DARYL KILLED GLENN, I THINK… MAYBE.

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

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

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

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

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

The season six finale pleased some and angered many.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

who-did-negan-kill-walking-dead

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

 

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

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

the-walking-dead-negan-lucille-actually-murdered

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

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

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

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

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

moraldilemmaahead

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So who is morally responsible for Glenn’s death?

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

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

And that is precisely what Daryl does. Shit.

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

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

 

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

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Well, it depends on who you ask.

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

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

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

twd-michelle

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

 

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

That’s bad.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RICK GRIMES.

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

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

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

Because they’ve done it before, Rick says.

Rick should have read up on Hume.

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

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

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

 

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REMEMBER WHEN MORGAN WAS ALL ABOUT THIS STUFF?

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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Keep Your Lips Off the Blarney Stone (if you don’t want to piss of kant)

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately.

They say that a philosopher is by definition a lover of wisdom.

Because the philosopher loves wisdom, he realizes that to genuinely know something, that something must be true.

That is, the acquisition of wisdom requires some degree of factual accuracy.

Now, when I was in high school, a friend of a friend of a friend claimed that she believed that honesty is the best policy. That is, she claimed in any situation, no matter the consequences, that the best thing to do is to always tell the truth.

 

keep calm and honesty is the best policy

 

Most people who say they believe in always telling the truth think they’re like this:

superman fights for truth

 

But more often than not they’re like this:

so many types of bitches GIF

 

 

I suppose, though, a philosopher would agree that that honesty is the best policy a good idea to live by.

thumbs up GIF

 

 

 

Unfortunately, in the non-philosophical world, those whose personal creed is honesty is the best policy tend to use their insatiable need to be honest in all situations as an excuse to say rude things.

Personally, I haven’t seen anyone guided by a philosophical need to be truthful as much as I’ve seen someone who completely lacks a sense of tact.

 

I AM JACK’S COMPLETE LACK OF TACT

I AM JACK’S COMPLETE LACK OF TACT

 

Case in point: In a March, 2010 interview with Playboy magazine, well-known douche nozzle musician John Mayer unloaded intimate info about relationships, his preferences in pornography , and masturbation. Mayer confessed that he had tongued Perez Hilton “almost as if I hated fags”, and that, so far as his preference in sexual partners goes, Mayer described his penis as comparable to former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard, David Duke.

That is to say, John Mayer’s penis prefers to have sexual intercourse with white women.

 HI. I’M JOHN MAYER’S PENIS. I WAS WONDERING IF YOU HAVE ANY SPARE WOODEN CROSSES?

HI. I’M JOHN MAYER’S PENIS. I WAS WONDERING IF YOU HAVE ANY SPARE WOODEN CROSSES?

 

I’m guessing that John Mayer was probably thinking that honesty is the best policy.

It‘s absolutely no surprise that the reaction to Mayer’s comments was less than admiring of his public display of honesty.

mayer 1

mayer 2

mayer 3

 

 

And videos like this:

 

 

Unfortunately for John Mayer, being honest not only tarnished his reputation (ok, he had a rep for being kind of douchy before that) but Mayer’s comments also offended some of his fan base.

This can be a bad consequence if one’s livelihood necessarily depends on the spending habits of the music-listening public.

NO PERFORMER WANTS THIS TO HAPPEN

NO PERFORMER WANTS THIS TO HAPPEN

 

Now, as philosophers we can appreciate the pursuit of truth – in the interest of achieving
the greater good. We want to know the situation as it truly is. Because, as whistle-blower Chelsea Manning said when asked why she disclosed classified government information:

 

without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public.

THIS IS CHELSEA MANNING, WHO MADE THE MISTAKE OF BELIEVING AS THOMAS JEFFERSON STATED, “TO GIVE TO EVERY CITIZEN THE INFORMATION HE NEEDS FOR THE TRANSACTION OF HIS OWN BUSINESS…”

THIS IS CHELSEA MANNING, WHO MADE THE MISTAKE OF BELIEVING AS THOMAS JEFFERSON STATED, “TO GIVE TO EVERY CITIZEN THE INFORMATION HE NEEDS FOR THE TRANSACTION OF HIS OWN BUSINESS…”

However, if severe career damage is just as likely an outcome of oversharing truth-telling as achieving the greater good, is honesty really – practically and philosophically speaking -always the best policy?

How honest do we have to be?

 

 

honesty is the best policy

 

 

Wait, I realize that I’m doing something here. I’ve used the words “honesty”, “honest”, “true”, and “truth” interchangeably. This may be a problem for some people. Philosophy is all about using precise language. Unfortunately, our colloquialisms tend to do to the language the opposite of precision.

WE MUST NOT FORGET THAT THESE PEOPLE EXIST

WE MUST NOT FORGET THAT THESE PEOPLE EXIST

 

 

However, I assume that we can all agree that being honest is the same as being truthful.
Ok – let’s say that I make a claim that something is true; or rather, I insist that I am being truthful. I claim that I am currently living in the USA and I am approximately 64 inches tall.

i didn't know they stacked shit that high

 

 

These claims are true, by the way.

I am, in fact, currently in the United States. And I am indeed approximately 64 inches tall.

Both of these claims are demonstrably true.

 

milli-vanilli-dance-o

 

But if I go further and claim that I am an honest person it’s obvious that I am making some ethical claim about myself.

Of course if we’re making ethical claims, answering the question “how honest do we have to be?” is all about moral obligation. Are we morally obligated to be honest and to whom do we owe our moral obligation? The answer depends on who you ask.

