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

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

The Secret of NIMH.

Coraline.

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

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

That was the year Walt Disney Studios released Bambi.

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

Kids turning into jackasses, anyone?

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

The death of parent.

Somebody shoots Bambi’s mom.

 

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

 

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

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

Or rather, about a particular kind of lie.

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

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

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

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

Thumper merely offered his honest opinion.

Honest.

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

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Honesty usually isn’t considered a bad thing.

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

Should we just omit the truth?

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

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But isn’t omission a lie?

What is lying by omission?

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

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

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

He wouldn’t have been rude, either.

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

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

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

We’re talking about philosophical integrity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another Formula Kant’s Categorical Imperative, the Formulation of Ends, states: “Act in such a way that you always treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never simply as a means, but always at the same time as an end.”

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

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

That’s because the truth is illuminating.

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

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

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

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

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

Light of Day… good song, awful movie.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seriously, where was Thumper’s dad???

 

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I THINK I HAVE AN IDEA…..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Lying_by_omission

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Oh, No. Not Again.

*TW: this post includes discussion of sexual assault

 

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

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This happens

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And then this happens

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Seriously no Bueno.

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

Because Spaceballs is a comedy.

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

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

Cue rimshot.

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I’m kinda understanding how Kane felt right now.

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

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

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

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

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“Problematic” is an understatement.

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

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

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

 

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YEAH… KINDA WHERE I AM RIGHT NOW

 

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

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

 

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I’M TALKING ABOUT YOU, JOHN SEARLE

 

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

I’m not expecting moral perfection.

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

Luckily studying and enjoying philosophy doesn’t require that.

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

Schopenhauer pushed a woman down a flight of stairs.

 

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

 

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

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

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

That just doesn’t sound right.

 

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

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

That’s not good at all.

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So, I ask again, what do I do?

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

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

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

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

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

SOMETIMES IT’S DIFFICULT to participate in a fandom.

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

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

Unless the movie is Star Wars.

Star Wars people are NUTS.

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NOT EVERY POPULAR FRANCHISE CAN CLAIM TO HAVE FANS THIS DEDICATED

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

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

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

Cosplay:

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

Cosplay.

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THE MOST AWESOME COSPLAY EVER

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

In particular, fans of this character

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Daryl Dixon.

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

Or obsession…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At least I don’t remember if I have.

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

Or should I say that Rick Grimes is morally fluid?

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But that’s another blog post for another day…

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

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

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

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

I actually don’t know.

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

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

…but he is consistent.

Philosophers value consistency.

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

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

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A moral obligation grounded on loyalty.

Daryl Dixon’s primary moral principle is loyalty.

Daryl Dixon loyal almost to a fault.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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WHEN DARYL CRIES, WE CRY

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

Because he is loyal to Rick.

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

You get the idea…

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

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TOTALLY YOUR FAULT, DARYL

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

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

That keeps Daryl pretty consistent, morality-wise.

Which is more than I can say for this guy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Trust me, I’ve done that before.

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

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

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

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

At least so far as moral consistency goes.

…or according to fangirls.

 

 

 

 

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

THE WORLD’S WORST UTILITARIAN FOOD FOR THOUGHT

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

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

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

Philosophers think up this kind of stuff sober.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are many famous thought experiments:

The Trolley Problem

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Brain in Vat

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The Chinese Room

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The Ticking Time Bomb

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The Experience Machine

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Schrodinger’s Cat

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The Drowning Man

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Funny thing about that drowning man thought experiment…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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UNFORTUNATELY HITLER APPEARS IN TOO MANY THOUGHT EXPERIMENTS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is a drowning Adolf Hitler worth saving?

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

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

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

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

For instance, would you kill baby Hitler?

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JUST A REMINDER, THIS IS WHO YOU WOULD KILL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deontological ethics is defined as:

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

Deontologists act from Duty.

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

Immanuel Kant writes

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

That means, damn the consequences, obey the law.

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

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

The law is to be obeyed – no exceptions.

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

Because murder is always wrong.

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

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

Enjoying this thought experiment yet?

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

In Utilitarianism, John Stuart Mill writes

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

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

However, there’s a hitch…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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YOU’RE NOT THE ONLY ONE, HANK

So… what would we do with baby Hitler?

What should we do?

