Monday, January 25, 2010

One thing I can't figure out is...

...how much credit to give Hollywood writers. Are they clever and educated philosophical thinkers? Are they pedantic and opportunistic regurgitators? Obviously it's incorrect, logically speaking, to put them all in the same monolithic category (except that they're Hollywood writers). There necessarily must be some variance, and every once in awhile I watch something and it makes me I ask myself exactly how much variance there is. Tonight's episode of House was such an episode of television.

Titled Remorse, the episode discussed the idea of guilt. Prompted by one of his underling's comparison of him to a literally psychopathic patient (her brain bypassed the neurons that processed emotion), the good doctor decided to explore his own conscience. In a conversation with the patient, he admitted that he was self interested, hedging by saying everyone is. She responded by differentiating between him and everyone else in that they are at the mercy of their conscience, he is not. She then goes on to give him permission to not be by saying the conscience is an animal instinct that can be ignored and overcome.

This scene can be interpreted two ways:

1. The writers were saying acting in complete self interest means you necessarily have to ignore your conscience.

2. The writers were distinguishing between the common conception of what acting in self interest means (the psychopath) and what it means to actually act in rational self interest.

The first interpretation is negative, as the writers are falling into the same preconception that the differentiation in the second interpretation refutes. The second interpretation is positive, as the writers are cleverly, clearly, and concisely making an extremely important philosophical point.

What do you think?

12 comments:

Daniel T. Richards said...

While I want to believe that the writers will ultimately choose rational self-interest for House, but I'm compelled to argue that it will be some sort of mix.

I agree that they were setting up a radical view of self-interest--i.e., "I sacrifice everyone to myself"--in the psychopath in order to distinguish her behavior from House's behavior. Likewise, they set up a radical view of selflessness--i.e., "I sacrifice myself to everyone else"--a few episodes back when Wilson donated part of his liver to a patient.

From these two extremes, and from the direction the show has been going all season, I conjecture that the writers will have House find some sort of compromise between radical selfishness and radical selflessness.

I should clarify that I do not think that "compromise" will be rational self-interest though I hope it will be.

Whatever his morality turns out to be, I imagine it will involve a strong altruistic element.

That is, unless the show goes completely nihilistic and House ends up in a drug-induced stupor--claiming he's "truly happy."

In short, I do not expect strong "Objectivist" conclusions out of Hollywood writers--but wouldn't it be great if it actually happened?

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