The German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) says that our moral obligation is a matter of duty – that is, it is our duty to do good (acts) no matter the consequences to others or ourselves. That means if your wife asks you if the dress she’s wearing makes her look fat, it is your moral duty, according to Kant, to inform your wife not only does she look fat in the dress, but also that no matter what she wears she looks fat.*

Because it’s not the dress.

your fat makes you look fat

Following Kant’s ethics may ruin your relationship with your wife

… but at least you were honest.

IT’S HARD TO BELIEVE A DAPPER-LOOKING FELLOW LIKE THIS NEVER GOT MARRIED, ISN’T IT?

IT’S HARD TO BELIEVE A DAPPER-LOOKING FELLOW LIKE THIS NEVER GOT MARRIED, ISN’T IT?

 

 

It wouldn’t take much time before you realize that being a Kantian will seriously impair your ability to throw shade

 

shade is

 

 

that's not a read it's just a fact

 

 

 

Ok, let’s put Kant aside for a moment.

According to Aristotle’s virtue ethics practicing virtues such as being honest (telling the truth) makes us a good person.

 

 

golden mean

 

Aristotle writes:

And so the truthful man as observing the mean, is praiseworthy, while the untruthful characters are both blamable, but the boastful more than the ironical

 

Since society can function only if its citizens are virtuous, Aristotle says, it is necessary for everyone to tell the truth.

 

 

ARISTOTLE WOULD CERTAINLY NOT ENDORSE AN ACTIVITY SUCH AS KISSING THE BLARNEY STONE

ARISTOTLE WOULD CERTAINLY NOT ENDORSE AN ACTIVITY SUCH AS KISSING THE BLARNEY STONE

 

Still, if you’re a utilitarian or an egoist it’s perfectly alright to lie to people. An occasional flirtation with dishonesty may do you or everyone else some good. Telling your wife that her dress doesn’t make her ass look fat might not win you points with Kant, but it might keep your marriage happy.
 

do i look fat

 

 

So… is honesty the best policy?

I guess the answer is still “it depends on who you ask”. But then, if the answer is “it depends” that gets us right back to where we started; no closer to figuring out if it is our moral obligation to always tell the truth to everybody at all times.

 

I suppose, though, we can all agree that if your honesty has anything to do with declaring that your penis would join David Duke at a cross burning, your honesty may not be the best policy.

In fact, it may be time to shut the hell up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

* One particular reason why Kant argues that we shouldn’t lie has to do with something Kant calls the Contradiction of the Will. According to Kant, before we perform any act we should first ask if we would want that act the be universalized – would we want others to do as we do? So if one is about to tell a lie, one should ask, “would it be morally correct if everyone told lies?”. Kant says that our answer should be no, we don’t want everyone to lie. If we hold that honesty is the morally right thing to do and everyone lies, lying undermines the point of not lying.

SOURCES:

Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics. 2004 [1893]. Trans. F.H. Peters, M.A. NY: Barnes and Noble Books. p. 91

Michael Scherer. “The Geeks Who Leak”. Time. Vol. 181. No. 24. June 24, 2013. p. 24

The ethics of interplanetary exploration

the word on everyone’s lips is Curiosity.

If you don’t know what that (meaning Curiosity) is (as opposed to means), I suppose that you haven’t been near or watching a television set for a few days. That’s perfectly reasonable. many people either don’t watch or don’t own a TV. So, in case you don’t know what I’m talking about, Curiosity (spelled with a capital “C” so as to distinguish the thing curiosity from the word meaning inquisitive) is the NASA-built machine that ended its eight-month journey to the planet Mars and is currently surveying the planet’s surface.

It landed last Sunday.

Curiosity’s mission is to find any evidence of past or present life on Mars.

this is the NASA Mars rover Curiosity

this is what NASA expects to see on Mars

this is NOT what NASA wants to see on Mars

Now, I hate to sound like some kind of Debbie Downer, but in all our excitement over the prospect of discovering evidence of life on the Red Planet, shouldn’t we think about what could happen?

Bad things could happen.

Didn’t anybody see the movie Red Planet???

Oh wait, that’s right. No one did.

Still, before we boldly go where no one has gone before, we should consider whether we, human beings, are truly ready for confirmation that we are not alone in the universe — and I not just talking about the possibility that our alien encounter will end up less like a flight across the moon with a friendly E.T.  and more like John Hurt’s last meal in Alien.

Let me remind you how that meal ended:

All kidding aside, we really need to think about this: Given our (mankind) history on Earth, we might want to seriously consider the ethics of interplanetary exploration.

What do we do if we find evidence that Mars once supported life or that Mars is indeed inhabited by non-human lifeforms (like single-celled organisms)? Are we obligated to leave these lifeforms in peace or can we continue to study the planet? If our intent is to eventually colonize Mars, must we consider the welfare of microscopic organisms? Are other planets in the solar system here for humans to do whatever we please? We know that we owe moral consideration to our fellow human and non-human Earthlings, but are we also morally obligated to consider the welfare of a planet that seems to have no current occupants or owner?

None that can verbally object to our presence on their home world, anyway.

I suppose only time will tell what our course of action will be when the we inevitably find life on other planets (or life on other planets finds us). I hope that by then we will have seriously thought about  what to do.

Or else our first encounter with an extra-terrestrial life form might end up like this:

 

On the Question of So-Called Superchimps, Their Place in our Moral Universe, and What Their Inclusion Means For the Average Idiot

I have a dog. I care about my dog. I care about my dog’s well being. I want him to be safe from moving cars or tainted dog food. I want others to be nice to my dog and respect my dog’s “right” to live a full, fun-filled dog life. My sentiment is not uncommon or even discouraged among pet owners. If asked, most pet owners would say that they care for their pets. They care about whether their pets have enough food to eat, or whether they are kept warm at night or safe from harm. But why is this so? Why do we value our pets so dearly?

