O Captain, My — OH MY GOD!!!

THERE’S A PROBLEM with nostalgia.

It’s not a big problem. It’s not a problem like global warming or lost socks in the clothes dryer. But a problem.

The problem with nostalgia is this: Looking back, things often look better than it actually was.

It’s the nostalgia trap.

Sometimes, we reminisce about simpler times that never really happened.

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THE ONLY SIMPLER TIMES I KNOW

Other times, we find out we’ve fallen into the nostalgia trap while re-watching a favorite movie.

Looking back, sometimes movies look better than they actually were.

…especially movies you first watched when you’re fifteen years old.

In particular, if that movie is called Dead Poet’s Society.

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Carpe Diem. That’s 20th century speak for YOLO

Now, I know I’m treading into potentially hostile waters. I’ve seen the DPS fandom — they’re CRAZY devoted.

You know what else is crazy? DPS slashfic. I mean, I get the Anderperry stuff, but I never once ever shipped Charlie Dalton and Knox Overstreet.

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EVERYBODY’S BI IF YOU WATCH A MOVIE ENOUGH TIMES

Did I mention that I’m totally on board with this ship?

Knarlie?…. Chox?

ANYWAY….

When I was a fifteen year old kid (o, so many years ago), I didn’t really make it a habit of thinking too deeply about anything, much less thinking about things philosophically.

Back when I was fifteen, all I thought about was…

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But, now that I’m a wee bit older (older than fifteen, anyway) and taken a few philosophy classes, I realize I HAVE ALL SORTS OF PROBLEMS WITH THIS MOVIE!!!

Dead Poet’s Society is a moral mess.

Particularly on the subject of assigning moral culpability. There’s a lot of finger pointing going on in this movie.

The things you realize when a movie is 30 years old… OH MY GOD, DEAD POET’S SOCIETY IS 30 YEARS OLD. It’s old enough to run for Congress!

But, before we point fingers at anybody, we gotta define our terminology.

So…what’s culpability?

Once again, we turn to Wikipedia to explain things:

Culpability, or being culpable, is a measure of the degree to which an agent, such as a person, can be held morally or legally responsible for action and inaction. It has been noted that the word, culpability, “ordinarily has normative force, for in nonlegal English, a person is culpable only if he is justly to blame for his conduct”.Culpability therefore marks the dividing line between moral evil, like murder, for which someone may be held legally responsible and a randomly occurring event, like earthquakes, for which no human can be held responsible.

Ok… For starters, I want to say I’m talking only about moral culpability, not legal culpability. I’m not talking about sending anyone to prison.

Well, except for maybe this creepy mouthbreather right here.

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But I’ll get to that later.

ANYWAY….

Before we get a call from God demanding we let girls into Welton, let’s all stand on our desks and ready our barbaric yawps to dive into the moral mess that is Dead Poet’s Society.

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CASE ONE: WHO (really) IS RESPONSIBLE FOR THE DEATH OF NEIL PERRY?

Every fan of Dead Poet’s Society knows that the death of Neil Perry is the most tragic near-the-end-of a-movie in film history (but only if you’re fifteen years old and haven’t watched Requiem For A Dream yet). Neil’s death by suicide is blamed on the unorthodox teachings of his English teacher, John Keating. Neil’s father claims that Keating’s carpe diem-based philosophy influenced his son to act recklessly. The recklessness? ACTING.

Neil Perry wants to be an actor.

Neil’s father wants him to be a doctor.

OBVIOUS DISAGREEMENT.

John Keating is dismissed from his post as English teacher at Welton Academy —

Wait — did I mention that this takes place at an all-boys prep school in 1959?

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GENTLEMEN, WHAT ARE THE FOUR PILLARS?

So… John Keating is fired from his position as an English teacher at Welton Academy after the school’s administration and Neil Perry’s parents hold Keating (and his teachings) responsible for the boy’s death.

According to Welton’s head administrator, Mr. Nolan, and Mr. and Mrs. Perry, John Keating’s encouraged Neil (and his other students) to be non-conformists and to defy authority by way of their membership in the Dead Poet’s Society. In Neil Perry’s case, Keating is accused of encouraging Neil to pursue a career in acting rather than attending medical school as his parents want him to.

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DING DING! BAD DECISION ALERT

The whole situation goes to seed when Neil’s father discovers his son has secretly taken the part of Puck in a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Neil’s father threatens to withdraw Neil from Welton and enroll him in military school (so Neil will go to Harvatd to be a doctor).

Papa Perry tells his son that he is through with that “acting business”.

Feeling trapped by his father and unable to pursue his life dream, Neil commits suicide.*

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…leading to the most tragic moment in cinema history (at least to me when I was fifteen and hadn’t yet seen Requiem For A Dream), when Charlie tells Todd…

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So… Keating loses his job (and presumably his career in academia) because Welton and Neil Perry’s parents and the folks at Welton hold him morally culpable for Neli’s death. If not for Keating’s teachings (and the Dead Poet’s Society), Neil would not have killed himself.

But let’s think about it… is Keating really morally responsible for Neil’s death?

Well, that depends on who you ask.

STEP ONE: ASK A KANTIAN

If we ask a Kantian (god knows we wouldn’t want to ask Kant himself), the Kantian would tell us that Keating is not responsible, morally or otherwise, for the death of Neil Perry. The reason why Keating is not has to do with rationality.

Immanuel Kant, like his contemporary Enlightenment philosophers, believed that human progress, intellectual and philosophical, is the result of man’s rationality.

According to Kant, rationality is a prerequisite for morality.

For Kant, we must be rational to be moral.

That’s what the Categorical Imperative is all about.

