Strength in what remains: A journey for Remembrance and Forgiveness is a novel written by Tracy Kidder. She writes a story that covers a tale of Deogratias who was a young medical student from a central African nation called Burundi. Deogratias was forced to flee Burundi into a terrifying journey to an unknown land where he knew no one. His journey is split into two experiences. First, he travelled by foot for six months in a long escape that would redeem his life from the ethnic violence that had erupted in Burundi and also from a genocide that had started in Rwanda. Deogratias ends up in New York despite the fact that he did not expect his escape to lead him into a foreign land.† Deogratias was twenty-four years old and was also a third year medical student, in his country. This paper will look at the escape of Deogratias in relation to ethics and/ or moral philosophy.
Moral philosophy is an area of philosophy that is concerned with the theories of ethics and how human beings ought to live. It concerns the obligations that a human being has for himself as a person and also the obligation the he or she has for other human beings. In the explanation of issues, moral philosophy creates certain problems (Aristotle and Terence Irwin 197). This happens especially when it discusses logical issues, in a coherent manner. The moral questions that are asked by human beings in their everyday lives seem not to have direct answers except when different perspectives or philosophical orientations are applied. The answers to these issues can also be found when human beings apply their common sense and will to get the answer. All moral philosophers seek to answer questions of human existence and problems that are manifested between right and wrong, in definitive ways. Deogratias found himself in a problem that made him consider certain options. Just as the moral philosophy argues, human beings have an obligation for themselves and other human beings, Deogratias had a moral obligation for his own existence. The ethnic violence that was happening, in his country Burundi, was a matter of life and death (Kidder 89).† This scenario presented two circumstances for him. Deogratias was either to stay back and fight or run away to secure his life. If he chose to stay, this would mean that he had an obligation to fight for others who were in the same situation like him (Aristotle). It also meant that he would put his life in danger to secure the lives of others and to a certain extent, his own life. On the other hand, running away meant that Deogratias had an obligation to protect his own life. Despite the fact that running away was one of the two options that he had, it did not ascertain his security or life. This is because Deogratias was running away to a place or places that he did not know. He was not sure that the laces he would go to, were safe for him. However, this decision seemed the right thing to do with respect to the situation that he was in, at that moment (Kidder 76).
Moral relativists argue that morality is an aspect that depends on what a person whishes it to be. They also argue that morality is not tied to intrinsic qualities. In contrast, Moral realists argue that objective moral truth exists irrespective of the fact that people might believe in it or not. Therefore, we should consider the situation that Deogratias was in by linking it to the notion that our observation should be focused on the things that constitute the optimal survival strategy for human beings through natural selection. This was the issue of right and wrong can be understood through the best situation for his survival. Deogratias looked at the situation that he was facing and decided that the right decision to make was to escape. In his own country, the ethnic violence was consuming the lives of people. He neither had special skills nor was he immortal. He could either survive or die if he chose to remain behind. On the other side, his neighboring country, Rwanda had turned into a killing den for human beings because of the genocide that had broken up. He could not remain behind because his own country was dangerous and the genocide in Rwanda could break into his country. Therefore, he had to make a decision no matter how hard it was. For him, survival was the most important thing to fight for and also the right thing to do. If he chose to stay behind and fight for his life and that of the people he cared about, he could end up dead. This would be wrong not because of the decision, however, because of the outcome of the decision. Therefore, we can measure to a certain degree, the empirical validity of his decision to run away from his country. Running away increased his chances for survival and improved the overall condition of saving a life in that society. Therefore, the decision was good in more or less objective way (Bourke 96).
