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Moral Adaptability In The Periodic Table By Primo Levi

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Moral adaptability. According to ancient ethics, the term seems to be an oxymoron: after all, how can set moral principles be “adaptable”? The classical Aristotelian thinkers suggest that the morality of an act is objective, as a virtuous life can be derived by adhering to the moral principles conceived by region or community. In contrast, contemporary ethicists relegate the definitive good or evil to the margins, and morality becomes subjective, a matter of self-expression and self-creation. In modern morality, moral adaptability occurs whenever one adjusts the ethical principles in accordance to the circumstance one is confronted with. In The Periodic Table, Primo Levi explores an attitude of morality that helped his and others’ survival…show more content…
Prior to when the Nazi party took control of the government, Levi was a respectable and sociable youth. However in chapter Iron, his segregation became significant “a few months before, the racial laws against the Jews had been proclaimed, and [he] too was becoming a loner (p.40).” When Levi attempted to apply for research assistant at his university in Potassium,“Some of [professors] snidely or even arrogantly told [him] that the racial laws prohibited it; others fell back on hazy or flimsy excuses (p.53)” By conventional ethics, the action of Levi’s classmates and professors would be considered immoral as one should lend a helping hand when others are in grave situations. However, by examining the dire circumstances of WWII, many people feared that they would too suffer if they were associated with the persecuted. In Eastern Europe, those who helped Jews were executed along with their entire family. Notices warning the population against helping the Jews were posted everywhere. In consequence, this made it difficult for ordinary people to defy the rules. By looking though the lens of holocaust bystanders, it was in their best interest of surviving a turmoil period by behaving selfishly. Biologist Garrett Hardin demonstrates in his essay, Discriminating Altruisms, groups that practice unlimited altruism, unfettered by thoughts of self-preservation, will be disadvantaged in life’s competition and thus eliminated over time in favour of those who limit their altruistic behaviour. It was necessary for bystanders of the holocaust to adapt their moral spectrum when their survival was in
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