OBLIGATORY CHRISTMAS POST

I’VE SAID IT BEFORE but it’s always worth repeating: I AM NOT A FAN OF CHRISTMAS.

Oh sure, if you want to give me a Christmas present, I’ll take it I’ll eat the hell out of some Christmas cookies.

Just don’t expect that I’ll join you in singing Christmas carols or play any part in a secret Santa.

And I don’t say no Merry Christmas to the greeters at Walmart.

Here’s some war on Christmas for ya, Bill O’Reilly.

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Like Hall and Oates said, I don’t go for that.

My favorite Christmas movie still is Christmas Evil.

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I CAN NEVER GET ENOUGH OF THIS MOVIE

Now, people who spend the holiday season filling themselves up with the Christmas spirit might call someone with my disposition a “Grinch” or a “Scrooge”.

If that’s what you call someone who don’t do Christmas, so be it. A Grinch I am.

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…EXCEPT MY HEART ISN’T TWO SIZES TOO SMALL. QUITE THE OPPOSITE, ACTUALLY.

I.

DO.

NOT.

HAVE.

THE.

CHRISTMAS.

SRIRIT.

If you’re not quite sure if you have the Christmas spirit, the Christmas spirit (according to Answers.com) means:

To have the “Christmas spirit” means to get involved and excited about the atmosphere of holiday traditions and gift giving.

The Christmas spirit, specifically the giving part, is what got me thinking all philosophically about the season of Ho Ho Ho this year.

I’ll admit that I’m a Grinch.
But in no way am I a Scrooge.

20 film adaptations, numerous made-for-TV, stage, radio, and print versions of Charles Dickens’ 1843 Christmas classic, A Christmas Carol (aka, A Christmas Carol in Prose, Being a Ghost-Story of Christmas) tells the tale of Ebenezer Scrooge. Scrooge, as the modern connotation suggests, is a man unaffected by the Christmas spirit.

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Ebenezer Scrooge hates Christmas.

And like his namesake, Scrooge McDuck, the only thing that Ebenezer Scrooge loves is money. Says Ebenezer Scrooge,

“Christmas is a poor excuse every 25th of December to pick a man’s pockets.”

Fortunately for Scrooge, his love of money has made him a very rich man.

Unfortunately, an unmitigated love of money is a sin.

Since God don’t like sin, to save the doomed soul of Ebenezer Scrooge, Scrooge is visited, on Christmas Eve, by three ghosts: the ghost of his late business partner Jacob Marley, and the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future.

Wait – that’s four ghosts.

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The spirits’ message to Scrooge: if he doesn’t relinquish his greedy ways, he’s doomed to an eternity of torment, haunted by a life wasted; devoted to nothing more than making money – the same fate that has befallen his old partner, Jacob Marley.

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JACOB MARLEY IS CONDEMNED TO SPEND AN ETERNITY LIKE THIS… 

Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol in response to the treatment of the poor of late 1800s London.

In short, if you were poor you were screwed.

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DON’T LET THE COBBLESTONE STREETS FOOL YOU. IT’S DIRTY AND DREARY DOWN THERE

In Stave One of A Christmas Carol, a conversation between Scrooge and a couple of charity collectors goes like this:

“At this festive season of the year, Mr. Scrooge,” said the gentleman, taking up a pen, “it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and Destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir.”

“Are there no prisons?” asked Scrooge.

“Plenty of prisons,” said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.

“And the Union workhouses?” demanded Scrooge. “Are they still in operation?”

“They are. Still,” returned the gentleman, “I wish I could say they were not.”

“The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?” said Scrooge.

It’s not entirely surprising, then, that Scrooge, when one of the collectors tells him that the poor would rather die than suffer in prison or the workhouse, says:

“If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”

A fan of Ayn Rand before there was Ayn Rand.

The four spirits (after tormenting the guy all night) persuade Scrooge to give up his greedy ways. However, unlike the factory owners and landlords who were more than willing to allow their workers and tenants languish is poverty and squalor, Dickens’ Ebenezer Scrooge experiences a change of heart and Scrooge is redeemed.

Changed – for the better.

Scrooge is imbued with the Christmas spirit.

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Dickens wrote:

Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms. His own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for him.

Because that’s the way that morality tales work.
It doesn’t matter whether Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is a Christian allegory, or a simple tale of bad guy gone good The moral takeaway, no matter what you believe in, is the belief that we are here, not just to enrich ourselves, but to do good for others.

There are a few famous philosophers who also wrote something a little along those lines…

John Stuart Mill, inventor of utilitarianism, wrote:

“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.”

The German philosopher, Immanuel Kant wrote:

“Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of another, always at the same time as an end and never simply as a means.”

The Greek Stoic philosopher Epictetus wrote:

“What you would avoid suffering yourself, seek not to impose on others.”