The answer is because we include our pets in our moral sphere, that is, our pets are morally considerable. But, if we say that our pets are morally considerable, what do we mean when we say that something counts morally? What criteria do we use to determine who is in and who is out of our moral universe?

We say that something has “moral status” if that thing ( or being ) counts for us morally. That is, we owe certain moral obligations to certain, other beings. Status is most often defined in terms of  moral agents and moral patients. Individuals who possess rational autonomy and are self-legislating are moral agents. Moral patients are those individuals who lack, either by age, physical or mental condition, etc, the ability to self-legislate or rational autonomy are moral patients. For example, a year-old child lacks the ability to engage in rational, self-legislating behavior. The child is a moral patient. The child’s parent, if the parent is autonomous and self-legislating, is the moral agent who must act to the benefit of the child. An individual is in our moral sphere only if we grant the individual moral consider ability.

But, the act of considering an individual’s moral status relies on an important supposition: The act of considering the effects of our actions upon others indicates that those individuals that we take into account are already included  in our moral sphere. So, if moral considerability indicates that others are in our moral sphere, then we must ask, how do we include others in our sphere? That is, what are the criteria for the inclusion of other beings?

The West’s traditional view of moral status is grounded in the biblical texts of the Old Testament and Aristotle‘s hierarchy concerning nature and the natural order. The book of Genesis clearly states the relationship between man and animals:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and

let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the

air , and over the cattle, and all over the earth, and over every creeping

thing that creeps upon the earth”. (Genesis 1:26. Emphasis added).

The traditional biblical view holds that man, as a being created in God’s image, is given the earth to rule as he sees fit. The fact that animals are not made in God’s image  discharges any human from any moral obligation to the welfare of animals. According to the biblical view, the lack of any ability to morally wrong any animal means that animals are not morally considerable.  Aristotle brought the hierarchy to nature (and the natural order of things) which placed humans, more specifically free human males, at the top of the “natural” hierarchy. Aristotle wrote that man’s power of reasoning endowed him with natural superiority (and a soul). The way of nature, in Aristotle’s view, naturally places superior beings in positions of authority over inferior beings. In other words, if a rational soul is a superior trait, then it is the way of nature for animals who possess this trait to rule over animals that do not possess the same superior trait. Aristotle stated that animals, by contrast, are governed by their passions or instincts. Aristotle wrote that man’s rational soul ruled over his passions, and that this trait indicates that man’s natural place is to rule over animals. Aristotle reflects the traditional view in that inferior animals are “natural slaves” that are benefited by serving the interests of superior animals. Aristotle writes,

“…the other animals exist for the sake of man, and tame for use and food, the wild, if not all, at least the greater part of them for food…”

Descartes continued the traditional view of moral status. Descartes wrote that animals are mere “machines” meant to serve the need of their human masters. Although Descartes maintains the traditional view that man’s intellect confers superior status, Descartes gives an additional criteria for man’s moral superiority to animals. For Descartes, the capacity for speech is indicative of an individual’s intellectual capacity. The fact that animals possess no capacity for speech (at least no speech that humans can understand), animals cannot “… use speech… as we do when placing our thoughts on record for the benefit of others.”

It is important to stop at this point to clear up an immediate objection to Descartes’ speech criteria.  If Descartes means to state that any being that lacks the capacity to express their thoughts in speech also lacks the capacity to think, one might put forth that Descartes is excluding humans who are mentally or physically challenged from the moral sphere. Humans who cannot speak due to physical or mental impairments, if Descartes’ criteria is used to define moral status, may be reduced to the status of “brutes” or animals.  Descartes, however, explains that his speech criteria does not exclude the mentally or physically disabled, on the grounds that individuals who lack verbal speech often find other ways to communicate their thoughts to others. For instance,  person who is born mute may learn to communicate through sign language. A person who is mentally handicapped may learn to express themselves, despite the fact that they lack the ability to communicate verbally. Descartes states that a disabled individual may have a diminished intellectual capacity, but is not excluded from the moral sphere due to the fact that humans who are intellectually “inferior“  possess some capacity for self expression. An animal, on the other hand, not only lacks a minimal capacity for rational thought, but lacks any capacity for rationality at all.
Although Descartes explains that his speech criteria will not exclude humans (including the mentally and physically disabled) from the moral sphere, Descartes’ explanation fails to recognize the fact the speech criteria may indeed reduce some humans to the status of mere “brutes”. Some humans do lack any capacity for speech, such as profoundly retarded individuals or the comatose. In addition, some animals have acquired the capacity to express their thoughts through non-verbal human languages such as American sign language. And, if the traditional hierarchical view places a rational soul at the top of the natural order, the fact that some animals possess a capacity for rational thought leads us to question whether an animal that possesses the capacity for rational thought may assume a higher position in the natural hierarchy. An animal that possesses a rational soul may disrupt man’s assumed position at the top of the natural hierarchy. A human who lacks the capacity for rational thought, such as the mentally challenged or the comatose, may be relegated to the status of animals and excluded from the moral sphere.

As humans, we feel reluctant (intuitively) to exclude people who we feel not only merit moral consideration, but also fit into the moral sphere. We feel that it is wrong to exclude any human from moral consideration on the basis that a person lacks the capacity to articulate their thoughts. We feel that despite their physical or mental handicap, a human mentally or physically disabled human is still a human, and that their humanness demands moral considerability and inclusion in the moral sphere. But, what about an animal who, despite a mere physical or mental difference from other rational beings, possesses human-like qualities, such as rationality and the ability to articulate its thoughts through language?  Is there a criteria for moral status that will allow us to include both rational animals and marginal cases? I believe that the answer is yes. I hold that Kant’s criteria for moral status allows us to include rational animals, but more importantly, Kant’s moral status criteria allows us to preserve marginal cases for moral consideration in the moral sphere.

