Rational deception

I will elicit two cases of actions which involve an action being enforced in the future. The first one comes from Michael himself, and the second one comes from the TV show, House M.D.; which, I must add, is a great show…if you ever wanted to know what Antisophie is like, watch House!

Instance one

“I have a problem remembering things”, Michael tells me, he also tells me that he tries to get up early in the morning but always says “five more minutes”…and you know how this goes; he gets up 2 hours later, a few expletives later; Michael concocted a plan.

1. Set all of his main timepieces AHEAD of standard GMT by say, 20-40 minutes.

2. Set alarm clocks

3. Michael’s default situation is that he will sleep a bit more and say “just another 5 minutes…”

4. A little while later, Michael finds that he has only properly woken up at the “later” time than he actually wanted to..

5. BUT! The timepiece he looked at was AHEAD of time, so Michael is either early, or just in time.

6. Michael will either wonder why the watch is ahead of time, or he will ignore this fact and just be happy he wasn’t late for his morning.

7. Michael, due to short term memory problems, will forget this

8. Michael, only sometimes, will realise that he purposely do this, but most other times, will be occupied with philosophy, or other things in normal everyday life.

Michael told me that a friend commented on this habit, after the former realised this strange deception ritual, and the latter said “that is irrational utility!”, and the fellow, as Michael pointed out, made the tacit assumption that rationality is linked to a pursuit, or possession of true beliefs. I’m not so sure about that, but it is an up-for-grabs question: what is a rational action? What connectives do we draw it towards? Rationality is a highly enigmatic concept; Michael seemed to work around his forgetfulness through this very bizarre practice, and in doing so, he isn’t always aware he does it, but the utility of it (being late) works for him.

Father Thomas taugh us similar tricks; he taught us that sometimes we need to be inventive to deal with a problem. For example, in the famous axeman problem of Kant’s ethics, the problem being that, if it is wrong to lie, what shall we do when an axeman asks us if we know where a certain person whom which we are hiding is; it is, on the one horn of the dillemma; bad to break a promise to protect; but on the other hand, it is bad to lie. For a more sophisticated Kantian answer, read Korsgaard; but one of the answers we learned from the old Collegium is to say “I don’t see [x] here!”, and that is neither lying or promise-breaking…but anyone other than a Jesuit or a smart-alec isn’t that clever; I certainly am not!

The moral of the story is this, sometimes, loving actions need to involve some fairly inventive decision-making; especially for those who are difficult to deal with, or to put it in more formal terms; we need to engage in rituals of deceit insofar as to achieve utility, but in very, very subtle ways. The Michael example can be put in conditional, or counterpart terms; If Michael wants to wake up at a certain time, but is ritually late; then Michael* needs to manipulate the situation to make him think he is late, while not being late, so as to get him up at the desired time.

Michael’s memory loss and his subsequent methods of working around it are profoundly interesting; there are other bizarre things as well that he concocts to remember things…he really does impress me!

Instance two

In the show House, in one episode, there was a young boy around the age of 14-16, who was legally incapable of looking after himself; and had to be sent to social services; who was otherwise looking after his mother with a mysterious brain condition which made her normal functioning severely limited; the first guess of her condition was some kind of brain damage and cognitive impairment and she speaks a lot of gibberish and the like. Anyway, one of the things that happened in the episode was that social services found out about the boy, who, because of his incapable mother, needed to be in social services (state regulations, you see), and someone tipped off the social services about the boy.

We then find out that, it wasn’t House, or the irritable, yet attractive Hospital manager, who told the SS (no pun intended…) about the boy; it was the boy’s mother! Once House realised this, he found this as evidence of rational behaviour, which in turn had some impact on the diagnosis, which suggested that it wasn’t brain damage, but some random illlness like iron poisoning in the blood.

I liked the end, when the boy, who was angry at House, thinking that he told SS about his situation; never found out that it was his mother, because, House respected the important bond between the two mother and child; that he allowed the mother to continue such a special bond and just purposely mislead the boy about who really told SS.

Rational deception?

 I find the notion of rational deception very interesting; on one part, whether it is genuinely rational and what it says about the nature of rationality, and secondly whether it is loving. This sounds like a wishy-washy term; but very often those that love us seem to decieve or do thing that would putatively harm us in some effort towards our wellbeing…I am troubled by the implication of these cases.

Sinistre (and Antisophie)

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