The Utilitarian Calculus Will Shut That Shit Down, NO EXCEPTIONS

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

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

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

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

Worst because of this guy

 

07-negan-w529-h529

UGH.

 

That’s right. I’m no fan of Negan.

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

 

stryu

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

 

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

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

Seriously, just Google Negan cosplay.

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

Dare I say the man’s got ethics.

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

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

 

u_utilitarianism_philosophy_chemistry_symbol_cork_coaster-rd24c068a8b6e4f749d1842a335b58ffb_ambkq_8byvr_512

THAT U IS BIG… AND KINDA SCARY

 

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

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

I say seems grounded.

Because most of the time they get it wrong.

 

giphy

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

being-lazy-is-rewarding

HEDONISTIC PLEASURE: MAXIMIZED

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

 

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

…or G.E. Moore.

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

Mill defines happiness as well being.

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

The creed which accepts as the foundations of morals “utility” or the “greatest happiness principle” holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness; wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness.

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

The deontological ethics of Dale Horvath.

Hershel Greene’s biblically based morality.

The egoist tendencies of the Governor.

The Hobbesian nightmare of Terminus.

Daryl Dixon’s ethics of loyalty.

The moral grab bag that is Rick Grimes…

 

the-walking-dead-7-times-rick-grimes-was-the-ultimate-badass

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

 

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

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

Negan’s justification is Utilitarian.

 

9b39f572a2e6f3aa58ed473cd4130bfe

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

twd_711_gp_0913_0009-rt-850x560

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

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

SOURCES:

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

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

WHERE’S CARL? (On The Walking Dead and moral culpability)

THERE ARE ONLY A FEW things that really get me excited these days.

One thing that gets me going is a good deal on outdoor summer plants at Home Depot.

Another thing is watching The Walking Dead.
I’m not going to say it’s the best TV show ever (Lord knows that’s Firefly), but I will say that, as a philosopher, The Walking Dead is chock-full of philosophical whatnot!

Whatnot is a legitimate philosophical term, by the way.

One philosophical topic that is particularly whatnotty on The Walking Dead is ethics.

The show is a never-ending bounty of moral dilemmas.

Philosophers love moral dilemmas.

moral dilemmas

 

After six seasons and approximately one and a half years of TV show time,

 

Seriously, how does Carl Grimes do five years worth of aging in eight months?

carl

THIS KID IS GOING TO HAVE A FULL BEARD BY SEASON 7

After six seasons and approximately one and a half years of TV show time, the primary goal of former sheriff’s deputy Rick Grimes and his bad of fellow survivors is to survive. Morally speaking, the fight for survival would make the show much like Hobbes’ Leviathan – a world where life is nasty, brutish and short. A war of all against all.

 

anigif_enhanced-buzz-2514-1381252332-0
But there’s something else going on in The Walking Dead besides mere survival. The characters don’t just want to survive, they want to live. They want to make a better world. To bring about a greater good.

Unfortunately for Rick Grimes and his fellow survivors, morally speaking, The Walking Dead plays out more like a series of unfortunate events.

How the best of intentions sometimes paves the road to hell.

 

mg7ts

 

The idea of pursuing the greater good is the focus of the ethical theory of Utilitarianism.
Utilitarianism, most associated with the English philosophers Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) and John Stuart Mill (1806-1873), is based on the Greatest Happiness Principle, which is, according to Mill in Utilitarianism (1861):

 

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.

 

That is to say, utilitarianism dictates that an act is morally permissible if it produces the greatest good for the greatest number (of people).

However, unlike Kant’s deontological ethics, which emphasizes the intrinsic goodness of an act, utilitarianism is teleological, that is, the ultimate rightness of an act depends on an act’s consequences.

This only highlights the main problem with utilitarianism.

The focus is on expected consequences.

 

consequences

IT’S ALL YOU, CONSEQUENCES

You see, when we use utilitarian ethics, we notice something almost immediately. Utilitarian ethics seems very easy to do. We simply do what we think will make the most people happy. Unfortunately, the seemingly ease of utilitarian ethics is often deceptive.

Figuring out what “happiness” is, is often more difficult than it appears to be.

 

mad-men-don-happiness

 

There’s one, BIG problem with evaluating moral goodness on consequences.

