THE ETHICS OF DEAD PIGEONS

THERE ARE FEW things, I imagine, as positively dumb as a 24-hour Facebook ban.

I mean, you can pretty much get slapped with a can’t post, can’t comment for just about any stupid thing, and it’s not like I posted bare ass or unclothed man peen.

I actually did that. I posted a link with a barely visible thumbnail pic of John Lennon’s naked weenie.

Wait. I mean the thumbnail pic itself was barely visible, not…his… uh…

By the way, I wrote about that 24-hour ban, too.

I thought (mistakenly) that I was being careful about what I was posting and commenting, but as one’s best laid plans don’t always get you laid like you planned, I found myself once again violating Facebook’s confusion-inducing COMMUNITY STANDARDS.

Seriously, does anyone really know what TF Facebook’s “community standards” are?

IT’S NEVER FUN WHEN YOU SEE ONE OF THESE IN YOUR NOTIFICATIONS

And, like I said in a previous post, Facebook’s community standards are a well-intentioned, but misguided attempt at moral policing.

I KNOW THIS COMMENT LOOKS BAD, BUT THERE’S A LITTLE MORE TO THE STORY

I mean, certainly Facebook’s intentions are good. Suggesting that we kill people and leave the corpses for others to see is a problematic statement. It’s reasonable to think that a social media site that ignores a comment like that would be failing in its moral duty to its users.

…assuming we think a social networking site has any moral obligations to its users.

But here’s the thing. J wasn’t talking about harming people. I was talking about birds.

I wanted to kill

dirty.

disgusting.

nasty.

birds.

Pigeons, specifically.

Parrots and parakeets are fine, but pigeons can straight-up go F themselves.

This is the meme I violated community standards commenting on:

You see — dear God, I can’t believe I’m saying this — sometimes morality isn’t so cut and dry. Sometimes morality needs a little bit of context.

Now, for the record, I’m a fan of deontology. This guy’s deontological ethics, to be exact.

IMMANUEL KANT (1724-1804)

And, because I’m an ethical kantian, I’m not concerned with the consequences of our actions. What matters to me when evaluating an act is the motivation behind an act.

For Kant, the proper ethical motivation is not consequences — we act from duty.

BY THE WAY, HAVE YOU SEEN THE MAN IN THIS PORTRAIT IDENTIFIED AS IMMANUEL KANT? WELL, IT’S NOT. IT’S ACTUALLY FRIEDRICH HEINRICH JACOBI. IT’S EASY TO SEE WHY JACOBI’S PORTRAIT IS PREFERABLE TO KANT.

This is why, according to Kant, we must tell the ax murderer the location of his hiding intended victim. Our ethical duty (or obligation) is to not lie…

Ok, I’m gonna interrupt my post right here to say that Kant explains why we are more morally obligated to not lie to the ax murderer than to not facilitate a murder (and other imperatives)in Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals. If you haven’t already read it I suggest thumbing through it at least once.

And here’s where I think the problem is.

Facebook seems to be guided by a utilitarian ethical principle. That is, they feel that it is their moral obligation to provide a safe space for social interaction for the greatest number of people. Providing that safe space can, from time to time, result in a bit of over-policing and the occasional (and unnecessary) 24-hour bans. However, as long as the company’s intention is to produce the greatest good for the greatest number, they can provide at least some justification for an hyper-reactive algorithm. My comment simply pinged the algorithm.

My comment, regardless of the intended target, was a threat, and threats pose a danger to he greater Facebook community.

Now, I know that being a utilitarian isn’t only about meaning well; you’ve got to produce results. Utilitarianism is all about consequences. Facebook wants to create a safe space for social interaction (for the greatest number of people), but are they?

I honesty have no idea if they are or not.

According to utilitarianism, we are obligated to consider the effect of (consequences) of our actions on, well, pretty much everybody. “Everybody” may or may not include non-human animals, like pigeons. If “everybody” extends to non-human animals, my kill ’em and let God sort ’em out-inspred comment may have violated Facebook’s community standards and the 24-hour ban was justified. However, as an ethical kantian, I’m not required to extend my moral obligations to animals lacking the capacity for autonomous decision making and rational thought.

Therefore, a mere threat against pigeons is neither a moral outrage nor is it worthy of a 24-hour ban.

After all, I didn’t threaten a person.

DAMN, I HATE THESE THINGS

Although… I’m not sure leaving the corpses to warn other pigeons is morally kantian, either.

Well… in the end did I deserve a 24-hour Facebook ban? I dunno. Probably. I did make a threat, and even though it was directed at a bunch of lousy pigeons in a meme, I — ugh — violated community standards.

If there’s any lesson to be learned from all of this, it’s that, as a member of a community, I have moral obligations to others, including (and perhaps most importantly) to help nurture an environment where participants feel (yes, feel) safe. And really, I shouldn’t be calling for the mass slaughter of pigeons, anyway.