Kant tells us that we are bound by moral duties, not only to others, but to ourselves. We cannot violate the categorical imperative, even if the only person we violate the categorical imperative for is ourselves.

Yes, Kant not only says we are capable of using ourselves as mere means to our own ends, he also tells us that’s something we can’t do. Suicide, according to Kant, does exactly that. Kant says we can’t commit suicide because committing killing ourselves treats us as mere means to our ends.

…and it’s not a rational thing to do.

Kant on suicide:

Firstly, under the head of necessary duty to oneself: He who contemplates suicide should ask himself whether his action can be consistent with the idea of humanity as an end in itself. If he destroys himself in order to escape from painful circumstances, he uses a person merely as a mean to maintain a tolerable condition up to the end of life. But a man is not a thing, that is to say, something which can be used merely as means, but must in all his actions be always considered as an end in himself. I cannot, therefore, dispose in any way of a man in my own person so as to mutilate him, to damage or kill him. (It belongs to ethics proper to define this principle more precisely, so as to avoid all misunderstanding, e.g., as to the amputation of the limbs in order to preserve myself, as to exposing my life to danger with a view to preserve it, etc. This question is therefore omitted here.)

Neil bears the moral blame for Neil’s suicide because he violated the Categorical Imperative — on himself.

SO, if we’re assigning moral blame (from the Kantian view), we’d say that the moral responsibility for Neil Perry’s death is all on Neil, not John Keating. If we assume that Neil Perry is a rational (moral) actor (there’s no reason why we shouldn’t), we can also assume that Neil alone is responsible for what he does, including the act of suicide.

Of course, I’m assuming that Neil Perry never heard of Arthur Schopenhauer. For all I know, Neil was a fan.

If Neil was a Schopenhaurerian (is that even a word?) then it’s all on Neil. 100%

Schopenhauer on suicide:

They tell us that suicide is the greatest piece of cowardice… that suicide is wrong; when it is quite obvious that there is nothing in the world to which every man has a more unassailable title than to his own life and person.

Wow. That got dark for a moment.

But that’s Schopenhauer for you.

ANYWAY…

So, according to the Kantian, John Keating is in the clear.

Right?

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Ok… if John Keating is cleared of moral culpability by the Kantian, what if we ask a utilitarian?

STEP TWO: ASK THE UTILITARIAN

If the Kantian tells us the John Keating isn’t morally culpable for the death of Neil Perry, we might assume that a utilitarian would also tell us that Keating is not responsible (morally) for Neil’s death.

However, if we assumed that we might be wrong.

So, who would the utilitarian tell us is morally responsible for Neil Perry’s death?

You guessed it.

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THE CAPTAIN HIMSELF

The Kantian’s moral principle is grounded in the Categorical Imperative…

I just want to say, for the record, there’s no reason to capitalize the “C” and “I” in the words “Categorical Imperative”. It’s not like we’re talking about God or anything. It’s a stylistic choice. I capitalize it because it’s a nice thing to do for Kant.

As I stated, the Kantian’s moral principle is grounded in the Categorical Imperative. The utilitarian, on the other hand, is guided by the Greatest Happiness Principle. 

So what’s that?

Greatest Happiness Principle, as articulated by John Stuart Mill in Utilitarianism (1863), is:

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.

Or, as we often say, an act is morally permissible if it produces the greatest good for the greatest number. 

Doing the right thing is all about what act produces the best consequences for the largest group of people

Sounds simple, right?

I mean, all we have to do is aim to make everybody happy.

John Keating teaches his students to think for themselves and make their lives extraordinary. He urges his students to carpe diem — seize the day — all with the aim to produce the best consequences for his boys.

But there’s a problem with utilitarianism.

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You see, an act is good, according to utilitarianism,  only if the act produces good consequences. Here’s the thing: sometimes, despite our best intentions, bad consequences happen. Even if we don’t intend bad results from our actions, the utilitarian says we’re still morally accountable for them.

If we look at what happens in Dead Poet’s Society, it’s pretty plain to see that Keating’s teachings don’t produce good consequences for everybody.

Let’s see all the bad things that happen when you teach kids to carpe some diems:

  • Neil Perry, motivated by the spirit of  carpe diem, auditions for and lands the part of Puck in a community production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Neil knows his father does not want him to be an actor. Neil’s father finds out and threatens to enroll Neil in military school, dashing his dreams of becoming an actor. As a consequence, Neil commits suicide.
  • Also motivated by the carpe diem spirit, Charlie Dalton publishes an anonymous letter on behalf of the Dead Poet’s Society demanding that girls be admitted to Welton Academy. This act not only reveals the existence of the Dead Poet’s Society to the school’s administration, resulting in Dalton’s major ass whipping, courtesy of head administrator, Mr. Nolan.

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  • It’s almost guaranteed that the reputation of Welton Academy was damaged in the aftermath of Neil Perry’s suicide.
  • Neil Perry’s parents are now childless.
  • John Keating is now jobless.
  • Welton has to purchase another set of English books to replace the texts that are now missing the J. Evans Pritchard introduction to understanding poetry (this seems trivial but textbooks costs money, people).
  • Charlie (whoops, Nuwanda) Dalton is expelled from school for punching Richard Cameron IN THE FACE in defense of John Keating.

And then there’s this final act of group defiance:

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ALL THESE DUDES GOT KICKED TF OUT OF SCHOOL

Now, that wasn’t good for anybody, was it?

Alright. We’ve talked about John Keating and moral culpability. Depending on what moral view you have, Keating may or may not be morally responsible for Neil Perry’s suicide. When it comes to Kantian/utilitarian ethical debates, we can go all day.

