Oh, Carol!

Zombies.

They’re in, you know.

When you’ve gotten to the point you’re using zombies to sell cell phone plans, you know society is in pretty bad shape.

 

 

You don’t have to ask around, but I think it’s entirely safe to say that zombies are probably the least appealing monster in the movie monster kingdom.

It’s not that the zombie’s least appealing status is undeserved. There are plenty of reasons to dislike them. Zombies aren’t at all like well-cultured, romantic, erudite Vampires. They’re not mischievous like your local poltergeist.  They’re not powerful and all biblical like demons. And they’re not beastly manifestations of man’s repressed id like a werewolf.

 

Nope. That’s not a zombie.

 

Zombies are smelly, rotting, people-chomping, mindless bags of flesh.

If a zombie finds you, it will not bid you good morning or offer you its seat on the bus. A zombie will tear you apart and eat you.

Zombies don’t sparkle. They don’t talk to you through the TV. They don’t look like David Naughton. Zombies look like this:

 

The-Walking-Dead2

 

You can’t get rid of a zombie with sunlight. Or by driving a stake through its heart. Or with love. You can’t hire a priest to perform an exorcism.

The only way to get rid of a zombie is to do this:

 

dawn-of-the-dead-head-explosion

 

Even killing a zombie is pretty gross.

It’s a wonder why zombies are so popular these days.

 

Wait a minute. That movie Warm Bodies. They cured zombies with love, didn’t they?

Twilight + dead hipster = Warm Bodies

Twilight + dead hipster = Warm Bodies

 

If you ask me, Warm Bodies movie is the Nightmare on Elm Street 2 of zombie films.

It’s an ok movie, but… I think they aimed for the wrong audience.

But then, we’ve dealt with running zombies, haven’t we?

 

For the last time, zombies do not run!

For the last time, zombies do not run!

 

It is a well-established fact that you have to kill the brain to kill the ghoul. But zombie brain bashing might get a little messy.

Some people might be put off by that. Squeamish types, you know.

However, there is one thing about zombies that isn’t too gross zombies are fantastically ethical monsters.

You can discuss matters of ethics using zombies, that is.

Luckily for us, the AMC television network has made discussing zombies fairly easy.

Yes. I’m talking about The Walking Dead.

 

2ND AMENDMENT. HELL YEAH!

2ND AMENDMENT. HELL YEAH!

 

In the season 4 episode “Indifference”,  Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) kicks fellow zombie apocalypse survivor, Carol Peletier (Melissa McBride), out of the group for killing two people who are sick with a deadly strain of the flu. Rick tells Carol that the two might have lived (Carol hadn’t given them a chance to get well), and that Carol had no right to decide who lives and who dies. Carol tells Rick that her justification for killing the two sick people is that she was trying to prevent anyone else from getting sick; that she was protecting the group.

If we look at Carol’s actions through our ethics glasses, we see that Carol’s reasoning is based on the utilitarian principle of the greatest good for the greatest number. John Stuart Mill wrote in Utilitarianism:

The creed which accepts [utility] as the foundation of morals, 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.

Carol believes that she has done the right thing. And by killing two people, she believes that she will prevent the deaths of the several dozen living people in the camp. Carol argues the two were terminal, and it’s not wrong if you kill someone who is terminally ill. Carol tells Rick that she ended their suffering, and by hastening their deaths, she saved them from a very painful death of drowning in their own blood.

If a couple of people die so that others may live, Carol reasons, so be it. She tells Rick that she “stepped up” and did something when no one else (including Rick) was willing or able to do what had to be done.

DON’T LET THE MILD MANNERED DEMEANOR FOOL YOU. COUGH ONCE AND CAROL WILL PUT A KNIFE THROUGH YOUR BRAIN.

DON’T LET THE MILD MANNERED DEMEANOR FOOL YOU. COUGH ONCE AND CAROL WILL PUT A KNIFE THROUGH YOUR BRAIN.

 

If we judge Carol’s actions based strictly on the Greatest Happiness Principle, Carol appears to have done the right thing.

Of course, there’s a problem.

Vulcan logic might work well for Mr.Spock, but when people in the real world use the Vulcan logic dictate that “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few (…or the one)”, things don’t always work out well.

The problem with utilitarian ethics is that utilitarian-based decisions are often based on speculation. Our actions are based on what we estimate will be the best outcome. Unfortunately, we know, despite our best guesses, that speculation is sometimes wrong.