From the Upanishads:

“Let no man to do another that which would be repugnant to himself; this is the sum of righteousness. A man obtains the proper rule by regarding another’s case as like his own.”

In his new-found redemption, Ebenezer Scrooge is struck by the desire to do good to others. No longer consumed by the love of money, Ebenezer Scrooge vows to works for the good of everyone: the family of his long-exploited employee, Bob Cratchit, his nephew − oh god, what was his nephew’s name?
Fred. His name was Fred, right?

Dickens writes,

“Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did NOT die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world.”

In the end, I suppose a genuine Christmas hater like myself could learn to enjoy Christmas − if not merely for the pleasure of eating a diabetic coma-inducing number of sugar sprinkled sugar cookies, but for the opportunity to learn a philosophical lesson (in this case, do good for other people or else) from a Christmas movie that doesn’t involve a deranged killer Santa or a terrorist take-over of the Nakatomi Plaza.

By the way, Die Hard – totally a Christmas movie.

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I mean, would I rather have my philosophical lesson of the day reading Kant’s Groundwork or watching the 18th film adaptation of A Christmas Carol?
I’ll tell you right now, I’d rather watch the movie.

I’ll even wear an ugly Christmas sweater while doing it.

 

 

 

 

 

SOURCES:

http://www.answers.com/Q/What_does_it_mean_to_have_the_christmas_spirit?#slide=1

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

http://www.victorianweb.org/authors/dickens/xmas/scrooge.html

https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/A_Christmas_Carol#Stave_5:_The_End_of_It

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The Utilitarian Calculus Will Shut That Shit Down, NO EXCEPTIONS

WELL… IT’S FALL and if autumn means one thing, it means the return of my favorite hate to love/love to hate TV show, The Walking Dead.
I’ve been watching this show, basic cable television’s highest rated zombie-infused soap opera, since the first episode aired in October 2009.

It’s only now that I’m really beginning to question if I should have devoted so much time to this t.v. show.

Now, before you start going on about how if I don’t like the show, I should just stop watching, for starters, I’ve been telling myself that for the past three seasons. Second, I would stop watching The Walking Dead if they would stop putting so much philosophy in it.

It’s the worst best philosophical show on t.v.
Best because the show combines my two favorite things: philosophy and zombies.

Worst because of this guy

 

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UGH.

 

That’s right. I’m no fan of Negan.

The more I watch Negan, the more I kinda miss the Governor.

 

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GOTTA ADMIRE A GUY WHO CAN USE THE SIGHT OF HIS GUN WITH AN EYE THAT ISN’T THERE

 

Rick Grimes’ current nemesis , the mononymously named Negan, first appeared in the season six finale episode “Last Day On Earth”. Armed with his barbed wire-wrapped Louisville Slugger Lucile, Negan declares himself the ultimate badass, bludgeons not one, but two of Rick Grimes’ group (Abraham and Glenn), humiliates Rick in front of his people, and nearly forces Rick to cut off the arm of his son Carl.

Negan does all of this and he still becomes a fan favorite.

Seriously, just Google Negan cosplay.

Up until season eight Negan was just a deranged, leather coat wearing, inexplicably leaning back, monologuing, constant dick joke telling, bat wielding psychopath. But, in the season eight episode 5 episode “The Big Scary U”, The Walking Dead shows us is that Negan isn’t just a guy with a ridiculously wide, bright-toothed grin in a leather jacket who’ll bash your brains in, he’s actually got a philosophy.

Dare I say the man’s got ethics.

Being that this is The Walking Dead, one guess what system of ethics Negan uses.

You guessed it: Negan is a utilitarian.
The big scary U is utilitarianism.

 

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THAT U IS BIG… AND KINDA SCARY

 

Well, actually in the show it’s the unknown.

However, ethically speaking, the big scary u guiding damn-near every dumb decision ever made by any character on The Walking Dead seems grounded in the principle of the greatest good for the greatest number.

I say seems grounded.

Because most of the time they get it wrong.

 

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LOOK CLOSELY: RICK IS JUST CAME UP WITH ANOTHER DUMB IDEA

 

Well, before I get into how they get utilitarianism wrong on The Walking Dead, it’s probably a good idea to explain what utilitarianism is.

Utilitarianism, the consequentialist ethical theory which stats that an act is judged morally right or wrong depending on the consequences (of that action). Although consequentialist ethics have been around since humans have had ethics, the origin of utilitarianism s credited to the British philosopher Jeremy Bentham (1748 –1832).
Bentham’s consequentialist ethical theory (hedonism) is grounded on the principle of utility.
Bentham states:

By the principle of utility is meant that principle which approves or disapproves of every action whatsoever according to the tendency it appears to have to augment or diminish the happiness of the party whose interest is in question: or, what is the same thing in other words to promote or to oppose that happiness.

For Bentham, maximizing pleasure is the goal of any action. The maximization of pleasure is the highest good.

