BETTER LIVING THROUGH KANTISTRY

ETHICALLY SPEAKING, I’M PRETTY much all over the place.

I would never admit it to anyone, especially not to my old ethics professor, but my ethics often depends on my mood.

And no, I wouldn’t say I’m an emotivist.

Even an emotivist has consistent principles.

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I have more of a whatever happens happens kind of ethics.

Some people say that’s treating ethics like a buffet. You pick and choose only what you want to eat.

I had a professor who called it theory shopping.
Well, if theory shopping is what I’m doing, then color me a shopaholic.

 

For many years I called myself a Kantian Egoist. My first blog was called The Kantian Egoist. I still kind of consider myself a practitioner of Kantian egoism.

…and it doesn’t violate the categorical imperative.

Now, anybody who has ever tried it, knows that adopting a purely Kantian ethics lifestyle is next to impossible. Anyone who wants to keep friends would ever tell an axe murderer that the murderer’s intended victim is hiding in a closet.

Even Rahab lied to protect the Israelites.

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That’s kind of where the egoism comes in.

But there’s a problem with egoism.

To wit: this problem with egoism is this

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She’s not the only egoist-slash-objectivist, but she’s certainly the most famous one. And if I have any goal in life, it is to not be associated with being a devotee of Atlas Shrugged or The Fountainhead.

Besides, being an egoist just makes everybody hate you.

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I’ve tried virtue ethics. I’ve done moral relativism. I dabbled in moral nihilism and at various times called myself a practitioner of hedonism, and of classical, act, and rule utilitarianism.

Still…I just can’t get over my fondness for Kantianism.

Don’t get me wrong…I’m not gaga over everything Kant.

There’s not enough bitcoin I could mine to pay me to slog through Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason again.

It’s a book of pure something, but it ain’t reason.

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I may be guilty of a philosophical sin, here, but I prefer Kant’s ethics over his metaphysics.

Yeah, I know. They’re connected.

How could one POSSIBLY be a fan of the categorical imperative without also accepting transcendental idealism as the end-all be-all of philosophical metaphysics????

I know, right?!?!?

You see, I spent exactly 3.7 years as a practicing utilitarian and all I got for it was a mess of bad decisions motivated by the expectation of good consequences.

I did more than a little bit of bad trying to do the greatest good.

The best-laid plans of mice and men, eh?

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Utilitarian ethics is all based on calculating consequences, and I suck at math.

That’s precisely why I like Kantian ethics. It’s so cut and dry. No consequences. No evading my moral responsibilities with a that wasn’t supposed to happen, or it seemed like a good idea at the time.

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Kantian ethics is pretty (somewhat) easy.

Ok. I know what you’re going to say: “The Mindless Philosopher, you said, not more than a few semi-paragraphs ago, that, anybody who has ever tried it, knows that adopting a purely Kantian ethics lifestyle is next to impossible.’

Yes, I did say that.

As counterintuitive as it may seem, the fact that a theory is difficult to practice as a lifestyle doesn’t necessarily mean that the theory isn’t easy to practice on paper – aka, the place where all good philosophical theories work best.

Allow me to give an example.

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Because of your all-consuming railroad track fetish, you spend countless, unproductive hours staring at train tracks, waiting for “something” to happen. One day, while observing your favorite pair of diverging rail tracks, you spot on one track, Track A, a group of five people who have been lashed to the rails. On the other track, Track B, your five-year-old child has taken up the family tradition of hanging out on busy railroad tracks for no good reason. A large freight train is racing down the track. Your option is to pull a lever that diverts the train down either Track A) the track with the group of five, or down Track B) the track with your weird kid.
YOU must pull the lever to decide which track (A or B) the freight train takes. Do you save your kid and kill five people, or do you kill your ONE kid and save the five?

This is, of course, the famous (or infamous) Trolley Problem thought experiment. The thought experiment is intended to test utilitarian ethics.

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The utilitarian’s decision, to pull the lever to send the train down Track A or Track B, depends on what the utilitarian believes will bring about the best consequences e.g., the greatest good for the greatest number.

Now, can Kantian ethics solve the Trolley Problem? No, not necessarily. But – the problem with utilitarian ethics is, despite our most calculated calculations, we might arrive at the wrong outcome.

Our initial utilitarian instinct when dealing with the Trolley Problem is to say that our utilitarian duty would require us to sacrifice the one life to save the lives of the five.

The net good of saving five people is greater than the net good of saving one person.

…because five is more than one.

But wait a minute… utilitarian ethics requires us to calculate the right course of action based on expected consequences. Of course, because human knowledge is limited, we can’t know what the consequence of an action will be. Utilitarian ethics is, at best, based on speculation.

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There’s no way we can know that your weird five-year-old child (the one we decided to kill to save the five) would grow up to discover the cure for herpes, saving millions from the pain and embarrassment associated with the disease.

There’s no way we can know that one of the five people we saved was a serial killer, who promptly rewarded your kindness by slaughtering you and the other four people you saved.

…along with a few more people.

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That would not be the greatest good for the greatest number.

Fortunately for us, Kant does not require us to speculate consequences.

Kant’s ethics is based entirely on DUTY.

Consequences be damned, Kant says, we do what we do because it is the right thing to do.

It’s the right thing to do because the categorical imperative tells us so.

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Kant’s Categorical Imperatives are absolute and non-negotiable. They hold for all people, under all circumstances, at all times.

There are four formulations (are there four? I know there’s at least three) of the Categorical Imperative, but the most important (at least the most well-known) is the first formulation:

Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law.   

There’s also the second formulation of the Categorical Imperative:

Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never as merely means to an end, but always at the same time as an end.

 

That is, don’t use people to get things that benefit only you.

If you just take formulations one and two, it’s virtually impossible to do anything wrong!
And there’s absolutely no need to worry about consequences because you won’t be doing anything bad in the first place!

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You won’t cheat on your spouse or on your taxes because we wouldn’t want to make infidelity or cheating on taxes universal law.

You won’t want to use people to your own advantage because people are not here as mere means to our ends.

…and we wouldn’t want to make using people a universal law.

So many bad decisions would be prevented with the simple question “Would I want everyone to do this?”

If the answer is no, don’t do it.

But…what about that trolley, tho?

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Now, if we’re utilitarian, we’d strain a muscle patting ourselves on the back for our morally correct decision making. After all, we saved the lives of five people. The Kantian, on the other hand, does not engage in such muscle training activity. Namely, because the Kantian realizes that

YOU KILLED SOMEONE.

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Remember: for Kant, the consequence does not matter. What matters is the principle that got you to what you did. If you flip the switch, are you using the one as a mere means to the ends of the other five? Would we want to say it’s ok for everybody to disregard one life because it makes other people feel good? *

You see, just as Kant would not want us to lie to the axe murderer, because lying is a violation of moral principles, we can’t violate our moral principles just because it is expedient for us to do so. Kant tells us that we must respect the lives of all (rational autonomous) beings, and that we cannot, no matter what beneficial consequences might result from our actions, violate the autonomy of a fellow rational being.

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If we believe that it is morally wrong to kill, it is always wrong to kill – no exceptions.

I guess the Kantian would just walk away, or something.

…or ask an egoist to pull the lever.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*I am aware that there is an argument to be made that Kant would pull the lever. I am not making that argument. Play along.

So I Married A Kant Murderer

SINCE BEING A PHILOSOPHER means I have no social life, I spent a lazy afternoon a few days ago, watching the movie The Purge.
I’m usually not inclined to watch movies like The Purge (i.e. movies that are obviously made in the post-Saw era), but since there was nothing else on TV, I settled for watching a movie that I wouldn’t feel too badly about losing a couple of hours of my life if I watched it.

 

fat guy watching TV

WHAT’S A COUPLE OF HOURS? IT’S NOT LIKE A SEDENTARY LIFESTYLE IS HARMFUL OR ANYTHING

 
if you haven’t seen The Purge (I’m still not so sure if that would be a good thing or a bad thing), the movie takes place in the not-too-distant future.

 

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UNFORTUNATELY THERE ARE NO ‘BOTS IN THE PURGE

 

The new government, in the wake of an economic collapse, sets up a system that, on one night of the year American citizens are permitted to commit acts of violence from 7 pm to 7 am – the Purge.

Apparently the Purge is just what the country needed, as crime is lower and the economy improves.

And as a special bonus, all those people that society doesn’t want are purged.

 

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PICTURED: PURGABLE PERSON

The movie’s protagonists are James Sandlin, his wife and two children. They, unlike those people society wants purged, are rich. The family is armed, the house is well fortified, and so long as no one opens a door to let someone in the family is in no danger of anyone purging them.
All goes according to plan – well, almost according to plan.

James shoots and kills his daughter’s boyfriend.

Whoops.

 

purge 1

THAT MOMENT WHEN YOU REALIZE THE GUY YOU JUST SHOT IS — WAS YOUR DAUGHTER’S BOYFRIEND

 

Anyway, all goes according to plan until James’ son sees a man being chased down by an armed mob. Even though he knows that he’s risking the lives of his family, the boy decides to disarm the home security system and saves the man by letting the man inside the Sandlin’s home.

 

 

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The leader of the murderous group demands that the family hand over the purge-worthy man and warn the Sandlin family if they do not hand their over their prey, the would-be killers will have no other choice but to break into the house and kill the family.

 

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So… at this point in the movie, there’s a group of murderers who want to kill a man who is hiding in a home and the occupants of the home have to decide what is the right thing to do.
Now, I’m usually not prone to thinking of movies like The Purge philosophically, but as I was stretched out on my sofa, watching an otherwise underwhelming social commentary/sci-fi/ horror flick, I realized that the situation I was watching on my TV screen got me feeling a little philosophicalish.*

I was suddenly struck by the thought of a single name:

Immanuel Kant.

 

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THIS GUY

 

And the situation I thought of was the axe murderer scenario.

The scenario goes a little like this:

You’re at home. Your friend arrives at your front door and tells you that he is being chased by someone who wants to kill him. You tell your friend to hide in a closet. Soon after, a man carrying an axe knocks on your door and demands to know where your friend is, so that he may kill him. You lie to the killer, telling the axe-wielding killer that your friend is not in your home. The killer leaves, in search of your friend elsewhere.

