10 August 2006

Terrorists + Heathrow + Wittgenstein + Experience Machine + Whaa?

I don't think Wittgenstein's proclivities changed altogether as much as people make them out to have. That is, his Tractarian views are something like more unrefined post-Tractarian views. It was his masterpiece. (In the original sense of the phrase, the piece on which he worked to end his apprenticeship and gain the title of master.) He makes a curious statement late in the book.
There must indeed be some kind of ethical reward and ethical punishment, but they must reside in the action itself. (6.422)
And I got to thinking.

--I'll ignore for the moment how to translate this sentiment into later Wittgenstein. How exactly does the reward and punishment reside in the action itself?

--You've already asked and answered this question. You said that the reward/punishment lay in a sort of coherence to other peoples; i.e., that your actions would make sense to other people. Your action qua action avoids incomprehensibility. And since being understood is paramount in being accepted and loved, then the coherence of your actions is paramount.

--But what if you grew up in the dirty south during the beginning of the 18th century? If you owned slaves your actions were coherent and understandable. They may even have been lauded.

--How now! Then the reward/punishment cannot be a social consequence. It must illumine or darken your insides, as it were. Is Foucault, then, wrong to speak of the social ramifications of punishment? Was he treating of ethics? Ethics in a vacuum?

--What a queer concept. Does ethics exist without other people?

And things got off topic. I often lead myself astray. The point is this: The Wittgenstein passage got me thinking about reward as well as punishment. The ethical life, as I characterize it, is a life of both prohibition and encouragement. Reward and punishment are meted out with equal ardor.

The idea of reward clicked with the idea of terrorist attacks. E.g., the one being reported on today. Would a suicide bomber be correct in acting if he were in the Experience Machine? He can take in the cultural baggage that he wants; and this would hamper him, I dare say, even more than it would hamper whomever Nozick was imagining entering the EM. Imagine the suicide bomber is offered the chance to hook up to the EM and have the ability to suicide bomb ten, a thousand or a ka-jillion people. He would be confident his plan would work, and he would be certain he was going to heaven. (Or, you know, whatever it is that people think they'll get from suicide bombing.) It could even be set up in a way like Bill Murray's Groundhog Day, in which he could suicide bomb every day, or every hour.

The rub is that he would have to agree to enter the machine knowing that he would only be fooling himself into thinking he was suicide bombing all the time. He would actually die an old, hobbled man who had been hooked up to the EM for most of his life. But during that life...oh what a life.

1) The EM cuts you off from religious incentive to do good.

2) The EM cuts you off from political incentive to do good.

3) Actually, all social interactions as a piece are taken away from your influence.

But the question is coaxed from me (never begged): What of the ethical reward/punishment residing in the act itself? I know I've waffled on this, but this Tractarian Wittgenstinian ethical proposition sounds like the Kantian model of the ethical will. And damn if I don't think that the EM is a fine--maybe even perfect--tester of that will. The suicide bomber, if he were a secular Kantian, would hook up to the EM.