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  • 5 years ago
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    Both are equally important because one cannot exist without the other - and interdependence means that if one of the two suffers, the other will, too. The simple explanation is, that caring only for the needs of the individual while neglecting society will harm the individual as well as the society, since the individual lives in the society. The same goes for paying attention only to the society; it is made up of individuals, and so will suffer if they are neglected.

    Some proof of that: one simple example is Stalin's regime, or pretty much that of any dictator. A dictator uses the masses, not the individual; in a dictatorship, the individual fades away and becomes a statistic: as Stalin said "one death is a tragedy; a million is a statistic." Stalin paid attention only to the needs of the "masses" - self-expression, free speech, and other so called benefits of the individual were forbidden - Stalin thought that the needs of the individual are unimportant in the face of the crisis society was facing - this attitude badly affected that very society. The purge of the armed forces caused many casualties that could have otherwise been avoided - etc. I used the Stalin example because I'm Russian, I'm best acquainted with this theme. You could apply the same to any other dictator. Stalin achieved a lot, we have a lot to thank him for, but that was achieved at an enormous social cost - because of the neglect of the individual.

    Now, that is one side of the society-over-individual controversy. The other side is when someone sacrifices him/herself for the benefit of socity at large. That's a totally different story - the main arguement of the consequentialist is that "the end justifies the means" - a consequentialist would argue that one man's sacrifice is a suitable price to pay for the welfare of many others. Is that right?

    Well, as always, it's never black-and-white.

    Picture this scenario. An infectious disease is spreading, one that can spread only from human to human. The disease spread is checked, but one man becomes infected. He kills himself to save millions of others from a global pandemic and the extinction of humanity. In this case, one can say that society over individual wins, because it would benefit more people, by far - one and millions - a great many more people. But that's when the quality versus quantity comes in. How would the people feel? Did that man have a family? What would they think and feel? And their friends. One would say they would feel proud. Yes, perhaps they would. They wouldn't be angry, because he did it of his own free will. However, would it not have been better if he had been isolated, treated, and served as an inspiration for those millions, that they can hope for a medical solution in case of a second outbreak?

    Now, let's picture the following scenario: A law is passed forbidding gay marriage. Those who voted for its passing justify their decision by saying that by denying individual homosexuals, they protect the family unit and society as a whole. What would one say in this case? It's controversial - one cannot factually prove it right or wrong. It's of an ethical nature, a value judgment. In any case: say this sparks a number of protests throughout the country, which cause a lot of unrest. Would that be better to society, than allowing gay marriage?

    In the parable of the Lost Sheep, Jesus Christ, portrayed by the shepherd, would go to any lengths and succeed to get a single lost sheep (one of us) back onto the path. (No offence intended to non-Christians).This is the ideal (regardless of your religious creed): the concept of caring for both the individual and the society, which is made up of individuals.

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