 

the big problem

 

As the saying goes, even your best laid plans don’t always get you laid like you planned. Shit happens, and sometimes things don’t turn out quite the way that we wanted it.

 

meat

 

The Walking Dead seems to be plagued by a nasty, little cause and effect scenario: Some character’s (often well-meaning) direct action constantly leads to something worse happening.

And when something worse happens; when outcomes don’t turn out as planned, we’re in a position to assign moral culpability.

 

blame it on

 

Ok, utilitarianism requires us to make decisions based on expected consequences (what we think will bring the greatest good for the greatest number), but we often lack full knowledge of a given situation.

 

god

UNLESS YOU’RE GOD. AND IF SO, YOU PROBABLY ALREADY KNOW HOW THINGS ARE GOING TO TURN OUT

Because we do not possess full knowledge of a situation, our utilitarian moral judgments are always going to be based on our best estimates. There is always a chance that even our best estimates of what actions will bring about the greatest happiness will not result in the greatest good.

Even with the best of intentions bad things happen.

Remember: Mill tells us that 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.

 

  • So, when Carol tells Sam a story about zombies eating him so he won’t snitch about seeing Carol in Alexandria‘s food pantry/armory, Carol’s terrifying story eventually results in the deaths of Sam, his mother, Jessie, and his brother, Ron. Carol tells Sam the story with the intention of keeping Rick’s group’s plans to take over Alexandria (a move that Rick’s group thought would be for the greater good) secret. However, when Sam and his family are surrounded by a herd of the undead, Carol’s story repeats in his head, causing Sam to panic and draw attention to Sam and his family.

 

The show had already established that Sam was s bit unhinged and suggests that what Carol tells him is what sends poor Sam over the edge.

Because Carol failed to calculate the ultimate consequence of what she said, we feel that Carol bears (at least some of) the blame for Sam’s death.

  • Also in that scene, Michonne fatally stabs Ron with her Katana when Ron points his gun at Rick after Ron’s mother and brother are devoured by walkers. We (and Michonne, we assume) know that if Rick dies, the group will be leaderless.

 

And that would be bad.

Michonne, we presume, stabs Ron because keeping Rick alive would be good for the group (i.e. the greater good).

 

richonne

THIS MIGHT HAVE ALSO HAD SOMETHING TO SO WITH IT

 

However, what happens is Ron shoots Carl in the eye.

An unforeseen consequence.

Because Michonne didn’t calculate the possibility that Ron would flinch while being stabbed through the back with a katana, Carl lost an eye, it wouldn’t be too far fetched if we ascribed a little bit of moral blame to Michonne for what happened to Carl.

 

  • Then there’s Morgan, who lets a group of attackers (The Wolves) escape after they’ve viciously attacked and slaughtered people in Alexandria. Morgan allows The Wolves to escape because he believes that all life is precious and that not killing is the greater good. The bad guys, in turn, attempt to kill Rick. And – a lone Wolf that Morgan captures takes a hostage and nearly gets the woman killed while attempting to leave Alexandria. Morgan’s goal was to rehabilitate the Wolf – something he thought would be good for everyone.

 

It makes sense that people are pissed off at Morgan for thinking that “all life is precious”.

 

morgan jones

ALL LIFE IS PRECIOUS. EXCEPT FOR THIS GUY. F@#K THIS GUY

 

That’s because Morgan is morally culpable for The Wolves nearly killing Rick and the hostage.

 

  • Earlier in the series, Carl Grimes taunts a walker stuck in the mud and runs away when the re-animated corpse breaks free from the mud and grabs hold of Carl’s pants. The walker eventually makes its way to Hershel’s farm where it attacks Dale, who has to be put down. Carl wanted to prove that he was capable of handling himself and could contribute to the group and not just be a helpless kid, something that would benefit the group as a whole. However, Carl didn’t calculate that the walker he taunted would follow him to the Greene farm and kill Dale.

And viewers were right to be pissed at Carl for “killing” Dale.

 

Throws-rocks-at-zombie-stuck-in-the-ground-gets-Dale-killed-by-t-a77a78

 

We’re angry with Carl because Carl is (partly) morally responsible for Dale’s death.

