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Philosophy: What Am I - Essay Example

Philosophy: What am I? The Whitman article describes a case of mass shooting committed by a young man called Whitman in Texas. Having killed his wife and mother, he goes on to kill 13 people and wound 30 more before being shot and killed by a policeman. He leaves a suicide note explaining that he does not understand what has happened to him, and most significantly “I have been a victim of many unusual and irrational thoughts”. Since the man was killed, it is impossible to know exactly what the cause of his troubling thoughts was but it is suggested that the cause was a tumor which altered his thinking. If this man were to survive and stand trial once healed of his tumor, the moral dilemma is to decide whether he is guilty of the crimes he committed while suffering the tumor. In the light of the evidence it would be most appropriate to acquit the man because his brain and personality had been severely damaged by the tumor and it would not be reasonable or fair to make him responsible for the biological and psychological consequences that were beyond his control. The concept of self that most matches this analysis is that of Descartes. It is precisely Whitman’s ability to think that was affected by the tumor. Once this ability is compromised, the self is also damaged, and so the person who committed the crime does not recognize himself any more. He has the impression that he was a different person than the one who was healed and sits in court, horrified by what he has done while his normal

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thinking processes were so dreadfully impaired. The concept of self that least matches this scenario is Hume. Whitman is not just a bundle of perceptions that changes all the time, but he is a person who is conscious of a spell of discontinuity between his real self and the temporary murdering self that committed the crime. The experience of guilt and shame shows an awareness of the continuity of self, and though this was broken for a time, it was restored in the end. The mind and body theory that best matches the Whitman scenario is that of eliminative materialism. The tumor is a demonstrable physical cause and the proper reaction to the crimes described is to remove the cause (i.e. cure the tumor) and this in turn will remove the temptation that Whitman experienced to kill all of those people. The neurons in the brain were affected in a negative way by the tumor. Without this physical damage, there would have been no shootings. The theory that least matches the Whitman scenario is that of Leibniz’s parallelism. It is obvious in this case that the body and the mind were acting together, because Whitman was aware of what was happening to him, and able to reflect about it, and even write a note to other people to tell them about it. He may not have been able to fully understand his thoughts, or control them. He did react on them, however, and the diseased mind prompted the body to commit the dreadful murders. The theory about freedom that most matches the Whitman scenario is that of Determinism. The theory of Determinism can be summed up as “… a claim about the laws of nature: very roughly, it is the claim that everything that happens is determined by antecedent conditions together with the natural laws” (Vihvelin, 2011) It could be argued that Whitman did not have free will in this situation. The laws of nature make biological entities susceptible to all kinds of diseases, and there is nothing Whitman could have done to prevent the tumor from taking over parts of his brain and pushing him to commit violent acts. The theory about freedom that least matches this scenario is that of compatibilism. This theory implies that people choose to do what they do, within an overall determinist framework. It could be argued that Whitman did not choose to kill people at all. His self was impaired, and not able to act at all, and so what happened was involuntary and random violence not of his own making. This case underlines the close links that exist between mind and body, and the way that the self is constructed by a person and by others looking on. Whitman lost touch with his self when his diseased mind sent uncontrollable signals to his body. He himself feels guilt, because he remembers what happened and is horrified, but others can see the external circumstances that determined his actions, and they have more sympathy for him. Free will is bound up with an idea of mind and body which are working together, and with the idea that a distinct self makes decisions on behalf of both mind and body. This scenario illustrates what happens when the brain, where mind and body are most closely tied, is damaged: the self is disrupted and chaos follows. References “Texas V. Whitman: You’re the Jury.” Vihvelin, Kadri. “Arguments for Incompatibilism” in Edward N. Zalta (ed.), The Stanford Ecyclopedia of Philosophy. Spring 2011 edtion. Available at:


Philosophy: What am I? The Whitman article describes a case of mass shooting committed by a young man called Whitman in Texas. Having killed his wife and mother, he goes on to kill 13 people and wound 30 more before being shot and killed by a policeman. He leaves a suicide note explaining that he does not understand what has happened to him, and most significantly “I have been a victim of many unusual and irrational thoughts”…
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Philosophy: What Am I essay example
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