Every age has its pet contradictions. A few decades back, we used to accept Marx and Freud together, and then wonder, like the chameleon on the turkey carpet, why life was so confusing. Today there is similar trouble over the question whether there is, or is not, something called Human Nature. On the one hand, there has been an explosion of animal behavior studies, and comparisons between animals and men have become immensely popular. People use evidence from animals to decide whether man is naturally aggressive, or naturally territorial; even whether he has an aggressive or territorial instinct. Moreover, we are still much influenced by Freudian psychology, which depends on the notion of instinct. On the other hand, many still hold what may be called the Blank Paper view, that man is a creature entirely without instincts. So do Existentialist philosophers. If man has no instincts, all comparison with animals must be irrelevant. (Both these simple party lines have been somewhat eroded over time, but both are still extremely influential.)
According to the Blank Paper view, man is entirely the product of his culture. He starts off infinitely plastic, and is formed completely by the society in which he grows up. There is then no end to the possible variations among cultures; what we take to be human instincts are just the deep-dug prejudices of our own society. Forming families, fearing the dark, and jumping at the sight of a spider are just results of our conditioning. Existentialism at first appears a very different standpoint, because the Existentialist asserts man’s freedom and will not let him call himself a product of anything. But Existentialism too denies that man has a nature; if he had, his freedom would not be complete. Thus Sartre insisted that “there is no human nature …. Man first of all exists, encounters himself, surges up in the world, and defines himself afterwards. If man as the Existentialist sees him is not definable, it is because to begin with he is nothing. He will not be anything until later, and then he will be what he makes himself.” For Existentialism there is only the human condition, which is what happens to man and not what he is born like. If we are afraid of the dark, it is because we choose to be cowards; if we care more for our own children than for other people’s, it is because we choose to be partial. We must never talk about human nature or human instincts. This implicit moral notion is still very influential, not at all confined to those who use the metaphysic of essence and existence. So I shall sometimes speak of it, not as Existentialist, but as Libertarian ― meaning that those holding it do not just (like all of us) think liberty important, but think it supremely important and believe that our having a nature would infringe it.
Philosophers have not yet made much use of informed comparison with other species as a help in the understanding of man. One reason they have not is undoubtedly the fear of fatalism. Another is the appalling way terms such as instinct and human nature have been misused in the past. A third is the absurdity of some ethological propaganda.
Some psychologists and sociologists believe that psychopathy can be an asset in business and politics and that, as a result, psychopathic traits are overrepresented among successful people. This would be a puzzle if it were so. If our moral feelings evolved through natural selection, then it shouldn‘t be the case that one would flourish without them. And, in fact, the successful psychopath is probably the exception. Psychopaths have certain deficits. Some of these are subtle. The psychologist Abigail Marsh and her colleagues find that psychopaths are markedly insensitive to the expression of fear. Normal people recognize fear and treat it as a distress cue, but 13 psychopaths have problems seeing it, let alone responding to it appropriately. Other deficits run deeper. The overall lack of moral sentiments—and specifically, the lack of regard for others—might turn out to be the psychopath‘s downfall. We non-psychopaths are constantly assessing one another, looking for kindness and shame and the like, using this information to decide whom to trust, whom to affiliate with. The psychopath has to pretend to be one of us. But this is difficult. It‘s hard to force yourself to comply with moral rules just through a rational appreciation of what you are expected to do. If you feel like strangling the cat, it‘s a struggle to hold back just because you know that it is frowned upon. Without a normal allotment of shame and guilt, psychopaths succumb to bad impulses, doing terrible things out of malice, greed, and simple boredom. And sooner or later, they get caught. While psychopaths can be successful in the short term, they tend to fail in the long term and often end up in prison or worse. Let‘s take a closer look at what separates psychopaths from the rest of us. There are many symptoms of psychopathy, including pathological lying and lack of remorse or guilt, but the core deficit is indifference toward the suffering of other people. Psychopaths lack compassion. To understand how compassion works for all of us non-psychopaths, it‘s important to distinguish it from empathy. Now, some contemporary researchers use the terms interchangeably, but there is a big difference between caring about a person (compassion) and putting yourself in the person‘s shoes (empathy).
I am too much of an adaptationist to think that a capacity as rich as empathy exists as a freak biological accident. It most likely has a function, and the most plausible candidate here is that it motivates us to care about others. Empathy exists to motivate compassion and altruism. Still, the link between empathy (in the sense of mirroring another‘s feelings) and compassion (in the sense of feeling and acting kindly toward another) is more nuanced than many people believe. First, although empathy can be automatic and unconscious—a crying person can affect your mood, even if you‘re not aware that this is happening and would rather it didn‘t—we often choose whether to empathize with another person. So when empathy is present, it may be the product of a moral choice, not the cause of it. Empathy is also influenced by what one thinks of the other person. Second, empathy is not needed to motivate compassion. As the psychologist Steven Pinker points out, “If a child has been frightened by a barking dog and is howling in terror, my sympathetic response is not to howl in terror with her, but to comfort and protect her” Third, just as you can have compassion without empathy, you can have empathy without compassion. You might feel the person‘s pain and wish to stop feeling it—but choose to solve the problem by distancing yourself from that person instead of alleviating his or her suffering. Even otherwise good people sometimes turn away when faced with depictions of pain and suffering in faraway lands, or when passing a homeless person on a city street.