 

Kind of like the axe murderer scenario, the Sandlin family in The Purge offers a man a hiding place when he is being pursued by a group of killers.

But unlike Kant’s killer, the killers in The Purge do not leave.

 

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They break into the house, ultimately killing the father and allowing the Sandlin’s homicidal neighbors to enter the house.

 

 

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Thus proving that bad things will happen to you and your family when you don’t hand over a man to someone who wants to kill him.

The axe murderer scenario, as described in Immanuel Kant’s “On A Supposed Right to Lie From Altruistic Motives”, instructs us on the dangers (moral and in the real world) of lying.
According to Kant, lying is morally impermissible.

And not just little white lies – all lies.
Kant’s ethics are deontological, that is, for Kant, moral principles are absolute and universal. We act, not because of we want our acts to yield a particular result, but because we are morally bound to act, regardless of what we want to happen.

And because Kant’s ethics are based on moral duty, there are no exceptions to moral rules and we don’t consider consequences.

 

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Kant’s ethical theory is kinda pedantic so I’m gonna skip over a few details.

 

scumbag kant
The important thing to know is that Immanuel Kant’s ethics includes a set of moral principles called the Categorical Imperative. The Categorical Imperative consists of a handful of formulations.

We need only focus on the first formulation.

The Formulation from Universal Law.

The First Formulation states:

 

Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become universal law.

 

 

That means, before we do any act we should ask: Would I make it so that it is morally permissible for everyone else to do this?

 

c.i.

 

When we apply Kant’s First Formulation to lying, it quickly becomes apparent that the act of lying isn’t morally permissible according to the Categorical Imperative.

The problem with lying or being deceptive is that lying ultimately undermines the purpose of our moral principle.

In Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, Kant writes

 

Immediately I see that I could will the lie but not a universal law to lie. For with such a law there would be no promises at all, inasmuch as it would be futile to make a pretense of my intention in regard to future actions to those who would not believe this pretense or -if they overhastily did so- would pay me back in my own coin. Thus my maxim would necessarily destroy itself as soon as it was made a universal law.

You see, although we may feel that it’s morally wrong to hand the man over, Kant says we can’t allow our sentiments to get in our way (Our well intentions may cause more trouble. There’s a reason why they say the road to hell is paved with good intentions). We must act only from duty.
Ok. I know what you’re saying. The characters in The Purge didn’t lie. Everybody knew that the man was hiding in the Sandlin family’s house so Kant’s Categorical Imperative isn’t applicable to the movie’s situation.

By the way, did that man even have a name?

 

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SERIOUSLY, DOES THIS CHARACTER HAVE A NAME? IF YOU KNOW WHAT THIS DUDE’S NAME IS, EMAIL ME AT philosophyismindless@gmail.com WITH THE ANSWER

 

Well, if that’s what you said, you would be kind of right. The moral dilemma in The Purge doesn’t have anything to do with someone telling a lie.

But here’s the thing that is applicable:

The part of Categorical Imperative that is applicable to The Purge is the part about why Kant tells us that we shouldn’t lie. We shouldn’t lie because evaluating the rightness or wrongness of an act requires us to assign moral culpability.

That is to say, a part of determining what is right or wrong or good or evil, is figuring out who bears the moral blame.

 

BLAME

 

When we lie to save someone, Kant tells us, our good motives (however intentional) may facilitate another morally bad act.

And if we facilitate a moral wrong, Kant says we bear part of the moral blame for what happens.

And in The Purge, the act of saving one man (we presume a moral, if not legally wrong act) kind of, sort of leads to the death of another person.

Kant states

For instance, if by telling a lie you have prevented murder, you have made yourself legally responsible for all the consequences, but if you have held vigorously to the truth, public justice can lay no hand on you, whatever the unforeseen consequences may be. After you have honestly answered the murderer’s question as to whether the intended victim is at home, it may be that he has slipped out so that he does not come in the way of the murderer, and thus that the murder may not be committed. But if you had lied and said that he was not at home when he had really gone out without you knowing it, and if the murderer had then met him as he went away and murdered him, you might justly be accused as the cause of his death.

 

 

If we (mis) apply Kant’s Categorical Imperative to The Purge, the Sandlin family (or at least the son) is on the hook for the death of the father, which wouldn’t have happened if they had just opened the door (aka: fulfilled their duty as citizens) and let the man be purged.

 

CHARLIE SANDLIN

SO FAR AS I CAN TELL, IT’S ALL THIS KID’S FAULT

 

After all, that would have been the socially correct thing to do.

Which brings me to another, final point.

Remember how Kant says that we shouldn’t lie because if everyone tells lies, our ethical principles undermine themselves?

 

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In the axe murderer scenario, Kant tells us if lying is universal law, the axe murderer will know you’re lying when you tell him that your friend is not hiding in your house, and because he knows you’re lying, he’s not going to trust you. And because he doesn’t trust you, he may decide to wait out your friend and kill him when your friend feels it’s safe to leave.

Lying, for Kant, is corrosive to the foundations of society.

If everyone lies we have no reason to believe that anyone is telling the truth.

And when you believe someone isn’t telling the truth, you can’t trust them.

And trust in one’s fellow man is one of the foundations of civilized society.

 

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Well (and this is a bit of a stretch here), we can argue that the Sandlin family’s failure to adhere to the rules of the Purge undermines the foundations of society in the same way as a lie.

If everyone decided that they wanted to save people from the Purge, no one would be purged.

 

 

CHARLIE SANDLIN

YEP. THIS KID RUINS EVERYTHING

 

And, according to the film’s New Founding Fathers, without the Purge, society would collapse into criminality and economic strife.

And, criminality and economic strife destroys civilized society.

Ultimately, what is the purpose of the Purge if everyone ignores the rules decides to do whatever they feel is the right thing to do?
Wait a minute. Isn’t that the plot of the sequel?
I guess I know what I’ll be watching on Netflix tonight.

 

 

 

 
* I’m going to warn you at this point that the philosophizing that is to come is not a precise interpretation of Kant’s moral philosophy. The movie merely got me thinking about Kant’s axe murderer scenario, not about an exact interpretation of the Categorical Imperative in film (of which I sure there are many).

 

 

 

SOURCES:

Click to access Kant.pdf

 

Immanuel Kant. Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals. 1997 [orig. published 1785]. 2nd ed. Trans. Lewis White Beck. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc. p. 19.

On the Intentional Ending of Life

The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, “The thought of suicide is a great consolation: by means of it one gets through many a dark night”.
I wouldn’t call the thought a consolation, but I think it’s safe to assume that I’m not the only person out there who has thought about suicide once…

Or twice.

Suicide is defined as the intentional (but sometimes accidental) ending of one’s own life.

Of course, that would exclude self-sacrifice or giving up one’s life to save others.

Those acts are considered heroic.

 

Sometimes encouraged.

 

 INTENTIONALLY TAKING ONE’S OWN LIFE IS ENCOURAGED HERE

INTENTIONALLY TAKING ONE’S OWN LIFE IS ENCOURAGED HERE

 

 

BUT NOT HERE

BUT NOT HERE

 

The reasons people commit suicide (acts of heroism excluded) are as varied as the individuals who (decide to) end their lives. The reasons vary from accidents to the want to end suffering or to depression.

This list of notable people who have committed suicide is long: Ernest Hemmingway, Meriwether Lewis*, Aaron Swartz, Hunter S. Thompson, Marilyn Monroe*, Sylvia Plath, Diane Arbus, Cato the Younger, Kurt Cobain, George Eastman, Peg Entwistle, Sam Gillespie, Abbie Hoffman, William Inge, Vincent van Gogh, David Foster Wallace, Richard Jeni, Elliot Smith, Ian Curtis, Virginia Woolf….

Socrates took his own life.

 

Of course his suicide wasn’t completely voluntary.

 

THE SUICIDE OF THE ANCIENT GREEK PHILOSOPHER WAS IMMORTALIZED IN THIS PAINTING BY JACQUES-LOUIS DAVID

THE SUICIDE OF THE ANCIENT GREEK PHILOSOPHER WAS IMMORTALIZED IN THIS PAINTING BY JACQUES-LOUIS DAVID

Many of my fellow Gen-Xers still vividly remember the news of the suicide of Nirvana front man, Kurt Cobain.

 

 

 

Many people were shocked by the suicide of actor and comedian Robin Williams in August, 2014. The news media was quick to report on Williams’ struggle with substance abuse and depression. In the days that followed Williams’ suicide, cable news and the internet featured stories on suicide prevention and suicide prevention hotline numbers.

 

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There were a few who openly claimed that Robin Williams was selfish in his actions. Fox News anchor Shepard Smith called Williams a “coward” (Smith later retracted his statements) and actor Todd Bridges got himself into hot water for saying that Williams’ act was “selfish”.

 

Gene Simmons of the rock band KISS said of those who commit suicide:

Drug addicts and alcoholics are always, ‘The world is a harsh place’. My mother was in a concentration camp in Nazi Germany. I don’t want to hear fuck about “the world is a harsh place.” She gets up every day, smells the roses and loves life…. And for a putz, 20 year-old kid to say, ‘I’m depressed, I live in Seattle.’ Fuck you, then kill yourself.

 

Simmons continued:

I never understood, because I always call them on their bluff. I’m the guy who says “Jump!” when there’s a guy on top of a building who says, “That’s it, I can’t take it anymore, I’m going to jump”… Are you kidding? Why are you announcing it? Shut the fuck up, have some dignity and jump! You’ve got the crowd.

 

 

GENE SIMMONS: A LEGENDARY ROCK MUSICIAN WITH THE WISDOM OF JIGSAW

GENE SIMMONS: A LEGENDARY ROCK MUSICIAN WITH THE WISDOM OF JIGSAW

 

 

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In the days and weeks that followed Williams’ suicide there was no shortage of professional and non-professional opinions on the issue.

 

Robin Williams’ death reignited the public debate over the ethics of suicide.
Those of us who are old enough to remember the days of the late Jack Kevorkian and his assisted suicide machine know that suicide is one of those issues that is approached with caution, at best.