 

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HEDONISTIC PLEASURE: MAXIMIZED

Although Bentham is credited with inventing modern utilitarianism, the British economist and philosopher, John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) is the philosopher most associated with utilitarianism.

 

I guess if you don’t include Peter Singer.
Or Henry Sidgwick.

…or G.E. Moore.

Mill rejects Bentham’s hedonistic calculus (Mill states that pleasure alone cannot be the standard by which we judge the morality of an act). According to Mill, an act is morally right if the act maximizes the happiness of the community.

Mill defines happiness as well being.

The primary principle of Mill’s utilitarianism is the Greatest Happiness Principle.
And that, according to Mill, is:

The creed which accepts as the foundations 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.

We’ve seen plenty of (sometimes opposing) ethical systems on The Walking Dead.

The deontological ethics of Dale Horvath.

Hershel Greene’s biblically based morality.

The egoist tendencies of the Governor.

The Hobbesian nightmare of Terminus.

Daryl Dixon’s ethics of loyalty.

The moral grab bag that is Rick Grimes…

 

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SERIOUSLY, WHERE ARE THIS GUY’S ETHICS?????

 

So, when you see a man beat a man to death with a baseball bat, one may be inclined to ask, “exactly how does he justify doing this?”

Luckily the fifth episode of season eight tells us exactly that.

Negan’s justification is Utilitarian.

 

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THERE’S SOMETHING NOT RIGHT ABOUT HAVING TEETH THAT BRIGHT THREE YEARS INTO A ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE

 

Negan explains to Father Gabriel that he hasn’t “killed anyone who didn’t need it”.
In an exchange with the recently deposed leader of the Hilltop (and all-around weaselly guy) Gregory

Apparently, no one has a last name in a zombie apocalypse.

Negan explains to Gregory that he is not guilty of committing brutal murder. On the contrary, Negan says, his seemingly evil actions are not only justified but necessary.
Their conversation goes like this:

Gregory: Listen, I mean it when I say it – Negan, I don’t like killing people any more than you do.
Negan: I like killing people… I say it’s about killing the right people. So you kill the right people at the right time, everything falls into place. Everybody’s happy. Well, some people more than others. But you kill one, then you can be saving hundreds more – and THAT is what we are all about. We save people.

The right people.
The right time.
Everybody’s happy.
We save people.
Saving hundreds.

Furthermore, when Father Gabriel suggests that Negan’s workers are being forced to work against their will, Negan tells Gabriel (or “Gabey”, as Negan calls him) that his worker class is “an economy”. Negan says no one is a slave no one goes hungry.
No one goes hungry.

 

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AN INEXHAUSTIBLE SUPPLY OF PICKLES: THE PERKS OF TURNING COAT AND SELLING OUT YOUR FRIENDS TO NEGAN

 

If we evaluate Negan’s explanations to Gregory and Father Gabriel, according to Mill’s Greatest Happiness Principle, a Sanctuary full of happy, safe people with full bellies make a damn good argument in favor of Negan’s justification for killing a few people.

Even if those people are Abraham and Glenn.
And Denise
And Olivia
And Spencer
And Benjamin
And Sasha…

 

 

 

 

 

SOURCES:

The Walking Dead. “The Big Scary U”. Story by Scott M. Gimple, David Leslie Johnson & Angela Kang. Teleplay by David Leslie Johnson & Angela Kang. Directed by Michael E. Satrazemis. Original airdate: November 19, 2017.

https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/utilitarianism-history/

ON BUNNIES, BAMBI, AND THE ETHICS OF NOT SAYING ANYTHING AT ALL

EVERYBODY’S GOT A story about the movie that traumatized you as a kid.
The movies The Neverending Story and The Dark Crystal are sure-fire picks for everybody’s short list.

The Secret of NIMH.

Coraline.

If you want to watch real cinema-induced trauma, watch the movie “The Adventures of Mark Twain”. The movie is rated G, but you’ll soon ask how a movie that disturbing was rated for general audiences.

Traumatic cinema isn’t a new thing. Filmmakers have been making nightmare fuel for tots for decades. By my estimate they’ve been at it since at least 1942.

That was the year Walt Disney Studios released Bambi.

Walt Disney’s Bambi, based on the book Bambi, A Life in the Woods by Felix Salten, was Disney’s fifth animated film. The studio’s four previous films, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Fantasia, and Dumbo, all have their fair share of scary moments.

Kids turning into jackasses, anyone?

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But Bambi tops all that. Bambi has the one thing that scares the living daylights out of children who are aware of human mortality:

The death of parent.

Somebody shoots Bambi’s mom.

 

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SERIOUSLY, WHAT KIND OF SICK S.O.B. PUTS SOMETHING LIKE THIS IN A KIDS MOVIE???

 

Luckily, that’s not what I’m going to talk about.