It is  possible that nature may produce a chimpanzee with cognitive abilities that exceed the capacities of the average human. The fact that this “super chimp” ( let’s call him “Arthur Crackpot”), surpasses the intellectual capacity of the average human cannot be ignored, nor can it be dismissed as a mere aberration. It would not be difficult to imagine that Arthur Crackpot or any chimpanzee that possesses a high capacity for rational thought would not hesitate to articulate its thoughts or express what it considered to be its own interests. We can be most certain that Arthur Crackpot and any other “super chimp” would demand immediate inclusion into our moral sphere. The fact that the animal can do so forces us to deal with it in a manner that does not conform to the traditional biblical, natural hierarchy, nor can we treat the animal as a mere machine that is fit to serve man’s needs. So, if the difference between man and animals — primates in particular — is trivial, and a naturally occurring “super chimp’ is not outside the realm of possibility, then the mere fact that man and animal are different species is not a morally relevant difference to account for the exclusion of animals from the moral consideration or the moral sphere.

If we grant moral consideration of smarter animals, and we include Arthur Crackpot and other “super chimps” in our moral sphere because they rank higher on the hierarchical scale, then, if we are to be consistent, we must exclude certain marginal case humans who possess intellectual capacities far below the capacities of other animals. But, as I said before, this sounds intuitively wrong. We should not exclude humans simply because they lack the ability to articulate their thoughts or the capacity for rational thought. So, what perspective allows us to include both “super chimps” and marginal cases? I believe that the Kantian approach to moral agency allows us to  not only extend moral consideration  and inclusion of animals such as Arthur Crackpot, but the Kantian approach also allows us to keep marginal case humans in the moral sphere.

Kant states that rational beings must be treated as ends in themselves. That is, beings that possess the ability for rational thought cannot be used as a mere means to another person’s ends. Rational beings, according to Kant, are self-legislating and autonomous. The fact that rational beings possess an autonomous and self-legislating will grants them moral agency. Moral agents are not only morally accountable for their own actions, but are also morally obligated to moral patients. For Kant, rationality is not a matter of degree, but a characteristic that is all-or-nothing. Beings are either rational or they are not rational. Although Kant’s criteria seems to push us once again towards the hierarchy, the concept of moral patients pushes us away from excluding rational animals and irrational people.

Kant states that man’s duty to animals is indirect, in that our duties to animals are limited to treating them in a non-abusive manner, but Kant also states that our treatment of animals reflects how we are likely to treat other humans. Although we consider our treatment of animals from the Kantian perspective, we only consider their welfare from our own perspective — we do not want to cultivate abusive personalities in people who might harm their fellow man. This approach gets us away from the hierarchy it seems, but perhaps not very far. But, let us remember, Kant states that his criteria for our moral obligation is rationality.  More importantly, Kant does not specify a degree of rationality that qualifies a being for admission in our moral sphere. For Kant, rationality is all or nothing. So, from this perspective, an animal that possesses a minimal degree of rationality is included in the moral sphere. So, one might say this criteria requires that a “super chimp” like Arthur Crackpot, who possesses a level of rationality rival to that of a human must also be regarded as a human moral agent.

If Arthur commit’s a moral transgression, he must be held accountable for his actions. So, for instance, if Arthur kills a human, he could be held accountable for his actions not only morally but legally as well. But this is not correct. For Kant, having moral agency does not necessarily follow from having rationality. There are minimally rational people who cannot be moral agents. These individuals are moral patients. Moral patients are included in the moral sphere insofar as their interests are the subject of moral consideration, but are excluded, in a sense, from a moral obligation to other moral agents. On the other hand, moral agents are morally obligated to moral patients.  It is clear that the concept of holding a trial for a chimpanzee is ridiculous (not to mention next to impossible to find a jury of Arthur’s peers). A chimpanzee, no matter how rational it may be, should not be held accountable for his actions in the same way that a human is held accountable for her actions. Like a child, an animal that possesses a minimal degree of rationality may  be incapable of comprehending the moral ramifications of his actions. If an animal is like a child or an other moral patient, we are obligated to consider the welfare of that being. Likewise, if a human possesses a minimal degree of rationality, we are obligated to consider the welfare of that person. And, the fact that we have taken these individuals into our moral consideration signifies that both some animals and marginal case humans possess moral status in our moral universe.

The traditional, biblical, and Cartesian perspectives on moral status and moral considerability fail to enable to include animals who should be granted moral status. Even more detrimental to these perspectives is the fact that adherence to these perspectives forces us to remove humans as well.  Kant’s rationality criteria allows us to include rational animals like “Arthur Crackpot” in the moral sphere without excluding human marginal cases. The concept of moral patients and moral agency allows us to include individuals that may not be fully rational in the sense that they are capable of moral responsibility, but rational to the degree that they count in the moral sphere. Kant’s approach — though it is not perfect — is the best perspective we have to determine moral considerability, moral status and the inclusion of human marginal cases in the moral sphere.

And Now Here’s Something I hope You Really Like

You ever see a movie that just blows your mind?

Some people think that a movie needs lots of special effects or lots of bare boobs to be good. This is just not so. Sometimes the most amazing things you’ll see are in black and white, and need no more than a psychotic little girl with steel-toed shoes and a fierce determination to win a penmanship medal.

Ladies and gentlemen, The Bad Seed.

I’m not talking about the updated (I think 70s) version. I’m talking about the original 1956 film adaptation based on the Maxwell Anderson stageplay (based on the novel by William March) starring Patty Mc Cormack as Rhoda Penmark, 8 years of tow-headed evil, and Nancy Kelly as her more than frazzled mother. The Bad Seed may be responsible for launching the sub-genre of “devil child” films, which includes The Omen, The Exorcist, Problem Child, Clifford, and this summer’s enfant terrible tale Orphan. It’s one of those monster movies (and Rhoda is indeed a monster) that you don’t think will stay with you, but it will.