What I should be worried about is Facebook finally catching all that German poop porn that I posted nine years ago.

That stuff is gonna get me permanently banned.

SURE, YOU CAN…. BUT SHOULD YOU?

EVERY-SO-OFTEN the internet gets inexplicably fixated on a celebrity.

Betty White. George Takei. Chuck Norris. Rick Astley…

Lately, for reasons only the internet understands, the internet’s celebrity fixation is on Jeff Goldblum.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

I think I understand why Jeff Goldblum is the current internet thing. He’s the same perfect mix of weird and oddly attractive that made cats the internet’s spirit animal.

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WEIRD AND ODDLY ATTRACTIVE

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WEIRD AND ODDLY ATTRACTIVE

Watch enough cable TV and you’re bound to spend a weekend binge watching your favorite (or in the case of Twilight, my least favorite) film franchise.

They’re all there in heavy rotation: Star Wars. The Harry Potter flicks. The Twilight saga. Fifty Shades of Whatever. The Jurassic Park films.

Cable TV operates on repeat, not shuffle.

I’m never not going to be a Star Wars fan, but if I had to watch a film series that is not Star Wars, I’d choose Jurassic Park.

Why? Because Freaking dinosaurs, that’s why.

Did I mention that Jeff Goldblum is in the Jurassic Park movies?

It’s all connected, folks.

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YOUR DAY IS NOW 1000% BETTER THAN IT WAS BEFORE YOU SAW THIS PICTURE. YOU’RE WELCOME

The Jurassic Park film series, based on the 1990 book Jurassic Park (written by Michael Crichton), is a modern version of Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus, the 1818 novel written by Mary Shelley (1797–1851). Shelley’s novel is a retelling of the story of Prometheus, the Greek hero whose relentless quest for pursuit for (scientific) knowledge ends in tragedy.

In a nutshell, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is the story of Victor Frankenstein, a young doctor whose quest to harness the power of creation ultimately leads to his own destruction.

In a nutshell, Jurassic Park is pretty much the same cautionary tale.

Except with dinosaurs.

Freaking dinosaurs.

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FREAKING DINOSAURS, MAN

These days, all one needs to do is mention the name “Frankenstein” to conjure images of the mad scientist who defies the laws of God and nature and is ultimately destroyed by his own creation.

Or, if you’re in a Jurassic Park flick, the mad scientist’s creation ultimately destroys the city of San Diego… and an amusement park.

…but I digress.

The motion picture adaptation of Jurassic Park was released in 1993 and was followed by its sequels The Lost World: Jurassic Park II, Jurassic Park III, and Jurassic World.

…because destroying San Diego wasn’t enough; they HAD to build an amusement park.

In the original (and arguably most philosophical) film, Jurassic Park, billionaire entrepreneur John Hammond creates JURASSIC PARK, the ultimate amusement park experience, where guests literally can walk with the dinosaurs. In addition to providing totally immersive entertainment, courtesy of the resurrected pre-historic beasts, Hammond boasts that park provides the best amenities for guests, including gourmet ice cream.

“We spared no expense”, Hammond declares.

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THERE’S ALWAYS ROOM FOR JELLO

While Hammond marvels at his creation, one of the park’s guests, mathematician (and chaos theorist) Dr. Ian Malcolm (played by current internet darling Jeff Goldblum), asks the question that is central to the theme of the film.

It happens during this exchange between Dr. Malcolm and John Hammond:

Dr. Ian Malcolm: If I may… Um, I’ll tell you the problem with the scientific power that you’re using here, it didn’t require any discipline to attain it. You read what others had done and you took the next step. You didn’t earn the knowledge for yourselves, so you don’t take any responsibility for it. You stood on the shoulders of geniuses to accomplish something as fast as you could, and before you even knew what you had, you patented it, and packaged it, and slapped it on a plastic lunchbox, and now
Dr. Ian Malcolm: you’re selling it, you wanna sell it. Well…
John Hammond: I don’t think you’re giving us our due credit. Our scientists have done things which nobody’s ever done before…
Dr. Ian Malcolm: Yeah, yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.

Did you spot it?

If you didn’t, it might be because it was more of a statement than a question.

Here it is: Dr. Malcolm tells John Hammond “your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

Dr. Malcolm said the words “could” and “should”.

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…and when you say words like “could” and “should”, philosopher’s ears perk up.

because words like “could” and “should” are words philosophers use when they’re doing ethics.

What’s ethics?

Ethics is:

…a branch of philosophy that involves systematizing, defending, and recommending concepts of right and wrong conduct… Ethics seeks to resolve questions of human morality by defining concepts such as good and evil, right and wrong, virtue and vice, justice and crime. As a field of intellectual enquiry, moral philosophy also is related to the fields of moral psychology, descriptive ethics, and value theory. (definition courtesy of Wikipedia)

At the heart of the story of Jurassic Park is a morality tale.