A thought experiment can only ask…

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

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

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

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

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

DARYL KILLED GLENN, I THINK… MAYBE.

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

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

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

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

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

The season six finale pleased some and angered many.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So who is morally responsible for Glenn’s death?

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

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

And that is precisely what Daryl does. Shit.

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

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

 

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

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Well, it depends on who you ask.

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

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

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

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

 

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

That’s bad.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RICK GRIMES.

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

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

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

Because they’ve done it before, Rick says.

Rick should have read up on Hume.

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

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

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

 

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REMEMBER WHEN MORGAN WAS ALL ABOUT THIS STUFF?

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

STRANDED

IT’S BEEN SOME time since the first half season of season two of Fear the Walking Dead ended.

I’ve had some time to sit back and think about what I saw.

For starters, I think the show is getting better.

It’s not great, but it’s better.

And secondly, I’ve noticed that some of the characters on the show are like walking philosophy.

The show should be called Fear the Philosophical Dead.

No. not really. It shouldn’t.

Although some characters are philosophically interesting,

Some, mind you, not all.

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NOPE. NOT INTERESTING ON ANY LEVEL

After watching Fear the Walking Dead for a season and a half, I think the most philosophically intriguing character on the show is the wealthy, debonair, and most importantly, mysterious captain of the Abigail, Victor Strand.

I gotta admit, when Strand was introduced, I was prepared to see the character die after a few episodes. You know, because, well, people like Strand have a habit of not fairing too well in the world of The Walking Dead.

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It seemed that Victor Strand was destined to become another victim of the being-a-black-guy-in-The-Walking-Dead thing, but he was an interesting character – by far more interesting than the characters we were supposed to be most concerned about.

The reason why I think Victor Strand is so interesting is because so many of the show’s philosophical dilemmas have to do with what Strand either does or says. Victor Strand is a one man philosophical conundrum generator.

I’ve spent a season and a half of Fear the Walking Dead trying to figure out exactly where Victor Strand stands philosophically. Is Strand a Randian ethical egoist? Is he a moral nihilist? An incredibly consistent utilitarian? An all of the above?

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More than a dozen episodes into the series and I still can’t figure it out.

When we’re introduced to Victor Strand in the season one episode “Cobalt”, we see Strand is one of many detainees imprisoned by the government.

We’re never told exactly why.

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We witness Strand goading a mentally fragile man to the point of a mental breakdown. And we learn that Strand is a man who is willing to exchange goods for favors from the National Guardsmen who are guarding the detainee camp.

Strand is introduced as a man who is cool, calculating, and not encumbered by empathy for others. Strand initially displays all the traits of a classic Ayn Rand protagonist. Strand is concerned with one thing: his own interests. Rand writes:

… he must work for his rational self interest, with the achievement of his own happiness as the highest moral purpose of his life.

We can imagine a dog-eared copy of Atlas Shrugged next to Machiavelli’s The Prince and Sun Tsu’s Art of War on Strand’s bookshelf.

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MY BOOKSHELF, AS SEEN ON BUZZFEED

However, Strand quickly realizes that fellow detainee (and main character) Nick Clark is useful -insofar as Nick can serve as a means to Strand’s ends -namely, escaping from the detainment camp.

Using others to further your ends is not a very Randian thing to do.

Ayn Rand also writes:

Man -every man- is an end in himself, not a means to the ends of others; he must live for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself…

Although Victor Strand isn’t a very good Randian, he still abides by Rand’s principle of pursuing one’s happiness as one’s supreme moral principle. Strand does not allow the misfortunes of others interfere with his main task: surviving.

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Here are a few things that Strand says concerning his interests versus the needs of others:

 

[To Madison after she informs Strand that she sees some people at sea who need to be rescued]: I filled my mercy quota. Seven people saved to date.

Rules for Strand’s yacht, the Abigail: Please, let me explain the rules of the boat. Rule number one, it’s my boat. Rule number two, it’s my boat. And if there remains any confusion about rules one and two, I offer rule number three, it’s my goddamn boat. If I weren’t for me, you’d all be burned. You’re welcome.

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THE RULES FOR THE ABIGAIL ARE LIKE THE RULES OF FIGHT CLUB. IN THE END NO ONE PAID ATTENTION TO THEM

[Strand’s response after fellow survivors insist that the Abigail take on more passengers]: If I stop the boat, it’ll be to drop folks off, not take them on.