Never mind that. We might have a bigger problem…

Remember that nouthbreather I mentioned earlier?

STEP THREE: WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KNOX

If you’ve watched Dead Poet’s Society and you’re a fifteen year old girl (shit, even if you’re a guy and you’re not fifteen), you might have swooned over the story of love-struck Knox Overstreet and his quest to win the heart of the object of his affection, Chris Noel.

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LOOKS HARMLESS… LOOKS HARMLESS

The question of moral culpability and John Keating dealt with the question of if or how a person is responsible for the actions of another person.

The question of moral culpability and Knox Overstreet is at what point are we morally culpable for our own actions?

I mean, after all, they’re just kids.

Problem is, even though they’re just kids, Knox Overstreet is RAPEY AS FUCK.

Remember this scene?

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THIS KID HAS GOT #ME TOO WRITTEN ALL OVER HIM

Yeah… only one person in this scene was conscious when this happened.

Now, I’m no lawyer, but I do know that consent is legally required before initiating sexual activity — AND YES, KISSING IS SEXUAL ACTIVITY.

Besides, you can’t consent to anything, even a “harmless” kiss, if you’re not conscious.

Alright, I know. Knox didn’t actually “do” anything. It was just a harmless kiss.  The things is, even if Knox kissed Chris in an “innocent” non-sexual way, he did not have her consent to kiss her. Chris was well with her rights to report Knox to the authorities.

…and press charges.

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IT REALLY ISN’T THO.

Ok, I’m gonna call a time out here. It’s time to define some terms.

Wikipedia (yes, Wikipedia) defines sexual assault as:

…an act in which a person intentionally sexually touches another person without that person’s consent, or coerces or physically forces a person to engage in a sexual act against their will.

Alright. Let’s assume, for the sake of the example, that Knox Overstreet’s “innocent” kiss qualifies as non-consensual sexual contact.

When Knox kissed Chris she was unconscious and unable to give consent — AND she had previously expressed her disinterest in a romantic relationship with Knox.

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So, as far as he knew at the time, Knox was kissing someone who, if she were awake, would have likely rejected him.

That sounds kinda wrong to me.

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ANYBODY ELSE GET THE FEELING THIS KID WOULD SHOOT HIS LAWYER IN THE COURTROOM DURING HIS TRIAL?

BUT — even though it’s wrong (possibly illegal) to kiss, however innocently, an unconscious person, as I asked before, is Knox morally culpable for what he did?

Is a child**, like Knox Overstreet, rational enough to be held morally accountable for his actions?

Immanuel Kant tells us that society’s laws are intrinsically tied to the moral law. Illegal acts are just illegal, they’re morally wrong. Kant also tells us that rationality is requited for moral agency. But how do we determine if a person is rational? More importantly, how much rationality is required for moral culpability? Is it required at all?

Well, if we look at the U.S. legal system (I’m looking at the U.S. legal system because, a) that’s where I live, and b) the U.S. is where Dead Poet’s Society takes place), children as young as 13 are subject to adult prison sentences. That’s because the U.S. legal system assumes a child as young as 13 is rational enough to know the difference between right and wrong.

If a child possesses a basic moral understanding (they can understand the difference between right and wrong), then they ought to be legally accountable for their actions, including possibly being charged as an adult.

Can kinda implies ought.

So… if a 13 year old is subject to legal culpability for committing a crime, then a child the same age as Knox Overstreet (Knox is 17… I think) definitely can be held legally accountable for what he does.

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SORRY, KNOX. YOU’RE GOING TO THE CLINK

Ok. I know. sending a child to prison at 13 years old may seem a bit extreme to pantywaist liberals some. But, remember we’re talking about legal culpability here.

What about moral culpability?

That’s what we were talking about, right?

Well… we might have go back to rationality…

You see, according to science, the teensters don’t think straight. They don’t because they can’t.  

Teenage brains literally prevent teenagers from thinking rationally.

Although adolescents can be charged and incarcerated as adults, neuroscience holds that adolescent brains are different from adult brains. Because a teenager’s brain is not fully developed, they do not possess the capacity to reflect on their actions in the same way adults do; they do not think before they act. Because an adolescent lacks fully developed reasoning skills, an adolescent’s actions are spontaneous (impulsive). Teenagers, like Knox Overstreet, live in a perpetual state of carpe diem.

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OR COSBY DIEM IF YOU’RE KNOX OVERSTREET

 

It’s not unreasonable to argue that a being that is less rational cannot be held morally culpable for what they do.

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IF I WERE CHET DANBURY, YOU KNOW WHAT I’D DO IF KNOX OVERSTREET KISSED ALL OVER MY GIRLFRIEND? I’D GET MY BUDDIES AND TAKE HIM OUT BACK AND PUNCH HIM TILL HE POOPS HIMSELF. THEN I’D CALL IT EVEN…did i fail to mention i actually like the character Knox Overstreet?

SOOOOOO… IF we use the rationality argument to assign moral culpability, we might conclude that Knox Overstreet is not entirely morally culpable for his actions.

BUT WAIT A MINUTE — if Knox can use the rationality (or lack thereof) argument to avoid moral culpability for his actions, doesn’t that mean that Neil Perry is equally not morally culpable for taking his own life?

Maybe. Maybe not. That’s the problem philosophers gotta deal with when we ask questions about moral culpability.

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We ask questions about moral culpability even if the question ultimately is unanswerable.

But since we’re already playing the blame game, isn’t this all really Charlie Dalton’s fault?

STEP FOUR: BLAME NUWANDA

As a fifteen year old Dead Poet’s Society enthusiast, I was smitten by Charlie Dalton.