Dr. Malcolm’s challenge to John Hammond is moral – should we do something because we can do it?

Or, if you’re the German Enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724 – 1804), you’d say Ought Implies Can.*

Ought Implies Can (OIC), the ethical principle attributed to Immanuel Kant, states that people have a moral obligation to perform an act only if it is possible for him carry out the act.

For instance, if I borrow money from my uncle (with the intention of paying him back), and I have the means to pay him back, I am morally obligated to pay my uncle the money I borrowed from him.

  • I ought to pay my uncle because I promised to pay him back (We are morally obligated to keep our promises).
  • I ought to pay my uncle because we are morally obligated to pay off our debts.
  • I ought to pay my uncle because I have the means to (can) pay him back.

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DON’T LET IT COME TO THIS

In the film (and book) Jurassic Park, human scientists discover the means of creating living dinosaurs from long-extinct dinosaur DNA − CAN

Hammond and his scientists conclude if man possesses the ability – if people can recreate extinct animals using modern technology, then we OUGHT to bring them back. Jurassic Park flips Kant’s moral principle − Can Implies Ought.

That is, the film Jurassic Park asks Kant’s question backwards: We can, ought we?

John Hammond believes that the technological ability to create long-extinct dinosaurs implies (perhaps even demands) that the dinosaurs be recreated at Jurassic Park.

If we can do it, shouldn’t we do it?

Not just for the entertainment, but also for the scientific knowledge we would gain through the observation of dinosaurs?

After all, can recreating dead dinosaurs be any worse than blasting a Tesla into outer space?

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YEP. THERE’S A TESLA IN SPACE

Of course, Dr. Malcolm’s challenge to John Hammond isn’t deontological – it’s utilitarian.

For those who might have forgotten, utilitarianism is:

the doctrine that an action is right insofar as it promotes happiness, and that the greatest happiness of the greatest number should be the guiding principle of conduct. (definition courtesy of Bing)

What Malcolm is asking is what is the value of bringing back the dinosaurs?

Malcolm tells Hammond that the dinosaurs had their chance and they failed – the dinosaurs went extinct.

Recreating an extinct species in an environment in which they do not belong, Malcolm believes, can only bring about bad results.

Is the enjoyment from walking with dinosaurs worth the risk to human life?

Given what happens in the film the answer seems no.

You see, no matter how careful you may think you are, carnivorous prehistoric beasts will eat things, including people.

Let’s not forget that a T-Rex ate San Diego.

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ADMIT IT. YOU LIKED THE T-REX UNTIL IT ATE THAT DOG, RIGHT?

Rampaging dinosaurs are responsible for several dozen human deaths throughout the film series.

The millions of dollars in possible property damage (not to mention the cost of insurance) would make recreating potentially man-eating dinosaurs a cost-prohibitive venture.

But, if a utilitarian can argue why we shouldn’t do something, rest assured that a utilitarian will also argue exactly why we should do something as dumb as lab engineering a ferocious dinosaur like the Tyrannosaurus Rex.

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SCIENTISTS RECREATE LONG-EXTINCT, CARNIVOROUS SPECIES USING THE DNA OF ANOTHER SPECIES THAT CAN CHANGE GENDER… WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG????



We can imagine the (well meaning) utilitarian saying that the dinosaurs posed no significant danger to humans at all. Many of the dinosaurs are not inherently dangerous to people and dogs. Any fatalities associated with the dinosaurs were due mostly to human error, sabotage or just people doing dumb shit. We can remedy that. So long as people obey the rules and don’t do anything sinister or stupid (and with better genetic manipulation of dinosaur DNA), the utilitarian reasons we can create visitor-friendly dinosaurs without major loss of life.

Scientists benefit from the ability to study real-life dinosaurs and park guests can enjoy unparalleled world- class entertainment.
…including some bomb-ass ice cream.

That’s because Jurassic Park SPARES NO EXPENSE.

So… so long as Jurassic Park implements better safety measures (and perhaps including a better background check for employees), we should be good to go, right?

 

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NOPE. NOTHING TO WORRY ABOUT, SAN DIEGO

 

According to utilitarianism so long as everybody’s happy an act is morally permissible.

More than that, it’s morally obligatory.

Therefore, we ought to create dinosaurs.

You know that’s not the right answer, don’t you?

Dr. Malcolm says to John Hammond, “your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

Malcolm isn’t just concerned with the utilitarian consequences of Hammond’s scientists’ actions, he’s also bothered by Hammond’s defiance of nature.