How do we determine what “the needs” are, and more importantly, how can we definitively know what is the best solution for satisfying those needs?

The answer is we can’t.

The reason why is simple: we can’t know all things. That is, humans lack the ability to foresee all possible outcomes. So all the utilitarian is really stuck with is good intentions and a hope that things turn out for the best.

So, we can assume that we’re doing the right thing so long as out intentions are good, right? If Carol meant to do the right thing, she’s in the moral clear….. Right?

Nope.

We might think that what matters (when we act) is that our intention is to do the greatest good for the greatest number of people, but according to utilitarianism, intentions don’t matter. An act is morally permissible if the act actually produces the greatest good for the greatest number. You might be driven by the best of intentions, but if your actions fail to produce real world good outcomes or makes the situation worse, you’ve done something wrong.

Carol did something wrong.

Listen, there’s no denying that Carol’s argument is appealing. She meant well and she did what she thought was the best thing to do. It’d be tough to argue that anyone shouldn’t do what they think is best. And several killings on The Walking Dead  were committed (justified) in the interest of the Greatest Happiness Principle (Otis, Dave, Tony, Randall, Shane, Big Tiny, Tomas, Andrew, and Hershel’s leg). However, Rick concludes Carol’s utilitarian-based argument doesn’t hold.*

Of course, as Rick surely must have been thinking to himself, the problem with Carol’s argument is that her rationalization for killing the infected is based on speculation. Carol perceived the pair as an immediate threat and determined that the only way to deal with the immediate threat was to kill whoever was infected with the flu. Rick counters Carol’s argument, stating that there was a chance, however small, that the two might have recovered from their illness. We know that even the most virulent strain of flu (like the 1918 Spanish influenza upon which The Walking Dead flu is based) is not 100 percent fatal.

 

what ever you do. do. not. cough.

 

Utilitarian ethics tells us that if there is another, equally acceptable or better solution, we are obligated to either consider other options or not act as we had intended. In short, if there was a chance that the pair might not have died, Carol was morally obligated to NOT kill them.

Carol’s miscalculated utilitarian ethics led her to commit an act that ultimately was not only morally wrong, but showed that Carol was liable to act without fully considering other possible outcomes. Carol went for the immediate, not best solution. Carol’s impulsive act made her a threat to the (overall) safety of the group. This is why Rick is perfectly justified when he kicks Carol out of the group.

By removing Carol from the group, Rick did the greatest good for the greatest number.

 

Oops. Carol's bad.

Oops. Carol’s bad.

 

Carol argues that she was trying to save the group, but ultimately her effort did not work. Other people were infected with the flu and died. AND to make matters much worse for Carol, Tyreese, the boyfriend of one of Carol’s victims, has pledged to kill whoever killed his girlfriend.

Carol not only failed to save anyone, but by killing people, she put her own life in double jeopardy if the flu doesn’t kill her, Tyreese will.

 

Carol isn’t a well-intentioned hero. She’s nothing more than a common murderer.

AND

let’s not forget that because of her actions Carol was kicked out of the group and left to fend for herself in a world populated by smelly, rotting, people-chomping, mindless bags of flesh.

 

 

 

 

 

 

* I speculate that Carol’s reasoning might have been more on the side of rule utilitarianism that simple utilitarianism (or act utilitarianism).  I think Carol might have followed a rule utilitarian position as described by JCC Smart:

“generally, he argues consequences are not relevant at all when we are deciding what to do in a particular case. In general, they are relevant only in deciding what rules are good reasons for acting in a certain way in particular cases”

Carol might have believed that in any circumstance where there is an immediate threat to the group, one must eliminate the threat (the rule). However, as a rule utilitarian, she might have not actually acted on her principle until this particular set of circumstances.

 

 

 

Sources:

John Stuart Mill. “Utilitarianism”. Twenty Questions: An Introduction to Philosophy. 1988. Eds. G. Lee Bowie, Meredith W. Michaels, Robert C. Solomon, and Robert J. Fogelin. NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc. p. 571

Ethical Theory: Classical and Contemporary Readings. 5th edition. Ed. Louis P. Pojman. (Wadsworth) 2007. p. 208.

On the Unlikely But Probable Existence of Gettier Truths

Generally speaking, it’s good not to lie to people.

Most people aren’t very good at it and if you make a habit out of lying to people you’re likely to end up getting caught in a web of your own lies. Your lies, as the Blue Fairy would say, become as plain as the nose on your face.

