Saturday, January 07, 2012

Why So Ludicrous?

Back in the spring of 2008, I met a very smug real-estate agent who bragged about going back to university and taking philosophy classes. Then, as if no one had ever heard anything like this before, he happily recounted an inane "thought experiment" his philosophy instructor relayed to him.

The philosophy teacher said, "Imagine that I issue this threat to you: by the end of the day, you must choose someone you know in your neighborhood -- anyone but me or you -- for me to murder. If you choose no one by the end of the day, I dynamite a ferryboat full of people. Would you rather have the blood of a single person on your hands, or would you rather keep your hands clean, even though it results in more people dying?"

Then, as if explaining some grand discovery, the smug real-estate agent said, "The lesson was that if you refuse to choose the person murdered, your ethics are deontological like Kant's. But if you capitulate to the terrorist threat, you're a consequentialist in ethics."

I wanted to ask that real-estate guy exactly what sort of joker was teaching that philosophy class. A few weeks later, I went to see The Dark Knight and learned that that joker was indeed The Joker.