We see Dr. Malcolm’s (nature-based) uneasiness with resurrecting dinosaurs in this conversation with one of Hammond’s scientists:

Dr. Ian Malcolm: John, the kind of control you’re attempting simply is… it’s not possible. If there is one thing the history of evolution has taught us it’s that life will not be contained. Life breaks free, it expands to new territories and crashes through barriers, painfully, maybe even dangerously, but, uh… well, there it is.
Dr. Wu: You’re implying that a group composed entirely of female animals will… breed?
Dr. Ian Malcolm: No. I’m, I’m simply saying that life, uh… finds a way.

Malcolm frames his concern as a question of defying nature, but the question: just because we can do something, should we do it? is also a biblical question.

Got something to do with who defying the will of God.

if we’re being specific, the question, Who gets to play God?

you-are-not-god

In the Old testament, Adam and Eve are cast from the Garden of Eden for taking from the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil.

Coz there are things that man ain’t supposed to know.

… and things people ain’t supposed to do.

In the Bible, the story of Adam and Eve (and humanity in general) ends tragically.

The punishment for eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil is death.

You die if you try to do what God do.

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And that is exactly what leads to the tragic end of Dr. Victor Frankenstein in Shelley’s cautionary tale of the modern Prometheus – Frankenstein tries to play God.

In Shelley’s novel, man (Victor Frankenstein) attempts to harness the power of creation – a power that belongs solely to God. Frankenstein’s monster is his Tower of Babel, a monument of man’s conceit. And like the Tower of Babel, Victor Frankenstein and his monster are destroyed.

Likewise, Dr. Malcolm sees John Hammond’s Jurassic Park as a monument of Hammond’s conceit. According to Malcolm, the (technological) attempt to control nature plants the seeds of our own destruction. Nature finds a way, Malcolm warns, meaning once man attempts to control the power of nature, nature, or God (or Nature’s God, if you’re Thomas Jefferson) inevitably will conquer man.

Jurassic Park, like the Tower of Babel and Victor Frankenstein, are doomed to fail.

What Dr. Malcolm knew (that John Hammond and Victor Frankenstein didn’t know) is just because you can do something, it doesn’t always mean that you ought to do it.

 

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ME TOO, DR. MALCOLM. ME TOO.

 

 

Especially if the thing that you ought not do eats San Diego.

 

 

 

 

 

 

* Kant’s Ought Implies Can should not be confused with Hume’s Is-Ought problem. The Is-Ought Fallacy postulates what ought to be based on what is. For example, if nature does not make it, we shouldn’t have it. Well, nature doesn’t make clothes or houses, but very few people would say that we shouldn’t have clothes or houses simply because clothes and houses do not occur naturally.

 

SOURCES:
Jurassic Park. Screenplay by Michael Crichton and David Koepp. Directed by Steven Spielberg. 1993. Amblin Entertainment/Universal Pictures.

https://www.bing.com/search?q=utilitarianism&form=EDNTHT&mkt=en-us&httpsmsn=1&refig=08459d68e48f48cf880067e52649d77a&sp=2&qs=HS&pq=utili&sk=HS1&sc=8-5&cvid=08459d68e48f48cf880067e52649d77a&cc=US&setlang=en-US

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethics

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.

emotivism-right-and-wrong-depend-on-whats-right-for-you

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.

THE WORLD’S WORST UTILITARIAN FOOD FOR THOUGHT

HANG AROUND WITH philosophers long enough and you’ll realize that philosophers think about some strange things.

I was going to say strange shit but I’m not sure about the parental settings on my blog.

Now, you can drop acid and open the doors of perception but as much as I enjoy “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”, I ain’t ever seen anyone tripping on LSD think up something as far out as transcendental idealism or logical positivism.

Philosophers think up this kind of stuff sober.

There’s a little thing that some philosophers do called ethics.

These ethics-practicing philosophers (or ethicists, if you prefer) sometimes engage in a game of “what if?”

An ethical “what if?” is pretty much about thinking up the most f’ed up situation one can think of (with moral implications, of course) and then asking, now, what would you do?

Folks on the outside call those kind of what ifs hypothetical situations.

If you’re a philosopher, you call those f’ed up situations a thought experiment.

If you don’t know already, thought experiments, as defined philosophically:

Thought experiments are devices of the imagination used to investigate the nature of things…
The primary philosophical challenge of thought experiments is simple: How can we learn about reality (if we can at all), just by thinking?

In ethics, thought experiments allow us to test ethical theories and by examining the principles or consequences of an act, we can determine whether an act is morally right or wrong.

Hypothetical situations like thought experiments allow us to be prepared for when a similar situation (or moral dilemma) confronts us in the real world.

There are many famous thought experiments:

The Trolley Problem

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Brain in Vat

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The Chinese Room

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The Ticking Time Bomb

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The Experience Machine

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Schrodinger’s Cat

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The Drowning Man

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Funny thing about that drowning man thought experiment…

For those who are unfamiliar with the scenario, The Drowning Man goes as follows:

You’re walking along (alone) by a lake when you see a man in the lake flailing his arms and yelling for help. It is clear that the man is drowning. Do you jump in the lake to save the man?