 

  • In the series’ third episode, “Tell It to the Frogs”, Rick leads a small group back to zombie-infested Atlanta to rescue Merle who (whom?) Rick has left handcuffed to a pipe on a roof. Rick argues that rescuing Merle is the morally right thing to do. Despite the warning that the camp needs as many available men as possible to protect the camp from the undead, Rick insists that retrieving Merle and Rick’s dropped bag of guns will serve the greater good.

 

While Rick and the small group are away, the camp is attacked by a herd of walkers, resulting in the deaths of several no-named red shirts and a couple of relatively minor characters.

Rick failed to calculate the possibility that the camp would be attacked in his absence.

 

victim the-walking-dead-amy

SERIOUSLY, DOES ANYBODY REALLY MISS AMY?

 

Therefore, Shane isn’t all wrong when he says that by leaving the camp Rick bears some culpability for deaths in the group.

 

tumblr_myuh6q74uh1r1tya9o2_250

BEING THE BAD GUY DOESN’T HELP EITHER, SHANE

 

That’s just a few examples of moral culpability in The Walking Dead.

You can write an entire book about philosophy and this show.

 

the walking dead and philosophy

WELL, WHADDYA KNOW?!?

 

Well – as season six of The Walking Dead draws to a close, there are sure to be more utilitarian miscalculations – as well as many other examples of philosophy gone wrong. And I’m sure I will be watching seasons to come, watching my weekly dose of philosophical whatnot.
That is, unless Daryl Dixon dies.

I’ll be too busy rioting.

 

 

 

if daryl dies we riot

 

 
SOURCES:
John Stuart Mill. Utilitarianism. 2005 [1861]. NY: Barnes & Noble Publishing, Inc.. p.8.

It’s Gotta Be the Head

The new half-season of The Walking Dead starts in about a week.

I’m pretty excited about it. So excited that I’m writing another blog post about the show.

Yeah, I know. I write about this show a lot.

 

oh my god i need help

 

Writing about The Walking Dead (other than writing an episode review) may seem like a stupid pointless unphilosophical thing for a philosopher to do.

Yeah. Immanuel Kant would probably say something like that.

How do you say stupid in German?

 

german for poop

 

 

I’m pretty sure that means something else…
But here’s the reason why I do: I think the show is very philosophical.

 

are you on crack GIF

 

Ok, listen. This is how The Walking Dead is philosophical: Have you ever thought about whether a zombie is actually alive or dead? I mean really thought about it.

 

THE ANSWER SHOULD BE OBVIOUS BUT IT’S NOT

THE ANSWER SHOULD BE OBVIOUS BUT IT’S NOT

 

Sure, you can ask a scientist. But seriously, what’s a scientist going to tell you? A scientist is going to ask you if the zombie is breathing or if it’s decayed or if it has any measurable brain activity.

Something like that.

But you can much more fun if you ask a philosopher.

 

PHILOSOPHY IS FUN!

PHILOSOPHY IS FUN!

 

A philosopher will tell you all about metaphysics and ethics. And talk to you all about philosophers like Rene Descartes, or David Chalmers, John Searle, or Richard Rorty.

Sounds pretty exciting already, huh?

 

DOESN’T DAVID CHALMERS LOOK LIKE AN EXCITING GUY?

DOESN’T DAVID CHALMERS LOOK LIKE AN EXCITING GUY?

 

The reason why we would ask something like, “Is a zombie actually living or dead?” is this: Wait – let me ask you a question first.

When someone on a TV show is arrested what’s the first thing they say to the arresting officer?
Right.

The perp invariably will declare that they have rights.

 

THERE’S A 47% PERCENT CHANCE THAT AT SOME POINT DURING THIS CONFRONTATION THE INDIVIDUAL WHO IS NOT COP WILL DECLARE THAT HE HAS RIGHTS

THERE’S A 47% PERCENT CHANCE THAT AT SOME POINT DURING THIS CONFRONTATION THE INDIVIDUAL WHO IS NOT COP WILL DECLARE THAT HE HAS RIGHTS

 

But what kind of people have rights? I mean, what does a person have to be to have rights?

Living, right?

Living people have rights.

A person who is alive can declare he has rights. A dead person can not.