I’m going to write about a lighter topic: lies.

Or rather, about a particular kind of lie.

In the movie, Thumper, Bambi’s annoyingly adorable bunny friend, when his mother admonishes him for describing the Prince of the Forest’s walk as not “very good”, repeats his father’s bit of moral advice: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all”.

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Bad grammar aside, Thumper’s father’s ethic (also called the Thumperian principle, Thumper’s rule or Thumper’s law) sounds like the nice thing to do. But a philosopher’s gotta think: is not saying anything at all the morally right thing to do?

First off, Thumper is right. Bambi’s walk was wobbly.

Bambi, a newborn deer, had the typical gait of a newborn deer – not very good.

Thumper merely offered his honest opinion.

Honest.

Spilled the T, as the kids say these days.
…actually, now that I’m thinking about it, Thumper threw some serious shade.

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Honesty usually isn’t considered a bad thing.

We often say honesty is the best policy, and if we consider being honest the same as telling the truth, we should also value honesty as a stone on the path to wisdom.
Remember, philosophers are all about loving wisdom.

If we say honesty is the best policy, we say it knowing that the truth is often difficult to hear.

 

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YOU CAN’T POSSIBLY TALK ABOUT PEOPLE NOT LIKING THE TRUTH WITHOUT INCLUDING THIS… IT’S THE LAW

 

Although we say that the truth hurts; that we’re offering tough love or “constructive criticism”, we praise straight shooters, people who “tell it like it is” and “call it like they see it”.

Of course, we wouldn’t want people to tell the truth all the time. Even Plato recognized the usefulness and necessity of lies.

To the rulers of the state then, if to any, it belongs of right to use falsehood, to deceive either enemies or their own citizens, for the good of the state: and no one else may meddle with this privilege. − Plato

If I’ve learned anything from watching Jim Carrey movies, I’ve learned that not being able to lie can be just as bad as lying. Should we say that those jeans really do make our wife’s ass look fat? Should we tell our three-year-old that Sparky didn’t go to doggie heaven? Should we tell the truth even if the truth isn’t nice?
Is it better to think it and not say it?

Should we just omit the truth?

There is a line between being tactful and lying. We lie when we withhold the truth. But not telling the truth isn’t an outright lie − it’s not saying anything.

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But isn’t omission a lie?

What is lying by omission?

Lying by omission, otherwise known as exclusionary detailing, is lying by either omitting certain facts or by failing to correct a misconception

Let’s get back to the original Thumperian principle: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all”. Thumper isn’t omitting facts or failing to correct a misconception. The matter at hand concerns Thumper’s opinion.

If Thumper followed his father’s admonition, he wouldn’t have lied by omission.

He wouldn’t have been rude, either.

That kinda was Thumper’s mom’s point, wasn’t it?

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Ok. Thumper isn’t a liar. But something’s still bugging me about what Thumper said. Or rather, something’ bugging me about abiding by the Thumperian principle. Sometimes we need to tell some of those not nice truths.

After all, we’re not just talking about not hurting someone’s feelings. In the long run, it doesn’t matter whether someone wears a pair of ill-fitting jeans. It’s not just a matter of bad manners.

We’re talking about philosophical integrity.

When we declare a principle like, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all” we’re declaring a philosophical position. We’re saying we believe being nice − being nice; being aware of the feelings of others and respecting others as we want to be respected − is a good thing.

And by good, we mean it’s the morally correct thing to do.

The Bible tells us it’s good to be nice to people. Mathew 7:12 says,

“do unto others as you would have them do unto you”

Being nice isn’t just a very Christian thing to do, it’s the Kantian thing to do.
The German philosopher. Immanuel Kant (1724–1804), created the Categorical Imperative as a means of establishing a basis of ethics (not based in religion or consequentialism) that would apply to all people, universally.

Kant’s Categorical Imperative states, “act only in accordance with that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it become a universal law”

Yeah, it sounds a lot like the Golden Rule, but Kantians INSIST that it’s not the same thing.

Another Formula Kant’s Categorical Imperative, the Formulation of Ends, states: “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.”

In short, according to Kant and the Bible, we’re morally obligated to treat others with respect – an element of which is not lying to people.

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It’s important that we be nice to people, but it is also important that we tell people the truth.

That’s because the truth is illuminating.

Plato demonstrates the illuminating effect of the truth in the Allegory of the Cave.

In Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, from Book VII in The Republic, Socrates describes the story of a group of prisoners trapped inside a cave.

The prisoners are unable to leave the cave because they are chained to a wall and unable to face in any direction other than to face straight ahead. The only images the prisoners see are the shadows projected on the wall in front of them, illuminated by the light from a fire behind them.

The shadowy images on the wall are the only reality the prisoners know.

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The prisoners eventually escape the confines of the cave and are brought into the light of day.

Light of Day… good song, awful movie.

