Monday, August 13, 2012

King Theodore, Ethics, and a Question of Importance

I imagine a fantasy kingdom, wherein a fatal and easily communicated skin condition breaks out in a large village. King Theodore covertly chooses a very capable team of light infantry and sends them into the village with armor that he says will protect them from the skin disease with orders to slaughter every man, woman, and child in the city. They are told to burn the city afterward, and then strip off their armor before returning to the palace. As soon as they remove their armor, a team of archers executes them.

The disease is eradicated. Many are dead. The archers never speak a word of their mission to anyone.

What role would an ethical question play in all this? If you said that what King Theodore did was wrong, what does it matter that you say that? If you say that it was right, what does that matter? What does your opinion about King Theodore's action matter in the least?

There is only one ethical investigation that matters: King Theodore's own investigation prior to setting his plot in motion. This is the only ethical question that could have changed anything. Anything after that is impotent, insofar as the plot itself is concerned.

If you condemn him now, you are not actually affecting King Theodore, but rather you are making an ethical decision for your own life. The ethical decision to not be like King Theodore. And if you praise him, your ethics only affect yourself. Your value judgments only influence your own behavior. Your ethics hold sway only over yourself.

For this reason, I can not conceive of values apart from valuers. If it were a fact of the universe that what Theodore did was right, what would it matter? And if it were a fact of the universe that what Theodore did was wrong, what would it matter? What would change? Where is the importance of this fact?

When we praise and condemn, we are making ethical decisions for ourselves and ourselves only.

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