THAT BLUE FAIRY REALLY KNEW WHAT SHE WAS TALKING ABOUT

THAT BLUE FAIRY REALLY KNEW WHAT SHE WAS TALKING ABOUT

Lying isn’t just wrong according to the Bible (which is bad enough as it is) but if you’re a fan of Immanuel Kant the act of lying is a big no-no.

To quote Kant from his Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals, “lying is no bueno.”

Of course, as with anything else we’re not supposed to do, like premarital sex, serial arson, or liking Nickleback on Facebook, an admonition to not do something has never stopped anyone from doing anything in the real or make-believe world. And rrally, if you watch enough TV you might think that lying is the necessary evil glue that binds fictional universes together.

…or at least habitual lying makes Don Draper sexy.

LIES AS MUCH AS PINOCCHIO. BUT LOOKS CONSIDERABLY BETTER DOING IT

LIES AS MUCH AS PINOCCHIO. BUT LOOKS CONSIDERABLY BETTER DOING IT

In fact, when a fictional character lies it often reveals a greater truth. Even if the liar has no idea that’s what they just did.

If you make it your mission to become an observer of fictional liars and fictitious lies, you’ll soon discover that after binge watching three seasons of AMC’s The Walking Dead, basic cable’s ratings powerhouse, the show (ostensibly) about zombies, is a veritable Whack-A-Mole Ô of primetime lying. After spending approximately one and a half days of my life watching zombie chow-downs and survivor shenanigans, I compiled this short list of lies (in no particular order):

  • Lori lies to Shane about who is the father of her baby.
  • Morgan lies to himself into thinking that he will be able to shoot his reanimated wife.
  • Shane lies to everybody about what really happened to Otis.
  • Guillermo lies to Rick about his “ferocious” dogs.
  • Shane is lying to himself about his “love” for Lori (it’s so obvious).
  • Daryl lies to that vato dude about what happened to the guy who pissed him off (Nobody pissed him off. It was actually Merle’s severed hand).
  • The governor lies to the people of Woodbury about what really happened to the National Guardsmen.
  • Shane lies to Lori about Rick’s “death” (Wait. That may have not been a lie as much as it was wishful thinking. Or a mistake. Whatever).
  • Randall lies about merely watching the two girls getting gang-raped in front of their father (we all know that Randall is a shifty slime ball who probably fully participated in the girls’ rape).
  • Randall lies to Carl that he is a good guy.
  • Jim lies to Jacqui when she discovers that he’s been bitten by a walker.
  • The Governor lies to the people of Woodbury about what kind of person he really is.
  • Glenn lies to Merle about who is at the prison.
  • The Governor lies about what happened to the helicopter pilot.
  • Maggie (initially) lies to Glenn about her attraction to him.
  • Shane lies to Dale when Dale catches Shane pointing his gut at Rick.
  • Axel lies about why he is in prison.
  • The Governor lies to Andrea about his true intentions after his “truce” with Rick.
  • Tomas lies to Rick when he “accidentally” takes a swipe at Rick’s head (Tomas tells Rick “shit happens”. Rick agrees with Tomas and then cleaves him in the head with a machete).
  • Milton (unsuccessfully) lies to the Governor about not knowing about Andrea’s trip the prison.
  • Milton (unsuccessfully) lies to the Governor about not knowing who burned the walkers in the pit.
  • Andrea lies to Michonne when she denies that she chose sex with the Governor over their friendship.
  • Rick fails to inform the group that they are all infected with the zombie virus (this is a lie of omission, but a lie nonetheless).
  • Shane lies to Rick about “banging” a high school P.E. coach (we all know Shane was lying).
  • Shane lies to Rick about playing nice-nice after their fight  (after they failed to successfully abandon Randall).
  • Shane lies to Rick so he can lure Rick into the woods so he can kill him.
  • Shane lies to Carol about his sympathies for Carol after Sophia’s funeral.
  • Shane lies to Randall to lure him into the woods so he can kill him.

My God, Shane does a lot of lying.

Shane is not as big a liar as Don Draper. But then, what fictional character is?

For those who are inclined to view their television through an ethical lens, Shane Walsh demonstrates why Kant tells us that lying is wrong. Namely, that lying violates the Categorical Imperative. Kant tells us that before we perform any act, that:

I only ask myself: Can I will that my maxim become a universal law? If not, it must be rejected, not because of any disadvantage accruing to myself, or even to others, but because it cannot enter as a principle into a possible enactment of universal law, and reason extorts me from an immediate respect for such legislation.