 

[Strand’s response when Madison insists that the Abigail take on an orphaned child]:
Children are the definition of dead weight.

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PICTURED: DEAD WEIGHT

Strand on the real danger in an undead apocalypse: You know what the real danger is on the ocean? People.

When other survivors hitch a lifeboat containing a young woman and her mortally wounded companion to the Abigail, Strand cuts them loose, reasoning that the survivors can’t risk their lives to save people who may be dangerous -especially a dying boy (who will become a zombie when he dies).

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SERIOUSLY, I WOULD HAVE CUT THEM LOOSE, TOO

Everything Strand says strikes of Ayn Rand’s clearly  (at least Any Rand influenced) ethics. Strand clearly puts no man ahead of himself.

This is why Victor Strand is a fan favorite.

And yet, Strand has considered the interests of others, and even put his life on the line to save the lives of people in his group.

Strand not only helps Nick to escape the detainee camp, he also agrees to house Nick’s family and another family (the Salazar family) in his home and on the Abigail.

Although Strand lays down the rules for admission on the Abigail, we know he isn’t just looking after himself. Strand could easily pull up anchor and abandon the group when they leave the Abigail to explore dry land.

Yet he does not.

Strand risks his life to help Nick escape from the detainee camp and in the season two midseason finale, Strand, after he’s expelled from a temporary sanctuary, risks his life to save Nick’s mother Madison.

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ONE OF THOSE GOOD NEWS/BAD NEWS, WHICH ONE DO YOU WANT FIRST KIND OF CONVERSATIONS

Wait a minute. Does this mean that Strand is a secret utilitarian? Is he masquerading as a Randian while clandestinely pursuing the greatest good for the greatest number?

Perhaps.

But could is it possible that Strand has given up on all ethics? Is it possible that Strand believes that in a world without civilization all things are permitted? Strand tells Nick that the only way to survive in a mad world is to embrace the madness. Is Strand preaching moral nihilism?

In Beyond Good and Evil Nietzsche writes:

He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster. And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee.

Is Strand telling Nick not just to stare into the abyss but to leap headlong into it? Is Strand telling Nick to become a monster? Is Stand saying that all of the characters should become monsters?

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NICK, STARING INTO THE ABYSS

 

It’s worth noting that the first episode of season two is titled “Monster”. In the season two midseason finale, Nick Clark covers himself in zombie guts (a means of camouflage) and refuses to join his mother and Strand to safety. Nick chooses to join the horde of zombies that has overrun their sanctuary. Nick is last seen walking among the dead, one of the monsters.

Fear the Walking Dead is not a great show. Sometimes it’s not even a good TV show. But what the show lacks in quality it more than makes up for in philosophical interestingness. Victor Strand is just one of the philosophically compelling characters on the series. In a TV world dominated by reality TV it’s refreshing to find a TV show with characters that have us thinking about them and discussing a series days (sometimes months) after an episode has aired.

One can only hope that Fear the Walking Dead continues to be one of the most philosophical TV shows on television.

I’ve got my fingers crossed.

That years from now, when we talk about Fear the Walking Dead, we think of the show as more like Better Call Saul than like Joanie Loves Chachi.

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I’VE GOT MY FINGERS SO CROSSED

FERRIS BUELLER, YOU’RE MY HERO (Updated. Or something)

THERE’S A WELL-KNOWN saying that goes “you’re only as old as you feel”. Well, sometimes even when you feel quite youthful, something happens that makes you feel old.

Like when you remember one of your favorite movies when you were a kid was released 30 years ago.

Or when the person who wrote and directed a movie you loved as a kid dies.

On August 6, 2009, film writer-director and Generation X icon John Hughes died.

Heart attack.

There’s something really unnerving when the idols of one’s youth start popping off from the same diseases, ailments, and blocked arteries that killed your grandparents. The death of John Hughes only reminded me of how old I’m getting; that my chances of dying young and leaving a good looking corpse is quickly slipping away.

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UNLESS MY NAME IS LESTAT, THAT AIN’T EVER GONNA HAPPEN

I was thinking about how much (way back in the 1980s) John Hughes’ movies were, as they say in the modern vernacular, the shit. Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Weird Science and Pretty in Pink were the cinematic soundtrack of my youth. Honestly, who can hear Simple Minds’ “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” without defiantly thrusting your fist in the air like Judd Nelson? (Alright, no one ever does).

