What if every student at Seton Hall ignored what they should do, such as throw a gum wrapper away, in order to serve the self-interest of remaining seated, and no harm resulted? Dr. Douglas Portmore explained how these collective behaviors can apply to the issue of climate change.
Portmore explored such scenarios, which he called collective action problems, in his lecture on March 21, as part of the philosophy department’s speaker series.
“These are cases where it is in each individual’s self-interest to refrain from doing his or her part in some collective enterprise, such as the collective enterprise of reducing global carbon emissions, even though everyone would be better off if we each refrained from acting self-interestedly and instead did our parts,” Portmore said.
According to Portmore, people often act in order to receive the best outcome for themselves. Individually speaking, such decisions cause little harm to others but once significant numbers begin to act selfishly, damaging repercussions occur.
“I might wonder ‘why should I vote if I won’t make a positive difference to the outcome of the election, especially when I could actually be making a positive difference doing something else’,” Dr. Travis Timmerman, the assistant philosophy professor who organized the lecture, said.“However, if everyone followed this chain of reasoning, then no one would vote and our democracy would be in shambles.”
Portmore argues that it is in the best interest of all of us to deny our selfish desires in order to contribute positively to the world.
“I think morality is something we should all think about, that we should all be discussing,” said Alexandra Ross, a senior pre-med and philosophy major who attended the lecture. “It’s an ongoing debate of whether our actions are moral or not. It’s always going to be relevant no matter what.”
By using examples that are recognizable to students, attendees explained that they were better able to understand the problems that climate change presents.
Freshman sociology major Kendra Campbell said the lecture “helped strengthen (her) opinion about how everyone should do their part.”
Portmore explained that he hopes the lecture encouraged students to think more deeply about contemporary environmental issues and their impact on our lives.
“I think that one of the most important questions any of us can ask or answer is how we should live our lives,” Portmore said. “I hope that students come away with an understanding of just how important collective action problems are, as well some ideas on how we might solve them.”
Payton Seda can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.