 

IT’S OBVIOUS THAT THIS GUY IS ALIVE. …. I THINK.

IT’S OBVIOUS THAT THIS GUY IS ALIVE. …. I THINK.

 

But what about the rights of the undead?

 

Do the dead even have rights?
First, I’m not getting all new agey on this. I’m not talking about life after death or whether beings exist in an alternate plain of existence. These (can be but) aren’t really typical philosophical topics. I’m talking about our general definition of what death means.

Taber’s Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary (13th edition) defines clinical death as:
Permanent cessation of all vital functions. [defined by]
1) total irreversible cessation of cerebral function of the
respiratory system, spontaneous function of the circulatory
system. 2) the final and irreversible cessation of perceptible
heartbeat and respiration.

 

 

This describes a zombie perfectly.

 

To make things clear, here’s a definition of zombie (as defined by Urban Dictionary):

Zombie: The Walking Dead. Scientific name Homo Coprophagus Somnambulus

A deceased human being who has partially returned to life due to undeterminable causes… In its near-mindless state, it grasps no remains of emotion, personality, or sensation of pain… Circulatory, respiratory, and digestive system are unaffected by reanimation…

 

ACTUAL ZOMBIE BRAIN SCAN…. OR OF A REGULAR VIEWER OF REALITY TV

ACTUAL ZOMBIE BRAIN SCAN…. OR OF A REGULAR VIEWER OF REALITY TV

 

I think it’s safe to assume that we can all agree that a zombie is definitely dead. In horror films the undead are mowed down without a second thought. They must be exterminated before they infect or consume the living.

This is because the living have rights that the dead do not. Namely, the living have a right to life.

Our rights are intrinsically linked to the idea of interests.
The Israeli moral and political philosopher Joseph Raz describes rights like this:

X has a right if and only if X can have rights and, other things being equal, an aspect of X’s well-being (his interest) is a sufficient reason for holding some other person(s) to be under a duty….

In short, our rights involve not only the well being (interests) of others, but also our well being.

It is in the interest of every human being to live as long and as safely as possible. Therefore humans have a right to life.

 

i_like_being_alive_by_sebreg-d5rktpp

 

But here’s the catch – in a zombie apocalypse the undead inevitably will outnumber the living.

 

THIS GRAPH SHOWS THE RATIO OF LIVING TO UNDEAD DURING A ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE

THIS GRAPH SHOWS THE RATIO OF LIVING TO UNDEAD DURING A ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE

 

Alright. Let me tell you something.

You may have noticed it already, but whenever a philosopher talks about stuff like rights they’re talking about politics, or as professional philosophers like to call it, political philosophy.

 

Political philosophy is:

… the study of topics such as politics, liberty, justice, property, rights, law, and the enforcement of a legal code by authority: what they are, why (or even if) they are needed, what, if anything, makes a government legitimate, what rights and freedoms it should protect and why, what form it should take and why, what the law is, and what duties citizens owe to a legitimate government, if any, and when it may be legitimately overthrown, if ever.

Thanks, Wikipedia.

 

Remember we were talking about interests awhile back? Well, it’s not just political philosophers who chat about interests. Moral philosophers (also known as ethicists) write about interests, too.

 

THIS PHILOSOPHER IS QUITE WELL-KNOWN FOR WRITING ABOUT “RATIONAL SELF INTEREST”

THIS PHILOSOPHER IS QUITE WELL-KNOWN FOR WRITING ABOUT “RATIONAL SELF INTEREST”

 
Political philosophers may speak the language of rights and freedoms, but at the heart of every law, policy, or political argument is a question of ethics.

 

ethics everywhere

 
So – the zombie apocalypse has begun. News reports say the nation is overrun by hordes of the undead.

 

night of the living dead

 
You’ve locked yourself and your loved ones behind closed doors. You’ve boarded up your windows. You’ve hoarded an ample supply of toilet paper and armed yourself with your weapon of choice.

 

HE’S NO DARYL DIXON BUT IT’S AS CLOSE AS YOU’RE GONNA GET IN THE REAL WORLD

HE’S NO DARYL DIXON BUT IT’S AS CLOSE AS YOU’RE GONNA GET IN THE REAL WORLD

 

Several of your neighbors have decided to form a posse to hunt down and destroy the revenant menace. You want to join them but you’re a philosopher. You have to think about things first.