Kant also says that we cannot treat others as mere means to our ends. Kant writes:

… every rational being exists as a end in himself and not merely as a means to be arbitrarily used by this or that will. In his actions, whether they are directed towards himself or toward other rational beings, he must always be regarded at the same time as an end… Man, however, is not a thing, and thus not something to be used merely as a means; he must always be regarded as an end in himself.

You see, Kant tells us that lying (Kant calls “false promises”) is morally wrong because no matter how well-intended our intentions may be, telling lies inevitably leads to some greater moral evil. Kant writes:

Would I be content that my maxim of extricating myself from difficulty by a false promise should hold as a universal law for myself as well as for others? And I could say to myself that everyone may make a false promise… Immediately I see that I could will the lie but not a universal law to lie. For with such a law there would be no promises at all, inasmuch as it would be futile to make a pretense of my intention in regard to future actions to those who would not believe this pretense… Thus my maxim would necessarily destroy itself as soon as it was made a universal law.

In short, Kant says if everybody lies, then no one would believe anyone.

And for all his lies, this is how Shane ends up:

shane walsh as a zombie

Kant would call that retributive justice.

Shane Walsh is an example of what happens when someone lies. Despite the fact the Shane believed his intentions were good, the consequences of Shane’s lies proved that even the best intentioned lie can have disastrous effects. People can get hurt.

And if you are Randall or Otis, people get killed.

… well actually, if you’re Otis, Shane will shoot you in the kneecap, leave you to the zombies, and then lie to everyone about how you really died.

OTIS SAW HIS LIFE FLASH BEFORE HIS EYES... NO, WAIT -- IT'S JUST THE MUZZLE OF SHANE'S GUN

OTIS SAW HIS LIFE FLASH BEFORE HIS EYES… NO, WAIT — IT’S JUST THE MUZZLE OF SHANE’S GUN

A funny thing about lies.

Even though Kant tells us that all lies are inevitably bad, sometimes when someone lies something weird happens: in the middle of the lie is the truth.

Not just a kind of truth, but THE TRUTH.

The kind of truth-telling lie that reveals how sinister someone truly is.

In the season three (episode three) “Arrow On the Doorpost”,  Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and The Governor (David Morrissey) meet to discuss terms for a treaty following an attack on The Governor’s stronghold in Woodbury.

Wait, this is out of context:

You see, this dude, Merle Dixon, kidnapped two of Rick’s friends, Glenn and Maggie, and so Rick and a few of his people went to Woodbury to rescue them and well, let’s say things went badly enough to require a cease fire between the two survivalist factions.

Ok. So, the meeting between Rick and The Governor pretty much goes nowhere (although Rick agrees to one condition for a peaceful settlement: he agrees hand over one of his men (actually it was a woman) in exchange for peace). But when each man returns to his camp, The Governor and Rick do the exact same thing: they lie.

The Governor tells Andrea wait

Ok, Andrea used to be in Rick’s group, but she was separated from the group when Hershel’s farm (I’m not explaining, just follow along) is overrun by the living dead. Andrea is rescued by Michonne, the nearly-mute, katana-wielding, dreadlocked, badass, who, while she was in Woodbury, got suspicious of The Governor’s motives and skipped town.

Oh yeah, when she returned to Woodbury, she stuck her katana through the skull of  Penny, The Governor’s zombified daughter.

… and she also stabbed out The Governor’s eye.

Folks, if you aren’t watching this TV show, you should be.

Get the plot so far?

Ok. So, The Governor tells Andrea that he and Rick have agreed to let bygones be bygones and as long as Rick’s people stay on their side, things between both groups will be hunky dory. But, when out of earshot of Andrea, The Governor tells his men his real plan that he intends to kill Rick, Michonne, and everyone else in Rick’s group.

We expect The Governor to lie because he’s a bad guy. He does not let the audience down.

But, when Rick returns to his group he tells his fellow survivors that The Governor intends to kill everyone in Rick’s group.

The Governor did not tell Rick this.

But by lying, Rick reveals The Governor’s true intentions.

THE LONGER THIS GUY LIVES THE MORE THAT GOUGED-OUT EYE IS WELL-DESERVED

THE LONGER THIS GUY LIVES THE MORE THAT GOUGED-OUT EYE IS WELL-DESERVED

Rick does lie, but in a strange way, Rick tells something like a Gettier truth: he’s right about The Governor.

