Essay VII

Be sure you have read and understood the instructions. If you have any question, please don't hesitate to ask via GroupMe or by email to berkich@gmail.com.

As this is the last of our essays for the semester, this essay constitutes something of a final exam and is worth 200 points. Similarly, since the question is likewise somewhat more involved, the range of number of words on this essay is extended (minimum and maximum) from 500-750 to 1000-2000.

Finally, please note that there is an extra credit portion of the question worth 40 points over and above the 200 points for essay. Your answer to the extra credit portion must be clearly marked as such and is included in the required 1000-2000 words.

Answer each of the following five questions (scenarios and questions from Cohen, M. 1999. 101 Philosophy Problems. London: Routledge.) Be sure to identify which question you are answering. Be sure you have justified each answer, which includes identifying and meeting any counter-arguments. That is, you should reserve a portion of each answer to say, "it could be argued that..., but...".

In the Lost Kingdom of Marjon, somewhere in the middle of Nowhere, lives a community of simple folk, following a traditional lifestyle with its own rules and way of doing things. Marjon is a tropical paradise and there is much to be harvested all year round, simply from what nature provides. In addition to this, the Marjonians like to harvest their own crops, mainly of breadfruit, each of the Marjonians having their own small plot of land. There is really very little for anyone to fall out over, if you don't count sex and money --and the Marjonians don't.

Over time, the Marjonians developed a system in which all decisions were taken by a Community Council that met once a month to decide on any matters laid before it. It was a rule that decisions had to be unanimous and, as far as anyone could remember, it had always worked as a way of governing themselves.

About the only time there was any trouble was after a proposal was put to the Community Council that the Lost Kingdom's produce should be owned collectively and shared out evenly on a 'to each according to their needs' basis, this following a visit to the island from a Marxist missionary.

There was not much support for this at the Community Council. As one Elder put it -- why would anyone bother growing the breadfruit if they could just help themselves to it from a communal basket? 'Our present system is the fairest, where everyone has enough, and those who want extra have to work a bit harder for it, and we should leave well alone.'

Question 1: Is the Elder right?

The Council agree with the Elder and the attempt to change things is thrown out. But soon after, the decision-making system itself is under strain. It becomes clear that the climate is changing and much of the land is getting very dry and parched. For the first time, most of the Marjonians are unable to eke out more than the most miserable living from their plots of land. Apart, that is, from those 10 per cent or so of Marjonians lucky enough to have a natural spring on their plot of land. These have far more produce than they need, and make the other Marjonians do little jobs for them in return for a few extra breadfruit. When the same old Marxist proposal is put to the Community Council again, this time the debate is a bit more vigorous.

Now many of the Marjonians are suffering real hardship. Some families have lost children through malnutrition. They want the available food shared out. However, the Marjonians with the natural springs do not want to change a situation where they have more food than they need and are able to lord it a bit over the others. They point out that, anyway, if the food was shared out, there would probably still not be enough. And the same objection that floored the proposal before -- that no one would bother toiling in the plantations if they did not keep the benefit of their labour -- is repeated.

The Community Council is unable to reach a consensus, so the poorer Marjonians are left to continue scratching out a living in more and more difficult conditions. But, as the Chair of the Community Council says, it is more important that the principle of nobody being forced to do things against their wishes is preserved, than that some Marjonians suffer a little hardship.

Question 2: Is the Community Council still right?

A few years later, news reaches the Kingdom of a new system, known as 'irrigation'. Simply by building channels between the springs and wells, all of the land can be made fertile again. Surely, the poor farmers ask, the Council must agree to the proposal now -- for no one loses anything and everyone gains?

But some of the Marjonians, and not just the ones with the wells, have become used to the differences in their society. They are against the proposals even now. At this impasse the poor Marjonians walk out of the Council and carry out the irrigation scheme by force.

Question 3: Is that justified?

Afterwards, the Community Council changes and accepts the principle of 'majority' decision-making. In a few years, people quite forget how they used to think everything had to be done by unanimity. Clearly, a majority is good enough to ensure fair treatment.

And so it seems for the next few years. That is until the Marjonians, one by one, start dropping dead of a dreadful disease spread, ironically enough, by the very life-giving water channels themselves. The channels, it emerges, have provided a spawning ground for pesky-flies, which have now infected the whole island. According to the community druid, who is actually very well-informed on these matters, if nothing is done everyone in Marion will get the disease and at least two-thirds of them will die from it, although it is true that natural resistance to the infection means at least some will survive. The druid suggests the only way to cope with the disease is for everyone to chew the leaves of the tabako plant, which will immunize them from the pesky-flies.

A proposal is put to the Community Council once again, and is about to be agreed unanimously, when someone asks the druid whether it is true that some people react very adversely to tabako leaves -- and in fact die of them? 'Why, yes; says the druid, 'that is so. I expect out of all of us Marjonians, at least a twentieth of us will die from the immunization programme -- but that's better than the two-thirds of us who will die from the pesky-fly disease otherwise!'

However, the druid quickly adds, waving some medicine beads to emphasize the seriousness of the situation, everyone must be immunized -- for once someone has the disease it becomes highly infectious, entering another bacteriological phase, and the protection given by the leaves is rendered ineffective.

Question 4: Should the Marjonians have a compulsory programme of tabako leaf-chewing as the druid suggests?

Before the proposal can be put to a vote, one of the Marjonians stands up and says: 'Whey should I risk my life chewing these stupid leaves? I've already had the disease, and recovered from it! I'd rather have it again, and know I can recover, than risk taking the tabako -- and no one has any right to make me!'

But the rest of the Marjonians agree with the community druid who advises that the risk to people like the islander is regrettable but small, and that without the wholesale immunization of all the Marjonians, the disease will spread in its more infectious form, killing far more.

The Marjonians vote by a very substantial majority in favour of the immunization programme.

Question 5: If the Marjonians don't know whether they will die from the pesky-fly disease, it seems fair enough to be force-fed the leaves. But if they do, is the decision still fair and democratic? Or is it unfair and despotic?

Extra Credit Question: Having explained at least three serious dilemmas presented by the current coronavirus pandemic, what are the implications of your analyses answering the above five questions for these dilemmas? That is, how do your analyses inform resolving the present-day dilemmas?