Pensées Métaphysiques

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Baruch Spinoza

1. Do all men, when faced with need for survival, stoop to the level of animals and reject principles of culture and morality? Does this differ according to gender? Wiesel’s plot seems to support Maslow’s theory that the primary level of motivation is elements of survival that include the need for food, drink, and shelter. Nonetheless, there are some people that seem to replace these needs with obedience to nobler dictates. In Wiesel’s case, for instance, he gave his father his precious rations despite being warned to keep them for himself. What makes some individuals ignore their primitive impulse for survival? What makes them different from others and atypical according to Maslow’s hierarchy?

2. In real-life incidents that involve cannibalism, reluctant perpetrators are judged guilty due to the fact that even the subjective need for survival cannot define moral decisions of conduct. In Auschwitz, there were no laws; it was simply the world of the jungle. Should prisoners be similarly held accountable for their heinous deeds based on a desperate need for survival?

To elaborate: Who has the authority to impose laws? In a world where no laws exist and where survival is the order of the day, what gives laws (assuming you think that they should exist at all) their specific authority? In other words, why should people follow a canon of laws in a world where no real authority exists and man’s only duty is for him to survive?

3. Despite the irrefutable evidence to the contrary, Mengele persisted in insisting that “I personally have not killed, injured or caused bodily harm to anyone.” (Baltimore Sun, June 14, 1985). Accepting that he honestly believed so, how can you explain Mengele’s assertions?

4. People are socialized to believe in certain particulars. It is excruciatingly difficult, if not impossible, to escape one’s socialization. The citizens of the Third Reich were fed certain notions by their most respected members of society. How was it possible for their children not to believe in these notions, and how could they be held accountable for believing and propagating them?

On the other hand, how was it possible that individuals had the ability and sense to refute ideas taught to them and to rebel even at the cost of their lives?

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