 

 

JACK KEVORKIAN (1928-2011), EUTHANASIA ACTIVIST, CLAIMED TO HAVE ASSISTED IN THE SUICIDES OF AT LEAST 130 CHRONICALLY AND TERMINALLY ILL PATIENTS

JACK KEVORKIAN (1928-2011), EUTHANASIA ACTIVIST, CLAIMED TO HAVE ASSISTED IN THE SUICIDES OF AT LEAST 130 CHRONICALLY AND TERMINALLY ILL PATIENTS

 

The debate over suicide is often moral.

 

Ethical theories both permit and forbid the intentional taking of one’s life.

 

IF ONLY MAKING MORAL DECISIONS WERE THIS EASY

IF ONLY MAKING MORAL DECISIONS WERE THIS EASY

 

The French philosopher Albert Camus (1913-1960) wrote that suicide is the only truly serious philosophical problem.

 

Albert-Camus

 

Camus writes:

There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy. All the rest – whether or not the world has three dimensions, whether the mind has nine or twelve categories – comes afterwards.

Camus uses the myth of Sisyphus to demonstrate our struggle against the urge to commit suicide.

 

… Or rather, to demonstrate the struggle against wanting to commit suicide in the face of absurdity.

 

 

IN THE ANCIENT GREEK MYTH SISYPHUS IS CONDEMNED TO ROLL A LARGE ROCK UP A HILL FOR AN ETERNITY. WHEN SISYPHUS REACHES THE TOP OF THE PEAK THE ROCK ROLLS DOWN THE HILL AND SISYPHUS MUST ROLL THE ROCK BACK UP THE HILL AGAIN

IN THE ANCIENT GREEK MYTH SISYPHUS IS CONDEMNED TO ROLL A LARGE ROCK UP A HILL FOR AN ETERNITY. WHEN SISYPHUS REACHES THE TOP OF THE PEAK THE ROCK ROLLS DOWN THE HILL AND SISYPHUS MUST ROLL THE ROCK BACK UP THE HILL AGAIN

 

 

No matter how many times he rolls the boulder up the hill he knows the rock will roll back down and he will have to roll the it back up the hill again. The act of rolling the rock seems futile. There is no point in doing it. Sisyphus is overwhelmed by the futility of his task. In the mind of Sisyphus, his life is absurd.

 

A word about the word absurd:

 

LISTEN UP, FOLKS. A PHILOSOPHER IS ABOUT TO LEARN YOU A NEW WORD

LISTEN UP, FOLKS. A PHILOSOPHER IS ABOUT TO LEARN YOU A NEW WORD

 

 

mindy kaling GIF

 

 

When we usually say something is “absurd” we mean something is silly.

 

Something like this:

 

 

 

 

 

Although that’s silly, that’s not what philosophers mean when they use the word “Absurd’.

 

On the absurd, the great philosophical index (otherwise known as Wikipedia) says this:

In philosophy, “the Absurd” refers to the conflict between (1) the human tendency to seek inherent value and meaning in life and (2) the human inability to find any. … the Absurd arises by the contradictory nature of the two existing simultaneously. … the efforts of humanity to find inherent meaning will ultimately fail (and hence are absurd)…

Sisyphus can find no meaning in a task that he can never complete. And we, like Sisyphus, find that we are often tasked with duties and obligations in our lives that we cannot complete. Our lives often seem to lack meaning and have no purpose. And so we, like Sisyphus, are overwhelmed by the despair of the absurd. Overwhelmed by absurdity, we may conclude that the only way to escape absurdity is by ending our own lives.

 

 

WE MIGHT IMAGINE SISYPHUS PUSHING THE ROCK TO THE SIDE AND JUMPING OFF THE CLIFF

WE MIGHT IMAGINE SISYPHUS PUSHING THE ROCK TO THE SIDE AND JUMPING OFF THE CLIFF

 

However, Sartre (and existentialists in general) say that we must accept that despair and overcome it. We must build meaning into our lives in the face of meaninglessness.

Even Sisyphus, Sartre says, learns to be happy.

 

imagine sisyphus happy

 

 

We must also learn to be happy.

Sartre isn’t the only philosopher that says that suicide is not the solution for life’s problems.

 

Yep. Kant did, too.

 

The German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) argued that suicide wasn’t just the result of bad decision making. Killing oneself is downright wrong.

Kant declares that suicide is a violation of the Categorical Imperative.

What’s Kant’s Categorical Imperative, you say?

 

Kant’s Categorical Imperative is as follows:

First Formulation: Formulation from Universal Law
* act except in such a way that I can also will that my maxim should become a universal law

Second Formulation: Formulation for Ends In Themselves
*  man, and in general every rational being exists as an end in himself not merely as a means for arbitrary use by this or that will: he must in all his actions, whether they are directed to himself or to other rational beings, always be viewed at the same time as an end

 

 

categorical imperative arguments

 

What this all means is that when we perform any act we must ask ourselves a couple of questions:
1) would we want everyone else to do it, and
2) do we use or exploit anyone to get what we want?

 

Kant’s argument against suicide states:

A man who is reduced to despair by a series of evils feels a weariness with life but is still in possession of his reason sufficiently to ask whether it would not be contrary to his duty to himself to take his own life. Now he asks whether the maxim of his action could become a universal law of nature. His maxim, however is: For love of myself, I make it my principle to shorten my life when by a longer duration it threatens more evil than satisfaction. But it is questionable whether this principle of self-love could become a universal law of nature. One immediately sees a contradiction in a system of nature whose law would be to destroy life by the feeling whose special office is to impel the improvement of life. In this case it would not exist as nature hence that maxim cannot obtain as a law of nature, and thus it wholly contradicts the supreme principle of all duty.

 

Kant argues we can’t universalize suicide because the act of killing oneself is contradictory to our own self-love. Ok, wait a minute. What does Kant mean by “self love”?

Not that, you dirty bird.

You see, according to Kant, we all possess a sense of self-love.

I guess you can call it a sense of self-preservation.

Kant says we (should) love ourselves too much to intentionally take our own lives.

 

THE UPSHOT OF NARCISSISM IS THAT YOU PROBABLY WON’T VIOLATE THE CATEGORICAL IMPERATIVE

THE UPSHOT OF NARCISSISM IS THAT YOU PROBABLY WON’T VIOLATE THE CATEGORICAL IMPERATIVE

 

 

Kant also argues that it is wrong to use another as a mere means to our ends.

Ok, bear with me, here.

To use a person as a mere means to our ends is to deny a person the respect of their personhood that every human being is entitled to; to treat a person as a thing. Treating a person as a thing devalues the respect that every (rational) human being is entitled to. And so, by killing ourselves we treat ourselves as a thing, we are denying the respect that we are entitled to as rational beings. We become a mere means to an end.

 

means to an end

 

Although Kant’s philosophical mission is to get away from a religion-based ethics, we can’t help from observing that Kant’s argument parallels religious edicts in the form of divine universal law (in Kant’s case his is the inviolable universal law of nature). Like Kant’s ethics, God-based arguments against suicide are rooted in the belief that every life is sacred and that we have no (moral) authority to end any human being’s life. To do so, according to the religious view, is, in essence, playing God.

We are forbidden to usurp God’s plan for us.

We are forbidden to destroy what God has created.

In doing so we risk condemnation.
In an article that appeared on Catholic Online, Chaplain Adele M. Gill says to end one‘s life prematurely is not a courageous act. Gill says:

Because it is not. Rather it is anything but. In fact, in my mind, it is a self-destructive act of selfish cowardice to end your own life before God’s perfect timing.

 

GOD DEFINITELY IS NOT DOWN WITH FRANCINE FISHPAW’S END-OF-SUFFERING PLAN

GOD DEFINITELY IS NOT DOWN WITH FRANCINE FISHPAW’S END-OF-SUFFERING PLAN

 

Although religious-based arguments are probably the most convincing anti suicide arguments (if not just for the fact that we must weigh the utility of the cessation of pain and suffering against eternal damnation), God arguments cut both ways.

 

Especially when philosophers make them.
This is probably due, in part to the fact that an estimated 62% of philosophers are atheist.

 

TYPICAL PHILOSOPHER LISTENING TO ARGUMENTS FOR THE EXISTENCE OF GOD

TYPICAL PHILOSOPHER LISTENING TO ARGUMENTS FOR THE EXISTENCE OF GOD

 

In “On Suicide” the Scottish philosopher David Hume (1711-1776) considers the existence of God. If there is a God, Hume asks, and everything happens according to his will, how can suicide go against the will of God?

Hume argues: if a person fights the urge to commit suicide he is fighting against the will of God.

 

… And defying the will of God gets you a one-way ticket to hellfire and eternal torment.

 

IT’S NOT ENTIRELY INCORRECT TO ASSUME THAT, DESPITE HIS PHILOSOPHICALLY PERSUASIVE ARGUMENTS, IT IS HIGHLY LIKELY THAT AT THIS MOMENT DAVID HUME IS ROASTING IN HELL

IT’S NOT ENTIRELY INCORRECT TO ASSUME THAT, DESPITE HIS PHILOSOPHICALLY PERSUASIVE ARGUMENTS, IT IS HIGHLY LIKELY THAT AT THIS MOMENT DAVID HUME IS ROASTING IN HELL

 

Now, some people may ask why would a philosopher find it necessary to weigh in on a subject like suicide? After all, dealing with life, death, and the hereafter is best handled by one’s personal spiritual adviser, priests, imams, and rabbis.

That might be true.

 

However, Not every suicide is the result of depression or a feeling of hopelessness.

Some people commit suicide for what they believe are completely legitimate reasons.

When we ponder the outcomes our actions have in this world and (possibly) in the next, we realize that to have an outcome we have to do something. We have to make a choice; a decision.

Decisions inevitably have ethical implications.

 

Philosophers deal in ethics.

 

I WEAR THIS SHIRT EVERYWHERE I GO. ... BECAUSE IT'S TRUE

I WEAR THIS SHIRT EVERYWHERE I GO.
… BECAUSE IT’S TRUE

 

Philosophical arguments on suicide (especially arguments in support of physician-assisted suicide) often focus on a person’s mental state (i.e. level of cognition) when we act.

Kant tells us that the use of reason separates humans from mere beasts.

 

 

kant reason

 

 

Our capacity for reason allows us to make deliberate and rational choices.

… You see, philosophers have this idea that in order to be a fully functional, autonomous human being, one must possess the capacity to make rational choices.

