. Explain what Singer means by an ultimate choice. Give an example of such as choice, explain it in detail, and contrast it with a regular choice. Do you agree with Singer’s analysis of the two different kinds of choice? Singer has talked two types of choices – ‘ultimate choice’ and ‘regular choice’. We all have an ethical framework in our mind and therefore, we face several situations in our life when we have to make choices- between what he can and can not do as per the ethical framework of his mind.
We have to make choices and we do make choices; now the question is whether the choice is a ‘regular choice’ or an ‘ultimate choice’. When Singer speaks of ‘ultimate choice’ he means a choice completely against one’s own ethical framework. In this connection Singer has talked of the choice made by Boesky. Despite being very rich person he opted to make more money by insider trading. That insider trading is illegal and unethical by society’s standards is not important here.
What is important here is that this practice was totally in contrast to even Boesky’s stated ethical standards and this fact makes his choice an ‘ultimate choice’. Singer has differentiated the ‘ultimate choice’ from the ‘regular choices’, which we keep making in our daily life. To give some example he speaks about choosing jogging over enjoying a television soap to keep one’s physical fitness or to choose among different career options available to a person. In all the choices that we make be it regular or ultimate the commonality is that our self interest is a consideration.
Now the differentiating factor is that while the regular choices are made within the sets of values the person making the choice has in his life, while the ‘ultimate choice’ is completely against the set of values of the person making the choice. Another big difference in the two kinds of choices is that one seeks help or guidance of others, of experts in the process of making his regular choice like going to a career counselor before joining a course. On the other hand nobody goes and seeks help or guidance of others when it comes to choosing the ultimate. That he does on his own.
In a way we can say that the ultimate choice is completely owned by the person making the choice. It is not an easy task as one has to fight his own values, his own consciousness while making such a choice. I must say that Singer has beautifully analyzed the two kind of choices and I do agree with his analysis. Q2. How does Singer thinks that self-interest and ethics collide? Singer has explored the perpetual collision of self-interest and ethics in human life. Every body faces the dilemma of choosing the one over the other at virtually every important moment in life.
Most of the time pursuit of self-interest appears to be against the accepted ethical norms. Singer has pointed towards some relevant examples as well; like when one switches his job just for the sake of a better pay package, even though his contribution to humanity in his new job may be lesser than in his present job. The question as to which of the two – self-interest or ethics remains essentially unresolved. It is not that established ethical way of life is something that can be idealized, because ethical endeavors like charity, social service of some individuals can be exploited by some other individual for his / her self interest.
There can be no guarantee that beneficiaries of ethical action will not go ahead and serve their self-interest ignoring the ethical ways of life. The question of drawing the line between ethics and self interest is also not so simple. However, as a general rule one can say the actions which put interests of individuals ahead of that of society are self-interest, while those putting interests of society before that of individual are ethical. Singer has also talked of “paradox of hedonism” according to which the more explicitly one pursues his desire for pleasure; the more elusive becomes its satisfaction.
In this paradox one can see the underlying conflict between self-interest and ethics. This means to achieve satisfaction, there should be some sort of balance between self interest and ethical ways of life. Singer also talks of the modern evolutionary theory – ‘Rational choice theory’. According to this theory if two or more persons independently and deliberately pursue their self-interest then they will be worse than they would have been had they pursued their self-interest in a less rational manner.
This is explanation for origin of ethics according to evolutionary theory. Singer has also talked about, the Russian experience under communists. The stated goal of communists in Russia was to keep societal interests above individual interest and how this was misused by Stalin to perpetrate atrocity on his political rivals and subsequently by the politicians and beureocrats during Brezhnev era for their personal gains. Therefore, says singer, exists cynicism about the ethical life being paramount.