I think everyone was.

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Charlie Dalton was a natural-born iconoclast. He was the defiant, saxophone-playing poet who took to Mr. Keating’s carpe diem philosophy with the same enthusiasm that legions of DPS fangirls and boys swooned over the golden haired Dead Poet.

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YES YOU ARE, NUWANDA. YES YOU ARE.

Unfortunately, the reason why we love Nuwanda is the exact reason why everything bad that happens in Dead Poet’s Society is all his fault. But why is it all Charlie’s fault, you say?

Remember this scene?

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Yeaaaahhhhh…..

You see, Charlie Dalton was the Dead Poet who placed the anonymous editorial in the school paper petitioning for girls to be admitted to Welton Academy.

That led to some bad consequences…

  • If not for Charlie’s article, Mr. Nolan and the school’s administration would not have known of the Dead Poet’s Society.
  • If the administration didn’t knew about the existence The Dead Poet’s Society, they might not have tied the club to John Keating
  • And if they hadn’t tied the existence of the club to John Keating, Keating might not have lost his job at Welton and his students might not have risked expulsion by standing on their desks with that “O Captain, My Captain” thing.

Pretty sure Neil would still be dead, though.

Hey, wait a minute! Wasn’t it Neil who found Keating’s old yearbook and reconvened the Dead Poet’s Society?

So it’s actually all Neil’s fault.

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YEP. IT’S ALL NEIL’S FAULT

But, Neil’s just a seventeen year-old kid. And teenagers aren’t always morally culpable for what they do.

Here we go again. That damn moral culpability.

ANYWAY….

I’ll just say Meeks is responsible for it all.

 

 

 

 

*For the record, Neil’s suicide was not the right thing to do.

** A child is legally defined as individuals under the age of eighteen.

 

 

 

SOURCES:

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

Immanuel Kant. [1785]. Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals

https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/arthur_schopenhauer_104802?fbclid=IwAR2cHlLHLxsGJJr-QEWxS7Krddafmek_BQXAPE363jHgLkIZDmm5IP5W1ag#targetText=Arthur%20Schopenhauer%20Quotes&targetText=They%20tell%20us%20that%20suicide,his%20own%20life%20and%20person

John Stuart Mill. [1863]. Utilitarianism

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sexual_assault#Groping

https://www.americanbar.org/groups/public_interest/child_law/resources/child_law_practiceonline/child_law_practice/vol-34/august-2015/understanding-the-adolescent-brain-and-legal-culpability/

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THE (UN)ETHICS OF TV LAW

IN ALL HONESTY cutting the cord kinda sucks.

When you got cable tv, you inevitably end up with a bunch of channels you don’t watch. And it costs too much money.

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The only good thing about cable tv is good reception.

I don’t have cable tv anymore.

Now I have an antenna.

Watching television with an antenna is almost as bad as cable tv.

That is to say, you still get stuck with a bunch of channels you don’t want to watch.

Only the reception is worse.

….which leads me to why I’ve been watching a lot of Start TV.

For those of you who have no idea what StartTV is (and I suspect there’s more than a few of you who don’t) StartTV is an over-the-air television network specializing in women-centered programming.

I swear I am not making a pitch, here.

Anyway, if you enjoy wasting spending your potentially productive waking hours binge watching old episodes of Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman, Ghost Whisperer, and Touched By An Angel, then Start TV is the network for you!

Seriously, I should be getting paid to plug this network.

I might want to say that spending most of my otherwise productive hours of the day binge watching Start TV is a waste of time, but I can’t say my time is entirely wasted.

After all, Start TV airs reruns of The Good Wife.  Two episodes a night. Seven days a week.

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All I can say, is thank God for procedural dramas.

I’m not going to get into the weeds describing the show (you can check it out for yourselves), but i will say that I like The Good Wife more that I like Law and Order (and Law and Order is EVERYTHING) and after all these years I still hate Jeffrey Grant.

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YOU CAN SERIOUSLY GO FUCK ALL OF YOURSELF FOR WHAT YOU DID, JEFFREY GRANT

 

If offered a jaunt inside Nozick’s experience machine, all I’d say is,

Me.

Will Gardner.

and a plate of nachos.

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SERIOUSLY, BOTH ISN’T AN OPTION???

Although I’m unashamedly a devotee of the Will Gardner Worship Society,

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I KNOW i’M NOT THE ONLY PERSON WHO SHIPPED HARD FOR WILL AND DIANE

watching The Good Wife, I can’t help but be reminded of my first tv lawyer crush — my not-as-obsessed-with-as-I-am-with-Will-Gardner-but-kinda-a-lot-for-a-fictional-character crush on New York District Attorney John James “Jack” McCoy of NBC’s long-running legal drama Law and Order.

You just heard the dun-dun didn’t you?

Now, you may ask, why was Jack McCoy my first tv lawyer crush? Go ahead and ask.

I won’t mind.

After all, Jack McCoy doesn’t cut an imposing figure like Perry Mason or have the swagger of a Will Gardner or look as good in a custom-made ensemble like the guys on Suits.

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LOOK AT THOSE DASHING ENSEMBLES

But, what Jack McCoy has — something that Perry Mason, Will Gardner, and the dudes from Suits don’t have… is KANTIAN PHILOSOPHY.

I think Matlock does, tho.

But that’s another story…….

You see, if there’s any trait that ties tv lawyers together, it’s their collective lack of morality. Or rather, their collective lack of good morality.

It’s not unfair to declare that tv lawyers are a ethically deficient bunch.