At first glance the answer is obvious: jump in the lake and save the man.

Most of us would jump into the lake to save the drowning man without hesitation.

But because this is a question cooked up by philosophers, it ain’t that easy.

A philosopher might throw in another “what if” like, what if getting to the lake requires you to cross a patch of grass and there’s a sign that says “Stay Off The Grass” or what if you can’t swim?

or, what if you’re in Germany in 1920 and the drowning man is ADOLF HITLER????

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UNFORTUNATELY HITLER APPEARS IN TOO MANY THOUGHT EXPERIMENTS

The goal of the “what ifs” in The Drowning Man thought experiment (and any variable in any thought experiment) is to put a moral obstacle in front of you.

Most people would step on the grass to save a drowning man. But what if the sign read TRESPASSERS WILL BE SHOT? What if the sign read DO NOT STEP ON GRASS BY ORDER OF THE GOVERNMENT?

Would you risk your own life to do save a drowning man?

Would you violate a rule or a law (and what kind of rule or law would you violate?) to save a drowning man?

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THINK BEFORE YOU STEP. WHAT ARE THE MORAL RAMIFICATIONS OF TREADING ON THE LAWN?

For a deontologist, this question is more complicated than you think.

Thinking about The Drowning Man Scenario also kinda makes us ask another, less pleasant question of ethics: Are there some people not worth saving?

Is a drowning Adolf Hitler worth saving?

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FOR MANY PEOPLE THIS IS A PERFECTLY ACCEPTABLE ANSWER TO THE DROWNING HITLER SCENARIO

If you’re a deontologist, this question is more complicated than you think.

Asking if there are some people not worth saving can get us to asking and even more unpleasant question, are there some people not worth allowing to live?

“Allowing to live” as in letting someone live in the first place.

For instance, would you kill baby Hitler?

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JUST A REMINDER, THIS IS WHO YOU WOULD KILL

Before we all answer a resounding “yes”, let’s figure out why the question is more complicated than we think.

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APPARENTLY THE READERS OF THE NEW YORK TIMES DON’T THINK THE QUESTION IS COMPLICATED AT ALL

Most of us would agree that Adolf Hitler was one of the worst, if not THE worst human being that ever lived. Its arguable that the world would be a better place if he hadn’t been born.

… Or at least the world would be a better place if Hitler was prevented from joining the National Socialist Party and becoming chancellor of Germany.

Although we aren’t capable of actual time travel, a thought experiment allows us to imagine what if we could? If we could travel back in time to April 20, 1889, what would we do?

More importantly, what would be the morally right thing to do?**

Let’s look at the question of killing baby Hitler from the perspective of the two leading ethical schools of thought: Deontological ethics and the consequentialist ethical theory, utilitarianism.

Deontological ethics is defined as:

…the normative ethical position that judges the morality of an action based on rules. (Wikipedia)

Deontologists act from Duty.

It is our duty to respect the (moral) law.

Immanuel Kant writes

…to have genuine moral worth, an action must be done from duty… An action done from duty does not have as its moral worth in the purpose which is to be achieved through it but in the maxim where by it is determined.
Duty is the necessity to do an action from respect of law.

That means, damn the consequences, obey the law.

Let’s say a deontologist has a (moral) law, THOU SHALL NOT KILL.

*Maybe we should refine the rule: Thou Shall Not Murder (as defined as “the unlawful premeditated killing of one human being by another”).

The law is to be obeyed – no exceptions.

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If the deontologist believes that a rule is a rule and we must follow the rules, regardless of its consequences, even if his future self deserves it, we can’t exempt baby Hitler.

Because murder is always wrong.

The deontologist is bound by duty to let baby Hitler live.

Since we can’t obtain moral justification for killing the infant Hitler (presuming that is what we are trying to justify), we’ll look to consequentialist ethics (specifically utilitarianism) to tell us what is the morally right thing to do.

Enjoying this thought experiment yet?

For the utilitarian, it’s the consequences that matter.

In Utilitarianism, John Stuart Mill writes

The creed which accepts as the foundation of morals, Utility, or the Greatest Happiness Principle, holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness. By happiness is intended pleasure, and the absence of pain; by unhappiness, pain, and the privation of pleasure.

If utilitarian ethics is based on the increase of pleasure and the decrease of pain, and we know that an individual is or going to be responsible for the destruction of over sixty million lives, we may be morally obligated not just to let an adult Hitler drown but also to kill baby Hitler.

However, there’s a hitch…

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Utilitarianism (and other consequentialist ethical theories) judge and action right or wrong based on its consequences.

At the time that we perform an act, we don’t know the consequences. We only know what we think might happen or what we want or expect to happen.

