Let us imagine something called the Artifact. The Artifact is an object of some great value, perhaps the repository of some great but as-yet-only-partly-deciphered knowledge. Or perhaps it is an object of stunning beauty (think of the Taj Mahal or Michaelangelo’s David). Or it is revered because of its admired role in history (think of the original copy of the U.S Constitution). Exactly what does not matter, so long as the Artifact is of great value.The Artifact is also, unfortunately, of great fragility and requires meticulous care to prevent its swift disintegration into so much valueless dust.
Your are obliged to choose between two candidates, Bert and Chris, for the important job of custodian of the Artifact. Your meticulous process of interviewing and psychological evaluation has convinced you that Bert and Chris are deeply and equally concerned about the preservation of the Artifact, and further that both are highly and equally skilled in the regime of care necessary for the Artifact’s preservation. As far as you can tell, the only relevant distinction is a difference in factual beliefs.
Bert believes that if the Artifact should disintegrate, then it will be lost forever.
Chris believes that if the Artifact should disintegrate, then at some point in the future — Chris is unsure as to whether it is the near future or the far future, but certain that it will be at some point in the future, a Wizard will come along, collect the dust that was once the Artifact, and reassemble it so that it is not just as good as before, but better. (Perhaps in addition to whatever value it had before, it is now indestructible and cures cancer with its touch.)
Which of Bert or Chris would you choose as the responsible custodian of the Artifact?
2 thoughts on “A thought experiment about care”
If I shared the views of the coming of the Magical Wizard of Artifact, then I would have to choose Chris. Bert would be an apostate unbeliever and unreliable due to his lack of belief, and if I lived in a culture that held these views, I would have no other choice but to call him mad.
However, in the world I live in, I would edge Chris toward the door with gentle determination and hire Bert. Bert has just the same beliefs about the importance and irreplaceability of the Artifact as the prevailing Zeitgeist, while Chris is a nutjob and possibly a future danger to the Artifact, possibly declining to a point where the Destruction of the Artifact is Necessary to Summon the Wizard. (See historical apolgia and justifications for the actions of Judas Iscariot for clarification.)
Is this a trick question?
Duh… with you philosophers it’s always a trick question.
All other things being equal, it seems obvious that Bert should be more highly motivated to take care of the Artifact. There’s nothing to choose between them except for Chris having a belief that seemingly works against his motivation to take maximum care. So Bert should be chosen.
The very obviousness of the matter makes me suspicious.