Philosophy in Focus: Should we be here?

Should we be here?

The world is overwhelming. In trying to balance being an active, thoughtful citizen with maintaining a certain level of sanity, it is helpful to turn to philosophers, who pondered overwhelming subjects regularly. Philosophy is a generally misunderstood field, and one that I knew almost nothing about, so I was quick to dismiss it. But with information thrown at us from every direction, trying to process it all is a Herculean task; I’m starting to think that having a way to break it down into more digestible pieces might not be such a bad idea. 

This week’s question examines whether we should be here at all, “here” being Tufts’ campus and the communities of Medford, Somerville and Boston, and “we” being those of us present in those communities. While not everyone has a ‘somewhere else’” that would be conducive to the intellectual curiosity that Tufts holds so dear, Tufts gave its students the choice to come to campus, and many took it. This brings us to the final piece of the question: “should.”

A philosopher loves a “should” question. It hits deep in our ethical and moral judgements and leaves us making choices that we often understand but can’t explain. Every big name has a different method for addressing these questions and putting rhyme and reason to the gut reactions we all have to them. Today’s big name is Jeremy Bentham. He thought you could look at any action and quantify how much happiness it puts into the world versus how much pain. Any action whose happiness index outweighs the pain it creates will be considered good (the things we should do), and the opposite ones considered bad (the ones we shouldn’t). While the logic is easy to follow, the conclusions may be difficult to reach.

We can put Bentham’s idea to work on our original question: should we be here? First, the happiness index: we are offered time with friends, a beautiful campus, in-person classes, more academic resources, proximity to the city and actual face time with professors and mentors, among other things. On the other hand, we risk getting sick and putting others in danger, we wear masks at all times and we plan our weeks around routine testing.

Should we be here? “Should” is a tough word to answer definitely, and perhaps it’s still up for debate (and likely will be for a long time). I know I will feel better about the decision if I see Bentham satisfied, so I’ll try to throw some extra weight on the good side of the scale each day I’m allowed to be here. My advice to you? Take everything this campus has to offer you, and put it to use in those changes you’re already making in the world right now. As long as we wear our masks, respect our neighboring communities and socially distance, we are standing on the good side of the scale.