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REMEMBER, IF YOU DO UTILITARIAN ETHICS YOU CAN END UP SPENDING THE REST OF YOUR LIFE LIKE THIS

Right now, we have the benefit of hindsight; we know what Hitler and the Nazis did. But in 1889, when Hitler was an infant, no one could have foreseen what the newborn infant would do as an adult.

If we traveled back in time we would have to weigh the act of (preemptively) killing a child for something that the child hasn’t yet done against the death and destruction we know adult Hitler did.

It might be easy to walk away from a drowning man, especially if that man is responsible for the attempted genocide of the Jewish people, but even those who could walk away from a drowning Hitler in the lake may find it hard, if not impossible to purposefully kill a child, no matter how evil that child may become.

Another hitch with utilitarianism is that we have to consider possible consequences – multiple consequences. If we had some way to travel back in time or to see the possible futures of baby Adolf Hitler, we may also see future where he could be prevented from becoming the most evil man in history.

We discourage killing children, even children who have engaged in “evil” acts, because we believe those children can be rehabilitated.

If it’s possible to rehabilitate an potentially evil child, is this then, another option that we have for baby Hitler?

And if that’s a viable option (i.e., one that will produce good consequences), we can’t justify killing baby Hitler.

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YOU’RE NOT THE ONLY ONE, HANK

So… what would we do with baby Hitler?

What should we do?

A thought experiment can only ask…

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** Don’t get me wrong, I’m in no way defending Hitler or suggesting that we should minimize Hitler’s and the Nazi’s atrocities for the sake of a thought experiment, nor am I suggesting that Hitler’s one life is worth more than sixty million lives world wide, including the nine million lives lost (including six million Jews) in Nazi concentration camps.

SOURCES:
https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/thought-experiment/

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deontological_ethics

Immanuel Kant. Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals. 2nd Edition. Trans. Lewis White Beck. 1997 [1785]. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc. 15-16.

John Stuart Mill. Utilitarianism. 2005 [1861]. NY: Barnes & Noble Books. 8.

DARYL KILLED GLENN, I THINK… MAYBE.

WELL FOLKS. IT’S OCTOBER and for those of us at The Mindless Philosopher being October means only one thing: the return of The Walking Dead.

In case it’s not (painfully) obvious from our previous posts, The Walking Dead is our favorite TV show.

Yep. TMP are philosophers. And our favorite television show isn’t Seinfeld.

Although you can argue that The Walking Dead isn’t really about anything, either.

Any fan of AMC’s highly-rated zombie somewhat soap opera knows that being a fan of The Walking Dead means that one’s favorite character can die at any moment. Season six saw the show kill off a few red shirts (Carter, David, Sturgess), say sayonara to a handful of characters we cared about (Denise, Deanna, Jessie, and Nicholas?), and pulled the fake-out with at least two characters. The season six finale “cliffhangered” the audience, teasing the death (via a barbed wire-wrapped baseball bat named Lucille) of a major character.

The season six finale pleased some and angered many.

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And for the last six months, The Walking Dead fans, angry or otherwise, have been concerned with just one thing: WHO DID NEGAN KILL?

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And at THIS point I guess I should say SPOILER ALERT.

AND SO, last Sunday, The Walking Dead aired its season seven premiere episode.

After six months of waiting, we finally got to see who Negan killed.

True to form, the season seven premier pleased some. Angered many.

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I think from now on, I’m going to tell anyone who pisses me off to suck my nuts.

Hopefully not after I’ve been stuck on the noggin by a barbed wire-covered bat.

Now, being a fan of both The Walking Dead and philosophy, I got feels, not only because of the brutality of the act, but also because I was watching the episode through philosophy-tinted glasses.

If I wasn’t in the habit of underestimating the philosophical acumen of the writers of the show, I would have guessed that I was watching a thought experiment being played out on my TV screen.
To wit: an ethical thought experiment.

Seriously, if you haven’t watched the episode yet, there are SPOILERS AHEAD.

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So… as we end season six, we see Rick Grimes and ten members of his group (whaddya know, almost all major characters!) on their knees and at the mercy of the new bad guy – the barbed wire-infused bat-wielding, leather jacket-wearing, an F-bomb every-other-word saying (but not on basic cable), Negan.

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OF COURSE IT HAD TO BE A GOOD-LOOKING PSYCHOPATH.

 

Rick and his crew have, to quote Rick from an alternate take from the season five finale, “fucked with the wrong people”, and Negan is aiming to exact some payback on the people responsible for the deaths of a number of his men.

Negan says he’s going to beat to death one of Rick’s crew with his bat, Lucille.

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NEGAN TELLS RICK, “YOU KILLED MY PEOPLE, A WHOLE DAMN LOT OF THEM. MORE THAN I’M COMFORTABLE WITH. AND FOR THAT, FOR THAT YOU’RE GONNA PAY. SO NOW… I’M GONNA BEAT THE HOLY HELL OUTTA ONE OF YOU.”