And it does.

The scary thing is, is that Rhoda is the devil you know. She comes off like a pigtailed sweetie who’ll exchange a basket of kisses for a basket of hugs, but inside that child a murderous beast is lurking. When Claude Daigle wins the penmanship medal, that Rhoda thought she had rightfully earned, she clobbers him over the head with her shoes and takes the medal as the boy drowns by the pier. When she returns home, she asks her mother for a peanut sandwhich and tells her mother that watching the boy die was “exciting”. The thing that is all the more disturbing is that we’ve all met potential Rhoda’s during our lifetimes (they turn out to be those people that we went to high school with who think that Faces of Death is a cool movie and continue to do so long after graduating from high school). She doesn’t look like a monster at all. She looks normal.

That’s the thing with alot of serial killers, they look normal.

And make no mistake, Rhoda Penmark is a serial killer.

When the handyman LeRoy runs afoul and crosses Rhoda’s path (by accusing her of having to do with Claude Daigle’s death), she promptly sets him ablaze. When Rhoda decides that her elderly neighbor Monica needs to hand over her lovebirds now, she plots to kill the old woman (we know this when Rhoda asks her mother how long lovebirds live). We also know that Rhoda may have killed another elderly neighbor when the family lived in Wichita.

At the heart of the drama is psychology. The Penmark’s neighbor Monica is a psych junkie. Her rambles on about inherited evil and the exploits of some of history’s most notorious killers, including the evil murderess, Bessie Danker. When Rhoda’s mother, in a flashback sequence that would make Dr. Phil envious, discovers that she is the daughter of Bessie Danker, she wigs out, fearing that Rhoda might have inherited the evil (she eventually atempts to kill both Rhoda and herself).

That’s funny.

Not ha, ha funny, but funny.

Of course, when we talk about things like inheriting a certain disposition, or the idea that one’s future is determined by outside forces, we slip into the realm of the philosopher. The idea that a person’s outcomes are determined by outside forces (genetics, environment, etc) is determinism. The Penmark’s neighbor Monica seems to subscribe to the psychological theory that certain psychological tendencies are passed down from parent to child. As a fidgety parent will have fidgety children, likewise a serial murderer will breed killers. Monica seems to favor what we would call a reductionist view of human nature. Our behavior can be predicted by looking at the various mental and physiological processes that take place within our bodies. If a parent passes what Kurt Vonnegut called “bad chemicals” to their offspring, it is highly likely that that child will also exhibit the same tendencies as the parent. Freud said that “anatomy is destiny”. This is what Monica seems to believe as well. We know that mental illnesses tend to run in families (this is also bolstered by twin studies that find that twins raised apart tend to share physical and personality traits in common). We find clusters of manic depression, depression or schizophrenia in families, as do certain organic disorders such as Alzheimer’s Disease. So, if we believe as Monica believes, the child of Besssie Danker would be a natural born killer. So, ir would not be beyond the possibility that the granddaughter of Bessie Danker would have inherited some strange personality disorder that causes her to kill.

This may be ok for the hard-core determnist, but some people may say no way, they don’t believe that our destinies lie in our genes. We are not merely the products of our anatomy, but we are influenced by other things outside of ourselves. Ultimately, the choice to kill or do anything else is made by the individual — not an impulse that we are incapable of resisting. In philosophy, this is the classic debate of free will and determinism.

When we think of Rhoda, we ask if the little girl perhaps suffered from a broken moral compass – that she may have been unable to legislate morally. But when we watch the film, we see that Rhoda has a moral code — a strict one at that. Her code is strictly egoist. She wants what is best for her. If others stand in her way, that’s their problem.

When I watched The Bad Seed, I thought that the biggest philosophical question that stood out was whether our decisions are a product of free will or if our decisions are determined. But when I looked closer, I discovered that I was thinking about ideas of divine retribution (it ultimately takes and act of God to stop Rhoda Penmark), ideas of karma and justice, and how we should treat mentally ill children? I asked, when God struck down Rhoda, did she get what she deserved? When her mother Christine tried to kill her, was her action morally correct? Would I have felt differently about it if Rhoda wasn’t a child? Was Christine morally obligated to kill her daughter? If there is a real child like Rhoda who has killed or we think may be capable of killing, how are we to deal with that child? In the interest of the greater society, are we obligated to detain them? alter them chemically (like how criminals are “rehabilitated” in Demolition Man?)?should we euthanize them for their own good? Just a few of these questions popped up when I was watching The Bad Seed. I’m sure than there are more to ask. There are a couple of different versions of the story (including the original novel) so I’m sure that each interpretation will stir up a new set of questions.

So my advice is Netflix the movie, nuke a bag of popcorn, and indulge in wishing that God would strike an 8 year old child dead and gleefully cheering when he does for a couple of hours.

But you might want to be careful next time you promise a couple of birds to the neighbor kid.

Especially if you live anywhere near staircases.