The recent news story of Brittany Maynard, the 29 year-old newlywed diagnosed with terminal brain cancer who opted to commit suicide rather than to go through suffering of her disease, Maynard articulated the rational argument in favor of what Dr. Jack Kevorkian called “patholysis” (literally translated, “destruction of suffering”).

 

 

brittany maynard

 

 

 

 

 

Most arguments about suicide, pro and against, tend to center on physician-assisted suicide.

Or as some supporters call it, death with dignity.

 

Although even the most ardent assisted-suicide proponent would have a difficult time defending suicide of those who are not chronically or terminally ill, there are many people who support physically healthy people who opt to commit suicide for psychological and/or philosophical reasons. Some argue that it is perfectly rational to make choose to commit suicide to prevent suffering and to have control ones life. Death, they argue, is inevitable. The terminal diagnosis has been made. The point isn’t to die, it’s to avoid unnecessary pain and suffering.

Several U.S. states and a handful of nations in Europe allow euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide. The Swiss group Dignitas (based in Zurich, Switzerland) is a notable example of an organization providing terminally ill with death with dignity services.

 

 

THIS IS THE DIGNITAS FACILITY IN ZURICH, SWITZERLAND

THIS IS THE DIGNITAS FACILITY IN ZURICH, SWITZERLAND

 

Dignitas’ assisted-suicide services has been accused of promoting “suicide tourism”.

 

 

 

 

The philosophical arguments for physician-assisted suicide are compelling. Certainly a philosopher would agree that we should respect the decisions made by someone who is mentally competent and able to make full use of their capacity to think rationally. But there’s the problem we have as philosophers – we must weigh an ethic that tells us to preserve life against an ethic that tells us to respect autonomy.

Philosophers like Immanuel Kant tell us that we have a duty to help others but we also have a duty not to interfere with the actions of morally autonomous beings.

 

autonomy
However, we can still argue that suicide, despite our moral autonomy and our justifications, can’t be a rational choice.

Namely:

  • A rational choice, by necessity, has to be made when one is fully aware and knowledgeable of what they’re doing. Since no person possesses the ability to know how their death will affect others, we can‘t reasonably argue that we can calculate (all of) the consequences of a suicide.
  • If a person commits suicide they are hurting more than themselves. A person who commits suicide deprives people not only of their presence, but also of what they could have done. Especially if we end our lives before we reach our full potential.
  • Death, no matter the circumstance, is bad. Death causes us harm. Why would someone willingly do something that is harmful?
  • Someone who is mentally depressed, mentally ill or mentally impaired (by illness or medication) can not, by definition, be entirely rational and therefore is incapable of making rational choices.
  • Young people lack the mental/psychological/philosophical maturity required to make rational choices and should be strongly discouraged from committing suicide, even if the reason for doing so seems rational.
  • Given the possibility that one would burn in hell, why would someone risk an eternal punishment, even to avoid pain or to end suffering?

 

WE WOULDN’T WANT TO DISCOVER THAT THE CONSEQUENCE OF A SEEMINGLY RATIONAL ACT IS ETERNAL

WE WOULDN’T WANT TO DISCOVER THAT THE CONSEQUENCE OF A SEEMINGLY RATIONAL ACT IS ETERNAL

 

Suicide is always a tragic event. We can be certain that there will be arguments on both sides of the issue. No matter what or justification for ending our own lives may be, there will be questions that will remain unanswered: Is it always wrong to commit suicide? Are mental or chronic or terminal physical illness enough reason to commit suicide? Should doctors assist the terminally ill to end their own lives? Should we continue to struggle to against the absurdity of life and how should we escape it?

 

 

Unfortunately, neither philosophers nor the clergy have given us answers we all can agree on.

 

 

 

 

 
* if you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (in the U.S.) 1-800-273-8255
Or go to the website: suicidepreventionlifeline.org

 

 

NOTE:
* It is still debated whether Meriwether Lewis and Marilyn Monroe actually committed suicide.
* For more reading on reasons why people commit suicide:

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/happiness-in-world/201004/the-six-reasons-people-attempt-suicide
SOURCES:
Immanuel Kant. Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals. 1997 [1785]. Trans. Lewis White Beck. 2nd Edition (Revised). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc. 38-39.

Albert Camus. The Myth of Sisyphus. 1975 [1942]. Trans. Justin O’ Brien. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books. 11.

Fred Feldman. Confrontations With the Reaper: A Philosophical Study of the Nature and Value of Death. 1992. NY: Oxford University Press.

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/camus/

http://philosophynow.org/issues/61/Kant_On_Suicide

http://www.etonline.com/news/149905_gene_simmons_tells_depressed_people_to_kill_themselves/index.html

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/curious/201405/why-do-people-kill-themselves-new-warning-signs

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Absurdism

http://www.salon.com/2014/10/19/brittany_maynards_brave_choice_why_religious_arguments_against_physician_assisted_suicide_fall_flat/

Everyone’s A Critic (Or, 10 Good Reasons To Hate Philosophy)

I remember when I was a kid, Mr. Blackwell would put out a list of the year’s best and worst dressed celebrities.

Although the more positive thing to do would have been to talk about the best dressed list, the media seemed to anticipate the announcement of Mr. Blackwell’s worst dressed list. They treated Mr. Blackwell’s announcement like a little kid flips his lid opening up his presents on Christmas.

You’d think that Santa Claus had delivered the list.

I don’t remember too much about Mr. Blackwell’s critiques other than his proclamations  were announced in rhyming couplets.

This is Mr. Blackwell

mr blackwell

 

Mr. Blackwell is dead now.

That was Mr. Blackwell.

I guess Joan Rivers does his job these days. I don’t think she uses rhyming couplets, though.

It’d be pretty cool if Kelly Osbourne did.

 

Whether it’s cars, movies, electronic equipment, summer reads, fashion icons, or reality television shows, everyone from the editors of Entertainment Weekly to any guy or gal with a blog has got a top ten list of something. If you spend any significant amount of time doing  or paying attention to anything, you’re bound to think up a list of things about that thing you do or don’t like. You don’t have to read very many lists to see that for some things, the lists are pretty much the same.

I’ve read more than twenty  top ten lists that name Breaking Bad as the best TV show.

Nearly every list of the best music groups say that The Beatles are the greatest band ever*.

If you’re wondering who the greatest president of the United States was, eleven out of ten political scientists will tell you that America’s greatest president was Abraham Lincoln even before he was a vampire hunter.

 

But, just as everyone has a list of music groups, books, or movies, that you love, everyone also has a list of everything and anyone we just cannot stand. Everybody has a list. A THAT list. Although I have yet to hear anyone say it, I know that every philosopher, philosophy fan, and philosophy student has that list of philosophers that they feel less than a positive affinity towards. A philosophy shit list.

Although one might assume that finding a list of hate-inducing philosophers would be a challenging task, picking the list is actually quite easy. After all, it’s easy to come up with a list of philosophers we’re supposed to like: Socrates, Descartes, Hume, Kant… But let’s be honest, some philosophers practically scream out to be hated. For every great philosopher, for every great philosophical idea like the problem of induction, Gettier examples, the naturalistic fallacy, or correspondence theory of truth, there’s a Pascal’s wager or transcendental idealism. Or the homunculus.

That bad idea, by the way, was peddled by Aristotle.

 

Some philosophers were not good people. Other philosophers were/are a-holes. And some philosophers invent theories that are so wacky that you have no other reasonable choice but to hate that philosopher and everything they’ve ever written.

I promise I won’t say a thing about logical positivism or Wittgenstein.

Still, sometimes you come to hate other philosophers merely by looking at them.

I mean, it’s easy to hate a guy that looks like this:

 

ischope001p1

 

Really, the more one reads philosophy, the more one finds philosophers (and theories) worthy of a “worst of” list.

So without further ado, I present my top ten worst philosophers (aka 10 good reasons to hate philosophy):

 

1. Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)

no you kant
Perhaps best known for his works Critique of Practical Reason (1788), Critique of Pure Reason (1781), and the Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals (1785), the German Enlightenment philosopher, Immanuel Kant, is considered the greatest philosopher since Aristotle. Kant taught at the University at Konigsberg  (East Prussia) where he was a popular and well-regarded professor. Satisfied with neither the rationalist nor the empiricist theories of knowledge, Kant called for a “Copernican revolution” in philosophy an attempt to provide a satisfactory account for knowledge.

This all makes Kant sound like a swell guy but there’s plenty of reasons to hate him and his philosophy.

For starters, philosophers, until Immanuel Kant, weren’t exclusively academics.

Kant was.

Second, not only are Kant’s Transcendental Idealism and synthetic a priori knowledge incredibly (and annoyingly) confusing concepts, but Kant’s ethical opus, the CATEGORICAL IMPERATIVE, is damned-near impossible to carry out in real life.

In Kant’s first formulation of the Categorical Imperative, Kant instructs that we may never violate any moral rule, no matter what good may come about as a result of violating the rule. So, if your friend comes to your house and says to you that he’s being followed by an axe murderer and he wants to hide in your closet, according to Kant, you’re supposed to tell the axe murderer that your friend is hiding in the closet if the murderer asks you where your friend is hiding.

The reason why you gotta fink out your friend, Kant says, is because it is morally wrong to lie. Kant writes:

Whoever then tells a lie, however good his intentions may be, must answer for the consequences of it… because truthfulness is a duty that must be regarded as the basis of all duties founded on contract, the laws of which would be rendered uncertain and useless if even the least exception to the were admitted.

 

The act of lying undermines our pursuit of truth, Kant says.

You see, Kant says we have an inviolable duty to the axe murderer to tell the truth because if we lie, we are endorsing the act of lying, not just to save lives, but in any situation where the circumstances may work out nicely for ourselves (or anyone else for that matter). What if the axe murderer knows you’re lying, Kant asks. And because he knows you’re lying he sneaks around to the back of your house where your fried is also sneaking out the back way. The murderer kills your friend. Kant says that you’re not only morally on the hook for the lie but for the murder as well.

If you didn’t lie the murderer wouldn’t have doubted you. And if he hadn’t doubted you, he wouldn’t have sneaked around to the back door. If you had pointed to your closet and said “He’s right in there”, sure, you’re violating your friend’s trust and handing him over to a deranged killer, but, at least according to Kant, you did so with a clear moral conscience.

