The Humanist Dilemma

Experiencing a humanist dilemma? Need advice from a humanist perspective?

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Un-Ethical Dilemmas: This isn’t really a question for your column; rather, it’s a question about your column. I often turn to it before I read other stuff from, and I appreciate the thoughtfulness of your answers, but I usually end up wondering why you present it as a column about ethical dilemmas.

Most of the questions seem to be about issues that are psychological, emotional, relational, or practical—or some combination of these. But they seldom seem to be specifically ethical—that is, they seldom ask: What would be the right thing to do in this situation, leaving the emotions and practicalities aside. Would this decision help or hurt others besides myself? What would be its implications?

I think those are the questions a column on ethics would be addressing. And so I think maybe yours needs a broader title, since obviously many people find it helpful for issues beyond specifically ethical ones. Just a thought. Thanks for a good column.

—Attentive Reader

Dear Reader,

You are absolutely right. So right, in fact, that we at conferred about your eloquent comments and decided that if the column is called “The Ethical Dilemma,” it should focus on strictly ethical questions and answers or, conversely, it should address the more inclusive parameters you recognized we’ve already been covering, but under a different name. We agreed to continue with the broader approach, and as a result, we have amended the title of the column to “The Humanist Dilemma.” Check out the cartoon that runs with the column—it has likewise been updated to reflect the modified focus.

Although we certainly continue to welcome and encourage questions that have an ethical, right/wrong component, we don’t plan to ever, as you observe, leave the emotions and practical considerations out of it. We also want to ponder the far-reaching implications of our suggestions, including not only whether they would help or hurt the letter-writers or anyone close to them, but also to consider ripple-effect consequences, such as what would happen “if everyone did that.”

The discussions in this column are intended to explore the gamut of the humanist condition. So if you have questions that seem more Dear Humanist than Dear Ethicist, you are encouraged to go ahead and submit them. There’s no need to compartmentalize ourselves into just the philosophical aspects of how to approach a problem when the humanist perspective can stretch to fit many scenarios.

So if you have an ethical dilemma, please send it in. And if you have a question that you’ve been holding back because it didn’t seem to fit within the confines of the Ethical Dilemma, feel free to ask away now. This column, which is celebrating its fourth birthday, has always been intended as a safe space where readers can air whatever they want, without worrying whether their concern conforms to a particular rubric.

Welcome to the Humanist Dilemma! We look forward to hearing from you.