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A thought inspired by Monday’s Daf (page) in the Talmud, Nedarim 48

A thought inspired by Monday’s Daf (page) in the Talmud, Nedarim 48

Do we care about the public good as much as the good of our own group?

This post presents a philosophical idea inspired by the text of today’s Daf. The Daf is one page in the Talmud that tens of thousands of people study each day. I explain the connection to the text in a comment below. My purpose is to show that there are underlying philosophical assumptions in the Talmud that can have great significance for anybody today trying to understand our complex reality.

On the one hand, there is the welfare of my family, my group or my town. On the other hand, there is the welfare of the public or of all human beings. My country might figure in the first list or I might see it as part of the second list, depending on the context.

We see the world in terms of these groupings. We care about them to a lesser or greater extent. We see ourselves as being part-owners of the property that these groupings own.

Sociologists use the word “collectivity” to refer to a set of people (could be small or large) as opposed to a social group or community. There are a number of differences between a collectivity and a community but there is no well-defined border and attitudes will differ from one member of the set to another. A collectivity implies less sense of belonging, community “spirit”, shared goals and mutual caring than does the term community.

There might be some geographic territory that defines a collectivity (for example, a country). There might be a singe set of laws or moral norms that apply to this collective but not to others. Philosophers or anthropologists might study the beliefs or assumptions of a collection of people. However, this may or may not involve caring or even a relationship between the members of the collective.

An individual might struggle for their own interests within a collective with less guilt (or feeling of guilt) than within a community. For example, taxes are generally seen as rules limited by their exact wording or even the level of enforcement likely. If you can pay less without explicit violation of the wording or even “cheat” in a way that cannot be found out, then many people might find that acceptable.

Other individuals may be seen as opponents within the community. They may work to promote their interests at the expense of yours. There might be enforcement agents within the community that restrict your interests without caring about you at all. There will be places that you have no access to on pain of punishment if you trespass.

Distinctions can be helpful for understanding our world. However, in this case, it is how these distinctions break down that are very interesting. What is your attitude towards other members of your family? Are you behaving as a collective or as a small community?

How do you see your city or country, as a collective, or as community? How does that impact your feelings regarding your own actions or those of others in your nation? I suggest that this is different from person to person but also always changing within a single person depending on the context, recent experiences and history for that person.

On the other hand, humanity as a whole is just a collective. What would the world look like if more people saw it as a community?

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Source: Reditt