In a sea full of moral reprobates, Jack McCoy stands out, not just because he’s a (fairly) morally upstanding guy (comparatively), but because McCoy’s morality is (probably) grounded in the Ethics of the most moral of moral philosophers, 18th century German philosopher, Immanuel Kant.

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LOOKS KANTIAN, DOESN’T HE?

Listen: Anybody who knows me knows I claim to be an ethical Kantian. And anybody who knows me knows that i have a soft spot for Kantian characters.

Yeah, i know. Ayn Rand would hate me.

That’s kinda a good thing, tho.

So, lets chat a bit about why Immanuel Kant is so fantastic and how Jack McCoy is the most Kantian(esque) lawyer on tv, shall we?

If you don’t already know (and I don’t blame you if you don’t), Immanuel Kant tells us all ethics is based in duty. Our actions (motivated by duty) are grounded in our obligations to respect the autonomy of other persons and our respect for the (moral) law. According to Kant, our moral duties are universal and absolute (categorical imperatives, if you will), that we are bound to follow, no matter the consequences. Kant says about our moral duty:

an action done from duty has its moral worth, not in the purpose that is to be attained by it, but in the maxim according to which the action is determined.

According to Kant, our actions are morally good if we are acting according to our moral duties — aka following the Categorical Imperative, aka adhering to universal and absolute moral law.

Jack McCoy does this…most of the time.

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If you read your Immanuel Kant (again, I don’t blame you if you haven’t) You’d probably get the feeling that the second formulation of Kant’s Categorical Imperative sounds a tad like biblical principle of The Golden Rule.

The Second Formulation of Kant’s Categorical Imperative:

act in such a way that you simply 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

The Golden Rule states Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.

It’s nor surprising that McCoy is (almost) Kantian. Not only was Jack McCoy raised Catholic, he was also educated by the Jesuits!

you see, that’s where the biblical principles come in…..whatever.

Ok…I know what you Law and Order fans are saying. There were plenty of times when Jack McCoy would bend the law, threaten even innocent people. and outright lie to get convictions. McCoy has been found in contempt of court on not one, but several occasions.

To that, I say touche and you are correct, my fellow Law and Order fan.

We can blame that on Jack’s lapsed Catholicism…..

Hey, even Kant says you gotta turn over he innocent guy to the ax murderer.

However, Jack Mc Coy’s actions are motivated by his respect for doing what is right (whoops, I mean what is RIGHT because I’m talking about what is ethically right, here) and his respect for the law.  McCoy’s unrelenting pursuit to convict the guilty — including his own colleagues — earned him the nickname “hang ’em high” McCoy.

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When defense attorney Danielle Melnick passes along information that leads to the deaths of witnesses against her client, McCoy does not hesitate to prosecute Melnick for violating special administrative measures — despite Melnick’s attempt to appeal to her (otherwise) good legal record and her friendship with McCoy. McCoy is not persuaded McCoy to overlook her participation in several murders.

It’s also worth noting that Jack McCoy prosecuted more police officers than any other district attorney while in office.

No one else but a Kantian like Jack McCoy would do that.

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Ok, I know that’s ADA Barba and not a cop.

 

Well, probably Matlock would.

but that’s another story……

 

 

 

 

SOURCES: Immanuel Kant. [1785]. Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals.

 

THE PHILOSOPHY OF A POSTING PIC (OF A DEAD MAN’S NAKED WIENER)

I GOT BANNED ON FACEBOOK. 

I suspect that everyone who is still on Facebook has been at least once.

But, with all the crap floating around on Facebook, it’s still pretty shocking to see one of these pop up in my notifications.

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Community standards?!?!? Facebook has community standards???

To be honest, it was only a 24-hour ban, but having a whole twenty-four hour period not being able to like, post, or comment made me think about a few things:

Namely, that interacting with actual people is overrated.

Secondly, I thought about why I was banned. Why Facebook would ban me for violating Facebook’s COMMUNITY STANDARDS?

What is a COMMUNITY STANDARD anyway????

I’ll get back to that question later.

The reason for my ban, it seems, was this: I violated Facebook’s COMMUNITY STANDARDS because I posted a picture.

A. picture. Of a naked person. Actually, of naked people.

Two people. Two famous naked people.

This picture:

two virgins

Didn’t have the black bars, tho…

For those who don’t know what that photo is (and I suspect there’s more than a few of you who don’t), the community standard-violating photo is from the album cover of Two Virgins,  recorded by John Lennon and Yoko Ono, released in 1968.

The sixties may have been the decade of free love, but in 1968 the album cover caused quite a stir.

It still would. And does.

Posting the cover on Facebook earns you one of these:

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And a 24-hour ban.

In 1968, critics called the album cover vulgar. Copies of Two Virgins were confiscated on the grounds that an image of full-frontal male and female nudity is obscene.

Lennon’s record label, EMI, didn’t like the cover, either. The album was released, wrapped in a plain paper bag.

If you buy the album Two Virgins, it looks like this:

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Definitely no naked wiener in sight.

When Two Virgins was released fifty years ago, Lennon and Ono defended the nude album cover, explaining that the image of the nude pair is art (whoops. It’s ART). They argued there is nothing salacious or vulgar about the cover. According to John and Yoko,

Art = not obscenity.

The intent of the album art was to depict Lennon and Ono as two innocents — virgins — “lost in a world gone mad”. Lennon explained:

[the album cover] “just seemed natural for us. We’re all naked really.”

Now, naked dong may be innocent art according to John Lennon, but according to Facebook, you can’t post peen on Facebook for this reason: dick pics are bad.

Art or no art, unclothed genitals are obscene.

Pictures, album cover or otherwise, of naked naughty bits are obscene because pee pee and hoo hoo are harmful to the COMMUNITY.