It doesn’t take much contemplation to figure out that this line of thinking is kind of…. wrong.

 

2. Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)

old fred

The 19th century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche is undoubtedly one of the most influential (if not most popular) philosophers ever. Besides Socrates, Friedrich Nietzsche has probably contributed more ideas and catchphrases to the popular culture than any other philosopher (eternal recurrence, the ubermensch, master/slave morality, “God is dead”, “What does not kill me makes me stronger”, “there are no facts, only interpretations”…) Nietzsche is considered one of the forerunners of existentialism and credited with founding the philosophy of nihilism.

And is the patron philosopher saint of goth kids everywhere.

That’s pretty much where the problem with Nietzsche starts.

The philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche is the sole genesis of more philosophical misinterpretation and wrongheaded-ness than any other philosopher in history.  Nietzsche’s misogyny, anti-Semitism, and fervent German nationalism not only inspired the malevolent philosophy of National Socialism, but we can find Nietzsche’s philosophical influence in the Satanic religious teachings of  the late Anton LaVey  to  the mass murderers at Columbine High School.

 

 

3. Gottlob Frege (1848-1925)

Gottlob_Frege

Gottlob Frege is credited with revolutionizing the study of logic, which, until Frege, was dominated by Aristotelian logic. His work, Begriffsschrift (1879) set forward a system of formal logic that overthrew Aristotle’s logic. Frege, (along with Bertrand Russell and Ludwig Wittgenstein) is credited with creating the groundwork of modern philosophy of language. Frege argued that logic, mathematics, and language have continuity, and that we should view language more logically for clarity and to remove confusion (in language).

Anyone who hated symbolic logic or encountered the phrases Venus is Hesperus or Venus is phosphorus has Frege to blame.

And as many philosophy students has complained, Frege’s formal logic operates too much like mathematics which is precisely the subject that many mathophobic philosophy students aim to avoid.

 

4. Aristotle (384-322 BCE)

aristotle bust

Called “The Philosopher”, the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote on subjects as diverse as politics, economics, psychology, biology, physics, ethics, logic, and auto repair. Scholasticism, the school of theological thought based in part on the philosophy of Aristotle, was the official doctrine of the early Catholic church, and  Aristotle’s logic was the standard logic until Frege. Aristotle’s philosophy (which includes ideas such as the golden mean, eudemonia, and virtue ethics) is still a foundation of philosophical and political thought. Aristotle’s philosophical works are so extensive and he remains one of the world’s most influential philosophers, it’s amazing to think that it’s possible to dislike the man they called “The Philosopher”.

It is possible.

Aristotle proves that the quantity of one’s writing doesn’t necessarily correlate to the fact that everything that someone writes is correct.

A few examples:

On the subject of slavery Aristotle wrote:

… from birth certain things diverge, some towards being ruled, other towards ruling… Accordingly, those who are as different [from other men] as the soul from the body or man from beast and they are in the state if their work is the use of the body, and if this is the best that can come from them are slaves by nature. For them its is better to be ruled with this sort of rule…

 

No, you didn’t read it wrong. Aristotle believed some people are natural slaves.

 

And On the subject of women Aristotle wrote:

Woman is more compassionate than man, more easily moved to tears. At the same time, she is more jealous, more querulous, more apt to scold and to strike. She is, furthermore, more prone to despondency and less hopeful than man, more devoid of shame or self-respect, more false of speech, more deceptive and of more retentive memory.

 

Pretty much speaks for itself.

 

Aristotle also believed:

  • Deformed children should be put to death.
  • If people married young their children would be weak and female (Aristotle probably believed that was redundant).
  • Animals are mere tools to be used however people see fit.
  • Democracy is bad.
  • The Earth is the center of the universe.
  • Heavenly bodies float on eternal invisible spheres.
  • Some people have no souls (and therefore are fit to be used as slaves)
  • And, of course, Aristotle believed a man’s semen contains fully-developed, miniature people.

 

We expect that even the greatest philosopher may miss the mark, but when Aristotle was wrong, he wasn’t just slightly incorrect or a wee bit off track; the guy was wrong.

WRONG.

 

allistair gets slimed

 

Centuries of Aristotle’s wrong-headed philosophy dominating church doctrine not only held back the progress of science (as it was not in one’s best interest to oppose church doctrine), but Aristotle’s  truly messed up notions involving the intellectual aptitude of women and the (in)ability of average citizens to manage government are still prevalent.

If that isn’t enough, Aristotle’s political philosophy influenced neo-conservatism.

‘Nuff said.

 

5. John Rawls (1921-2002)

rawls

Veil of ignorance. Period.

6. Ayn Rand (1905-1982)

ayn rand

Best known as the author of objectivist masterpieces The Fountainhead (1943), Anthem (1938), and Atlas Shrugged (1957), Ayn Rand is only slightly less regarded by philosophers as a philosopher worth taking seriously. Rand is the founder of Objectivism, the philosophical school of thought grounded on the principle of rational self interest. Rand’s rational self interest is defined as follows:

Man every man is an end in himself, not a means to the ends of others; he must live for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself; he must work for his rational self interest, with the achievement of his own happiness as the highest moral purpose of his life.

 

At first glance Rand’s philosophy makes sense. It’s difficult to argue that we shouldn’t place the achievement of our own happiness first and foremost among our life goals.

And we should wan to be happy.

The problem with Rand is that following her philosophy will turn you into a complete dick.

Anyone who has endured a soon-to-be-former-friend’s Rand-soaked rants about “moochers”, “the virtue of selfishness” or “going Galt”, knows that the mere sight of The Fountainhead or Atlas Shrugged on a friend or prospective mate’s bookshelf spells certain doom for any relationship. The trouble with Ayn Rand is that fans of Rand often espouse Rand’s anti-helping-one’s-fellow-man sentiments, while also failing to realize, like Rand, that helping the less fortunate actually benefits society.  You see, Rand’s fans often fail to see that she wrote fiction.

That’s probably why if you ask any philosopher if he takes Ayn Rand seriously, you’ll be laughed out of the room.

Rand not only calls philosophical god Immanuel Kant “evil”, but Rand proclaimed that the Christian ethic of altruism is dangerous and harmful to society.

Which is pretty odd considering some of Rand’s biggest fans are Christian politicians.

Ayn Rand’s philosophy is such a bag of mixed-up ideas that Rand’s influence can be found behind the personal philosophies of former Republican 2012 Vice-Presidential nominee, Paul Ryan, who insisted all his staffers read Atlas Shrugged, and Anton LaVey, the late founder of the Church of Satan.

Rand herself decried social assistance to the poor (because it takes from the rich, who, according to Rand had all earned their money, so no poor person has a right to be helped by it) while receiving social security a social assistance program.

That’s not only mixed up. That’s being a total Dick.

 

7. Ayn Rand

Rand proves that it is possible to so despise a philosopher she’s worth mentioning twice.

 

8. Sir Bertrand Russell (1873-1970)

bertrand russell

 

Regarded by many as the greatest philosopher of the 20th century and (perhaps) the greatest philosopher ever, Sir Bertrand Russell (along with Gottlob Frege and Ludwig Wittgenstein) played a major role in the development of analytic philosophy. Russell’s works includes writings on logic, philosophy of language, philosophy of mathematics, epistemology, metaphysics, moral philosophy, politics, economics, religion, and Russell, with Alfred North Whitehead, wrote Principia Mathematica (1910-13), which established the logical foundations of mathematics.

Ok. I know, I know, Bertrand Russell is the greatest philosopher of the 20th century, quite possibly the greatest philosopher ever. Blah blah blah.

It’s absolutely correct that every philosophy student should know the philosophical importance of Bertrand Russell. But here’s my problem:

First: Russell’s Paradox.

Second: Unlike Leo Strauss, whose approach to writing was to be intentionally obscure, Bertrand Russell is damn-near un-understandable. I have no clue what Russell is writing about.  Read this:

The unity of the sentence is particularly obvious in the case of asymmetrical relations: ‘x precedes y’ and ‘y precedes x’ consist of the same words, arranged by the same relation of temporal succession; there is nothing whatever in their ingredients to distinguish the one from the other. The sentences differ as wholes, but not in their parts, it is this that I mean when I speak of a sentence as a unity.

 

Now, either Bertrand Russell is that brilliant or I’m that dumb.

Because I have no idea what that meant.

That’s why I hate Bertrand Russell.

9. Leo Strauss (1899-1973)

leo strauss

Known as the father of neo-conservatism, the political philosophy of  the late German-American philosopher, Leo Strauss, has created more animus between liberals and conservatives than the epic “tastes great/less filling” debate. In fact, Leo Strauss is probably the most influential modern philosopher no one has ever heard of.

Have you ever heard the name Paul Wolfowitz?

If you haven’t, I’m guessing you’re not an American.

If you are an American and you haven‘t, God help you.

What’s important to know about Paul Wolfowitz is that he was a student of Leo Strauss.  AND he was a Deputy Secretary of Defense in the George W. Bush administration. That means Paul Wolfowitz had the ear of the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld.

No big deal, right?

Well, that would be no big deal if Leo Strauss hadn’t spent his entire philosophical career lamenting modern political theory and what he saw as modernity’s liberal, relativistic values, and “the corroding effects of mass culture.” Strauss writes:

Many people today hold the view that the standard in question is in the best case nothing but the ideal adopted by our society or our “civilization” and embodied in its way of life or its institutions. But, according to the same view, all societies have their ideals, cannibal societies no less than civilized ones. If principles are sufficiently justified by the fact that they are accepted by a society, the principles of cannibalism are as defensible or sound as those of civilized life.

 

Strauss explains that moral relativism and “the uninhibited cultivation of individuality” is “bound to lead to disastrous consequences” and nihilism.

It would be no big deal if Strauss hadn’t taught at the University of Chicago from 1949 to 1968,  allowing Strauss to influence a generation of students (they’re called “Straussians”). And it wouldn’t be a big deal that Leo Strauss taught guys like Paul Wolfowitz and influenced a generation of Straussians if Strauss hadn’t believed and taught his students that philosophy should be esoteric, and not understood by everybody, and that knowledge is something that is hidden to most people and only understood by a few individuals (namely Strauss and his students).