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NEVER DID THIS ONCE

New York School of the Performing Arts kids like Doris Finsecker and Ralph Garci might have experienced self discovery while smoking weed and doing the time warp to The Rocky Horror Picture Show, but for the suburbia-adjacent kids like me, we saw our so-called lives played out in the teen angst drama of Some Kind of Wonderful.**

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TEN BONUS POINTS IF YOU KNOW WHERE BLACK ACTING SCHOOL CAME FROM

 

Not too long ago, partly because a) I had nothing better to do, b) I wanted to honor the memory of John Hughes, and c) I was desperately engaged in a vain attempt to capture my lost youth; I decided to watch a John Hughes movie. After some serious contemplation – and because it was the easiest John Hughes movie to grab off of my DVD shelf – I spent an afternoon watching John Hughes’ teen comedy magnum opus 1986’s Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

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Nearly every one of John Hughes’ movies is quotable but Ferris Bueller’s Day Off was the one where we learned the eternally quotable “life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it”.

I’m not entirely sure if Ferris Bueller is actually the first person to say it, but I do remember that hearing that line was the first time I’d ever been floored by anyone, let alone a character in a movie, speaking philosophically.

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Imagine this: you’re an eleven year old kid, home alone on a Wednesday afternoon, watching cable TV, probably HBO.

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UNLESS YOU WERE HOME ALONE WATCHING THIS. YOU KNOW DAMN WELL WHAT THIS IS

Ferris Bueller is dressed in a bathrobe and is actively breaking the fourth wall just to speak directly to you, the eleven year old kid sitting at home alone watching HBO.

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Nowadays, looking back, Ferris Bueller’s wisdom seems a bit trite (were we really supposed to learn the value of carpe dieming from a character who is still in high school?), but back then, just like Cameron Frye, Ferris Bueller was my hero.

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My, how things have changed.
I thought when I sat down to watch Ferris Bueller’s Day Off so many years after I had initially seen it as a kid, that I would re-experience the same sense of philosophical enlightenment that I had felt all those years ago when I was a lonely latchkey kid looking for someone to look up to.

Because one‘s parents are never the first choice.

Maybe it’s because I’m looking at Ferris Bueller’s Day Off through cynical adult eyes, but while I sat, watching the shenanigans of Ferris Bueller and Co., it suddenly hit me; I realized what a horrible person Ferris Bueller is.

Wait – my revelation didn’t stop there. I realized that almost every John Hughes character was an unforgivable jerk in some major way.

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YES. I’M TALKING ABOUT YOU, KEVIN MCCALLISTER

Collectively speaking, most of John Hughes’ characters are self- indulgent assholes.
assholes everywhereI

 

Don’t believe me? Here are a few examples for you:

  • Farmer Ted (Sixteen Candles) is a date-rapist (he has sex with Jake Ryan’s drunken, passed out girfriend, with Jake’s encouragement no less. Watch the movie. It’s true).
  • Andie (Pretty in Pink) was kind of a bitch who not only wanted way out of her league (for even considering that she should go to the prom with high school hottie Blane Mc Donnagh), but Andie in no way deserved Duckie.
  • There is not one redeeming character in The Breakfast Club (we’re supposed to like Andy, this time played by Emilio Estevez, even though he committed a possible sexual assault/battery on a classmate by taping the guy‘s buttcheeks together).
  • And the Griswold family (National Lampoon’s Vacation) are just plain racists.

 

Watch the hubcap stealing scene if you don’t believe me.

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BLACK MAN HOLDING BASKETBALL DISTRACTS CLUELESS WHITE GUY WHILE OTHER BLACK GUYS STEAL HUBCAPS? CHECK!

Now that I’m thinking about it, If characters like Ferris Bueller were supposed to be a portrait of the American teenager (if you live in a world where amazingly enough, everybody is white, upper middle class, and the only minorities you encounter come straight out of Black Acting School), I think in retrospect, that John Hughes’ American teenager was about as true to life as the fictional hamlet of Shermer, Illinois.

