Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Three Eye Doctors

Imagine you're walking down the street in an American city and you notice a small line-up in front of a building. You ask the people in line what it is; they tell you they're waiting their turn at a free eye clinic, run by three physicians who volunteer their services. They tell you the three doctors all provide top-notch care for free and are nice guys on top of everything. You're rightly impressed. The next week you walk by again, and the clinic is open, but there's no line. So you decide to step in and thank the physicians for their generous efforts.

The clinic is run by three physicians who both seem to be from somewhere in Eastern Europe, judging by their accents. You ask them what motivates them to be so generous.

The first says, "I enjoy helping people, and there are people in this city who need eye care. So once a week I come to this clinic and provide it."

The second says, "I enjoy helping people, and there are people in this city who need eye care. So once a week I come to this clinic and provide it. Also," he says, and produces from his lab pocket a figurine made of straw and twine, "the spirit Zalagabak says you have to, or you get struck by lightning."

The third says, "I enjoy helping people, and there are people in this city who need eye care. So once a week I come to this clinic and provide it. Also," he says, and lifts out of his collar a crucifix on a necklace, "Jesus Christ says to love thy neighbor."

Is there a difference in the morality of their charity?

3 comments:

Dan said...

Your title sucks. I thought this was going to be about doctors with three eyes. It's just another case of binocular bigotry.

Seriously, you're asking us to rank altruism based on ulterior motive, right?

1. Altruism for self-fulfillment.
2. Altruism to avoid punishment.
3. Altruism for 'eternal reward.'

You'll probably call me a moral relativist, but it all depends on your frame of reference.

All three enjoy the work, so the only difference is what they call the brain chemicals that trigger when they do it.

A more interesting metaphor would be a free dental clinic where the dentists say:

1. I like to do free dentistry because it makes me feel good.
2. I like to do free dentistry because Jesus makes me feel good.
3. I like to do free dentistry because it magically keeps me from being killed by tigers.
4. I don't like to do free dentistry but I do it because I get a tax writeoff.
5. I don't like to do free dentistry but I do it because Jesus told me to do it.
6. I don't like to do free dentistry but I do it because I'm terrified of tigers. Fuck man, TIGERS! I will clean your teeth!
7. I don't like to do free dentistry but I do it because I get off on watching people spit.
8. I don't like to do free dentistry but I do it because I like to cause pain, however, I do not cause any more pain than a normal dentist.

I saw this mystical dental practice with my pineal gland.
Also, my captcha was "dentic," so clearly Zalagabak is on my side.

Michael Caton said...

I wouldn't even consider it a question of altruism. I would rather have a dentist works on me who gets pleasure from it from some means than who hates it and does it out of a sense of altruism or duty. Once that's assured, I would rather have somebody who has no set of unchanging and certainly incomplete written principles to confuse his or her allegiances to the work.

Dan said...

I'm not sure I understand the nature of the question.

All three optometrists and all eight dentists are doing equivalent work, right? Their beliefs about dentistry are identical, right? None of these guys are faith healers. They all just have personal reasons for doing 'good work.'

You find me somebody with consistent and complete principles and I'll ask you why a god is practicing dentistry. Kurt Gödel called. He says you need to floss more.

Peace out. Happy Birthday Chuck D.!