The Ant and the Grasshopper

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What I wish to argue now is that the above reasoning is specious.

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That argument, I will try to show, is circular. What is supposed to explain the claim that the grasshopper is responsible for the dire straits he now finds himself in? But notice that this result is itself partly a product of the grasshopper being denied access to food that the ants have stored away.

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So, what justifies blaming the grasshopper for his empty stomach, rather than the ants? Thus, the grasshopper really only has himself to blame. But this is where the circularity comes in.

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The answer to the question of why it is the grasshopper himself who is to blame for his lack of food assumes that the ants had no obligation to let the grasshopper have some of their food. Maybe, as a way out, we should hold the grasshopper responsible for his plight on the grounds that, regardless of whether the ants are within their rights to deny him food, the grasshopper should have foreseen and taken into account that this was in fact what was likely to happen.

But this line of reasoning is not defensible. Suppose it is well-known that there is rampant sexism in a certain industry.


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If, despite this, a woman decides to enter this line of work, it would be morally perverse to hold that she has only herself to blame for any harassment or discrimination she experiences on the job. And it would be even more perverse to hold that she therefore has no right not to be treated in these ways. The idea that individuals should be forced to take responsibility for the consequences of their choices is commonly appealed to in support of an ideology according to which there is little to no social responsibility on the part of the community as a whole to provide for the welfare of its members.

In order to trace the responsibility for a given outcome back to some particular insect, then, we need to rely on a prior view about what sorts of things others are entitled to do or refuse to do. Our views about distributive justice have to come first—only then can we assign responsibility to private insects. Stephen White is an assistant professor of philosophy at Northwestern University , although this year he is visiting Princeton University as a faculty fellow at the University Center for Human Values right next door to the University Center for Ant Values.

He is currently working on a project about the ethical responsibilities that individuals have when it comes to their participation in collective actions and practices. Like Like. You are commenting using your WordPress. You are commenting using your Google account. You are commenting using your Twitter account. You are commenting using your Facebook account. Notify me of new comments via email. Notify me of new posts via email. In other words, one way to interpret the fable is to see it as expressing something like the following argument: The grasshopper made the choices he made, and is responsible for the consequences of those choices.

The Ants and the Grasshopper | PBS LearningMedia

Grasshoppers should suffer the negative consequences of choices for which they are responsible—or, at any rate, no one else has any moral obligation to help relieve them of these burdens, nor would a just legal order require anyone else to provide such help. Ants and the grasshopper. Image: Alex Wild What I wish to argue now is that the above reasoning is specious.

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