If whilst walking in the countryside you encounter a spider’s web that blocks your path, do you go around or do you break it?
Does it matter if the spider is present or absent?
What do you do?
Do you stop and consider that both you and spider are equally precious, the universe has yielded you both in the same big bang.
So what do you do, do you walk on by, finding a divergent route, or simply walk through it, breaking the tiny threads?
Likewise, if you see an insect struggling for life, trapped on the surface of a small pool of water, do you scoop it up and put it on a nearby leaf to let it dry out in the sun and continue its existence in the best way that it can.
In other words, do you cause suffering or do you alleviate it?
All choices can be reduced to this, do you cause suffering or do you alleviate it?
At home do you cause suffering or do you alleviate it?
At work do you cause suffering or do you alleviate it?
Socially, do you cause suffering or do you alleviate it?
If you live for virtue in the grand tradition of Stoicism then you must minimize suffering, to do so is to express virtue, to be virtuous is to live a good life. The whole point of philosophy is to determine what is a good life, so a good philosopher must be a moral philosopher.
The problem of Altruism
If you are a mystic and understand that all things are one, then you must alleviate suffering whenever you can, after all, to help another is to help yourself, because we’re all one thing. The problem of altruism has just been solved.
If you are a nihilist and believe in ‘nothing,’ then you must alleviate suffering whenever you can, after all, there is just one instance of ‘you,’ in the entire universe, despite the fact that there are many human beings, you are one of billions, just like the spider or the struggling insect your entire system of being is bound up in just one arrangement of atoms that you identify as you. If you were suffering you’d want someone to help you, if you were unable to help yourself, you’d appreciate the kindness of some random stranger. You’d want someone to scoop you out of the pond or not to tear down your home. You are nothing special but at the same time precious.
“When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive – to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.”
Virtue is the pursuit of personal excellence, all humans everywhere share common traits, wherever you go in the world it is considered ‘excellent,’ and beneficial to be kind, kindness alleviates suffering and springs from empathy, which is a mental state in which we experience the pain of others as our own pain, all suffering is pain, all kindness is the alleviation of pain.
Both spider and insect are equally sacred, as are all human beings.
“Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for a kindness”
Finally, we give the last words to Marcus Aurelius who says…
“Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one.