This essay was awarded second place in the Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics graduate category.
Written by University of Oxford student, Benjamin Lange
Important Decision: Imagine that you are about to finish your philosophy PhD and are faced with the following two choices: You can either accept a postdoctoral position at a prestigious university or you can take up a job that will enable you to positively impact the lives of other people who are very badly off. Suppose further that you would strongly prefer to become a philosopher. However, you are having second thoughts. It’s also clear to you that you could spend your time and energy in a more beneficial way by helping others. And you recognise that you have strong moral reason to do so.
With this in mind, and standing at this important juncture in your life and career you now ask yourself:
“Given that there is some moral leeway, am I justified in pursing a philosophical (minimally helpful) career even though I could also choose a (more helpful) altruistic career?”
How would you answer?
The above is one particular instance of the more general question of whether we are justified in prioritising our own plans and commitments over the demands of morality. Call this question the Big Question.
From a practical perspective, the Big Question is among most important questions that we can ask, since we spend around 80,000 hours in a career over our lifetime. This is not only a big chunk of our lives generally, but also time that we could use to have a positive impact on the world. At the same time, the question is so obvious that hardly anyone seriously considers it—we take it as a given that we have moral leeway to pursue projects that are important for us.
The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.