I realize I’m being rather childish, here. I’ve referred to the genitalia as “dong”, “peen”, pee pee”, “wiener”, and “hoo hoo”, instead of using the actual medical terminology. I also realize using childish words in place of the biologically correct nomenclature is ridiculous — nearly as ridiculous as censoring any part of human body.

So, what about those COMMUNITY STANDARDS?

First, when we talk about the “COMMUNITY” we’re talking about the general public.

So…community standards are:

Community standards are local norms bounding acceptable conduct, possibly going beyond legal minimum requirements in relation to either limits on acceptable conduct itself or the manner in which the community will enforce acceptable conduct. (Wikipedia)

The purpose for setting standards of conduct for the community is ultimately in the interest of the common good.

Or so they say…

You see, it is in the community’s interest to censor images like the cover of Two Virgins because images of exposed private areas are pornographic.

If you don’t know, the definition of pornography is:

1: the depiction of erotic behavior (as in pictures or writing) intended to cause sexual excitement

2: material (such as books or a photograph) that depicts erotic behavior and is intended to cause sexual excitement

3: the depiction of acts in a sensational manner so as to arouse a quick intense emotional reaction. (Merriam-Webster)

The purpose of pornography is to arouse one’s prurient interest.**

Prurient interest is:

a term that is used for a morbid interest in sex, nudity and obscene or pornographic matters.

In June 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court decision on Miller v California created the Miller Test.

The Miller Test established the criteria for obscenity (and pornography). If a work is pornographic, we must determine:

  1. whether the average person, applying contemporary “community standards“, would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest;

  2. whether the work depicts or describes, in an offensive way, sexual conduct or excretory functions, as specifically defined by applicable state law.

  3. whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literaryartisticpolitical, or scientific value.[14]

So… If (particular or on some cases, peculiar) images of the sexual organs have no purpose other than to excite us sexually, we can classify the image as obscene or pornographic.

And, as the Miller Test tells us, if a work is pornographic, it has no redeeming social value.

Things without redeeming social value are bad.

Pornography is bad because it puts bad (prurient) thoughts on our heads.

Bad thoughts make for bad people.

Bad people are bad leaders.

And bad leaders are detrimental to the common good.

In Republic, Socrates argues that a good society depends on the morality of its citizens. If the people are exposed to things that are bad, they will become bad people. Therefore, says Socrates, we must be certain that the people, especially children, are exposed only to things that will make them good people.

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THIS IS TRUE. ESPECIALLY MODERN ART

This is especially true, Socrates says, of the arts. Socrates has no problem with censoring art that he (or society) considers to be bad.

Especially if your names are Hesiod or Homer………

homer-sucks

We know that artists can have a powerful influence on society. As a member of The Beatles and the author of songs (like) “All You Need Is Love”, “Imagine”, and “Give Peace A Chance”, John Lennon was called the “voice of his generation”. In 1966, Lennon’s “bigger than Jesus” comment sparked public outrage.

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OBVIOUSLY FANS OF SOCRATES

The Beatles — Lennon in particular — challenged the conventional social norms and morality of the older generation. John Lennon, like Socrates centuries before him, was the gadfly who rattled authority enough to make his way onto President Richard Nixon’s shit list.

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Nixon felt, because of Lennon’s influence on popular culture, that the former Beatle’s politics threatened the social order.

Or at least Lennon threatened Nixon’s 1972 presidential campaign…

Nixon wanted Lennon deported.

Now, if we’re thinking like Socrates, artists like John Lennon, the kind of artists who publicly display their boy parts, defy the city’s gods, and undermine the authority of the city’s leaders (aka, corrupt the young), are the type of people who should be censored.

After all, we must think of the children.

But wait a minute, you say. This is supposed to be all about the Two Virgins album cover, not about President Nixon’s personal vendetta against the politics of John Lennon.

If you said that, you’d be right.

So let’s get back to that, shall we?

Lennon and Ono maintained that their album cover was art, not pornographic. Unlike pornography, which has no redeeming value, the intent of the image was to convey the idea of innocence, not to arouse prurient interest.

The image on the album cover doesn’t meet our traditional notions of pornographic portraiture — there are no erections, no penetration, no sexuality graphic poses… The couple is merely standing still, posed no different than any clothed couple would pose while having their photograph taken.

We can say that the album cover was wrapped in plain brown paper to protect the children, but really, what kid in 1968 stormed their local record store to buy a copy of Two Virgins?

The message that the couple wanted us to hear is that the image of the two nude figures ought to be seen, and that we are all (metaphorically naked) innocents thrown into an often hostile that we cannot understand.

To censor the image would be to deprive people of the TRUTH.

And, as any philosopher will tell you, truth is a stepping stone on the path to wisdom.

In fact, it’s quite philosophical to argue that censorship actually damages society.

When works are censored according to what others deem obscene or offensive, the act of legislating (on the behalf of others) infringes on autonomy.

Depriving people of the ability to use their own rational judgement to decide what they do and do not want to see, deprives them of the capacity of the self-legislation required to make moral decisions.

Rational, autonomous decision making is essential for moral accountability, says Immanuel Kant.

BTW: IMMANUEL KANT IS RIGHT ABOUT EVERYTHING.

EVERYTHING.

SO…

In the end, I decided not to challenge my 24-hour Facebook ban. I know I could have laid down a smooth Kantian argument about rationality and the deleterious effect of moral paternalism, but I didn’t. I figured that the time it would take to challenge a Facebook ban would cost me seconds of my life I would not get back.

I mean, come on. It’s Facebook.

