Reclaiming Indifference

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Indifference is a challenge. Theoretically, it is not even clear whether it is at all possible to lack a preference between two knowingly different options; so that we might rather have to conceive of indifference dispositionally, as lack of motivation to act on weak preferences – Leibniz anticipated this: “…nor does it by any means require that one be absolutely and equally indifferent towards the two opposing courses” (Leibniz, Theodicy III: 302-303). Practically, indifference throws up multiple distributive questions: whether we think in terms of needs, wishes or indeed preferences, should indifferent people get a lesser share, given they don’t care? Poetry aside, this is a serious ethical, social and political question - since indifference already maps onto socio-economic status, we must resist further entrenching the privileges of “caring elites”. The following is, therefore, a call to arms: so much has been written on care, that it is time to think more about its negation: not caring = indifference. Caring is good, indifference is bad. Not many issues in ethics are as uncontroversial as that: in fact many argue, following Hannah Arendt, that being indifference towards someone is actually morally worse than having a negative attitude – see for example Norman Geras and his contract of mutual indifference (1998). And yet, there is a lot going for indifference once you think about it: indifference is an important cognitive mechanism when it comes to coping with information overload; this is particularly important within our hyper-commercialized - and increasingly also hyper-digitalized – societies, where the problem is more abundance than scarcity. It might be argued that the attitude of caring is intrinsically preferable to the attitude of ‘being indifferent’, but if in fact care and indifference are themselves normatively neutral and their value wholly dependent on their respective objects, then indifference has, over care, the advantage of epistemic efficiency. A version of this view is often associated with the Stoics, whose ethics wasn’t focused on – differently from most modern ethical theories – on the things we should care about but rather on the things we ought to be indifferent towards (Lillehammer 2014). Finally, what I call übercare has many dark sides: from healthcare (medicalization, citizens science) through education (helicopter parenting, private shools) and economics (financial activism, chronic low interest-rates) to politics (twitter-warriors, anti-vaxxers, asymmetrische Demobilisierung), I present multiple case studies in übercare meant to illustrate its dangers, thereby making the case for more – rather than less – indifference, especially when it comes to fighting inequality.
Original languageEnglish
Publication date2021
Publication statusPublished - 2021
EventFair Priority Setting -
Duration: 15 Nov 202116 Nov 2021


WorkshopFair Priority Setting
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