You ask yourself, is participating in the mass destruction of the undead really the right thing to do?

As a philosopher, you know that when you act you’re not just required to consider your own interests but the interests of others as well.

be sensitive

 

According to the website Dangerous Universe, during the first year of a zombie outbreak, the zombie population would surpass the remaining population of living people.

 

zombie population

 

Now, if having rights is all about having our interests served, whose interests are being served in a world populated by the undead? More to the point: whose interests should be served during the zombie apocalypse? Can the living morally justify killing the dead?

We’re told that the undead are no longer our friends, family and neighbors, but should that matter? Do the reanimated have no rights that the living are bound to respect?

 

THERE’S A 47% PERCENT CHANCE THAT AT SOME POINT DURING THIS CONFRONTATION THE INDIVIDUAL WHO IS NOT ALIVE WILL DECLARE THAT HE HAS RIGHTS

THERE’S A 47% PERCENT CHANCE THAT AT SOME POINT DURING THIS CONFRONTATION THE INDIVIDUAL WHO IS NOT ALIVE WILL DECLARE THAT HE HAS RIGHTS

 

Perhaps the correct question isn’t is participating in the mass destruction of the undead really the right thing to do? but rather, should the living give their lives to respect the rights of the dead?

Utilitarian ethics tell us that an act is morally permissible if the intended outcome results in the greatest good for the greatest number (The Greatest Happiness Principle).

 

THIS IS A UTILITARIAN CALCULUS

THIS IS A UTILITARIAN CALCULUS

 

In a zombie apocalypse the dead outnumber the living.

During the first year, anyway.

If the dead outnumber the living might we argue that according to the Greatest Happiness Principle the interests of the deceased take precedence over the interests of the living?

It would be unwise for a mortal to assume that the fact that the undead can’t articulate their interests infers that they don’t have them. It’s undeniable that zombies, despite being dead, have interests. They clearly want human flesh (or brains, depending on what zombie movie/TV series you’re watching).

 

tarman

 

If our ethics tell us that the only morally permissible acts are the acts that secure the greatest good for the greatest number and the dead outnumber the living, isn’t the happiness achieved if the dead are allowed to consume the living?

Now would be a good time for a …..

 

thought experiment

 

Let’s say, in the real world, cockroaches outnumber humans, and we’re not bound to respect their interests. That’s right. Simple numbers do not determine whose interests count over another. We wouldn’t say the fact that cockroaches outnumber humans means that we are morally obligated to place their needs before our own.

The fact that this:

 

cockroach GIF

 

Outnumbers this:

 

human GIF

 

Is not enough to declare one group’s rights should be achieved at the expense of the other.
Especially if those rights includes consuming the other group.

 

So – we must choose different criteria for having one’s interests count. How do we do that? How we determine whose interests count without running the risk of being arbitrary or speciesist?*

 

Before we define our new criteria, watch this scene from the horror-comedy zombie film, Return of the Living Dead (1985):

 

 

 

 

 

Ok, did you watch the movie clip?

In the clip, a zombie describes the state of being dead as painful and says that eating brains is the only way to relieve the pain of being dead (it’s worth noting that the zombies in the Return of the Living Dead films can articulate their interests, which is eating brains).

 

MERLE LOOKS LIKE HE’S FEELING BETTER ALREADY

MERLE LOOKS LIKE HE’S FEELING BETTER ALREADY

 

So, the zombie’s want to decrease physical pain gives us reason to make the argument that a zombie has at least one interest.

 

zombie protest

 

It’s been established that the living dead outnumber the living. It is also the fate of all men to die, and according to zombies death is painful. Ending the pain of death is actually in the interest of every being that is dead or eventually will be dead. And if the consumption of brains (or human flesh, depending on the movie) is the only thing that stops the pain, then the only moral thing to do is to permit the dead to eat the brains (or flesh) of the living.

Now, I know you’re raising an objection to my utilitarian logic.

Bullocks, you say.

