Personhood and the Walking Dead…

walking dead

We’ve been binge-watching the Walking Dead lately, and it makes me think about personhood and personal identity.

If you haven’t watched it and you have Netflix, go do it — (after you’ve done your homework, of course).  The general idea is that it’s a post-apocalyptic story about the survivors — (as most zombie movies are..).

There are several philosophically interesting aspects to the show..

First of all, there is continuing conflict over the personhood of the zombies.  Are they persons or not?  Clearly, they’re trying to eat live animals (humans included), but — is there a shred of the original person there, and if so, is it worth trying to save them?  Over and over again, the show’s answer is NO — (see several situations in which a live person is trying to save/treat etc.. “walkers”).

Also, carefully watching (I should have taken notes at this point..) would reveal a set of ethical conflicts that show the spectrum of ethical theories.  Often utilitarianism is the most prominent — do the thing that would have the greatest overall benefit.  Other times, the individual’s value is paramount (Kant) — or questions about what the best kind of society SHOULD be (social contract theory), or what a “good” person seems to be (virtue ethics) — along with care ethics (making decisions based on interpersonal relationships).

After that, how the remaining people re-define themselves and their social interactions is fascinating.  How much violence is too much?  How should groups of people be organized politically?  Should young children be taught how to defend themselves with weapons?  How should groups share wealth?  How much risk should a group take on to gain safety?  What happens when some members of the group intentionally or accidentally threaten the wellbeing of the whole?  Can a person be TOO violent toward the walkers?  Is it reasonable to believe that a loving, caring and powerful God still exists, given the current circumstances of the persons remaining?

Many of the ways these questions are resolved (or not resolved) is based on the background values of the characters… as well as their context and place in their society.  It’s a fascinating study of humanity under threat — I highly recommend it.


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