable, even if it wasn’t necessarily wise. smoking pot, however, showed a student’s selfishness and lack of concern for family and friends.
what interested me in this conversation is where my friends and i drew our moral lines. i didn’t have problems with behavior that i believe affects the individual, but did draw the line at breaking rules that protected a group of people; cheating, for me, is a question of ethics where smoking pot seemed a more personal question. in contrast, my friends saw pot smoking as a repudiation of responsibilities toward family and friends, while cheating was a “reasonable” response to exam pressures.
our common point was that ethics is about responsibilities toward others in our lives. we differed in the groups we chose as our ethical point of reference. more interestingly still was my friends’ idea that care of the self (by not smoking pot) was in fact an ethical question because one’s body belongs to family and friends and not primarily to some self.
all this begs two interesting questions: (1) just what is a self and (2) how we determine who constitutes our ethical horizons.