At first, the brilliant light of the sun pains their eyes and they are confused by what they see. The prisoners realized that the world inside the cave isn’t reality at all.

There’s a bit more to Plato’s allegory, however, misinterpreted to its most basic components, Plato’s tale of the chained prisoners demonstrates the effect of truth, and how the truth, even if initially hurts us, is essential for a good (i.e. philosophical) life.

So, what does all this have to say about Thumper?

Well, for starters, Thumper was rude. Additionally, he wasn’t really stating anything that wasn’t obvious to even the most unobservant forest dweller. Thumper’s unsolicited opinion based on his observation of the newborn fawn’s walk doesn’t seem controversial – primarily because it was an opinion.

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But − should we be concerned about the feelings of others? Should we hold opinions to a different standard than we hold the truth? Should we, as Maurice Switzer suggested, “remain silent at the risk of being thought a fool, than to talk and remove all doubt of it”?

Honestly, I really can’t say exactly what a philosopher should think about what Thumper said. Maybe, just for the sake of preventing meaningless (and all too often pedantic) philosophical arguments, we should follow Thumper’s dad’s advice.

Seriously, where was Thumper’s dad???

 

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I THINK I HAVE AN IDEA…..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SOURCES:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thumper_(Disney)

https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Lying_by_omission

Oh, No. Not Again.

*TW: this post includes discussion of sexual assault

 

THERE’S A SCENE in the movie Spaceballs – it’s supposed to be a parody of the chestburster scene in the movie Alien – where the late John Hurt re-enacts the scene where his character, Kane shows us what happens when you get too close to something that looks like this

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This happens

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And then this happens

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Seriously no Bueno.

In Alien, Kane dies. In Spaceballs, Kane’s misfortune ends with a punchline.

Because Spaceballs is a comedy.

If you haven’t seen it, you should check it out. That Dark Helmet is pretty funny.

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Gazing down at the newly born xenomorph emerging from his opened chest, John Hurt, as Kane, laments, “Oh no, not again.”

Cue rimshot.

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I’m kinda understanding how Kane felt right now.

Not because I have an alien neonate bursting from my chest.

It’s because I, too have recently said the phrase “oh no, not again”.

It wasn’t the punchline of a joke, though.

I said it because I, like Kane, was lamenting the repeat of something I’d been through before – discovering that yet another one of my faves is “problematic”.

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“Problematic” is an understatement.

One of my faves is accused of committing multiple acts of sexual assault. On minors.

Now, I’ve written about problematic favorites before. Thrice, in fact.

If you’re a fan of enough famous people, you’ll find that there’s a certain percentage of them that are, for lack of a better phrase, bad people. As a Beatles fan, I am aware of accusations of John Lennon’s violent behavior, including spousal abuse.
That’s…. problematic.

 

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YEAH… KINDA WHERE I AM RIGHT NOW

 

As a fan of philosophy, I know that philosophy is filled with sexists, anti-Semites, racists, even renowned University of California, Berkley philosophy professors accused of sexual assault.

…and I’m not even talking about old white guys who lived hundreds of years ago.

 

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I’M TALKING ABOUT YOU, JOHN SEARLE

 

Alright, I know that no human is perfect, even myself. Many of us has done something that, if we ran what we did through an ethical evaluation machine, our acts would label us “problematic”.

I’m not expecting moral perfection.

For me, being a philosopher isn’t about being perfect (No philosopher is. Not even Hegel).

Luckily studying and enjoying philosophy doesn’t require that.

I know that no person is perfect. And I know that brilliant people; people who do wonderful things, create amazing art, or develop the perfect ontology, can do the most heinous moral wrongs.

Schopenhauer pushed a woman down a flight of stairs.

 

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IF I HAD TO TAKE A GUESS AND NAME A PHILOSOPHER WHO LOOKS MOST LIKELY TO THROW A WOMAN DOWN A FLIGHT OF STAIRS, I’D CHOOSE SCHOPENHAUER

 

Intellectually I realize (rationalize?) that it’s possible to separate a creator from their creation; that, despite what I know about John Lennon, Roman Polanski, or Colin McGinn, it’s possible to enjoy and appreciate what they have contributed to our culture and public discourse.

Heidegger was a Nazi, but I can’t deny his influence on the way we think.

As much as I am sometimes reluctant to admit that I can push aside what I know about the private acts of my favorite famous people, I ask if I should push the acts aside. I can’t but feel that there’s something wrong with saying John Lennon was a horrible person, but his horribleness doesn’t matter (or at least matters less) because he made some really good music.

That just doesn’t sound right.

 

I still feel that people should be held morally accountable for what they do. Even if they’re brilliant filmmakers, actors, musicians or philosophers.

As a philosopher, I fear a slide into a moral relativism based on the principle of “whatever you do is ok so long as I like what you do”.

That’s not good at all.

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So, I ask again, what do I do?

