Note posted on August 18, 2021

If you had to choose only one of these options, which would it be?

  1. Be a soldier in an ongoing war effort.
  2. Stay home to take care of your ailing mother.

The former is for a larger cause with a smaller contribution. The latter is for a smaller cause with a larger contribution. Deciding between one or the other is a test in seeing the ways we find meaning in our own lives.

This is from a real scenario, when existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre advised a student on this (without giving a real answer). But as a thought experiment, it paints things too "black and white." Shouldn't there be some middle ground in how we find our meaning?

I recommend adding the following options.

  1. Take your mother off to war and care for her as you fight.
  2. Train your mother to be a soldier so she can care for herself and fight in the war.
  3. Find a way to escalate the war so your home country gets invaded. That way you can fight while staying home to care for your mother.
  4. Travel to an alternate dimension where your mother is still healthy. Swap that mother with your own and fight in the war guilt-free.
  5. Set your mother up on a dating site so her new boyfriend cares for her while you're at war.
  6. Set your mother up on a dating site for active soldiers so they'll bring her to the battlefront. They'll date and fall in love as the soldier fights. The extra motivation will help that soldier single-handedly end the war. They go off to enjoy domestic bliss.
  7. Spread propaganda that the best way to end the war is caring for your mother. The army will arrive and care for her, the war will end from lack of participation, and everyone is happy.

So now which option would you choose? It's still a moral quandary, but I'm leaning towards options five or eight. But, as in most philosophical dilemmas, there is no real answer.