A student approached a faculty pleading to increase his marks because failure in one more subject will result in the student having to leave the program. The faculty said, “I am sorry. But I cannot change your grades as it would be unfair to others”.
In the given circumstance, which of the following best describes the faculty?
A pastor had eaten at restaurant with his troup of ten and his family. It is a norm to tip the waiter and about 20% of a waiter’s salary comes from these tips. However, while paying the bill, the pastor crossed out the automatic 18% tip charged for parties of more than eight and wrote “I give God 10% why do you get 18%?” above his signature. The chagrined waitress at the restaurant posted a photo of this on the social media. She was subsequently fired for violating company’s policy on customer privacy.
This would have been understandable if the restaurant had not posted just 2 weeks ago a customer receipt that was complimenting them. Social media and social activists came heavily upon the management’s ambivalent stand and the firing of the waitress. In response, the company posted a note on their social media page defending their actions. This quickly drew over 10,000 comments, mostly negative, to which the management started responding by posting the same note over and over again. There were also accusations of the company deleting negative comments and blocking users. The restaurant also experienced a sizable drop in their footfall.
The downward spiral continued for the restaurant as the management persisted in defending their actions and argued with those who criticised them. By the following week, the original post had generated over 18,000 negative comments.
Which of the following is the best way forward for the restaurant at this juncture?
Vimla is the domestic help for Shreya and her neighbour Padma; both live in a posh gated community. Vimla not only cleans the house, but also cooks for both the families. Shreya treasures Vimla ever since she joined her family four years ago. Vimla joined Padma’s household this year.
One evening Shreya trying to pay the pizza delivery was surprised to find a few five hundred rupee notes missing from her purse that she was sure were there earlier. She wants to ascertain if someone has stolen the money. On reflecting, the following facts crossed her mind:
1.In the last one year, Shreya had noticed cash missing on three occasions.
2.Shreya’s husband also shared that a few notes were missing from his wallet, though he was not sure if they were stolen.
3.Her eldest son had been pestering Shreya for more pocket money for the last three weeks; in the last few days, he had stopped doing so.
4.In the last one year, Vimla had received six mails from her family asking for money.
5.Her eldest son’s expenditure had gone up in the last few days.
Which of the following combinations of the above statements would DECREASE the likelihood that Vimla has stolen the money?
Padma discovered some money missing from her purse. She suspects that Vimla has stolen it. She wants to prevent the stealing from happening again and is contemplating the following actions:
1.She should let it pass, since to err is human.
2.She should confront Vimla and tell her that she knows the truth and the act is unpardonable regardless of her past service and she is thinking of terminating her services.
3.She should tell Vimla that she is aware someone has stolen money from the house but is not sure who it is.
4.She should share with Vimla that neighbours think Vimla has stolen the money she doesn’t, but is interested in finding out the truth.
5.She should directly ask Vimla if she stole the money, promising her no punishment if she confesses.
Arrange the following combinations of the above actions in the DECREASING order of appropriateness.
For the following questions answer them individually
Analyse the following caselet and answer the question that follows:
Genius Consulting is a boutique consulting firm started by Shirish, Balram, Rahman and Xavier, four friends from a premier business school. They committed themselves to abide by two principles: a) not to indulge in anything unethical and b) share earnings equally.
Genius Consulting could not get a significant project till the following year, when they managed a big one after Rahman’s father referred their firm to his top management. Convinced of the team’s talent following an impressive presentation, the top management awarded them the project even though six other referred teams made presentations.
The day following the presentations, they met to decide the way forward for the organization. Which of the following choices would be the most appropriate for Genius Consulting?
Mrs Biswas was to retire in one year after serving in the construction department of the Gujarat government for more than thirty years. After retirement, she wanted to spend her retired life along with Mr Biswas, a retired school teacher in a small town in Kerala. They had two children, both studying in Bengaluru. The Biswas’ wished to construct a house in Kerala with their life savings.
The couple gathered information about owning a house in Kerala. They had four options:
1.Buy a fully furnished house from a big developer.
2.Buy a semi-furnished house from big developer and furnish it.
3.Get a local unregistered contractor to construct a house and furnish it.
4.Mr Biswas with inputs from the family could supervise the construction of a house back in Kerala by employing the best material, engineers, masons and labourers.