It wouldn’t be a problem that Strauss taught guys like Paul Wolfowitz if Strauss hadn’t taught his students that society should be structured so that the wisest should rise to the top (mind you, Strauss believed that he and his students were the wisest) and that it’s perfectly within a government’s power to lie to and ignore the will of the people.

It wouldn’t be a big deal if Straussians hadn’t been affecting American domestic and foreign policy for the last 12 years*.

It wouldn’t be a problem if Strauss’ followers didn’t go into politics and influence and entire administration to follow Strauss’ wacked-out ideas.

 

10. Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860)

ischope001p1
The German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer (of course he was German!) is best known for his work The World As Will (1818). Schopenhauer, along with (fellow Germans) Georg Hegel and Nietzsche introduced the concept of the will as a force in the world that makes things happen. The world, according to Schopenhauer (and later Nietzsche) is an expression of the will.

Schopenhauer believed that the Eastern philosophical tradition was better at dealing with our philosophical crises than the established European philosophy. Schopenhauer also believed that animals should be treated humanely. He even objected to animals being used for scientific research.

That makes Schopenhauer seem like a pretty cool guy, right?

Well, if you thought that you’d be wrong.

You could say Schopenhauer was the Debbie Downer of philosophy.

Schopenhauer believed that there is no such thing as friendship or happiness and since the will wants its way, we will always be subject to suffering caused by our unfulfilled desires. According to Schopenhauer’s philosophy, even if we get what we want we can never be truly satisfied. Schopenhauer says that ultimately nothing we do matters because death will eventually claim us, thus rendering all of our efforts at anything futile. Schopenhauer writes:

we blow out a soap bubble as long and as large as possible, although we know perfectly well that it will burst.

 

You don’t have to be a philosopher to know it’s kind of hard to like people like this.

Ok, you say, pessimism is forgivable. Many philosophers display more than an inkling of the dourness. But if Schopenhauer’s sunny attitude isn’t enough to turn you off, Arthur Schopenhauer was also a pretty rotten guy.

For starters, his attitude towards women sucked.

Schopenhauer’s attitude towards relationships with women was no different from his view on friendship and happiness. Schopenhauer had many romantic relationships but no permanent.   Worse yet, not only did Schopenhauer write that women are “mental myopic” with “weaker reasoning powers”, he pushed an elderly neighbor down a flight of stairs. When the woman died, Schopenhauer rejoiced that the woman’s death relieved him of his obligation to pay compensation for the injuries she sustained in the fall.

That alone places Schopenhauer second only to Ayn Rand on the dickness scale.

 

philosophy is magic

 

Alright. I know that my list sounds like I’m just bitching about philosophers without any real, substantive criticism of any philosopher of his or her philosophy. If that’s what you’re thinking, that would be an entirely correct assumption. Just as one my dislike The Beatles because of John Lennon’s nasally vocals, our reasons for disliking (or even hating) a particular philosopher, philosophical theory, or philosophical school of thought, may come down to something as trivial as the fact that that particular philosopher invented symbolic logic.

It may be un-philosophical to say so, but it’s ok if you don’t like everything. It’s even ok to really despise a philosopher or two.

As any philosopher will tell you, everybody’s got an opinion, and

haters-gonna-hate-2

 

* Although the critics are nearly unanimous in their praise of The Beatles, I think that it’s highly unlikely that the Beatles would appear at the number on spot on every best musical artists lists. To my knowledge, The Beatles have never occupied the top spot on a list of the 10 greatest hip hop artists. But then, I haven’t seen every top ten hip hop artists list, either.

 

* It’s clear that the Bush Administration’s policies have continued into the Obama Administration. The U.S. is still involved in Iraq, and U.S. troops are still active in Afghanistan. Bush era economic policies, government surveillance, and rendition of “enemy combatants” have also continued into the Obama Administration.

 

 

 

 

Sources:

1) Aristotle. The Politics. 1984. Trans. Carnes Lord. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. pp. 40-1.

2) Aristotle. “The Inequality of Women”. Twenty Questions: An Introduction to Philosophy. 1988. Eds. G. Lee Bowie, Meredith W. Michaels, Robert C. Solomon, and Robert J. Fogelin. NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc.  p. 525.

3) Bertrand Russell. “Sentence, Syntax, and Parts of Speech”. The Basic Writings of Bertrand Russell. 1961. Eds. Robert Egner and Lester E. Denonn. NY: Touchstone. p. 122.

4) “Reader’s Guide to the Writings and Philosophy of Ayn Rand”. From The Fountainhead. 1952 [orig. published 1943]. NY: Signet.

5) Immanuel Kant. “On A Supposed Right to Lie From Benevolent Motives”. 1797. http://oll.libertyfund.org/?option=com_staticxt&staticfile=show.php?title=360&chap

6) Leo Strauss. Liberalism Ancient and Modern. 1968. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. p.5

7) Leo Strauss. Natural Right and History. 1950, 1953. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.  pp.3, 5.

 

 

 

On the Unlikely But Probable Existence of Gettier Truths

Generally speaking, it’s good not to lie to people.

Most people aren’t very good at it and if you make a habit out of lying to people you’re likely to end up getting caught in a web of your own lies. Your lies, as the Blue Fairy would say, become as plain as the nose on your face.

THAT BLUE FAIRY REALLY KNEW WHAT SHE WAS TALKING ABOUT

THAT BLUE FAIRY REALLY KNEW WHAT SHE WAS TALKING ABOUT

Lying isn’t just wrong according to the Bible (which is bad enough as it is) but if you’re a fan of Immanuel Kant the act of lying is a big no-no.

To quote Kant from his Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals, “lying is no bueno.”

Of course, as with anything else we’re not supposed to do, like premarital sex, serial arson, or liking Nickleback on Facebook, an admonition to not do something has never stopped anyone from doing anything in the real or make-believe world. And rrally, if you watch enough TV you might think that lying is the necessary evil glue that binds fictional universes together.

…or at least habitual lying makes Don Draper sexy.

LIES AS MUCH AS PINOCCHIO. BUT LOOKS CONSIDERABLY BETTER DOING IT

LIES AS MUCH AS PINOCCHIO. BUT LOOKS CONSIDERABLY BETTER DOING IT

In fact, when a fictional character lies it often reveals a greater truth. Even if the liar has no idea that’s what they just did.

If you make it your mission to become an observer of fictional liars and fictitious lies, you’ll soon discover that after binge watching three seasons of AMC’s The Walking Dead, basic cable’s ratings powerhouse, the show (ostensibly) about zombies, is a veritable Whack-A-Mole Ô of primetime lying. After spending approximately one and a half days of my life watching zombie chow-downs and survivor shenanigans, I compiled this short list of lies (in no particular order):

  • Lori lies to Shane about who is the father of her baby.
  • Morgan lies to himself into thinking that he will be able to shoot his reanimated wife.
  • Shane lies to everybody about what really happened to Otis.
  • Guillermo lies to Rick about his “ferocious” dogs.
  • Shane is lying to himself about his “love” for Lori (it’s so obvious).
  • Daryl lies to that vato dude about what happened to the guy who pissed him off (Nobody pissed him off. It was actually Merle’s severed hand).
  • The governor lies to the people of Woodbury about what really happened to the National Guardsmen.
  • Shane lies to Lori about Rick’s “death” (Wait. That may have not been a lie as much as it was wishful thinking. Or a mistake. Whatever).
  • Randall lies about merely watching the two girls getting gang-raped in front of their father (we all know that Randall is a shifty slime ball who probably fully participated in the girls’ rape).
  • Randall lies to Carl that he is a good guy.
  • Jim lies to Jacqui when she discovers that he’s been bitten by a walker.
  • The Governor lies to the people of Woodbury about what kind of person he really is.
  • Glenn lies to Merle about who is at the prison.
  • The Governor lies about what happened to the helicopter pilot.
  • Maggie (initially) lies to Glenn about her attraction to him.
  • Shane lies to Dale when Dale catches Shane pointing his gut at Rick.
  • Axel lies about why he is in prison.
  • The Governor lies to Andrea about his true intentions after his “truce” with Rick.
  • Tomas lies to Rick when he “accidentally” takes a swipe at Rick’s head (Tomas tells Rick “shit happens”. Rick agrees with Tomas and then cleaves him in the head with a machete).
  • Milton (unsuccessfully) lies to the Governor about not knowing about Andrea’s trip the prison.
  • Milton (unsuccessfully) lies to the Governor about not knowing who burned the walkers in the pit.
  • Andrea lies to Michonne when she denies that she chose sex with the Governor over their friendship.
  • Rick fails to inform the group that they are all infected with the zombie virus (this is a lie of omission, but a lie nonetheless).
  • Shane lies to Rick about “banging” a high school P.E. coach (we all know Shane was lying).
  • Shane lies to Rick about playing nice-nice after their fight  (after they failed to successfully abandon Randall).
  • Shane lies to Rick so he can lure Rick into the woods so he can kill him.
  • Shane lies to Carol about his sympathies for Carol after Sophia’s funeral.
  • Shane lies to Randall to lure him into the woods so he can kill him.

My God, Shane does a lot of lying.

Shane is not as big a liar as Don Draper. But then, what fictional character is?

For those who are inclined to view their television through an ethical lens, Shane Walsh demonstrates why Kant tells us that lying is wrong. Namely, that lying violates the Categorical Imperative. Kant tells us that before we perform any act, that:

I only ask myself: Can I will that my maxim become a universal law? If not, it must be rejected, not because of any disadvantage accruing to myself, or even to others, but because it cannot enter as a principle into a possible enactment of universal law, and reason extorts me from an immediate respect for such legislation.

Kant also says that we cannot treat others as mere means to our ends. Kant writes:

… every rational being exists as a end in himself and not merely as a means to be arbitrarily used by this or that will. In his actions, whether they are directed towards himself or toward other rational beings, he must always be regarded at the same time as an end… Man, however, is not a thing, and thus not something to be used merely as a means; he must always be regarded as an end in himself.

You see, Kant tells us that lying (Kant calls “false promises”) is morally wrong because no matter how well-intended our intentions may be, telling lies inevitably leads to some greater moral evil. Kant writes:

Would I be content that my maxim of extricating myself from difficulty by a false promise should hold as a universal law for myself as well as for others? And I could say to myself that everyone may make a false promise… Immediately I see that I could will the lie but not a universal law to lie. For with such a law there would be no promises at all, inasmuch as it would be futile to make a pretense of my intention in regard to future actions to those who would not believe this pretense… Thus my maxim would necessarily destroy itself as soon as it was made a universal law.