Still, when I think about the reason for the ban — that I had violated “community standards” — I’m still left wondering, what is really so bad about a man’s naked penis or a woman’s nipples? Does pubic hair have the power to destroy society?

Is there an inherent soul-corrupting quality located inside human genitals?

If so, does science know about this???

 

 

 

 

 

** This isn’t the purpose of pornography according to me. It is, however, the purpose of pornography according to the U.S. Supreme Court and moralizers everywhere.

 

 

 

SOURCES:

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

https://thelawdictionary.org/prurient-interest/

https://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-supreme-court/413/15.html

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.
stewie-demands-brian-griffin-give-him-back-his-money-on-family-guy_zpsf260ef13

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?

tesla-in-space

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

I AM VEGAN

 

THERE ARE ONLY TWO months of the year that mean anything to me: October and February.

Not because of Halloween and Valentine’s Day.

The reason why October and February hold such a dear place in my heart is because October and February are the months when The Walking Dead seasons begin.

First half of the season begins in October. Second half begins in February.

It’s March. Second half of season 8. They just killed Carl Grimes.

No old man Carl. No Lydia licking Carl’s empty eyehole. No Carl doing ANYTHING.

Dammit.

Oops. Spoiler alert.  

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Well, anyway….

 

While watching a tv show about flesh eating ambulatory revenants, my mind drifts, from time to time, to the subject of flesh – namely, the fact that zombies consume human flesh.
In the world of The Walking Dead, living humans are just meat to eat.

Even the vegetarian zombies chow down on the non-undead.

It must be quite odd for a person who has their entire life not eating animal flesh to die, knowing that their reanimated corpse will compelled to eat nothing other than the substance they’ve sworn off.    

I mean, is a vegan zombie morally offended every moment they’re devouring a person?

Can a zombie experience an ethical dilemma?

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A zombie probably can’t, but a living person certainly can experience the ethical conundrum – should I eat meat?    

Now, I’m not asking if a person can eat meat – most humans have canine teeth, meat is digestible, and we can derive nutrients from animal products.

Heads up: I’m not making my argument here.

Not doing a because-we-can-we-ought-to kind of argument kind of thing.

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But I will say this. I’m gonna say it right now:

I eat meat.

This is a fact about myself that I’m not exactly proud of.

As a person who is halfway aware of the way things are and remotely concerned about my health, I’m aware that the unnecessary suffering and abuse inflicted on animals on factory farms is not only cruel to my fellow living beings, but also the unsanitary conditions (and excessive use of antibiotics) makes for meat that is potentially harmful to human health as well.

And as a philosopher, the infliction of pain and suffering on sentient beings should bother me (at least a little bit) morally.

 

It does.

 

But still… despite what I know about harvesting and eating, I continue to consume meat. I feel like there’s something that is keeping me from joining the growing chorus of voices that have abandoned their meat-eating ways and declare I AM VEGAN.

 

…and not just because bacon tastes yummy.

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I think the reason why might have something to do with speciesism.

A lot of humans, whether they know it or not, practice speciesism.  

In his book Animal Liberation (1975), the Australian philosopher, Peter Singer (born: July 6, 1946), describes speciesism as a bias in favor of one’s own species and against a species because that particular species is that species. That is, people are biased in favor of people (and people-like animals like primates) at the expense of the interests of other non-human species.

We are less inclined to consider the interests of species that do not resemble humans or ones we cannot anthropomorphize. 

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THE ONLY REASON WHY YOUR FIRST THOUGHT ABOUT THIS MOUSE IS “AWW” INSTEAD OF “KILL IT BEFORE IT INFECTS THE SHIP”, IS BECAUSE FIVEL IS ADORABLE. HE’S ADORABLE BECAUSE OF A-N-T-H-R-O-P-O-M-O-R-P-H-I-S-M

The fact that non-human animals are not human or can’t be given human-like qualities shouldn’t exclude them from our moral considerations. Non-human animals feel, and that, Singer argues, is enough to consider the interests of non-human animals.

 

 

Preferably using utilitarian ethics.

 

According to Singer, speciesism is as morally wrong as racism or sexism.

We recognize that prejudice against humans based on religion, gender, or race, is arbitrary (therefore, unjustifiable). Most people would reject the argument that a particular race or religion is more valuable than another. The notion that men are more valuable than women is…well, we like to say that we’ve advanced beyond thinking about women like Aristotle. Or Nietzsche.

 

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YEP…HE WROTE THAT

 

Likewise, according to Singer, valuing human life over non-human life or treating a species better because it is cute and cuddly (and it does “human” things) is arbitrary and unjustifiable. To insist that a cat or a dog is more valuable than a cow or a chicken is, according to Singer, a double standard.

Historically speaking, philosophy hasn’t been kind to animals. Aristotle referred to non-human animals as “brute beasts”. Rene Descartes (1596 -1650) maintained that animals are incapable of reason and do not feel pain. Animals, Descartes stated, are mere organic machines.

Because animals cannot reason, Descartes argued, they don’t have souls. And because animals don’t have souls, we are not morally obligated to consider their interests.

Remember, folks… that howling you hear isn’t the sounds of an animal screaming in pain.

 

It’s the sounds of the clock’s springs breaking.

 

Although the German Enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) believed that animals are mere beasts, Kant rejected the notion that we can do with non-human animals as we please. Kant argues that, although we are not directly morally obligated to animals, we have an indirect moral duty to care for their welfare. Kant argues that our treatment of animals is tied to our treatment of those we have a direct moral obligation to  people.

Kant argues that people who are cruel to animals are often also cruel to people.