But only accidentally so.*

 

This all makes me wonder: was Rick aware that he was telling his group the truth?

Or was it Rick’s intention to get his people gunned-up to kill The Governor no matter what settlement the two men had reached regarding the attack on Woodbury? Although it would tickle my philosophical soul pink to see it, I’m thinking that a deep, philosophical analysis of Rick Grimes’ motivations isn’t going to be had anytime soon.

Well, not since Andrea died, anyway.

I get the feeling she was the only character who had any idea who Edmund Gettier was.

Oops. Spoiler alert.

 

 

 

* For more information on misapplying the concept of Gettier problems, see my previous post “99 Problems and Gettier Ain’t One”.

 

 

Sources: Immanuel Kant. Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals. 1997 [1785]. Second edition. Trans. Lewis White Beck. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc. pp. 19, 45-6

We Do Not Kill the Living… Except… : On the Shifting Morality of Rick Grimes on AMC’s The Walking Dead

If it’s not obvious by now, I’m obsessed with a fan of The Walking Dead.

Actually, I’m pretty much a fan of anything to do with zombies (one notable exception being George A. Romero’s Survival of the Dead. Sorry. I love Romero’s movies but that one was just awful). So, if you want to invite me over for dinner and a movie, you’d better be sure that the movie has something to do with reanimated corpses and flesh eating.

Any fan or even non-fan of the show knows there’s a great deal of ballyhoo over AMC’s unlikely hit chronicling a small band of zombie plague survivors as they fight for survival amid the zombie apocalypse (aka ZA), and that the series has become the highest rated basic cable television show in TV history. And as sure as Trioxin 245 re-animates dead flesh, the show’s popularity has incited what can only be described as “haters”. If you think about it, it’s fairly easy to deride  a TV show that not only is based on the ridiculous premise of society being overrun by flesh eating revenants, but also plays out less like Romero’s Night of the Living Dead and more like an episode of Beverly Hills 90210. However, for reasons that even the most enthusiastic The Walking Dead fan can’t quite explain, millions of television viewers tune in every week to see the high drama (and maybe a zombie kill or two), post-apocalyptic world of former sheriff’s deputy Rick Grimes and his fellow ZA survivors.

Ok, there’s a good reason to think of The Walking Dead as nothing more than soap operatic or as a mere B-movie zombie flick delivered in weekly installments, but those who are philosophically inclined might have noticed amid the 3-way love triangles and Carl Grimes’ incessant annoyingness, something afoot going on  namely, that hidden within the throngs of shambling draugurs, The Walking Dead also gives its fans something philosophical to chew on.

One of those things is the shifting morality of former deputy sheriff Rick Grimes.

When we’re introduced to Rick Grimes (played by Andrew Lincoln), a deputy sheriff from BFE, Georgia, in the series’ debut episode “Days Gone Bye”, Rick is initially presented as an honest, hard-working, small-town sheriff who sternly reminds a fellow (albeit inept) deputy to make sure the safety of his gun is off before getting shot by a fleeing robbery suspect. When we see Rick Grimes we should be thinking this:

This is Sheriff Andy Taylor as played by Andy Griffith on “The Andy Griffith show”.

Even though we’ve seen Rick on screen for barely five minutes, when his is shot and slips into a coma, we worry about him. We want him to make it through ok. When Rick awakens from his coma (after an unspecified amount of time) to find the world has been overrun by the living dead, we know that he will survive

Because after all, he is Rick Grimes.

As viewers, we like Rick Grimes. We like Rick because despite the fact that he has no idea what is happening around him, Rick  slips into badass mode and quickly assumes the role of the hero. Rick (barely fully recovered from emerging from a coma, mind you) helps Morgan Jones and his son Duane find a hot shower and load up on guns at the abandoned sheriff’s office. Next, Rick helps a group of survivors escape a department store in Atlanta, and even attempts to return back to the city to rescue a member of the group (the abrasive, sexist, homophobic, and racist Merle Dixon) who is chained to a pipe on the store’s roof and left behind. Although members of the group argue that Merle is not worth saving, Rick feels that it is his duty to return to the city to get Merle. Rick tells the others that no living being deserves to be chained to a roof and left to die. Rick’s absolutist morality dictates that he is obligated to save Merle Dixon, even if it means that his own life is on the line; even if he dies in the attempt, Rick feels that he must fulfill his duty to others despite the consequences.

