Identity and morality

I present Eila with a couple of those little philosophical problems involving identity.  “The philosopher breaks the handle of his axe,” I tell her, “and replaces it.  A few years later he breaks the blade and replaces that.  Is it still the same axe?”  Eila says, without a moment’s thought:  “no.”  “Theseus has a ship,” I say.  “We’ll call it The Ship of Theseus.  Over the years, he replaces each plank, throwing the old planks overboard.  They all wash up on an island where a master ship-builder is marooned.  Once the master ship-builder’s got them all, he builds a ship in which each plank ends up in exactly the same spot it held in the original, and sails away.  Who is now sailing The Ship of Theseus?”  She answers immediately: “the master ship-builder.”

She’s consistent, eh?  And she has a proclivity for the consistency of things.  Not to mention their materiality:  a thing is the sum of its material parts.  Lots of good common sense there.

On a roll, I decided to try her on the problem of Heinz.  Heinz’s wife is sick, and needs 1000$ for medicine, but they don’t have any money and the druggist refuses to sell it for a lower price.  Does he steal the drug?  According the Carol Gilligan, boys faced with this puzzle play by the rules, arguing either yes or no, while girls refuse to play by the rules and seek other solutions.  After her answers to the other two puzzles I thought Eila would be decisive and boy-ish.  But she took her time, and finally suggested that the people at the bank probably had a lot of money and should be made to give some to Heinz.  Very girlish, and nicely philosophical.


4 thoughts on “Identity and morality

  1. I saw the Heinz problem in action at the Target pharmacy earlier this year. I had been suffering from infections that were resistant to first line antibiotics. I had to keep going back for increasingly more expensive drugs; the 4th one did the trick.

    One time, there was a mother with a daughter roughly the same age as mine. The daughter was coughing badly. The pharmacist could not get the insurance company to approve the drug on the prescription form; the insurance company wanted him to substitute something generic.

    The mother said that we already tried that and it didn’t work. “That’s why the doctor prescribed this (pointing to the dr’s form) one.”

    The pharmacist shook his head and said that the insurance company won’t pay for it. “Can you pay for it out of pocket? It’s about $200.”

    They tried her credit card and it was refused.

    3 years ago, I had multi-drug resistant S. Pneum and spent 3 weeks with a PICC line through which they delivered one of the drugs of last resort to save me. It cost $$,$$$ in medical care and months of disability leave for me to recover. My insurance covered it.

    That mother’s insurance did not cover a $200 antibiotic to save her daughter. I just saw a death panel at work.

    I wonder if she was one of the American taxpayers that funded my health care?

    Roger Ebert and I are in full agreement. Universal health coverage is a moral imperative.

  2. Hmmm… tried it on Rachel (age 9) …

    1. Regarding the philosophers axe, she replies immediately, answer is “no”, same as Eila. Interesting!

    2. Regarding the Ship of Theseus – replies immediately, but she says Theseus is still sailing the “Ship of Theseus” – because that is the ship HE (Theseus) is sailing.

    3. Heinz’s problem… she thought about it a bit and then offered her own solution (maybe wait for a different druggist to come in)… girl-like!

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