Guilt of infinite extensibility

Wilfred McClay, writing in a First Things article, “The Moral Economy of Guilt”:

“There is another factor at work too, one that may be called the infinite extensibility of guilt. This…is a surprising by-product of modernity’s proudest product: its ever growing capacity to comprehend and control the physical world.

In a world in which the web of relationships between causes and effects becomes better understood, in which the means of communication and transportation become ever more efficient and effective, and in which individuals become ever more powerful and effective agents, the range of our potential moral responsibility, and therefore of our potential guilt, expands to literally infinite proportions…

In such a world, where there are few intrinsic limits to what I can do, there is almost nothing for which I cannot be, in some way, held accountable. I can see pictures of a starving child in a remote corner of the world on my television and know for a fact that, if I cared to, I could travel to that remote place and relieve that child’s immediate suffering. Whatever donation I make to a charitable organization, it is never as much as I could have given. I can never diminish my carbon footprint enough, or give to the poor enough, or support medical research enough, or otherwise do the things that would render me morally blameless.

…indeed, as those of us who teach young people often have occasion to observe, it may be precisely the most morally sensitive individuals who have the weakest commonsense defenses agains such overwhelming assaults on their over-receptive sensibilities…”

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s