At this point, Rick’s morality is deontological. That is, Rick Grimes is following the moral principles of Deontological Ethics. Deontological ethics, most notably associated with the German philosopher, Immanuel Kant (1724 – 1804), is the ethical theory that holds that the morality of an action is judged according to one’s adherence to universally binding rules, duties or obligations to oneself and others. For the deontologist, the consequences of an act do not matter as much as the intentions behind an act. Kant wrote:

Do what is right, though the world may perish

Rick’s uniform symbolizes law and order; an absolutist (deontological) morality. And it is clear that Rick, who sports his sheriffs’ uniform well into season 2*, is strongly rooted in a clear sense of right and wrong. He does what is right despite the fact that the world has ended. Rick’s strong and unwavering sense of right and wrong suggests that according to Rick’s Kantian ethics, neglecting his duty to save others is morally wrong even if the person he‘s saving is a morally reprehensible sexist, racist, homophobe.

Kant states that we act from a good will when we follow the Categorical Imperative. The categorical imperative consists of two primary formulations:

Formulation One: Act only according to that maxim by which you can also will that it would become a universal law.

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

Rick sees Merle as an end in himself, a person who, despite his flaws, deserves to be treated in a humane way.

We know that Rick Grimes is not only a man who acts in an ethically correct manner, he’s a Good  (capital G) man. Rick believes that it is wrong to leave Merle Dixon chained and abandoned on a rooftop. When Rick tells his wife Lori about the generous acts of Morgan Jones and his son Duane, he explains to her that he is obligated to repay their act of generosity through doing good for others. And when a fellow survivor (Jim) is bitten by a zombie, Rick clearly lays down a deontologically-inspired universal edict when he tells the others who want to kill Jim before he dies and turns into one of the undead, “we do not kill the living!”

It’s worth noting Rick says it while holding a gun to a man’s head.

And even when Rick is re-killing the dead, he does so with a sense of compassion.

Rick Grimes is such a good guy, he apologizes to this zombie before he shoots her in the head.

From all appearances, Rick Grimes is a zombie slaying, Kantian badass but there’s a problem he doesn’t stay that way.

…it all has something to do with a guy named Shane Walsh.

Shane Walsh (played by Jon Bernthal), Rick’s former partner and wife stealer best friend, operates by a different set of ethics. Although Rick Grimes and Shane Walsh are partners in upholding the law as sworn sheriff’s deputies, it’s clear that their moral compasses are pointed in different directions. Unlike Rick, whose morality is deeply rooted in deontological obligations and duty, Shane’s morality rests on a different standard of right and wrong: consequences. Shane’s morality does not ask what is my moral obligation to others. But instead Shane’s morality asks, what do I have to do to stay alive?  And more often than not, the answer to Shane’s moral question is whatever it takes, by any means necessary. Shane’s ethics are pragmatic; in that Shane, as pragmatic philosophers suggest, determines what actions are morally correct based on whether an action works.

So, when Shane beats the ever-loving crap out of Ed Peletier, the abusive husband of Carol Peletier (while threatening to beat Ed to death, even though Ed posed no danger to Shane), Shane justifies his actions by believing that beating Ed contributes to group cohesion. When Shane breaks the lock on Hershel’s barn and re-kills all the zombies inside, he is doing it, not to crush Hershel’s hope of finding a zombie cure, but to save the group from danger. When Shane shoots Otis, repeatedly challenges Rick’s authority and leadership abilities, breaks the prisoner Randall’s neck, or even justifies his adulterous relationship with Rick’s wife Lori, Shane reasons, although he might not have done the popular thing (aka right thing to do), that his actions were ultimately justified in that what he did produced positive results.*

Shane Walsh solves his moral dilemmas like this:

… and like this

… and like this

… and like this

… and like this

* I suppose it can be argued that Shane Walsh’s ethics are not so much pragmatic as he is an act utilitarian. Either theory works.

Although Rick initially rejects Shane’s necessary evil in an evil world-based morality. Rick’s deontological ethical standpoint does not hold up for long (at least not past season 2). Rick Grimes is forced to kill Shane after Shane plots to kill Rick in an attempt to steal Lori and Carl from his former partner.

Shane eventually ends up like this:

I’m thinking Shane was really regretting trying to kill Rick.

Although by killing Shane, Rick is free to resume his deontological ethical ways, he does not. Instead of sticking to his Kantian guns, Rick assumes Shane’s pragmatic/act utilitarian ethical view. Rick’s new morality, which is pragmatic at best (ambiguous at worst) reflects the new world A world without distinctions. A world of contradictions, where beings are alive and dead and one must do whatever it takes to survive.