What is the appropriate way to deal with problematic faves? Is it morally wrong to continue to enjoy the music of John Lennon or the films of Roman Polanski or Kevin Spacey, even if they’ve committed morally objectionable acts?

Are people inseparable from what they do? Are we obligated to turn our back on them? Should we throw away their albums? Burn their books? Boycott their films?

As I write about this subject for the third time, my answer is I still don’t know.

But I have the feeling that before I figure it out, I’ll be saying “Oh, no. Not again”.

The world IS a treat… When you’re on Easy Street

SOMETIMES IT’S DIFFICULT to participate in a fandom.

Fandoms aren’t like normal people who merely watch a TV show.

…. Or read a book. Or go out and see a movie.

Unless the movie is Star Wars.

Star Wars people are NUTS.

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NOT EVERY POPULAR FRANCHISE CAN CLAIM TO HAVE FANS THIS DEDICATED

Normal people can watch an episode of their favorite series, turn off the TV and be done with it. There’s always something else to occupy their time.

Fandoms LIVE their favorite TV shows. Breathe them. They become their favorite TV shows.

The sign of a true fandom fanatic is all about the cosplay.

Cosplay:

“The practice of dressing up as a character from a movie, book, or video game, especially one from the Japanese genres of manga and anime.

Cosplay.

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THE MOST AWESOME COSPLAY EVER

There are plenty of TV fandoms that inspire the fans to dress up as their favorite characters, but nothing quite captures the dedication to a single character than fans of AMC’s The Walking Dead.

In particular, fans of this character

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Daryl Dixon.

Now, I’ve written about The Walking Dead in (too many) other blog posts. Thinking about the show and writing about its characters has, for me, become a philosophical past time.

Or obsession…

I’ve written about former Sheriff’s deputy Rick Grimes and his lack of moral consistency. I’ve also compared the world of The Walking Dead to Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan. I’ve written a thing or two about utilitarian ethics in a world populated by the undead…

I’ve written more than a couple posts about Daryl Dixon.

Mostly about Daryl and his life’s purpose – meaning of life stuff.

I’ve even jotted off a post about The Walking Dead companion series, Fear the Walking Dead.

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STILL ASKING “WHY ISN’T NICK DEAD YET?”

On a TV show where it’s easy to be distracted by the hodge-podge of the ethics and questionable ethical decision making that is Rick Grimes, it’s easy to overlook other characters worthy of equal moral scrutiny.

I haven’t really focused on Daryl Dixon from a moral point of view.

At least I don’t remember if I have.

And unlike Rick Grimes, who is, I believe, a stellar example of moral inconsistency, Daryl Dixon may be the only morally consistent character on The Walking Dead.

Or should I say that Rick Grimes is morally fluid?

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But that’s another blog post for another day…

Daryl considers his fellow survivors family and does what he can, including risking his own life (he’s been shot, pieced through with an arrow, grazed by a bullet, imprisoned, abused, nearly devoured by zombies on several occasions, made to fight his own brother in a contest to the death, almost beaten to death, nearly cannibalized, robbed of his motorcycle) all in service to his group.

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GUNS DON’T WORK ON DARYL DIXON. HE’S GOT IMPENETRABLE PLOT ARMOR

Daryl Dixon’s principles are clear: hurt a member of his family, you deserve to be hurt in return. If someone injures or threatens members of Daryl’s group (the Governor, Negan, Officer Dawn Lerner, etc. ) look forward to a royal asskickin‘ courtesy of Mr. Dixon.

But what exactly are Daryl Dixon’s principles? Is Daryl Dixon’s morality an eye for an eye? Does Daryl act because its his duty to do so? Is it because it’s the right thing to do? Is it because he wants good outcomes? Does Daryl do what he does because he believes a divinely cosmic force demands that’s the way things have to be?

I actually don’t know.

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DARYL DIDN’T SEEM TOO ENTHUSIASTIC ABOUT THE WHOLE JESUS THING

Namely, Daryl Dixon’s ethics are so difficult to pinpoint because Dixon’s ethics do not conform 100% to any deontological, utilitarian or divinely-inspired ideologies.

…but he is consistent.

Philosophers value consistency.

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Perhaps it’s Daryl Dixon’s complete originality – that he isn’t tied to the source material – allows him (unlike the characters that originated in The Walking Dead graphic novel) to be morally consistent.

We can imagine that Daryl feels it is his moral obligation to defend his family.

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A moral obligation grounded on loyalty.

Daryl Dixon’s primary moral principle is loyalty.

Daryl Dixon loyal almost to a fault.

Daryl puts down Dale after Dale is attacked by a walker – because he is loyal to Dale.

Daryl’s last words to Dale: “Sorry, brother.”

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Daryl’s loyalty to his brother Merle leads him to leave Rick’s group.

Even though Merle Dixon is a short-fused racist who, as Merle later reveals, intended to rob his fellow survivors.