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I know that I am treading on thin ice, here. For those of a certain age, the movies of John Hughes are like GOSPEL and Hughes’ characters are so freaking cool that they can do no wrong. But after several viewings of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off I really began to think that of all John Hughes’ characters. Perhaps with the exception of Kevin McCallister, who possessed more knowledge about planting booby traps and countermeasures against home invaders than a seasoned Navy Seal, Ferris Bueller is Hughes’ most selfish character.
Really. The entire movie is about how Ferris Bueller spends an entire day scheming, exploiting, and outright lying to people to get what he wants. The fact that all the “sportos, motor heads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wasteoids, dweebies, dickheads,” all adore Ferris, and think he’s a “righteous dude”, doesn’t mitigate the fact that Ferris is an
egoistical asshole.

Not convinced?

The proof is in the viewing: As the movie opens, we see Ferris (Matthew Broderick) faking that he’s sick. Of course we know that Ferris isn’t sick, but Ferris’ very concerned and clueless parents have no idea their is lying to them. They believe that there actually is something physically wrong with their son. After all, why else would their son be bent over moaning and wailing with sweaty palms if he wasn’t dreadfully ill?

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OF COURSE WE’RE SUPPOSED TO BELIEVE THAT THESE OTHERWISE INTELLIGENT LOOKING PEOPLE ARE THAT STUPID

Tom and Katie Bueller believe Ferris is sick, and Ferris is glad that they do. Ferris is so glad that he’s duped his parents into believing that he is deathly ill that he doesn’t feel even the slightest tinge of guilt for deceiving his parents. In fact, Ferris Bueller doesn’t spend one moment of the movie regretting the fact that he weaves a web of deception around not only his own parents but around practically everyone he knows.

ferris bueller smiling

I AM JACK’S COMPLETE LACK OF EMPATHY

Ferris doesn’t care when his (supposedly) BFF Cameron Frye tells Ferris that he’s (actually) sick and can’t accompany Ferris on his adventure. SFW, Ferris says. Instead of offering Cameron a decongestant or well wishes, Ferris tells his best friend that if he doesn’t get out of bed and hang out, that Cameron will have to find a new best friend.

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Ferris not only decides that he’s going to coerce others to join his plan, he also decides to “borrow” Cameron’s father’s prized sports car for the day’s activities. Ferris could not care less when Cameron tells him that his (likely physically abusive) father will kill him if his prized 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California gets “so much as a scratch on it.” Ferris ignores his (supposedly best) friend and steals the car anyway – even if the consequence of discovery means almost certain death for his best friend.

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YES, CAMERON. YOU CERTAINLY WILL BE

Unlike a good person, Ferris has no problem lying to his parents or to his principal, Mr. Rooney, or falsifying his school records. Nor does Ferris have any compunction over pulling his girlfriend, Sloane Peterson, out of class.

By faking her grandmother’s death, no less.

Ferris gleefully mouths off to a snooty restaurant maitre d’ to prove his moral superiority to the guy and assumes the identity of someone he is not to humiliate the maitre d’ in front of the restaurant‘s patrons.

ferris bueller restaurant

 

Ferris doesn’t hesitate to commandeer a Von Steuben Day Parade float not only to garner more attention for FERRIS but also to publicly humiliate Cameron in front of the gathered crowd by declaring that his best friend is a grump who didn‘t think he would “see anything good today”.

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NOT ONLY DOES FERRIS DRESS DOWN HIS “BEST” FRIEND IN PUBLIC, HE SPECULATES ON CAMERON’S (LACK OF) SEXUAL EXPERIENCES , TALKS SHIT ABOUT THE STATE OF CAMERON’S HOME LIFE, AND COMPARES HIS FRIEND’S RECTUM TO THE GEOLOGIC DIAMOND-MAKING PROCESS. SOME BEST FRIEND, EH?

 

Ferris Bueller doesn’t care if everyone else has to go to school or to work “on a day like this”. Oh no! Ferris’ day off is all about the fact that Ferris can’t be bothered by responsibility. That’s what other people do. After all, with all that hard work being idolized by everyone at school, Ferris Bueller needs a day off!

ferris bueller day off

By the way, if you really pay attention to the movie, you’ll notice that he only time Ferris shows any sort of remorse for what he’s done is when he feigns an apology so he can further exploit other people.
Now, either Ferris Bueller either is suffering from some sort of sociopathy, which is a matter best handled by mental health professionals, but since I am a philosopher, and consequently, am in no way interested or qualified to render a psychiatric diagnosis, my philosophical diagnosis is that Ferris Bueller is nothing more than a standard ethical egoist.