When Rick puts away his badge at Hershel’s farm, it signals that Rick has abandoned his absolutist morality. And by mid-second season, Rick violates his universal declaration that we do not kill the living when he shoots and kills two living men in a bar (by season 3, Rick’s kill count is up to five). When Rick kills Shane, we not only realize that Rick has put aside his own morality, but we realize that the kind of absolutist morality of Immanuel Kant belongs in the old world where absolutes like good and bad, right and wrong, and living and dead exist. In a world filled with the undead, absolutes no longer apply.

By the end of season 2, Rick Grimes is a morally changed man. He is no longer willing to adhere to the rules of the former world. Rick will do whatever it takes and by any means necessary to survive, even if doing so means that he has to (intentionally) hurt others to do so.

As The Walking Dead continues, we will see how the shifting morality of Rick Grimes plays out. Rick’s group of survivors has yet to encounter morally challenged Governor of Woodbury. And Rick’s mental breakdown following the death of his wife most assuredly will affect his moral position in future episodes. Although we’re only halfway through season 3, I have the feeling that in the future, Rick Grimes is going to be solving most of his problems like this:

SOURCES:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deontological_ethics

Doubletapping Socrates: On How The Walking Dead’s Rick Grimes IS the Philosopher-King

Halloween was a few days ago.

I had completely intended to write up few spooky-themed posts, but as nature has a way of making its own horror show, my plan was thwarted by an unusually strong bout of food poisoning.

I’m fine now.

But, had I been able to write before Halloween (instead of spending a week hovering over a… well, you know), this is what I would have posted:

For those who are unfamiliar with this image or the AMC Network television show The Walking Dead, this slightly rugged, gun-pointing fellow is Rick Grimes. Rick Grimes is a  sheriff’s deputy who awakes from a coma to find the world overrun by hordes (in the show they’re called “herds’) of flesh-eating zombies.

Rick played by the British actor Andrew Lincoln.

I mention this only because the show takes place in Georgia and Rick Grimes isn’t English.

I must say he fakes the accent rather well.

Anyway, the reason why Rick is such a big deal (besides the fact that he carries a gun) is because Rick is what we call a H-E-R-O. The famous writer and mythologist Joseph Campbell describes what a hero does as follows:

A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.

We like Rick because he is a hero. Rick is not only smart and capable, he is also loyal, not only to his wife Lori and son (the ever-annoying Carl), but to the other survivors who are looking to Rick’s abilities and leadership to guide them through the zombie apocalypse. Rick steps up to the plate when no one else is either willing or capable of doing so. It’s No doubt that, when zombie movie enthusiasts pick their fantasy zombie killing team, Rick Grimes is at the top of the list.

It’s a good enough reason to appreciate Rick Grimes for his action hero qualities, but there’s another reason why we should like Rick — moreover, there’s a reason why the philosophically inclined should like Rick Grimes — Rick Grimes is positively philosophic.

….at least that’s what I think after reading Plato’s Republic.

Most political philosophers will tell you that Plato’s Republic is the greatest and most influential political work ever written. Written around 380 BCE, Plato’s political treatise asks (and answers) the question “what is justice?”, but more importantly, Plato (through the character of Socrates) asks how does the state achieve justice?  Through the characters, Plato examines different ways of answering the question (what is justice). Through Socrates, Plato argues that the just state is one where the people value and are guided by reason and virtue. Socrates argues that when a person is acting in a virtuous manner, society (as a whole) benefits. Acting virtuously enhances the soul — and a good soul, according to Socrates, is the soul of a philosopher.* Socrates argues that we must be taught to obey the laws and to do good. When we are introduced to the character Rick Grimes in The Walking Dead, we see that Rick is a police officer, the guardians and enforcers of the law (it is worth noting that, in Plato’s Republic, the just city also includes a class of guardians who are charged with keeping order in the city).

In fact, Rick’s coma-inducing injury (he’s shot) happens while Rick is attempting to apprehend suspects following a police chase.

Even after Rick awakens to find the world full of walking dead people (aka “walkers”, “geeks”, and “biters”), he does not abandon his sense of upholding the law. When Rick goes back to the police station to retrieve firearms, he puts on a clean police uniform, badge, and hat. We see that although though the world has gone to seed and lawlessness, Rick believes that the fact that civilization has disappeared does not give people the right to act uncivilized. He repeatedly cautions others to keep their heads and not to let their emotions dictate their actions. When the potentially threatening (and definitely shady) Randall must be dealt with, Rick tries to reason his way to the best solution for dealing with Randall, even though Rick’s best friend, former partner, and nemesis Shane Walsh wants to take Randall out back and snap the poor, doomed boy’s neck.