In short, Kant says if everybody lies, then no one would believe anyone.

And for all his lies, this is how Shane ends up:

shane walsh as a zombie

Kant would call that retributive justice.

Shane Walsh is an example of what happens when someone lies. Despite the fact the Shane believed his intentions were good, the consequences of Shane’s lies proved that even the best intentioned lie can have disastrous effects. People can get hurt.

And if you are Randall or Otis, people get killed.

… well actually, if you’re Otis, Shane will shoot you in the kneecap, leave you to the zombies, and then lie to everyone about how you really died.

OTIS SAW HIS LIFE FLASH BEFORE HIS EYES... NO, WAIT -- IT'S JUST THE MUZZLE OF SHANE'S GUN

OTIS SAW HIS LIFE FLASH BEFORE HIS EYES… NO, WAIT — IT’S JUST THE MUZZLE OF SHANE’S GUN

A funny thing about lies.

Even though Kant tells us that all lies are inevitably bad, sometimes when someone lies something weird happens: in the middle of the lie is the truth.

Not just a kind of truth, but THE TRUTH.

The kind of truth-telling lie that reveals how sinister someone truly is.

In the season three (episode three) “Arrow On the Doorpost”,  Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and The Governor (David Morrissey) meet to discuss terms for a treaty following an attack on The Governor’s stronghold in Woodbury.

Wait, this is out of context:

You see, this dude, Merle Dixon, kidnapped two of Rick’s friends, Glenn and Maggie, and so Rick and a few of his people went to Woodbury to rescue them and well, let’s say things went badly enough to require a cease fire between the two survivalist factions.

Ok. So, the meeting between Rick and The Governor pretty much goes nowhere (although Rick agrees to one condition for a peaceful settlement: he agrees hand over one of his men (actually it was a woman) in exchange for peace). But when each man returns to his camp, The Governor and Rick do the exact same thing: they lie.

The Governor tells Andrea wait

Ok, Andrea used to be in Rick’s group, but she was separated from the group when Hershel’s farm (I’m not explaining, just follow along) is overrun by the living dead. Andrea is rescued by Michonne, the nearly-mute, katana-wielding, dreadlocked, badass, who, while she was in Woodbury, got suspicious of The Governor’s motives and skipped town.

Oh yeah, when she returned to Woodbury, she stuck her katana through the skull of  Penny, The Governor’s zombified daughter.

… and she also stabbed out The Governor’s eye.

Folks, if you aren’t watching this TV show, you should be.

Get the plot so far?

Ok. So, The Governor tells Andrea that he and Rick have agreed to let bygones be bygones and as long as Rick’s people stay on their side, things between both groups will be hunky dory. But, when out of earshot of Andrea, The Governor tells his men his real plan that he intends to kill Rick, Michonne, and everyone else in Rick’s group.

We expect The Governor to lie because he’s a bad guy. He does not let the audience down.

But, when Rick returns to his group he tells his fellow survivors that The Governor intends to kill everyone in Rick’s group.

The Governor did not tell Rick this.

But by lying, Rick reveals The Governor’s true intentions.

THE LONGER THIS GUY LIVES THE MORE THAT GOUGED-OUT EYE IS WELL-DESERVED

THE LONGER THIS GUY LIVES THE MORE THAT GOUGED-OUT EYE IS WELL-DESERVED

Rick does lie, but in a strange way, Rick tells something like a Gettier truth: he’s right about The Governor.

But only accidentally so.*

 

This all makes me wonder: was Rick aware that he was telling his group the truth?

Or was it Rick’s intention to get his people gunned-up to kill The Governor no matter what settlement the two men had reached regarding the attack on Woodbury? Although it would tickle my philosophical soul pink to see it, I’m thinking that a deep, philosophical analysis of Rick Grimes’ motivations isn’t going to be had anytime soon.

Well, not since Andrea died, anyway.

I get the feeling she was the only character who had any idea who Edmund Gettier was.

Oops. Spoiler alert.

 

 

 

* For more information on misapplying the concept of Gettier problems, see my previous post “99 Problems and Gettier Ain’t One”.

 

 

Sources: Immanuel Kant. Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals. 1997 [1785]. Second edition. Trans. Lewis White Beck. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc. pp. 19, 45-6

We Do Not Kill the Living… Except… : On the Shifting Morality of Rick Grimes on AMC’s The Walking Dead

If it’s not obvious by now, I’m obsessed with a fan of The Walking Dead.

Actually, I’m pretty much a fan of anything to do with zombies (one notable exception being George A. Romero’s Survival of the Dead. Sorry. I love Romero’s movies but that one was just awful). So, if you want to invite me over for dinner and a movie, you’d better be sure that the movie has something to do with reanimated corpses and flesh eating.

Any fan or even non-fan of the show knows there’s a great deal of ballyhoo over AMC’s unlikely hit chronicling a small band of zombie plague survivors as they fight for survival amid the zombie apocalypse (aka ZA), and that the series has become the highest rated basic cable television show in TV history. And as sure as Trioxin 245 re-animates dead flesh, the show’s popularity has incited what can only be described as “haters”. If you think about it, it’s fairly easy to deride  a TV show that not only is based on the ridiculous premise of society being overrun by flesh eating revenants, but also plays out less like Romero’s Night of the Living Dead and more like an episode of Beverly Hills 90210. However, for reasons that even the most enthusiastic The Walking Dead fan can’t quite explain, millions of television viewers tune in every week to see the high drama (and maybe a zombie kill or two), post-apocalyptic world of former sheriff’s deputy Rick Grimes and his fellow ZA survivors.

Ok, there’s a good reason to think of The Walking Dead as nothing more than soap operatic or as a mere B-movie zombie flick delivered in weekly installments, but those who are philosophically inclined might have noticed amid the 3-way love triangles and Carl Grimes’ incessant annoyingness, something afoot going on  namely, that hidden within the throngs of shambling draugurs, The Walking Dead also gives its fans something philosophical to chew on.

One of those things is the shifting morality of former deputy sheriff Rick Grimes.

When we’re introduced to Rick Grimes (played by Andrew Lincoln), a deputy sheriff from BFE, Georgia, in the series’ debut episode “Days Gone Bye”, Rick is initially presented as an honest, hard-working, small-town sheriff who sternly reminds a fellow (albeit inept) deputy to make sure the safety of his gun is off before getting shot by a fleeing robbery suspect. When we see Rick Grimes we should be thinking this:

This is Sheriff Andy Taylor as played by Andy Griffith on “The Andy Griffith show”.

Even though we’ve seen Rick on screen for barely five minutes, when his is shot and slips into a coma, we worry about him. We want him to make it through ok. When Rick awakens from his coma (after an unspecified amount of time) to find the world has been overrun by the living dead, we know that he will survive

Because after all, he is Rick Grimes.

As viewers, we like Rick Grimes. We like Rick because despite the fact that he has no idea what is happening around him, Rick  slips into badass mode and quickly assumes the role of the hero. Rick (barely fully recovered from emerging from a coma, mind you) helps Morgan Jones and his son Duane find a hot shower and load up on guns at the abandoned sheriff’s office. Next, Rick helps a group of survivors escape a department store in Atlanta, and even attempts to return back to the city to rescue a member of the group (the abrasive, sexist, homophobic, and racist Merle Dixon) who is chained to a pipe on the store’s roof and left behind. Although members of the group argue that Merle is not worth saving, Rick feels that it is his duty to return to the city to get Merle. Rick tells the others that no living being deserves to be chained to a roof and left to die. Rick’s absolutist morality dictates that he is obligated to save Merle Dixon, even if it means that his own life is on the line; even if he dies in the attempt, Rick feels that he must fulfill his duty to others despite the consequences.

At this point, Rick’s morality is deontological. That is, Rick Grimes is following the moral principles of Deontological Ethics. Deontological ethics, most notably associated with the German philosopher, Immanuel Kant (1724 – 1804), is the ethical theory that holds that the morality of an action is judged according to one’s adherence to universally binding rules, duties or obligations to oneself and others. For the deontologist, the consequences of an act do not matter as much as the intentions behind an act. Kant wrote:

Do what is right, though the world may perish

Rick’s uniform symbolizes law and order; an absolutist (deontological) morality. And it is clear that Rick, who sports his sheriffs’ uniform well into season 2*, is strongly rooted in a clear sense of right and wrong. He does what is right despite the fact that the world has ended. Rick’s strong and unwavering sense of right and wrong suggests that according to Rick’s Kantian ethics, neglecting his duty to save others is morally wrong even if the person he‘s saving is a morally reprehensible sexist, racist, homophobe.

Kant states that we act from a good will when we follow the Categorical Imperative. The categorical imperative consists of two primary formulations:

Formulation One: Act only according to that maxim by which you can also will that it would become a universal law.

Formulation Two: Act in such a way that you always treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never simply as a means, but always at the same time as an end.

Rick sees Merle as an end in himself, a person who, despite his flaws, deserves to be treated in a humane way.

We know that Rick Grimes is not only a man who acts in an ethically correct manner, he’s a Good  (capital G) man. Rick believes that it is wrong to leave Merle Dixon chained and abandoned on a rooftop. When Rick tells his wife Lori about the generous acts of Morgan Jones and his son Duane, he explains to her that he is obligated to repay their act of generosity through doing good for others. And when a fellow survivor (Jim) is bitten by a zombie, Rick clearly lays down a deontologically-inspired universal edict when he tells the others who want to kill Jim before he dies and turns into one of the undead, “we do not kill the living!”

It’s worth noting Rick says it while holding a gun to a man’s head.

And even when Rick is re-killing the dead, he does so with a sense of compassion.

Rick Grimes is such a good guy, he apologizes to this zombie before he shoots her in the head.

From all appearances, Rick Grimes is a zombie slaying, Kantian badass but there’s a problem he doesn’t stay that way.

…it all has something to do with a guy named Shane Walsh.

