Risk And Self-Command- Term Paper

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Risk and Self-Command-

In our lives, it is important to exercise self-command.

However, we should not be so concerned with the future that we stifle

the present. The question becomes what balance should we strike

between self-command and risks? What kinds of risks are acceptable or

unacceptable? In this essay, we will use two examples of risks to show

the distinction between the two and arrive at a conclusion as to the

balance one should have between risk and self command. The first

example we will use is of a person who spends his life savings on a

lottery ticket and does not win the lottery. The second is of a person

who spends his life savings on a hunch regarding a cure for AIDS, a

hunch that is false. Before we make this distinction, however, it is

necessary to define the terms acceptable and unacceptable risks.

Acceptable and Unacceptable Risks

There are several ways in which one could define which risks

are acceptable. One could say, for example, that the only acceptable

risk is one for which the odds of success are greater than the odds of

failure. Another definition of acceptable risk might be a risk that

does not harm one's future. We might also say that the only acceptable

risk is one where the aggregate happiness is increased, thus

increasing the moral good of the risk, an idea which is based on John

Stuart Mill's Utilitarianism. Finally, we might define a morally good

risk in a Kantian way by saying that the only acceptable risk is one

which is rationally thought out (Thomas, lecture).

Now that we have several definitions of acceptable risks, we

may ask how these definitions, which seem piecemeal and unrelated, can

all combine to form one definition of acceptable risk. The best way to

do this is to examine the two cases that lie before us and relate the

definitions to them. In the process of doing so, we will determine

which risk is acceptable and which is not. Risks in the example: the

lottery and the AIDS cure If the average person on the street were

presented with the case of spending one's life savings on a lottery

ticket and losing or spending the same sum on a false hunch regarding

an AIDS cure, he or she would probably come up with several answers.

For the most part though, all the answers would be consistent with one

idea: the AIDS cure is simply "worth" more and thus is a more

acceptable risk. There might be several reasons for this. One could

assume, for example, that the only person who would attempt to cure

AIDS would be a doctor with sufficient experience in the field. It

would follow, then, that the odds of finding a cure for AIDS would be

much greater than the odds of winning the lottery. To win the lottery,

one has to draw 6 numbers out of 46 (a probability that is very low).

However, curing AIDS with medical experience is a less risky endeavor.

In this instance, trying to cure AIDS would be a greater moral good

because it is less risk involved in it than in trying to win the

lottery. This case, although quite valid, is not very interesting. In

fact, we have solved it rather rapidly. The more interesting case, and

the one we will consider in depth here, is the case in which one has

no medical experience whatsoever, but still attempts to find a cure.

Furthermore, we will set the odds such that one has a better chance of

winning the lottery than finding a cure for AIDS. Yet, I will still

show that, regardless of the greater chance of failure, the attempt at

an AIDS cure is still has more moral worth than the purchase of the

lottery ticket, even though both result in failure. Why does the

spending one's life savings on an AIDS cure have more moral worth

(which makes it a more acceptable risk) than spending the same sum on

a lottery ticket, when the numerical odds of being successful are the

same? Why bother, since in the end, the result is the same? The answer

lies in Mill's definition of a moral good, that which is done to

increase the common happiness (Mill, Utilitarianism). The AIDS cure is

something that will increase the common happiness, while a person

winning the lottery generally will only increase his or her happiness.

This is almost obvious. Certainly, if I was to win the lottery, I

would increase my happiness greatly, but the increase in the general

happiness would be negligible. However, if I were to find a cure for

AIDS, it would greatly increase the general happiness. Masses of

suffering people and their loved ones would be much happier. Even

though my attempt was unsuccessful, it would still be greatly

appreciated. Just the thought of a cure would have given hope to what

could otherwise be a bleak existence.

The mere possibility of being saved from an almost certain

death would increase several victims' happiness. We see this today,

when, each time a new drug that delays the progression of AIDS is

approved, people flock to it. That such things are not cures and that

some of them do not offer guarantees (indeed, many are experimental)

is almost insignificant. People still try them. Why? Because they

offer a hope of continuing what humans treasure most: life. Similarly,

my AIDS cure would offer some hope to patients who are assured an

eventual long, painful death. Maybe the cure might work for them. If

not, that it did not would be almost insignificant. Spending my life's

savings on an AIDS cure would almost certainly increase the general

happiness, as it would provide hope. That, in the end, it is a failure

is of little, if any, significance.

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