Zombies are dangerous. Zombies eat people.
Well, as any fan of The Walking Dead knows, the undead can be subdued simply by removing their arms and lower jaw, thus rendering the once-threatening revenant harmless.

The character Michonne has employed this successful method not only once but twice.

michonne's pets

 

 

michonne's pets 2

 

 

As has the character Andrea:

 

 

andrea's pet

 
Wrangling zombies is all really quite simple**

 
Let’s look at it this way: what if being a zombie wasn’t dead, but suffering from a mental illness that makes them attack and eat other living people. If zombies were not dead but living individuals overcome by a compulsive behavior, we wouldn’t hesitate to declare that despite their mental illness, zombies have rights we are bound to respect. Even those individuals who are most dangerous to society would not be immediately done away with. This is because they retain rights because that every human is entitled to by virtue of being human – a being with interests that we are morally obligated to respect.

 

download (6)

 

So when “good guy” Rick Grimes slays the undead the audience may cheer for him, but he really is an evil man carrying out an evil deed. Rick Grimes (or any other zombie hunter) has no moral authority to impede on the rights of the undead.

 

RICK GRIMES IS GUILTY OF CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY - OR WHATEVER IT’S CALLED WHEN YOU GO AROUND SLAUGHTERING ZOMBIES LIKE THEY DON’T MATTER

RICK GRIMES IS GUILTY OF CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY – OR WHATEVER IT’S CALLED WHEN YOU GO AROUND SLAUGHTERING ZOMBIES LIKE THEY DON’T MATTER

 

Even if a person is not mentally “all there” or lacks measurable brain activity, or lacks the ability to articulate their interests, we can‘t morally justify killing them – even if they‘re icky or stinky or want our brains or can’t be reasoned with.

Or perhaps even if they’re dead.

 

 

Any other ethical reason we have for killing zombies boils down to some arbitrary quality like the aesthetics of the undead.

 

We want to kill zombies merely because they rate high on the “eww!” scale.
eww-o-meter
However nasty a zombie may be, a zombie’s “eww” factor doesn’t allow us to neglect a zombie’s interests.

The mere act of finding a zombie unpleasant smelling or to look at or just because it wants to eat your brains are hardly justifiable reasons for committing genocide.

 
Even if you’re Rick Grimes.

 

 

 

 
*speciesism is defined as the human assumption that humans are superior to other animals and therefore entitled to use, abuse, or exploit non-human animals as we see fit.
It’s not unreasonable to assume that many of the living would adopt a speciesist position towards the undead.

** According to utilitarianism the Greatest Happiness Principle requires us to consider the happiness of everyone who stands to be affected by a particular act. “Everyone” also includes zombies. If removing a zombie’s jaw and restraining it is as (or more) effective as killing it, then our utilitarian calculus suggests that we may be morally obligated to remove and restrain instead of kill.

 

SOURCES:
Adam Swift. Political Philosophy: A Beginner’s Guide for Students and Politicians. Second Edition. 2007 [2006]. Malden, MA: Polity Press p. 143.

http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Zombie

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

http://www.dangerousuniverse.com/du/2013/how-many-zombies-are-there-in-the-world-of-the-walking-dead/

Of Mice and Mika

Ask this philosopher what her favorite TV show is.

Go ahead. Ask.

Ok then, I’ll tell you. My favorite TV show is The Walking Dead.
You know, the one with the zombies.

Although it’s (just) a show about zombies, The Walking Dead is basic cable’s highest rated scripted drama.

It’s been on for four seasons. Here are each of the season’s posters:

 

TWD poster season 1

 

 

TWD poster season 2

 

 

 

TWD poster season 3

 

 

TWD poster season 4

 

 

 

 

Oh yeah, this is the poster for the second half of season 4.

 

 

TW poster season 4 #2

 

 
All of the posters have the character Rick Grimes on it. He’s the star of the show.

Rick does stuff and things.

 

 

tumblr_inline_mk7hkl38JM1qz4rgp

 

 
So far, season 4 has been kinda slow.