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Ethical egoism is the ethical theory that holds an act is right if (and only if) an act produces happiness for a particular agent — you. Everyone ought to look after, as a follower of the goddess of egoism, Ayn Rand (1905-1982) would tell you, his own rational self interest. The philosopher Gregory Kavka (1947-1994) explained that an egoist (in particular a Rule Egoist) acts according to the following principle:

 

Each agent should attempt always to follow that set if general
rules of conduct whose acceptance (and sincere attempt to
follow) by him on all occasions would produce the best
(expected) outcomes by him.

In short, egoist ethics is the inverse of utilitarian-esque “Vulcan logic”. Instead of believing that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one, the egoist believes the needs of the one, the agent, outweigh the needs of the many.

But enough Star Trek.

 

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The ethical egoist’s reasoning is this: because we are unable to know anyone else’s needs or motivations and because we are restricted to seeing the world from only our own particular point of view, we only are morally obligated to act in a manner that benefits us. Egoism poster-girl, Ayn Rand, wrote, “This is why objectivist ethics is a morality of rational self-interest – or of rational selfishness.” In a way, Ferris Bueller is not unlike Rand’s description of Howard Roark, the protagonist of Rand’s novel The Fountainhead (1943). In her description of Roark, Ayn Rand writes:

 

He is not even militant or defiant about his utter selfishness… He
has a quiet, irrevocable calm of an iron conviction. No
dramatics, no hysteria, no sensitiveness about it —
because there are no doubts… A quick, sharp mind,
courageousness and not afraid to be hurt… He will be himself
at any cost — the only thing he really wants of life. And,
deep inside if him, he knows that he has the ability to
win the fight to be himself.

 

So apparently not only is Ferris Bueller an ethical egoist, more specifically, he’s a Randian objectivist.

 

**Objectivism is most closely associated with the philosophy of Ayn Rand. Rand describes the objectivist ethic, based on rational self interest, as “The proper standard of ethics is: man’s survival qua man – i.e., that which is required for his survival as a rational being … Man – every man – is an end in himself, not a means to the ends of others; he must live for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself, he must work for his rational self interest, with the achievement of his own happiness as the highest moral purpose in life”. In short, a Randian objectivist’s primary moral objective is to act only in a manner that is most beneficial to him, which is exactly what an ethical egoist does.**

 

According to Rand the egoist is concerned about others in so far as his concern for others contributes to his own happiness. Sure, an egoist might give to charity, but he is not motivated by any sense of altruism. The egoist is motivated by a personal want (a good reputation and public accolades, for example) than by a want to selflessly give to people less fortunate than he is. So when Ferris tells Cameron that his day off really was for Cameron’s benefit, we know that Ferris is full of shit.

 

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PREACH, PRINCIPAL ROONEY

We know that Cameron’s good day was a only fortunate consequence to Ferris’ egoism. Ferris is so focused on his own day off that if either his best friend Cameron or his girlfriend Sloane has a good day it is an unintentional consequence of Ferris‘ selfishness. In truth, the day is all about as the water tower says, saving Ferris.

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As mere movie watchers unaware of the deeper philosophical significance of Ferris Bueller‘s Day Off, we only see Ferris as a go-getter, a mercurial rogue who lives life on his own terms. Ferris knows what he wants and doesn’t let obstacles get in his way. Ferris Bueller is the guy we, and Cameron Frye, always wanted to be.

I don’t know if John Hughes had Howard Roark, Ayn Rand, or ethical egoism in mind when he wrote and directed Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. I’m assuming that he did not. John Hughes may or may not have had Rand in mind, but philosophically speaking, Ferris is imbued with what Rand describes as the three fundamental values of man: reason, purpose, and self-esteem. Ferris Bueller is, as Ayn Rand’s ethics describes, a man who lives for his own sake.

As a man who lives for his own sake, a guy like a snooty maitre d’ or a power hungry Principal Rooney isn’t going to get into Ferris’ way. An egoist (like Ferris) does not allow anyone else’s needs trump his own needs and/or wants. That means if Ferris Bueller wants to have his way, Ferris gets his way; everyone else’s needs simply do not come first.