Much Ado About Molehills

It’s been some time since the Kanye West crisis at this year’s MTV Video Music Awards. I tried to not think about it, but seeing that I’ve got that philosopher thing goin’ on, I found that my will was not as strong as I had hoped. I know that there are more important things to think about than the hullabaloo over Mr. West’s unsolicited comments during Taylor Swift’sspeech, but I felt that I might as well throw my two bits into the hat. So, here is my two bits. First off, I know that I am in no way making up the notion that, if there was any place where a celebrity (or one who thinks that he is) to “act up” it is at an awards show, in particular, one hosted by MTV. The VMAs , I presume, is the place where we would expect to expect the unexpected and even the unacceptable so far as behavior and famousness goes. I recall with great fondness Madonna’s steamroller impression during her performance of “Like A Virgin”, Prince’s peek-a-boo pants, Howard Stern’s Fartman appearance, or Marilyn Manson’s ghostly white, nearly translucent tuchus on the VMAs singing “The Beautiful People”. (that was back when we were actually shocked by people like Marilyn Manson. Oh, how the times have changed!) I don’t think that the suits at MTV ever envisioned that their awards show would be the place where decorum would be a popular idea. I don’t think that they entertained the idea that their show would surpass the Grammys in distinction or preeminence. The VMAs have always been a place where the famous draw attention to themselves, mostly by behaving badly. The Grammys meant class, the VMAs are the land of the publicity stunt. Somehow there is this big to-do over Kanye West. Maybe it’s because his comment hasd the unfortunate trait of having taken place at the end of a string of public outbursts that have become progressively more irritating in the minds of the public. I think that the fed-up-ness began with Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” during the Big Game’s halftime show (Now, for my money’s worth, if she had just announced that she intended to show some boob the whole thing would have blown over. It’s not the break-in that got Nixon, it was the cover up), and reached a head with Rep. Joe Wilson’s shouting “you lie!” during President Obama’s speeche to Congress. People are already pretty irritated with loudmouths who shout stupid things in public as it is, and Kanye West did was just another example of a tourette’s-esque public display of screwheadedness. In a semi-defense of Wilson, I will say that a liar should be called oue when he is lying. But like we’re told by our mommies and daddies, there is a time and a place for doing so. Shouting it during the President’s speech is neither the time nor the place. You can wait until you’re on Fox News to do that. But that is not what Taylor Swift was doing. I mean, she wasn’t addressing the General Assembly at the UN. She was getting an award at the MTV Video Music Awards for cripes sakes! Does anybody remember Courtney Love threw her compact at Madonna and nearly beaned her with it while Madonna was talking to Kurt Loder? (Madonna looked really pretty during that interview, too). Anyway, far be it for me to disagree with Katy Perry, but Ms. Swift is not a “kitten” nor was what Kanye West said akin to stomping on one (by the way, if the Supreme Court rules anytime soon on the matter, it might not be illegal to videotape yourself stomping on one for fun). It was MTV, people. If no one remembers, this is the network that gave us Buzzkill, Jackass, “Puck” from Real World:San Francisco, and Tila Tequila. And really, this latest Kanye-can’t-keep-his-trap-shut incident isn’t his most egregious public display of moronocity. Here’s a taste of what the Napoleon-sized, self-proclaimed savior of music has said in other public places: * in 2004, after losing an AMA to Gretchen Wilson, Kanye West stormed out and informed the media that he was “definitely robbed”. * in 2006, after losing an MTV Europe VMA to Justice vs. Simian, Kanye West stormed the stage while the winners were accepting their award and declared that his video was the winner. * in 2005, during a Hurricane Katrina benefit show, Kanye West (famously) declared that President George W. Bush “doesn’t care about black people”. (Ok, he wasn’t entirely wrong on that call — if anything, it’s that he was too specific). * Mr. West has insisted that he be addressed by incorporating his name into the name of Martin Luther King, jr. Yes, we can agree with President Obama that Mr. West is a “jackass”, but when you look at what he did, it was really no different from other celebrity outbursts, like the recent Christian Bale rant. There’s something (for better or worse) that expects such behavior from celebrities and other famous people. Our media has an entire sub-industry that is devoted to stars behaving badly — TMZ, celeb mug shots on the Smoking Gun, Star, People, The National Enquirer (and an infinity of other tabloids), Extra!, Entertainment Tonight, Access Hollywood — all of them run like flies to turds to show the latest video of some notable mouthing off. They keep acting up and we keep watching. Now, I could say here that for some the whole ordeal isn’t about the fact that Kanye West interrupted someone’s acceptance speech. Some may say that his jackass stunt actually livened up the show. I think that, for some, it wasn’t a matter that he spoke, it was who he interrupted that is the problem. Think about it his way: if Kanye West had charged the stage while Violent J from the ICP was on the podium accepting an award for video of the year, I think that no one would have cared much. I definitely think that Terry Moran wouldn’t have asked the president for his opinion on the matter. If cute, kittenish