 

 

 

 RICK’S FARMING MAKES SEASON 2 LOOK ACTION PACKED

RICK’S FARMING MAKES SEASON 2 LOOK ACTION PACKED

Although season 4 has been a bit on the slow side, no matter how boring a season of The Walking Dead gets, you can guarantee a season will include a few things:

 

  • Plenty of zombie blood and guts
  • A likable bad guy
  • Soap opera-esque dialogue (except for Michonne. She barely says anything)
  • The T-Dog Effect*
  • The constant fangirl threats of “If Daryl dies, we riot”

 

if daryl dies we riot

 

 
And Rick Grimes totally eye F-ing the camera.

 

 

eye F

The Walking Dead is certainly tainted with zombie-flavored melodrama, but a little known fact is that the show is packed with philosophy – if you decide to look for it.

 
That is, if you can get past visuals like this:

 

 

dale

 

 
Or this:

 

 

zombie eating

 

 

Or this:

 

 

merle zombie

 

 
A recent philosophically-packed episode had something to do with the death of the character Lizzie Samuels.

 

 

 THIS IS LIZZIE SAMUELS

THIS IS LIZZIE SAMUELS

 

What makes the death of Lizzie philosophically significant isn’t just the fact that Lizzie is a child, but also the utilitarian justification for her killing.

 

That’s right, I said killing.

 

Someone intentionally kills Lizzie Samuels.

 

That person is Carol.

 

That’s right. Carol.

 

The same person who killed David and Tyreese’s girlfriend Karen, Carol.

 

THREE FOR THREE

THREE FOR THREE

 

This is what happens:
In The Walking Dead season 4 episode titled “The Grove”, Carol, Tyreese, baby Judith (Grimes), and the Samuels sisters, Lizzie and her younger sister Mika, find an abandoned farm. Once there the group decides to – you know, nevermind. Long story short (too late) Carol and Tyreese discover that there is something seriously wrong with the eldest Samuels sister Lizzie.

 

Lizzie Samuels is a psychopath.

 

lizzie messed up

 

 
Lizzie expresses an unnatural fondness for zombies (or “walkers”) that endangers the lives of the small group. Lizzie believes that zombies are not dangerous and that zombies are her friends.

 

Wait. It gets worse.

 

Not only does Lizzie believe that flesh-eating zombies are capable of sustaining friendships, she believes that becoming a zombie isn’t such a bad thing.

 

Oh – before I forget – before Carol, Tyreese, Judith, Mika, and Lizzie found the farm they were are a prison. Someone at the prison was feeding rats to the zombies and eviscerating small animals. That person was Lizzie.

Lizzie also named the zombies.
She became quite fond of one she named “Nick”.

 

This, as you may see, is a problem.

 
I think it might be the right time for a list.

 

THIS IS WHAT IS WRONG WITH LIZZIE SAMUELS:

 

  • Lizzie freaks out when she discovers that someone has “killed” Nick.
  • Lizzie violently admonishes Carol when Carol kills a zombie (Lizzie claims she was merely playing with the potentially dangerous flesh eater).
  • Lizzie fails to (re)kill a zombie when a revenant threatens the lives of Lizzie, Mika, and Judith.
  • Lizzie expresses reluctance to kill any zombie (she does not, however, have any difficulty killing the living).
  • While “protecting” Rick Grimes’ infant daughter Judith, Lizzie attempts to smother the child.
  • And lastly, Lizzie kills her sister Mika.

 

It’s okay, Lizzie says. Her sister will come back.

 

lizzie says her sister will come back

 

 
Oh yeah, after killing Mika, Lizzie intends to kill Judith.

 

lizzie's babysitting service

 

 

 

Carol and Tyreese conclude that Lizzie must be dealt with. But how? Lizzie is a child and any extreme method of dealing with the child must be considered very carefully.

The options are as follows:

 

  • Abandon Lizzie and let her fend for herself (this would be cruel)
  • Watch Lizzie at all times to make sure that she doesn’t have the chance to harm anyone else (impractical)
  • Attempt to reason with Lizzie (impossible given Lizzie’s mental state)
  • Physically restrain Lizzie to prevent her from killing more people (cruel and impractical)
  • Kill Lizzie

 

Carol reluctantly concludes that the only way to effectively deal with Lizzie is to kill the child.

 

Of course Carol finds this morally troubling.

Carol’s moral predicament is not unlike the classic Trolley Problem.