Any interference, Negan tells the group, will not be tolerated (he does, however allow them to breathe, blink, and cry). Negan tells Rick and his group, “I will shut that shit down, no exceptions.”

Long story short, Negan plays a game of “Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Moe”, eventually landing on Abraham as “it” and proceeds to bludgeon Abe with Lucille, exclaiming how the ginger-haired former military man took the first blow “like a champ”.

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Reminder: tell anyone who pisses me off the suck my nuts.

Now, it’s right around this time when a simple cudgeling becomes an even more complicated moral dilemma.

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Fan favorite (and possibly un-killable) Daryl Dixon decides to ignore Negan’s non-interference admonition and attacks Negan.

Negan, having already been previously interrupted by Glenn (he allowed Glenn’s interference due to the emotional weight of the situation), makes good on his warning and shuts that shit down, killing another member of Rick’s group with the barbed wired-sleeved Lucille: Glenn.

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Ok, we all know Negan carried out the physical deed. And in any court of law Negan would undoubtedly be sent to prison for double murder.

But any philosopher would tell you that legal guilt and moral culpability aren’t always the same thing.

You see, there may be more than one person to blame in all of this.

I think we can agree that Abraham’s death is 100% morally on Negan.

Negan announced his intention to kill someone and he did it.

Well, unless you reason that it was done as some kind of an eye for an eye, retributive justice thing, which opens up a whole other can of what is justice worms.

But there was more than one person killed AFTER Negan had exacted his revenge.

So who is morally responsible for Glenn’s death?

It was Negan’s initial intention to do one and done. Getting even with Rick and his group required the death of just one person – after all, the point of killing one person (in a particularly gruesome manner) is meant to break the group, not necessarily to commit mass murder. Rick and his group had been previously informed about Negan’s one-kill tactic: introduce himself to a new group, kill one person in the group, and demand half of what the group produces. Assuming there’s no problem of induction, Rick and his group had no reason to assume that Negan would deviate from his established method of operation.

Negan killed Abraham and was done, but Daryl, driven by anger and stuff that only Daryl fully understands (probably something that also has to do with Daryl not bathing), sucker punches Negan and THAT act is in direct violation of Negan‘s rules of conduct for Rick and his group. As Negan specifically states that shit will be shut down, no exceptions.

And that is precisely what Daryl does. Shit.

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If you link the chain of events, it’s not so implausible to assume that Glenn’s death is a direct result of Daryl’s actions. Negan kills Glenn because Daryl violates the rules.

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TO MAKE MATTERS WORSE, GLENN IS THE ONE GUY WHO, UNTIL A HANDFUL OF EPISODES AGO, HADN’T KILLED ANY LIVING PERSON. DARYL IS POSSIBLY PARTIALLY OR FULLY RESPONSIBLE FOR THE DEATH OF THE LEAST MORALLY GUILTY CHARACTER IN THE SERIES… UNLESS YOU BELIEVE IN GUILT BY ASSOCIATION.

 

Negan’s moral culpability is undeniable. But can we say that Daryl bears some or all moral blame for Glenn‘s death?

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Well, it depends on who you ask.

If we assume that Daryl is motivated by a moral principle that says that one’s greatest moral obligation is to produce the greatest good for the greatest number, then we might say that Daryl is, at least in part, morally blameworthy for Glenn’s death.

How does that happen, you say?
Why , it’s just a matter of calculating the numbers.

Negan initially kills Abraham. It is obvious that Rick’s group (not to mention Abraham himself) is negatively affected by the brutal death. The group is collectively traumatized, in particular, Abraham’s ex-girlfriend Rosita and his almost-but-not-quite new girlfriend Sasha.

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Can we take a moment to talk about Sasha? This woman has nothing but bad luck in relationships on this show. First, Sasha begins a romantic relationship with Bob, but Bob is bitten by a zombie, kidnapped and has his leg eaten by a group of cannibals, and eventually dies from his wound (wounds?). Just when Sasha has recovered enough from PTSD to function somewhat normally in a romantic relationship, her blossoming relationship with Abraham is cut short by Negan and Lucille.

 

If killing one person inflicts a great amount of pain, then we can assume that killing two people inflicts more pain than killing just one. In this situation, we aren’t just calculating the pain felt by the group immediately following Glenn’s death, but also calculating the negative long-term consequences of Glenn’s death. Glenn’s wife, Maggie, is pregnant. We have to consider the fact that Glenn and Maggie’s child will be raised without a father.

That’s bad.

We should not forget that utilitarian-based ethics requites that Daryl also figure into our calculation.

We can assume the Daryl feels (at least somewhat) responsible for Glenn’s death. After all, Negan killed Glenn in response to Daryl’s actions.

