Monday, January 25, 2010

Question: Omission versus Commission

Let's ask a philosophical question today. You're walking through a desert and you come upon a tortoise. . . that's a turtle. His name is Leon. Leon is lying on his back and can't turn over. If you don't help Leon, is that as bad as if you turned Leon on his back yourself? What if there is some risk in turning Leon over? What if someone you know flipped Leon onto his back in the first place?

20 comments:

MegaTroll said...

This sounds suspiciously like Blade Runner! To answer the question, I think omission is worse. I don't believe in punishing people for comission. That sounds too much like slavery.

LawHawkSF said...

Help me out here, Andrew. Is Leon a Democrat? My answer could be entirely different depending on whether the answer to that question is yes or no.

Traditional Christian confession includes the words "I have sinned against Thee . . . in those things done, and those things left undone. . . "

That question (yours, not mine) has been the source of moral and theological debate since time immemorial. In Judeo-Christian theology, a sin of omission is less than a sin of commission, but a sin nonetheless. Since the Ten Commandments specifically tell us which acts we must and must not commit, that leaves the larger body of the Talmud and the Summa Theologica to sins of omission.

Therefore, if Leon is a poor, innocent tortoise/turtle, it is a sin of ommission not to turn him over and let him go on his way. On the other hand, if he is a tortoise/turtle who voted for Obama/Reid/Pelosi, leave him there to cook in the sun. It's not a sin. It's an act of mercy.

So endeth the lesson.

PS: Leon doesn't happen to be upside down on top of a fencepost, does he?

AndrewPrice said...

No, he's not on a fence post -- I've seen that joke as well. LOL!

Lawhawk, this is a huge question that comes up in philosophy courses and it is very difficult to answer.

I have a very hard time punishing people (in a legal sense) for omission, because (like Mega says) it's sort of a form of slavery -- "I believe something should be done and if you don't do it, then I will punish you." That strikes me as wrong.

But on the other hand, it certainly would be morally reprehensible to stand by and watch someone get killed or injured when you could have saved them with no risk.

Of course, you could take that to an extreme as well -- do I need to feed starving people just because I'm not using all of my food?

Tough questions.

AndrewPrice said...

Mega, It's absolutely a Blade Runner reference. It's the start of the test Decker is reading when Leon blows him away:

"Tell me about your mother?"
"My mother? I'll tell you about my mother!"

DCAlleyKat said...

LawhawkSF...In response to what your wrote I just have to say:

When Jesus taught on such matters in Luke 10:30-37 (although it was a man instead of a tortoise) how the man came to be in his predicament is not taken into consideration. The Good Samaritan, the priest, and the Levite are judged by their action/inaction and that is what reveals them to be truly what they are, not the circumstances of the one that needed the aid.

I would turn the tortoise over.

LawHawkSF said...

Andrew: I agree that sins of omission are largely theologically based, and that's the main reason we didn't build punishment for them into our criminal/penal codes. It is too easy to condemn other human beings for "not doing something." Like you, I'll leave that issue between the omitter and God. I've committed too many of my own to be condemning other people for it.

StanH said...

Turtle soup! Put the shell up on a pike with a posted warning, “to all turtles this will be your fate if I catch you loafing in my desert.”

LawHawkSF said...

DCAlleyKat: Jesus said that we have a duty to render help to the helpless, without regard to their sins and social station. The Sermon on the Mount tells us that loving our enemy and doing good to those who hate us is a greater submission to God than doing good to those we already love.

As much as I subscribe to that belief, it's not our place to put a Christian belief into law. As I said in my reply to Andrew, the sin of omission is simply too easy to misinterpret or twist for it to be put into human law. That judgment comes in an entirely different court with the ultimate Judge.

LawHawkSF said...

DCAlleyKat: I forgot the tortoise. The decision whether to turn the tortoise upright or not, unlike affirmative decisions under the law, can depend on the situation. I, too, would turn the tortoise upright. However, if I were a soldier on the battlefield in the Middle East, I would simply walk on and do nothing, knowing that there is the distinct possibility that the act of turning the tortoise over could easily be the trigger for a terrorist landmine. "Situational ethics" are largely built around those kinds of situations, and the reason why it is so difficult to put them into law.

If that were a wounded Iraqi lying there instead of a tortoise, that would muddy the situation even more since I would have no way of knowing if that was a human being in immediate need of my help or a terrorist trap. The Iraqi would most likely subscribe to a theology which, unlike Christianity, has no regard for human life that is not Muslim. Do I take the risk of assisting a fellow human being, or do I walk on knowing that there is a strong possibility that my act of Christian charity might result in my death as well as that of the human being seemingly in need of help? I'd rather work that out with God than a court of law.

AndrewPrice said...

Stan, You better hope we don't have any turtle readers. . . you might find your car upside in your driveway one morning! :-)

BevfromNYC said...

Do I know the turtle's name is Leon when I find him?

So StanH, no judgment, but you don't live on one of those compounds in the Davis Mountains, do you? Not that there is anything wrong with that! Just asking...LOL(I think...) ;-D

patti said...

leon's drunk AGAIN?! yes, i help leon, and just to be safe i offer him a ride to the nearest meeting...

AndrewPrice said...

Patti, LOL! Leon's lucky to have good friends!


Bev, I think Stan's just anti-turtle! And yes, you know his name when you meet him.

LawHawkSF said...

Bev: I was editing one of my post, and accidentally deleted your comment. It was a duplicate, and you must have deleted the other. Please re-post it, it was hilarious (and very New York).

BevfromNYC said...

Hey I'm a New Yorker! I know this turtle and I know he has a great rent-controlled apartment with a garden, so I would leave him on his back and check the obits...

AndrewPrice said...

Bev, Well, there is that to consider?! LOL!

LawHawkSF said...

Bev: As a former short-time New Yorker, I couldn't stop laughing after reading your comment on "Leon." It's very New York City.

StanH said...

Darn Bev you’ve figured it out!

Writer X said...

What's Leon doing in the desert? Doesn't he know he could die without enough water? Or lying on his back too long in the Sun? Never mind the skin cancer...

Yeah, I'd probably help Leon. Dang it. If someone flipped him over, I'd blame Harry Reid. Cause he sort of looks like a turtle.

AndrewPrice said...

Writer X, I have no problems with blaming Harry Reid for this! LOL!

Poor Leon, not a lot of sympathy for him out there is there? You blame the victim, Stan wants to make soup and Bev wants his rent controlled apartment!

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