 

The Trolley Problem goes like this: a trolley filled with passengers is heading down a stretch of track that – well, something is wrong with the track: a bridge is not extended, a section of track is missing, whatever. However, you can save the lives of the passengers on the trolley of you divert the train to another track. The problem is, there is someone or some people (like five or so) on the other track. Now, do you send the trolley down the track with the five people, lower the bridge, etc. knowing that doing so will kill the people on the other track? Would you save the lives of others by intentionally ending the life of another person?

 

You know, this explains the problem much better than I can:

 

 

 

 

 
Although Lizzie killed her sister, she is unaware of what she’s done – her actions are not malicious. In fact, Lizzie’s intention was good. She believed that, by becoming a walker, her sister was in a better place.

 

Carol decides to kill the one person to protect the lives of the rest of the group because doing so is the only feasible option. Carol has to stop Lizzie from being a threat to others. Lizzie doesn’t realize that the “walkers” are dangerous. She kills her sister Mika in hopes that she will resurrect. She attempted to smother Rick Grimes’ infant daughter Judith.

 

Lizzie’s death parallels the death of Lennie in the Steinbeck novella Of Mice and Men. In Steinbeck’s story, George kills his mentally handicapped companion Lennie after Lennie accidentally kills the wife of a fellow farmhand. Like Lizzie, Lennie did not realize that he had done something wrong.

 

George kills his friend to protect him from a worse fate (a lynch mob). Similarly, Carol kills Lizzie to save others from a worse fate – even to save Lizzie from herself. The motivation to do the greater good (for the greatest number of people) is the basis of utilitarian ethics. Carol’s motivation is to protect the others in the group.

 

John Stuart Mill writes in Utilitarianism:

Utility, or the Greatest Happiness Principle, holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness*

 
The utilitarian goal of providing the greatest good for the greatest number or conducting one’s actions according to the Vulcan principle “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one”, is what ultimately leads to Carol’s dreadful decision.

 

 

trolley problem bear

 
This situation is also kind of like the end of the movie The Cabin in the Woods.

 

When whatsherface had to kill whatever his name before sunrise or else the gods will kill everyone on Earth – that’s a Trolley Problem.

 

THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU DON'T LET THE TROLLEY RUN OVER ONE GUY TO SAVE THE LIVES OF OTHERS

THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU DON’T LET THE TROLLEY RUN OVER ONE GUY TO SAVE THE LIVES OF OTHERS

 

 
You see, utilitarianism is based on results. An act is right or wrong (morally) if the expected outcome produces the best result or increases the happiness of the people as a whole. Once we decide which act will result in the greatest good for the greatest number, we are morally obligated to do that act. Lizzie was clearly a danger to others. There was no way to convince her that the walkers were dangerous or to stop her from killing another member of the group. Therefore, as the Trolley Problem dictates, one life must be sacrificed to save the lives of the greatest number.

 

So, barring no other viable option, Carol is morally obligated to kill Lizzie.
Carol ultimately takes the girl to a patch of flowers where she kills the girl as quickly and humanely as possible.

She shoots the girl in the back of the head.

 

 

look at the flowers

 
Obviously the problem with utilitarianism is that doing the morally right thing doesn’t always make us feel better.

 

 

At the close of the episode the group may be safer, but we know that Carol and Tyresse are far from being happy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

* Happiness may or may not include emotional happiness. Happiness may also be defined as physical well-being or safety. The fact that killing Lizzie did not make Carol or Tyreese emotionally happy is secondary to the fact that Lizzie’s death made the remaining members of the group safer.

 

 

* For those of you who are not familiar with the concept, the T-Dog Effect goes something like this: every time a new African-American male character is introduced, an already-existing African-American male character dies. This is the T-Dog Effect:

 

 

funny-Walking-Dead-black-characters

 

The effect has generated humorous memes such as this:

 

 

y twd no keep a black character

 

 

And this:

 

t-dog reached season 3

 

 

And this:

 

 

twd new black guy

 
However, the simultaneous existence of African-American male characters Tyreese and Bob Stookey have proven that the T-Dog effect does not hold. The T-Dog Effect is more of an urban myth (or joke) amongst The Walking Dead fans than a (fictional) reality.

 

 

SOURCES:

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

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.