Shane Walsh (played by Jon Bernthal), Rick’s former partner and wife stealer best friend, operates by a different set of ethics. Although Rick Grimes and Shane Walsh are partners in upholding the law as sworn sheriff’s deputies, it’s clear that their moral compasses are pointed in different directions. Unlike Rick, whose morality is deeply rooted in deontological obligations and duty, Shane’s morality rests on a different standard of right and wrong: consequences. Shane’s morality does not ask what is my moral obligation to others. But instead Shane’s morality asks, what do I have to do to stay alive?  And more often than not, the answer to Shane’s moral question is whatever it takes, by any means necessary. Shane’s ethics are pragmatic; in that Shane, as pragmatic philosophers suggest, determines what actions are morally correct based on whether an action works.

So, when Shane beats the ever-loving crap out of Ed Peletier, the abusive husband of Carol Peletier (while threatening to beat Ed to death, even though Ed posed no danger to Shane), Shane justifies his actions by believing that beating Ed contributes to group cohesion. When Shane breaks the lock on Hershel’s barn and re-kills all the zombies inside, he is doing it, not to crush Hershel’s hope of finding a zombie cure, but to save the group from danger. When Shane shoots Otis, repeatedly challenges Rick’s authority and leadership abilities, breaks the prisoner Randall’s neck, or even justifies his adulterous relationship with Rick’s wife Lori, Shane reasons, although he might not have done the popular thing (aka right thing to do), that his actions were ultimately justified in that what he did produced positive results.*

Shane Walsh solves his moral dilemmas like this:

… and like this

… and like this

… and like this

… and like this

* I suppose it can be argued that Shane Walsh’s ethics are not so much pragmatic as he is an act utilitarian. Either theory works.

Although Rick initially rejects Shane’s necessary evil in an evil world-based morality. Rick’s deontological ethical standpoint does not hold up for long (at least not past season 2). Rick Grimes is forced to kill Shane after Shane plots to kill Rick in an attempt to steal Lori and Carl from his former partner.

Shane eventually ends up like this:

I’m thinking Shane was really regretting trying to kill Rick.

Although by killing Shane, Rick is free to resume his deontological ethical ways, he does not. Instead of sticking to his Kantian guns, Rick assumes Shane’s pragmatic/act utilitarian ethical view. Rick’s new morality, which is pragmatic at best (ambiguous at worst) reflects the new world A world without distinctions. A world of contradictions, where beings are alive and dead and one must do whatever it takes to survive.

When Rick puts away his badge at Hershel’s farm, it signals that Rick has abandoned his absolutist morality. And by mid-second season, Rick violates his universal declaration that we do not kill the living when he shoots and kills two living men in a bar (by season 3, Rick’s kill count is up to five). When Rick kills Shane, we not only realize that Rick has put aside his own morality, but we realize that the kind of absolutist morality of Immanuel Kant belongs in the old world where absolutes like good and bad, right and wrong, and living and dead exist. In a world filled with the undead, absolutes no longer apply.

By the end of season 2, Rick Grimes is a morally changed man. He is no longer willing to adhere to the rules of the former world. Rick will do whatever it takes and by any means necessary to survive, even if doing so means that he has to (intentionally) hurt others to do so.

As The Walking Dead continues, we will see how the shifting morality of Rick Grimes plays out. Rick’s group of survivors has yet to encounter morally challenged Governor of Woodbury. And Rick’s mental breakdown following the death of his wife most assuredly will affect his moral position in future episodes. Although we’re only halfway through season 3, I have the feeling that in the future, Rick Grimes is going to be solving most of his problems like this:

SOURCES:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deontological_ethics

WHAT IS KANTIAN EGOISM? (revised)

I HAD AN ethics class. The project at the end of the quarter was to choose and defend a moral theory — the moral theory that best represented our personal ethical point of view.

The aim of the project wasn’t to find (and defend) an ethical theory that struck out fancy — we were supposed to find THE True Moral Theory.

and argue why it is so.

At that time, I chose rule egoism. I picked egoism, because egoism (specifically rule egoism) was as close to how I make my moral decisions as any moral theory could get.

I believed then (and still do) that I cannot make any choice — be it moral, ontological, or epistemic — without seeing it through the prism of my own point of view. No matter where I go, there I am.

Even if I supported divine command theory, I’d still figure in there, somewhere.

But, despite my firm egoistic tendencies, I still had a problem. Rule egoism seemed a bit binding. I realized that I wasn’t always selfish when I decided what to do. Surely my moral decisions were always made through the filter of me-ism, but I wasn’t always a dedicated egoist.

I realized there are times when it’s absolutely not necessary to go Galt.

The problem was that there always were other moral theories creeping in.

Namely, I found myself more often than I had expected, running my moral choices through Kant’s Categorical Imperative.

This was disturbing to me.

I was, after all, an egoist. I had no duty to others, only duty to myself. I was told in the interest of consistency, that one cannot be an egoist and a Kantian simultaneously.

Doing so is about as possible as being both in Paris, France and Paducah, Kentucky at the same time.

And that just ain’t happening.

But somehow it was happening. My true true moral theory had me working two opposing moral theories simultaneously.

How was this possible?

It took some time (and graduating from college) before I realized that I was indeed both — I am a Kantian, but I am also an egoist.

The 18th century German philosopher Immanuel Kant wrote, in Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals (1785), that the moral value of an act is weighed in that action is performed from duty. We evaluate the moral value of our actions according to two principles, which Kant calls the Categorical Imperative.

Principle 1 of the Categorical Imperativr states that we act only on a maxim that we can at the same time make universal law.

Principle 2 holds that we act in such a way as not to use others as mere means for our own ends.

Kent’s Categorical Imperative is one of those ethical theories that we file under: it looks great on paper.

It doesn’t take a lot of being a Kantian in the real world to figure out that Kant’s ethics, when actually practiced, tend to cause a complication or two. We often find ourselves tweaking the rules, which is exactly what we aren’t supposed to do. The Categorical Imperative, according to Kant, is absolute and inviolable.

Kant’s theory works fantastically with hypothetical ax murderers, but it makes for trouble in the real world. Likewise, egoism also tends to, when we attempt to live as pure egoists, cause it’s fair share of real world complications.

Thomas Hobbes stated that the primary goal of all men is self-preservation. Because we don’t like self-preservation disruptive things like pain or death, we make agreements with others to cooperate with one another to create a peaceful and stable society.

Hobbes called this the social contract.

We enter into the social contract  Because we are motivated to do what works best to preserve our own interests.

Ayn Rand, the 20th century philosopher and novelist who developed Objectivism, an egoism based philosophy, wrote that men,

” must live for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself; he must work for his rational self-interest, with the achievement of his own happiness as the highest moral purpose in life”.

For the egoist, Rand explains, our highest moral duty is when we act according to our own self-interest.

(I realize how many people out there feel about Ayn Rand, and really, I agree with all of you. But, when your trying to figure out the True Moral Theory, sometimes you gotta break eggs. Even if those eggs are shaped like a more-than-slightly misanthropic Russian novelist).

Although Ayn Rand despised Immanuel Kant and his ethics, there’s a word that is common to both ethical theories — duty.

At first glance, it may seem that these are conflicting moral systems. However, even the Kantian will admit that among our moral duties includes duties to self.

Both theories stress the role of making rational moral decisions.

Now, one may ask, how can one be an egoist, yet maintain Kant’s Categorical Imperative? The theories appear to conflict, but in fact, they do not.

At least if you’re willing to do some philosophical yoga.

At this point, I think that it’s important to clear up what we mean when we say “egoist”. Now, The antics of some Rand followers aside, an egoist is not one who is exclusively motivated by unbridled greed. Quite the contrary, an egoist is one who merely evaluates his moral choices according to how they coincide with his rational self-interest. It is possible that when someone thinks of an egoist, what he is thinking of egotism.

And the definition of egotism is:

Egotism is the drive to maintain and enhance favorable views of oneself, and generally features an inflated opinion of one’s personal features and importance. It often includes intellectual, physical, social and other overestimations. Wikipedia

The egotist is motivated purely by an over-inflated sense of self importance. For the egotistically inclined, selfishness is the manifestation of a psychological disposition. By contrast, the egoist practices an ethics of selfishness as a matter of rational, moral judgment.

An egoist isn’t so centered on his own interests that he neglects the needs of others. In fact, he may be motivated to do for others before he satisfies his own physical needs — if he sees that by serving others he ultimately serves his own rational interests.

The thing about egoism is that, egoism, like other consequentialist systems of ethics, judges the moral rightness or wrongness of an act based on outcomes — not what method we use to arrive at the best consequences.

This kind of moral reasoning is what allows us to pull the lever on the train tracks.

We’re kind of free to do whatever works — just as long as the consequences are good.

And if you’re an egoist you need only be concerned with how the consequences affect just one person: YOU.

It might do an egoist some ggood if the egoist adopted a paramount moral principle — something like this: in the pursuit of my own self-interest, I will live according to 1) do not engage in any act or act according to any maxim that I cannot also universalize, and 2) do not use others as a mere means to my own ends.

Of course, this is easily recognized as Kant’s Categorical Imperative.

Believe it or not, it actually works.

BEHOLD THE MORAL THEORY OF KANTIAN EGOISM!

I’ve been a practicing Kantian egoist for some time, and I will say since adopting an egoism lifestyle according to Kant’s  principles, I am less likely to get my ass kicked.

For some strange reason, people want to beat up egoists — especially utilitarians.

My duties to self and to others is not limited in the way that Kant’s ethics are often binding in the real world. Egoism allows me to consider consequences, in particular, consequences to myself.

My ethical position recognizes that in the real world, it is difficult to live purely according to one set of moral principles. We often find ourselves operating according to multiple theories, sometimes simultaneously. Very few people are strict utilitarians or unshakable moral relativists. We often find ourselves splitting the difference between moral theories — taking the elements from each that allows us to decide what’s the right thing to do.

Rest assured I’m not “shopping” for moral theories. Kantian egoism is about finding where seeming opposing theories cohere and allows us — me — to make rational moral decisions that benefit others and (more importantly) benefit myself.

My TRUE MORAL THEORY simply finds the workable parts of Kantian ethics and egoism and binds them together into a more real world-ready theory.

So, I declare with absolutely no philosophical trepidation whatsoever, I am a Kantian egoist.

Or an egoist with a Kantian view of the good…

Or an egoist with Kantian tendencies…Or whatever.

Now that I’m thinking about it, this all stinks of intuitionism.