Taylor Swift is interrupted, the world is throw off of it’s axis. If an overweight, outrageously made up shock rock/rapper is cut off not an eye blinks. I realize that a part of the problem (the problem underneath the problem) is that we’ve got a big, gaping problem of moral inconsistency that we have to deal with. We expect that celebrities will make asses of themselves by flapping their yaps, yet when we do, we act as though the behavior that we expected (and even encourage) is unacceptable. This is what I think: In some ways, Kanye West and Rep. Wilson are alike. Politicians and celebrities are public people (although I think that George Clooney might object to my assumption). Yet, oftentimes we hold each to a different standard of behavior. If Rep. Wilson had yelled during the VMAs. his outburst wouldn’t have been a problem. This is because we think that it is perfectly acceptable that a non-politician famous person yells out whatever they feel like nearly wherever they feel like saying it. The nature of the fame is different for a politician than it is for a “star” (although it seems that that line is constantly being blurred, as Tom DeLay is appearing on Dancing With the Stars). Thomas Nagel wrote in his essay “Ruthlessness in Public Life” ( an essay about individuals who hold public offices, but I think that it can apply to any public person), office holders (and I say celebrities in general) are “insulated in a puzzling way from what they do: insulated both in their own view and in the view of most observers”. This kind of insulation, Nagel says, is “strongly attractive”. Holding a public office Nagel says, confers a certain amount of power. Likewise, we often tend to assume that being famous gives an individual, among several things, money and power. That power affords a person to insulate themselves, not just physically from the public, but morally as well. They are apart from normal society, housed in a self-re-enforcing environment where they need not trouble themselves with the usual call for mannerly and orderly behavior that those outside that environment have to abide by. Entertainment Weekly contributor Mark Harris says that former SNL regular and star (and creator) of 30 Rock, Tina Fey, calls this environment “the Bubble”. The Bubble, Harris says, quoting Fey, is “that magical zone in which, because you have everything you want, you start believing that you earned it, then that you deserve it, then that you deserve even more”. On the outside, we see it. We lament that famous people “get away” with things that ordinary people don’t, not just acting loke an ass in public. (For example, I remember some of the reactions to Robert Downey’s “goldiocks” incident — he committed a B&E– and how some felt that he had been handled too preciously by the court). Celebrity drunk drivers, hit and runners, even those who have killed people (and I’m not just talking about OJ, either) get away with crimes when others (i.e. not famous) do not. Jay-Z stabbed some dude in a club. Is he in prison right now? With celebrity, we say comes fame, and with fame comes money, and with money comes power. With power, we conclude, is the ability to not be treated like everyone else. Harris says that the Bubble has an “arrogant sense of predestination”.Nagel writes that the exercise of power “is one of the most personal forms of self-expression”. Given the two views together, it is not difficult to understand why a celebrity such as Kanye West felt that he could interrupt Taylor Swift’s speech. As a celebrity, he may have felt entitled to his fame, and that as a famous person (with some amount of power) he cannot hold back from expressing himself whenever he feels that he needs to. His “art” depends on his self-expression. As an artist, he cannot, therefore, hold back when he gets the urge to speak. And, given an intimidating entourage and a flock of adoring starfuckers, a celebrity is free to run his mouth anywhere, anytime he wants to his heart’s content. Of course, the response would be that not everyone enjoys hearing what these “artists” have to say. It’s obvous, by the response to Kanye West’s comments both in the star community and without, that what he did was morally objectionable to some. To this I say that that is true. But that just goest to show what the problem is — our own moral inconsistency when it comes to celebrities. We alternately say that we expect famous people to rant in public, yet we condem them when they do. I ask, why do we do this? Nagel writes, “this would not be so unless there were something to the special status … in a role. If roles encourage illegitimate release from moral restraints it is because their moral effect has been destorted”. We are offended, yet everybody wants to be a star. We live vicariously through the lives of the beautiful people. We encourage them to be morally incorrect because we have placed the role of celebrity in a place where it is immune from moral scrutiny. If celebrities acted the same as us, there would be no reason to look at the stars and admire their beauty and differentness (from us). We are transmitting the inconsistency to them, as we praise them for what they do wrong (or at the very least we excuse the wrong). We say that a part of being a celebrity is getting to act in a manner that normal people cannot. We alternately (and arbitrarily) reward and ostracize stars for their behavior. In turn, I believe, this leads to even more bad celebrity behavior — as the stars do not know what kind of behavior will be praised or condemed. Until we figure out what way we want to deal with celebrities, and then consistently do so, behavior like Kanye West’s will continue. If anything, it’s Kanye West who is acting consistently. He’s a consistent jackass, but consistent nonetheless.