The second way that moral or ethical philosophy derives the morality of an action is through the emotive response that an action can produce from people (Aristotle and Terence Irwin 199). Essentially, the ethnic violence that was going on in Burundi and the genocide that was happening in Rwanda was not only atrocious but also torturous. Despite the fact that the response could be subjective and person oriented, the event was real. Because the responses of human beings to certain events are mostly similar, we can tie these responses and discuss them across social and cultural boundaries. Deogratias moved from Burundi and unknowingly to New York. Burundi and New York were two places that had different cultural and social values. However, the people in the two places could respond in similar ways towards the violence that was happening in Burundi. Therefore, moral philosophy allows people from different social and cultural backgrounds to make generalized agreements on things that ought to be right or wrong. In New York, Deogratias finds himself with 200 dollars only and does not know the English language that is widely used in the city. He decides to struggle to survive on the streets rather than go back to his country. He even sleeps in a deserted tenement located in Harlem. However, his will for survival helps him get a job that pays him 15 dollars a day. He does not give up, but works hard by delivering groceries for Gristedes; that is, a supermarket chain. Despite the fact that many Africans were fleeing from their countries to America, thus widening the already existed nightmares, Deogratias move was right because it was a matter of life and death. It cannot be considered as wrong, for the reason that he was coming to America to cause more problems for the citizens.
Socrates was one of the most interesting and influential thinkers of the fifth century. He dedicated his work to careful reasoning that transformed the whole enterprise. In his arguments, Socrates sought genuine knowledge and truth as opposed to mere victory. To achieve this, Socrates subjected everything to question. He did not accept anything less than adequate and exact account of the nature of the things that he put under scrutiny. As a moral philosopher, Socrates came up with the Ethics of Socrates that featured his arguments.† In Strength in What Remains by Tracy Kidder, the ethics of Socrates can apply to Deogratias case. Socrates sought to find universal truth by using varying opinions. In Deogratias case, it is true that Deogratias was running away from ethnic violence in his country. He could not stay because it is true that the violence threatened his life. This truth is universal in the sense that any ethnic violence is life threatening to the people who live where the violence takes place (Polt 108). This event can be subjected to questing. For instance, we might ask, was it right for Deogratias to flee his country to an unknown destination? Was it sensible for Deogratias to live his home country and travel to New York to suffer? Sleeping in abandoned tenement? Did the ethnic violence justify his escape? These questions can lead us to truths about Deogratias escape. The knowledge of the truth found from the above question can then lead us to virtuous actions. In this sense, the virtue of the actions of Deogratias can be understood through truth as a source of knowledge. Therefore, by holding the truth that Deogratias life would be in danger if he did not escape was the right decision to make irrespective of the fact that it caused him disfavor of getting out of his country out of will (Aristotle and Terence Irwin 204).
Aristotle is another philosopher that talks about moral philosophy through his notion of Nicomachean ethics. He argues that something that is good is the thing that everything else aims at. Everything good is wished for because of the good in it. In addition, happiness is the reason why people wish for some things to happen. Therefore, Deogratias escape was a good act because it could ensure his safety and provide happiness for him. The ethnic violence that was happening in his country was a sad thing and was not good because it is not what he aimed for. Aristotle also argues that the good in an action is that which happens for the sake of which other things are done. In this respect, Deogratiasí action was good because he wanted to secure his life. Therefore, he had to escape for that purpose.† Aristotleís idea of ethic is also tied in the notion that, for the best good, people must first locate the purpose of a human being. In the Deogratias' case, escaping was an action of finding his function as a human being. His escape granted him a chance for survival in New York. He was looking for a chance to preserve the part of his soul that has reason. He did this by thinking and reasoning through his intellect. His escape shows that he used his intellect to figure out that if he stayed in his county he would be killed. Virtue as stated by Aristotle is that which makes a person to do an activity well. Deogratias not only escapes but struggles to find his way in New York, a city he did not understand. In addition, he did not understand the English language that was widely used in New York. However, this does not deter him from finding a job; therefore, his action was virtuous (Aristotle and Terence Irwin 225).
In conclusion, Deogratiasí action can be considered to be moral. As described and explained above, it is an action best exemplified through moral philosophy. The ethics of Socrates and Aristotleís Nicomachean ethics help in understanding the action of Deogratias in response to the ethnic violence that had erupted in Burundi and the genocide that had erupted in the neighboring country, Rwanda.