Philosophers and the World Cup

by Chris Bertram on July 3, 2006

Thomas Scanlon in What We Owe to Each Other:

bq. Suppose that Jones has suffered an accident in the transmitter room of a television station. Electrical equipment has fallen on his arm, and we cannot rescue him without turning off the transmitter for fifteen minutes. A World Cup match is in progress, watched by many people, and it will not be over for an hour. Jones’s injury will not get any worse if we wait, but his hand has been mashed and he is receiving extremely painful shocks. Should we rescue him now or wait until the match is over? (p. 235).

Hmm. I can see that some members of the Harvard philosophy department might act now, but as an appeal to commonly-held moral convictions, I think this one fails. (h/t Martin O’N and a few others.)



Guest 07.03.06 at 9:55 am

Who’s playing?


Ben 07.03.06 at 9:55 am

I’d always assumed the example was Scanlon’s.

I don’t think it works too well for the point he wants to make against aggregation, because it seems to me you’re rescuing Jones from harm while the viewers are merely denied benefits. If you think preventing harm more important than granting benefits, that goes some way to explaining our intuition.

(Of course, few think preventing harms always outweigh benefits, so the fact there are millions of beneficiaries does still make some point. But then I’d say our intuitions are bad with large numbers, and Scanlon’s a bit of a mess on aggregation anyway)


Phil 07.03.06 at 9:56 am

Beat me to it. Also, can Jones see the screen?


Chris Bertram 07.03.06 at 10:02 am

Doh! Thanks for the correction guys, my brain must have been in meltdown. Nagel now replaced by Scanlon.


Ben 07.03.06 at 10:24 am

Should it also be What We Owe to Each Other (or some other book by Scanlon)…?


John Emerson 07.03.06 at 10:26 am

What about the million rat orgasms?


Chris Bertram 07.03.06 at 10:26 am

Um yes … quite why my fingers originally typed a Harry Frankfurt title is a mystery only they can resolve ….


Delicious Pundit 07.03.06 at 10:29 am

Isn’t Jones the dude who won’t shut up about how soccer is way more boring than the NFL? We just made it more interesting for him.


"Q" the Enchanter 07.03.06 at 10:30 am

Well, good heavens–even Jones’ *death* would be a small price to pay for the aggregate satisfaction the complete broadcast would bring. Besides which, the hypothetical abstracts away the substantial loss to advertisers and the subsequent chilling effect on future advertising.


tom s. 07.03.06 at 10:34 am

Does the World Cup match involve England and penalty kicks? And if so, who is receiving the extremely painful shocks?

OK, not shocks exactly.


tom s. 07.03.06 at 10:35 am

(someone had to say it – I thought I’d just get it out of the way)


reuben 07.03.06 at 10:36 am

Isn’t Jones the dude who won’t shut up about how soccer is way more boring than the NFL?

Delicious pundit gets it just right. This should be the punishment for every American who comes into football threads and starts explaining why it’s not as good as American sports, or why the love of football is emblematic of some sort of European malaise.

As for Jones himself, we should send Wayne Rooney to stomp on his knackers. That’ll distract him from the pain in his arm.


Carlos 07.03.06 at 11:24 am

Soccer isn’t as good as American sports, and the love of soccer is symptomatic of thinly sublimated nationalism.

There, go on, shock me. You won’t like what I do to you afterwards, or the lawsuit I lay on FIFA’s corrupt ass.


a 07.03.06 at 11:25 am

Reuben – What are you talking about? Football is a great American sport. It’s soccer we can’t stand…


Carlos 07.03.06 at 11:28 am

Hm, moderation? I guess Reuben opining how some people should receive painful electric shocks is OK [1], should they express their disdain for soccer here; but not a riposte.

[1] And if they really hate soccer, I suppose they might get to sit in a box the size of a filing cabinet.


Anderson 07.03.06 at 11:32 am

Did Jones’s own negligence cause the accident?


Dan Kervick 07.03.06 at 11:58 am

I don’t know what we should do, but Jones should try to hold out for another hour or two, then hire a publicist. One can only imagine the headilines:

English FB Fan Jones Sacrifices Hand to Keep World Cup on Air!

Uses Own Agonized Arm to Sustain Unsteady Signal

“I thought it was my duty to my country and Queen” says unassuming local TV Tech

Women will offer to have his baby. Auto dealers will send him free cars. Brewers will bestow lifetime supplies of free ale. His mail will be filled with flowers, fruit baskets, cards and cash. He’ll get season tickets to the club of his choice, and front row seats at all future World Cups. Parliament will honor him with resolutions. He’ll meet the queen – even be knighted if he plays his cards right.

Just hang in there Jones – a few minutes longer! Dropping that panel on your arm was the smartest thing you ever did!


clint 07.03.06 at 11:59 am

Half-time usually lasts about 15 minutes…


~~~~ 07.03.06 at 12:11 pm

In Beijing, a fan was so enthralled by Tuesday’s France-Spain game he refused to let the small matter of his house burning down keep him from watching the Bleus’ dramatic comeback. ”When the neighbors shouted ‘Fire!” I took my little baby and ran out in my nightclothes,” the man’s wife told the Beijing Daily Messenger. ”My husband paid no attention to the danger, just grabbed the television and put it under his arm. After getting out of the house, he then set about finding an electric socket to plug in and continue watching his game.”


reuben 07.03.06 at 1:05 pm

Touche, ‘a’


Sam Hutcheson 07.03.06 at 3:10 pm

Our moral responsibilities are really quite clear. We are bound to buy Jones as many pints as necessary to numb the pain. If he is a fan of England, this number may approach infinity.


engels 07.03.06 at 3:43 pm

There’s really no argument: turn that bloody thing off now and don’t turn it on again until July 10. As for Jones, if he is an employee of Sky Sports then he deserves everything he gets.


Brad DeLong 07.03.06 at 4:00 pm

Which way does it fail?


teppof 07.03.06 at 4:32 pm

Wow – the musings that academics engage in. Who is playing/watching, strength of shocks, can he see the TV…love it!


nihil obstet 07.03.06 at 7:17 pm

Sam Hutcheson has pointed the way, but I’d say we can spring for a morphine/valium cocktail. He’ll be happy, we’ll be happy. Win-win.


derrida derider 07.03.06 at 7:34 pm

Hmm, the assumption that we know that “Jones’ injury will not get any worse if we wait” is very peculiar. It’s a condition that could never be satisfied in practice (What if those shocks trigger his heart condition? What about the risk of Toxic Crush Syndrome?).

But bugger it – he’s a pommy. Let him fry, I say; those bastards took the Ashes off us.


previously pre 07.04.06 at 12:14 am

What if those shocks trigger his heart condition? What about the risk of Toxic Crush Syndrome?

It never says *electric* shocks. Maybe his arm is trapped but not actively being crushed, but his alleged friends in the office are one by one passing by, and each time he asks for & anticipates assistance, the person in question says, “Na! I never liked you anyway, you soccer-hating oaf.”

The emotional/psychological pain could easily be construed as extremely painful. Assuming “injury” referenced only the physical injury caused by the equipment, this would satisfy all the stated conditions.


Rich 07.04.06 at 9:13 am

“What about the risk of Toxic Crush Syndrome?”

Yeah, if he develops a toxic crush on one of Brazil’s players, it could be bad. We are obligated to save him.

Unless he can see the screen, and would prefer to watch the game.


Detlef 07.04.06 at 12:38 pm

“Who’s playing?”

Now that´s the right question. :)
If it was Switzerland-Ukraine people would have thanked the TV station for a 15 minutes break.
If it had been France-Spain however…

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