As we watch the film, we come to understand what Cameron Frye must have realized about Ferris – being with Ferris Bueller is easy if you understand this one thing: Ferris comes first.

This explains why Cameron’s father’s car goes from looking like this:

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To looking like this by the end of the movie:

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** It’s worth noting here that an individual who lives for one’s own sake might be interpreted be described by others as acting selfishly. To perceive an egoist’s actions as selfish is not a misinterpretation of an ethical egoist’s guiding moral philosophy. According to Ayn Rand, an ethics of selfishness isn’t a bad thing (in fact, Rand considers selfishness a virtue). An ethical egoist’s selfishness isn’t a moral or psychological defect. Unlike most people who are concerned with soul (and bank account) draining activities and ideals like altruism or a sense of selflessness in dealing with their fellow humans, an egoist knows what he wants and knows exactly what he needs to do to get it (serving others selflessly often interferes with our ability to serve our own interests). Ferris Bueller would inform you that his actions were not due to a lack of morals or because he is an asshole. Ferris would tell you that he is, in fact, quite a moral individual. The situation simply is this: he chooses to not be encumbered by fulfilling the interests of others. **

 

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off costar Ben Stein described Ferris as having an “inner mobility” and an “inner sense of freedom and self-confidence”, and John Hughes said that Ferris Bueller isn’t “labored with all the difficulties that everyone else is”. Given Ferris’ behavior during his day off, we’re safe to assume that the achievement of his own happiness is Ferris’ greatest purpose in life.

Straight outta Rand.

 

** This is why we not only like but want to be like Ferris Bueller and why all the sportos, motor heads, geeks, sluts, and dweebies adore him. The unfortunate reality for most of us is that although we want to be Ferris Bueller, we all know that deep down we all really are like Cameron Frye trapped in lives as Henry David Thoreau wrote, “Of quiet desperation”. We need people like Ferris to show us that life is worth living. This is exactly what Ferris does for Cameron. This leads us to a question: since the day ended pretty well for everyone, what’s the harm in what Ferris did? What’s the harm of being selfish and using other people to get what you want if everyone has fun? **

Well, Ferris Bueller’s universally fun-filled day off aside, there’s a tremendous problem with ethical egoism. Namely, the problem with ethical egoism is the fact that egoism tends to be self defeating.

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BECOMING AN ETHICAL EGOIST MAKES AS MUCH SENSE AS A CAT MAKING FRIENDS WITH MICE

Listen: the only way a person can really ever be a successful egoist is if a person remains closeted about it. The late Australian philosopher, Brian Medlin (1927-2004), says ethical egoism doesn’t work because people don’t want to live in a world where people only live for themselves. Medlin says:

 

What is he when he urges upon his audience that they should
observe his own interests and those alone? Is he not acting
contrary to the egoist principle? It cannot be to his
advantage to convince them, for seizing always their own
advantage they will impair his. Surely is he does believes
what he says, he should try to persuade them otherwise.

If everybody is an ethical egoist, says Medlin, our selfish pursuit of our own pleasure will inevitably conflict with someone else’s selfish pursuits. Although an ethical egoist can be quite comfortable calling himself an egoist, he is likely to be uncomfortable with other people knowing that he is an egotist. For example, Ferris couldn’t very well ring up Cameron and say, “hey, Cam. I’ve decided, being the ethical egoist that I am, to take the day off. And as an egoist, I’m going to spend the entire day pleasing me, and I’m going to exploit you, Sloane, and anyone else who I need to use along the way. Wanna come along? By the way, bring your dad’s car”.

This would not work. Cameron has his own selfish interests he may want to pursue, including not being exploited by his best friend.

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KNOWING CAMERON, FERRIS SAYING EXACTLY THAT PROBABLY WOULD WORK. HE’D FALL FOR IT HOOK, LINE, AND SINKER

Obviously Ferris’ want to exploit Cameron and Cameron’s want to not be exploited by Ferris conflict. An egoist as smart as Ferris Bueller knows that he cannot and should not prance around waving his ethical egoism in everyone’s faces. And Ferris, like many egoists, is far too clever to let other people in on his game. Ferris says that he’s doing it all for Cameron, but really, Cameron’s happiness is a happy accident. An egoist knows that the key to getting what you want does not mean that someone always gets harmed, but it does mean that nobody else knows you’re an ethical egoist.