And really, what was Daryl’s intended outcome, anyway? What did he hope to accomplish by attacking Negan? Negan had already killed Abraham. There was nothing Daryl could do to stop that. As Negan warned beforehand, the only outcome from a disruption would be the infliction of more pain on Rick’s group, which did, in fact, happen.

And if we’re assigning moral culpability based on consequences, according to this ethical position, Daryl Dixon is morally responsible for Glenn’s death.

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KIND OF MAKES YOU WISH DWIGHT KILLED DARYL, DOESN’T IT?

You see, when we assign moral blame according to consequences, it doesn’t matter what our intentions are. We can mean well, just like Daryl did when he lunged after Negan. But if our actions result in people getting hurt or killed, we’re morally culpable for what happens.

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We might consider the possibility that Daryl may have been motivated by the prisoner’s dilemma. Not knowing exactly Negan what intended to do, he has no reason to assume that Negan won’t kill others and therefore is motivated to attack Negan before Negan kills any more people.

Ok. Maybe Daryl isn’t thinking about consequences at all. Maybe he’s operating from a sense of duty to his group.

We know that Rick and his group think of each other as family. Families often have binding moral obligations to each other. Daryl sees that his the lives of his family have been threatened and he feels that it is his duty to protect them – as Negan says, no exceptions.

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We can assume that Daryl’s duty-bound obligation isn’t merely a suggestion or rule of thumb, but is a maxim that must be obeyed at all times by all members of the family. We can even put Daryl’s obligation in maxim form: In any situation wherein one’s family is in danger, one must act to protect them- no exceptions.

It is clear that Negan is a threat to the lives of Daryl’s family. Negan has already ruthlessly murdered one member of Rock’s group is still threatening to inflict harm on the remaining members. When one is morally obligated to protect others, one must fulfill one’s duty – even if others are hurt.

When one is bound by duty to others, consequences (even if someone is murdered by an axe-wielding maniac) do not matter.

If Daryl was motivated by a morally binding maxim, he was following a moral principle that he could not refuse to follow based on what might happen. In the end, Glenn’s death is an unfortunate consequence of Daryl’s actions.

So then, morally speaking, Daryl is in the moral clear.

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IT’S OK, FOLKS. WE DON’T HAVE TO HATE DARYL. WE CAN GO BACK TO OUR IRRATIONAL DARYL DIXON FANDOM.

So… to answer the question, who is morally responsible for Glenn’s death, the answer… well… we can clearly point to Negan. It is Negan who beats two men to death with Lucille. And it is Negan who decides to kill Glenn as a punishment for Daryl’s actions. However, we can’t neglect the role Daryl’s outburst plays in Glenn’s death. It’s not unreasonable to assume that Glenn may have lived if Daryl had just stayed on his ass like Negan has told him to.

Ultimately, the moral blame lies with someone I haven’t mentioned until now:

RICK GRIMES.

Dig this: Rick not only accepts the task of ridding the world of Negan and his men, he does so without any real reason for doing so.

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DON’T FEEL SORRY FOR THIS GUY. THIS IS ALL HIS FAULT.

Rick volunteers his people to fight someone else’s fight (Negan is initially the Hilltop’s problem) and arrogantly assumes that he and his group can quickly dispatch Negan and his crew without consequence.

Because they’ve done it before, Rick says.

Rick should have read up on Hume.

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Rick’s fatal flaw is that he is too arrogant to realize that his actions are not only morally suspect, but are bound to reap a bunch of bad consequences.

Rick, based on what he hears of Negan from the people at the Hilltop,  immediately concludes that violence is the only feasible solution to the (someone else’s) Negan problem and refuses to consider other alternatives including negotiation or less violent means of dealing with Negan.

… and not for lack of Morgan trying to persuade Rick over to his “all life is precious” philosophy.

 

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REMEMBER WHEN MORGAN WAS ALL ABOUT THIS STUFF?

Rick’s group, as Negan observes, killed more of Negan’s people than Negan’s people had killed Rick’s group (Carol and Maggie were taken hostage but not killed). Rick directs his group to commit mass murder on Negan’s group (while many of them were asleep).Negan’s people are shot, incinerated, and stabbed in the head by Rick’s group (ok, Carol setting those dudes on fire may have been justified). It wouldn’t be irrational to assume that Negan was protecting his people from Rick’s group.

As the primary authority figure in his group, Rick knew that his people would follow his lead – unfortunately without question.
Rick may believe his actions are correct. They’re not.

Rick Grimes is the embodiment of bad motivations with bad consequences.

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WHY BOTHER WITH THE EENY MEENY MINY MOE STUFF? JUST LUCILLE ALL OF ‘EM.

 

When you really get down to it, Rick killed Glenn and Abraham.

 

And I have one thing to say to Rick Grimes about this:
SUCK MY NUTS.

 

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