Requiem for A Tarman

When Thinking of ethics, there’s always a problem that comes up, namely, given all the theories out there, how are we to decide what to do? Do we think of intentions or consequences, or what God wants us to do or duties, ourselves? There’s this book out there called Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff. The point of the book is that we shouldn’t get so wrapped up in the trivial stuff that ultimately means nothing that we miss the real important things in life. Unfortunately for many of us, our lives don’t get beyond the small stuff. This is why, I think, philosophers think up so many strange thought experiments. We get to think up big stuff and bounce it around. But thinking up thought experiments and setting up all the parameters can be quite time consuming. Besides, when you do, there’s always some joker that wants to dispute the circumstances of your thought experiment. Fortunately for most of us, we don’t have to think up anything. That’s what movies are for. There are plenty of philosophers who poo-poo the idea of using popular entertainment as a philosophical tool. The thought is is that nothing of any use comes out of the popular culture. This is simply not true. Whether we watch Disney movies, a buddy road-trip flick, or a romantic comedy, or we spend an evening with Truffaut, movies give us an ample glimpse of how philosophic theories work. Take, for instance, the movie The Terminator. At first glance, you’ve got an action/sci-fi flick. But if you look a little deeper, there’s questions of artificial intelligence, determinism, time and time travel, existential questions concerning the nature of Sarah Connor’s personality (she goes from wimp to tough chick, or is that who she was all along, since Kyle Reece tells her that she’s a fighter?). There’s really alot there — plus, it’s fun to watch. Which can’t be said about watching most philosophy professors giving their lectures. The late Majel Barrett-Roddenberry, wife of Star Trek creator, the late Gene Roddenberry, said that, back in the 1960s, network censorship was so tight that, in order to get his ideas across, her husband had to be subversive. Barrett-Roddenberry said, “censorship was so bad in those days, that if he could take things and switch them around a little bit, and maybe paint somebody green… he could get some of his ideas across”. I’m not saying or even suggesting that philosophers be or are being subversive ( lord knows what that would be like), but by looking at one situation/question/moral dilemma in one context or medium, we can see how it would work in another. That is to say, that watching a movie in which a certain situation takes place, we may be able to apply that fictional situation to real life. Although they are easily dismissed as cinematic schlock, zombie flicks are especially useful in the area of ethics. For instance, we may consider life and death — what does it mean to be “alive”? , what is death?. By seeing how the undead are treated, we might be able to see how we treat those in our own world who are not quite dead or not quite living (people on life-sustaining machines, for instance). We can see how we treat those who are afflicted with certain brain disorders (that may produce mania or violent behavior) by looking at zombies. I was watching this movie called Automaton Transfusion a few days ago. While I was watching, I thought about how people treat the undead and how would we have to treat them if there were a real zombie plague in our world. After spending some time thinking about the question, I came to the answer that how we treat them depends on what kind of zombie we are dealing with. I thought that I would, for the sake of making the whole experiment worth considering in the first place, consider the zombies of George Romero and Dan O’Bannon. First, I agreed (with myself) that I would consider zombies people. This is important, because it may determine whether zombies are morally considerable at all. If a zombie ceases to be a person and is simply nothing more than a rotting trash heap, that ends the experiment pretty much right there. I don’t think that there are too many philosophers that would argue that we have a moral obligation to a pile of garbage. When I startign thinking about it, I almost immediately thought of Peter Singer ( I’m not sure exactly why). Singer takes Jeremy Bentham’s view that the capacity to suffer makes one morally considerable. Bentham writes, ” the question is not Can they reason? nor Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?”Although we know that the dead cannot be reasoned with ( as there are also many living humans that cannot be reasoned with), and that, with a few cinematic exceptions, none talk. But we haven’t made it our habit to determine if they suffer. According to Singer, this capacity is a prerequisite for having interests at all. If, Singer states, an object lacks the capacity for suffering, we need not include it in our consideration. Singer writes, “it would be nonsense to say that it was not in the interests of a stone to be kicked along the road by a schoolboy. A stone does not have interests because it cannot suffer. Nothing that we can do to it could possibly make any difference to its welfare”. If we look at George Romero’s quintology of his “dead” films, we see that zombies are no more than moving meat. They do not feel physically or otherwise. They are nothing more than self-propelled rocks. Using Bentham/Singer’s criteria, we need not consider their welfare. This is in line with Singer’s approach to individuals who are brain-dead or in a persistive vegetative state. People with those conditions are no more than individuals who have no conscious quality of life (oops! let’s clarify things before we go slumming towards Hitlerville). Like a person who has no higher brain function (without any hope of recovery), a zombie does not experience life. If we “kill” either, what “life” are we depriving either of? In this case it may be argued that to kill either would be a better good. We would speak of ending their “suffering”, but the suffering we’re referring to is primarily metaphorical or our own. But what if a zombie could suffer? What do we do then? Do our obligations to them change? Perhaps they might. Dan O’Bannon’s zombies in Return of the Living Dead are not the shambling moving meat of Romero’s films, but zombies who exhibit Robert Fletcher’s “indications of humanhood” (which are self-awareness, self-control, sense of the future, a sense of the past, the capacity to relate to others [if only to eat them], concern for others, communication and curiosity). O’Bannon’s zombies speak, plot, and retain their personality enough to remind their girlfriend that if she loved him that she’d let hime eat her brain. O’Bannon’s zombies, unlike Romero’s, experience pain. In one sequence, a female zombie reveals that there is pain in death. She explains that eating the brains of the living is the only way to end the suffering of death. The secen takes place in a funeral home between Ernie, the mortician, and the female zombie who is strapped to an embalmbing table: Ernie: you eat people. zombie: not people, brains. Ernie: brains only? zombie: yes. Ernie: why? zombie: the pain. Ernie: what about the pain? zombie: the pain of being dead. Ernie: it hurts to be dead. zombie: I can feel myself rot. Ernie: eating brains, how does that make you feel? zombie: it makes the pain go away. For starters, that scene is just plain creepy. Second, it really makes me nervous about dying, because what if that zombie is right and it is painful being dead? But more importantly, does the fact that they suffer now demand that we include their needs among our own? If feeling one’s own flesh rotting is painful (as one may well imagine), then we may be obligated to end that suffering. But wait, the only way to do that is to feed brains to zombies (this is the only way to end their suffering). That spells trouble for us. If we were good utilitarians, and we have as a prerequisite for moral inclusion the capacity to suffer, how do we deal with the needs od a brain-eating zombie? Is this a case where our uttilitarian ethics runs amuck? If logic dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, and we may assume that (at least in some locales) the dead outnumber the living, then we might find ourselves, for the sake of consistency, handing our brains over to the undead. But this already doesn’t sound right. I think back to my ethics class. We had an assignment to find a True Moral Theory. We had as a guide, several “desired” features which included: the theory must not have implausible implications, it must place realistic motivational demands on the agent, and it can’r be self-defeating. When we consider the matter utilitarianally, we find prima facie that we may have to indulge the needs of the zombie. But if we apply our desired features, we find that giving our brians to flesheaters is not only inplausible, there is absolutely no reason for giving up our brains that motivates us to do so. Lastly, by giving the brains of the living to the dead, eventually, the dead (because the dead is an ever-increasing number) will outstrip their food supply. Therefore, doing so is eventually self-defeating. Next, feeding our brains to zombies butts up against something called the sadistic pleasures objection. It goes something like this: a group cannnot achieve its excellence at the expense of another group (especially if that group is smaller). So, let’s say that the main purpose of a zombie is to eat flesh. This, according to Aristotle, is its(a zombie’s) excellence (characteristic function). If we give living brains to the dead, so they can flourish, and since the net pain of the dead outweighs the net pain of the living (remember, the dead outnumber the living), we would be achieving one group’s excellence at the expense of the smaller group. A utilitarian does not ignore the needs of the smaller group, they figure into the greater good as well. This is especially relevant in the fact that a zombie does not need to eat brains to survive. Eating brains merely relieves a bothersome condition. A person zombie can “exist” with pain. A living human, however, cannot live without his brain. Of course, it’s easy to see that living people shouldn’t give up their brains so that zombies can feel better. But in the case of organ transplants or biotechnology the lines may not be so clear. If a good friend need a kidney to survive and I am a match, am I obligated to give my kidney? At what point am I obligated to give up a part of myself to help or save others? Am I obligated at all? Food for thought.