AND… Daryl’s loyalty to Rick Grimes and his fellow survivors leads him right back.

When Officer Dawn Lerner kills Beth Daryl does not hesitate to dish out some retributive justice – out of loyalty to Beth and her father, Hershel Greene.

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WHEN DARYL CRIES, WE CRY

When Claimer Joe threatens to kill Rick, Michonne and Carl, Daryl offers his life in their place.

Because he is loyal to Rick.

When bad guy Negan brutally murders Abraham, Daryl strikes out at Negan.

You get the idea…

Unfortunately, Daryl’s actions gets another member of Daryl’s group killed.

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TOTALLY YOUR FAULT, DARYL

That’s because Daryl’s loyalty as a groundwork of ethics didn’t calculate the possibility of another death.

Although Daryl’s retaliation on Negan demonstrates that Daryl is a so-so utilitarian, Daryl clearly demonstrates that his only moral principle is to protect the group – because he is loyal to them.

That keeps Daryl pretty consistent, morality-wise.

Which is more than I can say for this guy

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But wait, you say. There is no such thing as an ethics of loyalty!

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Loyalty as the basis of ethics is the ethical theory founded by American philosopher Josiah Royce (1855-1916), who advocated the virtue of loyalty.

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Royce wrote that when a person joins a community committed to a shared cause, the cause develops moral significance. Royce calls the morally significant commitment “loyalty”. We can understand an individual’s morality by looking at the plurality of their loyalties.

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So, if we take a look at Daryl Dixon’s loyalties, we will see that his morals are based in his obligation to protect his group; his family. Daryl is committed, like the other members of his community, to the survival of the group – perhaps survival at all costs.

Of course, I have way oversimplified Royce’s theory.

In the end, when we look at the characters of The Walking Dead, it’s quite easy to find what’s morally wrong with the characters. They indeed are a mess of moral inconsistencies, ambiguities, contradictions, and cherry picking. Watching the show, it’s easy to throw up one’s hands and declare the characters all bad.

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Trust me, I’ve done that before.

We’re given former sheriff’s deputy Rick Grimes as the character who is morally most like us; he’s an ordinary guy thrust into an extraordinary situation; he strives to do good in a world where words like good and evil no longer apply.

It’s easy to dismiss Daryl Dixon as a character merely there for the fangirls and boys. Daryl is the not-at-all-realistic backwoods hillbilly who does nothing more for the show than to glare at people, shoot his crossbow, and leave the audience to ponder when is the last time he showered and what ungodly stank emanates from his nether region.

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I FIGURE THAT STENCH IS SOMEWHERE BETWEEN SWASS, DEAD SKUNK…AND AXE BODY SPRAY

But if we’re thinking of the characters of The Walking Dead morally, stanky, backwater Daryl Dixon may be the most moral character on the show.

At least so far as moral consistency goes.

…or according to fangirls.

 

 

 

 

Sources:
https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/Royce/#Loy

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.

Alt-Philosophy

ALTHOUGH I’VE BEEN writing this blog for awhile, I haven’t really made a habit of writing about my opinions. I mean, I write philosophical interpretations of movies and TV and music and stuff based on some other philosopher‘s philosophy, but rarely (I think) have I ever said, “Y’all know what I think?” about anything, much less on a topic that may not be (at least at first glance) philosophical.

After all, who wants to hear opinions?

You know what they say about opinions?

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And most of them stink…

That was then.

This is post-November 9th 2016.

Now, a big part of, dare I say, the allure of philosophy is that it’s all about thinking.

Thinking about stuff; thinking about anything, everything.

Philosophers do a great deal of it. Thinking. In fact, philosophers are often accused of over thinking.

Unfortunately, I may been doing way too much overthinking these days.

Some of it has to do with this guy

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The President of the United States of America, Donald J. Trump.

62,979,879 Americans voted for Trump.

I was not one of them.

Since the election of Donald Trump on November 9th, 2016 (or maybe because of the election of Donald Trump), things have been a little weird for those of us who “think” too much.

And I mean weird as in President Trump and his administration have a lot of people thinking and talking about not telling the truth.

Specifically, that the President and his administration have some difficulty saying it.

The truth.

There’s so much non-truth telling going on that the experts are now saying that President Trump and his administration are proof that we living in a “post-truth” world.

Post-truth is defined as:

Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief

So far as politics goes, appealing to emotions isn’t new. Politicians have appealed to how we feel over what we think for, well… since there have been politicians.

And it’s not as if politicians have suddenly become not truthful.

It’s just that I can’t quite remember when the truth was so… unimportant.

Folks on t.v. and on the internet are conjuring up images of the Newspeak of Orwell’s 1984 and of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World; painting images of a world where facts are not objective but are, well, whatever they say that they are.

At least that’s the way the truth goes down in Oceania .