In Lectures on Ethics, Kant states:

American philosopher Christine Korsgaard (born: April 9, 1952), not only argues that it is wrong to kill animals for consumption, but also argues that the factory farming, specifically the production of meat, is more damaging to the environment and human health than a plant-based diet. Korsgaard argues, like Singer, that our moral obligation to animals is not negated by the fact that animals are not human.  

Korsgaard states:

 

…the loss of life matters to a human being in certain ways that it wouldn’t matter to another sort of animal… I don’t think it follows that a non-human animal’s life is of no value to her: after all, the loss of her life is the loss of everything that is good for her.

On factory farms, Korsgaard states:

 

…the whole human enterprise will be supported by a bloodbath of cruelty, hidden away behind the closed walls of those farms.

 

Korsgaard also observes the irony of maintaining the belief in the higher rationality and morality of humans while simultaneously justifying the killing of other, supposedly less developed, species. 

Ok… Factory farms are bad. And maybe we shouldn’t eat animals. But that doesn’t mean that we should start treating non-human animals like people, right? Humans are just different from other animals… right? But what, if anything, makes people different from non-human animals? What makes people different from cats and dogs and cows and chickens has something to do with a little concept called personhood.

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Our friend, Wikipedia defines personhood as:

 

the status of being a person. Defining personhood is a controversial topic in philosophy and law and is closely tied with legal and political concepts of citizenship, equality, and liberty. According to law, only a natural person or legal personality has rights, protections, privileges, responsibilities, and legal liability.

 

If you are a person, you are worthy of moral consideration.

If you are worthy of moral consideration. your interests matter.

And exactly what makes you a person with interests that matter?

If you ask Immanuel Kant, you are a person with interests that matter if you are rational.

Kant writes:

 

…every rational being, exists as an end in himself and not merely as a means to be arbitrarily used by this or that will…Beings whose existence depends not on our will but on nature have, nevertheless, if they are not rational beings, only a relative value as means and are therefore called things. On the other hand, rational beings are called persons inasmuch as their nature already marks them out as ends in themselves.

 

Non-human animals can’t be “persons” because they are not rational.

Hold on a minute, you say. There are plenty of humans that aren’t rational.

 

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PICTURED: NOT RATIONAL PERSON

 

Small children are notoriously irrational. Mentally ill and developmentally disabled people may also lack the degree of rationality required for personhood. On the other hand, non-human animals such as crows, pigs, octopuses, certain breeds of dogs, and primates (like chimps and bonobos) often display a degree of cognitive ability (aka, rational thought) not seen in some humans. 

So, that means some animals are persons, right?

 

 Well….

 

In 2013, the Florida-based Nonhuman Rights Project filed a lawsuit in the state appeals court of Manhattan on behalf of a pair of chimpanzees named Kiko and Tommy, arguing that the pair should be released from captivity and placed in an outdoor habitat. The lawsuit claimed the chimpanzees’ captivity violated their rights. Wise argued that Kiko and Tommy are entitled to the same legal rights as persons.  Their lawyer, Steven Wise, argued that chimpanzees (like Kiko and Tommy) possess the mental capacity for complex thought and can perform tasks and make choices.

 

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KIKO AND TOMMY

 

Now, if philosophers (including Aristotle, Descartes, and Kant) hold that the capacity for cognitive thought and decision making are qualifications for personhood, it should follow that a non-human animal capable of complex thought and decision making – even to a minimal degree − is a person.

If not legally, then at least philosophically.

And if we hold moral objections to eating animals that are like us or are us, then we should not eat non-human animals.  

Unfortunately for Tommy and Kiko, the Appellate Court in Manhattan ruled that Kiko and Tommy are not persons under the law and therefore not entitled to human rights.  

The Court ruling stated:

 

The asserted cognitive and linguistic capabilities of chimpanzees do not translate to a chimpanzee’s capacity or ability, like humans, to bear legal duties, or to be held legally accountable for their actions

The Court added that non-human animals “lack sufficient responsibility to have any legal standing.”

 

So…. What are we to do?

 

As of now, non-human animals are not entitled to legal personhood. Legally speaking, speciesism remains the law of the land. Killing, eating, or experimenting on (most) non-human animals is legally permitted, if not, in large part, socially acceptable.

Unless the law changes (or a zombie apocalypse turns us all into meat eaters), the question of eating meat will remain a philosophical conundrum – a matter of personal taste between you and your ethical theory of choice.

Until then…. Subway® Chicken & Bacon Ranch sandwiches. Forever.

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SOURCES:

https://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/05/27/peter-singer-on-speciesism-and-racism/

https://green.harvard.edu/news/ethics-eating-animals

https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/moral-animal/

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

http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/captive-chimps-tommy-kiko-not-entitled-human-rights-court-article-1.3231598

 

BETTER LIVING THROUGH KANTISTRY

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

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

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

Even an emotivist has consistent principles.

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

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

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

 

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

…and it doesn’t violate the categorical imperative.

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

Even Rahab lied to protect the Israelites.

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That’s kind of where the egoism comes in.

But there’s a problem with egoism.

To wit: this problem with egoism is this

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

Besides, being an egoist just makes everybody hate you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah, I know. They’re connected.

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

I know, right?!?!?

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

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

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

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

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

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Kantian ethics is pretty (somewhat) easy.

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

Yes, I did say that.

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

Allow me to give an example.

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

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

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

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

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

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

…because five is more than one.

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

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

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

…along with a few more people.

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

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

Kant’s ethics is based entirely on DUTY.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

If the answer is no, don’t do it.

But…what about that trolley, tho?

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

YOU KILLED SOMEONE.

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

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

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

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

…or ask an egoist to pull the lever.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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