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Alright. Rebuttal time, you say. Ethical egoism naysayers like Brian Medlin and Jesus Christ are only partially right.

The egoism-is-self-defeating-argument may be a problem if an egoist is indeed strictly in it for himself. Doing so would indeed be self-defeating. However, being an egoist does not mean that you always have to seek your own happiness to the exclusion of the happiness of others. Ethical egoists often discover that pursuing the greatest good for the greatest number of people actually increases the egoist’s happiness as well.

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PRETTY SURE AYN RAND WORE THIS T-SHIRT, TOO

Ben Stein claims that Ferris helps Cameron to “liberate” himself. So when Ferris “borrows” Cameron’s father’s car, ignores Cameron’s illness, and talks to the camera about his friend’s non-existent sex life, it’s really to help Cameron to break free from his fear. When Ferris stands completely still and does nothing to stop Cameron while Cameron kicks the holy hell out his father’s car, it’s not because Ferris is looking after his own ass and wants to wipe his hands clean of the whole ordeal, it is because Ferris is being a great friend helping Cameron to gain independence from his father. When Ferris humiliates the maitre d’ at Chez Quis, it’s not because Ferris gets his rocks off humiliating people in public, it’s to put a snarky butthole in his place. When Ferris lip sync’s The Beatles’ “Twist and Shout” on the Von Steuben Day Parade float, it’s not to be the center of attention, he’s doing it to show Cameron something good that day.

The fact that Ferris’ happiness was Ferris’ main motivation for taking the day off didn’t necessarily mean that other people had to get hurt. It’s possible that everyone can think you’re a righteous dude and they can get what they want, too.

And because no one admits that we’re all in it for ourselves, everyone is happy.

Especially Ferris.

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WHO AM I KIDDING, THIS GUY IS A TOTAL SOCIOPATH

In the end, my two cents worth says that Ferris Bueller indeed is a Randian egoist.
I will, however, concede that Medlin and the other haters tend to act as if being an egoist means that you’re required to go all Marquis de Sade in how you treat others. We know that’s not so.
The trick is that you simply don’t go waiving your egoist banner everywhere. If you have to tell people that you’re a Kantian, so be it. Just as long as everyone (especially you) is happy. If you are successful, you can get exactly what you want while everyone else thinks you’re a righteous dude. All it takes is a little bit of obfuscation. And because no one ever admits that we’re all in it for ourselves, everyone is happy.

Maybe except for Cameron.

Anyone else get the feeling that Cameron didn’t show up the next day at school?

Or the next…

… or the next?

 

 

 

 

** I have once again made reference to an original version of a film (and not its sequel). For those who are unfamiliar with the original film, the characters “Doris Finsecker” and “Ralph Garci” are characters from the film Fame, originally released in 1980.

*** For those who don’t know, SFW means “so fucking what?”

 
*THIS POST ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN ANOTHER FORM IN THE BOOK MINDLESS PHILOSOPHER: HOW PHILOSOPHY TAUGHT ME EVERYTHING I NEEDED TO KNOW ABOUT POPULAR CULTURE AND ON THE (now defunct) BLOGGER BLOG “THE KANTIAN EGOIST” (POSTED AUGUST 25, 2009).

 

SOURCES:

Gregory Kavka. “A Reconciliation Project”. Ethical Theory: Classical and Contemporary Readings. 2007. Ed. Louis J. Poijman. pp. 358-9.

Ayn Rand quote: from “Introduction” from The Virtue of Selfishness:
http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/self-interest.html

Ayn Rand quotes on the principles of objectivism are from Ayn Rand Institute website: http://www.aynrand.org/site/PageServer?pagename=objectivism_essentials.

Leonard Peikoff. “Afterword”. 1992. In The Fountainhead. Ayn Rand. [orig. published 1943]. NY: Signet. p. 698.

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. 1986. Writ. & Dir. John Hughes.

“Who Is Ferris Bueller?” copyright 2006. Paramount Home Video.

Brian Medlin. “Ultimate Principles and Ethical Egoism” [orig. published 1957]: http://www.2fiu.edu/~Medlin’sUltimatePrinciplesandEthicalEgoism.html.