Speaking of Shane Walsh….

Just as ever hero has his nemesis, Rick Grimes has his. Rick’s is his former partner and wife Lori’s I-thought-my-husband-was-dead-so-I-started-banging-the-nearest-guy-with-dropped-trousers lover, the late and then late again, Shane Walsh (played by Jon Bernthal). Now, I know what you’re thinking: you’re thinking that action heroes are the only people out there with arch nemesis but that assumption is incorrect. Like Rick Grimes, Socrates also has an adversary. Socrates’ nemesis is named Thrasymachus.

This is what Thrasymachus looked like:

Socrates and Rick Grimes have the souls of philosophers. They believe that reason, controlled emotions, and a sense of justice should guide our actions. According to the philosopher, right and wrong are not matters of opinion or taste, but perpetual and universal standards to which everyone should be held.

This is the way that philosophers should think.

In Plato’s Republic, Socrates’ theory of justice is challenged by the sophist Thrasymachus (see above). As a sophist, Thrasymachus believes that rhetoric and persuasion (not well-reasoned logical arguments) are the prefered method of argumentation. Thrasymachus, whose name (in Greek) means “rash fighter” is depicted as intemperate and arrogant. He lacks virtue and believes that might makes right. Thrasymachus attempts to win his argument with Socrates by force rather than by logic. Thrasymachus is willing to do anything, including personal attacks on Socrates, to win the argument. In a verbal confrontation with Socrates, when Thrasymachus feels that he cannot defeat the philosopher’s logic, he aims his attack not at Socrates’ argument, but at Socrates himself:

Thrasymachus: “Tell me Socrates, have you a nurse?”

Socrates: “Why do you ask such a question, I said, when you ought rather be answering?”

Thrasymachus: “Because she leaves you to snivel, and never wipes your nose.”

In many ways Shane is like Thrasymachus. Shane is often guided more by his emotions than by reason. He believes (and more importantly acts like) might makes right. Shane never fails to remind Rick that his thinking man’s demeanor is unfit for a world filled with zombies and that Shane’s re-kill first, ask questions later philosophy is. Unlike Thrasymachus, who kept his attack of Socrates at the verbal level, the conflict between Rick Grimes’ Socratic and Shane’s Thrasymachean dispositions finally result in a physical confrontation between the two men.

Here are a few of Shane’s (other) Thrasymachean qualities:

  • When fellow survivor Carol Pelletier’s husband, Ed Pelletier, slaps his wife, Shane promptly beats Ed senseless (while telling Ed that he is going to beat him to death, no less).
  • When Lori tells Shane that their relationship is permanently over, Shane attempts to force himself on her.
  • While in the woods looking for “walkers” Shane aims his gun at Rick (however, it’s not clear whether Shane intended to shoot Rick or not).
  • Shane repeatedly engages in ad hominem (personal) attacks on Rick and his leadership style (but often has to admit that Rick makes the right decision).
  • Shane believes, despite all evidence to the contrary, that he is the one to protect Rick’s wife and son (and unborn baby that may or may not be his).
  • When Randall is captured and brought back to the survivors’ farm, unlike Rick, who wants to reason his way to a proper punishment, Shane immediately concludes that the right and only choice is to kill Randall. Shane is so convinced that he’s right that when the group leaves Randall without supervision, Shane takes Randall out into the woods and kills him.
  • And, in an attempt to wrest the leadership of the group from Rick, Shane tricks Rick into looking for an escaped Randall with the intention of killing Rick. He fails to do so.

Shane’s failed attempt at unseating the philosophical Rick Grimes results in the Thrasymachean Shane Walsh winding up like this:

I’m pretty sure Shane has seen better days

…and Rick still gets the chick.

 

Oh wait, she just died.

 

* Socrates’ thinking on the soul of the philosopher (aka Socratic virtue) goes a little like this: through reason and controlling our emotions we attain wisdom –> wise people possess virtuous qualities such as courageousness and temperance –> when we are temperate we attain internal/intellectual harmony –> things that are in harmony function according to purpose (i.e. as they should) –> when things function as they should this leads to a good soul –> philosophers (esp. philosopher-kings) possess good souls.