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The president doesn’t lie, he’s merely “misspoken”.

That’s not a lie coming from the administration. It’s a “alternative fact”.

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Although it seems like it’s a pretty obvious thing to think, there are some people out there who believe that telling the truth isn’t as important as people say it is.

Truth is kind of funny, though.

The funny thing about the truth is that the truth, despite what we may believe, really is important.

You see, those of us who are into over thinking philosophically about things place a high value on truth. Truth is a very important thing to philosophers. Truth gets us to wisdom.

Philosophers love wisdom.

Philosophy literally means love of wisdom.

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Truth is an essential part of how we accurately describe reality, how the world really is.

How we know things.

It is easy to come up with two conditions for knowledge: truth and belief. It’s clear that knowledge requires truth. That is, you cannot know something unless it is true. – Richard Feldman, Epistemology.

We know things because our beliefs about things in the world are true.

As Plato said,

And isn’t a bad thing to be deceived about the truth, and a good thing to know what the truth is? For I assume that by knowing the truth you mean knowing things as they really are

Truth may not be a valued commodity in politics, as Machiavelli wrote:

Everyone admits how praiseworthy it is in a prince to keep his word, and to behave with integrity rather than cunning. Nevertheless our experience has been that those princes who have done great things have considered keeping their word of little account, and have known to beguile men’s minds by shrewdness and cunning. In the end these princes have overcome those who have relied on keeping their word.

And like Machiavelli suggested, lying may get you far in politics… and sometimes quite far in life.

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But there’s a very important reason truth matters.

Not telling the truth (aka lying) isn’t just a matter of disseminating bad information or misspeaking. Not telling the truth is pernicious deception and manipulation that makes us incapable of making correct choices.

If we are indifferent to truth or we don’t know what the truth is – if someone is lying to us and we believe them – we’re unable to navigate in the world. We see reality how it really isn’t.

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Imagine that you are planning to take a trip across the Atlantic Ocean.

No need to say why. You got your reasons.

You’ve been told by the ship’s owner that the ship you are sailing on is safe and that there is absolutely no chance of the ship sinking. You believe the ship owner’s assurances (because you have no reason not to) and believe that the ship is sea worthy. You decide to take the trip across the Atlantic Ocean.

However, the ship owner is not telling you the truth. He knows that the ship shouldn’t be anywhere near water, let alone sailing upon a whole ocean full of water. He knows the ship will not complete its voyage.

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YEP. HE KNOWS WHAT’S UP

While at sea, the ship begins to take on water and eventually (and inevitably) capsizes, killing all aboard. Including you.

Now, you made a choice based on the word of someone who did not tell you the truth.

And it cost you your life.

Possible death wishes aside, had you known the true state of things (i.e. reality) you probably would have decided to not take the trip.

Truth is important. And not just in dealing with issues of metaphysics.

We must know what the facts are if we want to make the right decision, not just on practical matters but also when we act morally.

Truth is an absolute necessity when assigning moral culpability.

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Lying, withholding truth or otherwise not being truthful are generally considered to be immoral acts.

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The reason why you shouldn’t maintain your own set of “alternative facts” in the face of objective reality is because when we act, our actions have consequences.

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And consequences, unless you’re a deontologist, can be judged morally.

Remember that ship owner I was talking about? Well, because the owner withheld the truth from the ship’s passengers and misrepresented the safety of the vessel, the passengers couldn’t make the correct choice – to take the trip or not.

The ship owner’s deception led to the loss of lives. People died because the ship owner didn’t tell the truth.

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Causing other people’s deaths is bad and if people die because of you, your are morally responsible for their deaths.

We really don’t need to go to an extreme of people dying to demonstrate that truth is a good thing – and not just because philosophers say so.

Without the truth, claims are unreliable. Truth cannot be “alternative” or “relative” or “its true for me.” Without the belief that what we’re told is true, we cant place our trust in the individuals (or institutions) that make claims or tell us anything about the way the world is. When we don’t trust people; when we don’t trust institutions (that they run), and the lack of trust undermines the legitimacy of institutions (like government). We need to be mindful that truth is an essential for good government

If you know your Thomas Jefferson and John Locke, government necessarily depends on legitimacy.

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Legitimacy relies on the consent of the governed.

Consent is based on trust.

Trust requires truth.

And this is kinda why we have to believe that truth is important.

We need truth to point out those who, by not telling the truth, corrupt government and undermine our ability to trust what others want us to believe.

In the end, we all know that seeking and preserving truth isn’t just about the right now. Presidents come and go; there will always be ship builders who’ll lie about the seaworthiness of their ship.

 

 

 

 

And that’s the honest truth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sources:
https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definiton/post-truth

Richard Feldman. Epistemology. 2003. Upper Saddle River, NJ. Prentice Hall. 12.

Niccolo Machiavelli. The Prince. 1532.