I was going to write a weblog entry about
how Iíd changed my mind about imaginative resistance. I now think Tamar Gendler is right, and that the
reason we donít imagine morally deviant situations is not because they
are impossible. And I think her reason for rejecting that view is right: there
are other impossibilities we donít resist in the same way, so the impossibility
canít be the entire story, and probably isnít even the interesting part of the
story. I still donít think that Tamarís examples really show this, and I
certainly donít think her theory works, and I have a new theory that I think is
I was going to write all this in a weblog entry. Then it started getting too
long, and I thought it was getting to be about 3000 words, and it was getting
to be about September 1, which means that 3000 word papers should be sent to an
APA, so Iíd do that. Then it started getting too long for that, at which point
I decided that I really should take care of my syllabus before writing 6000
word papers. Then I decided to write the next draft of the paper Iím writing
with Adam Sennet on knowledge and linguistic understanding (see earlier entry),
which didnít help at all with getting a syllabus written.
why did I change my mind about the first thing. Well, two cases. First, the
Restaurant at the End of the Universe, whose description follows:
The Restaurant at
the End of the Universe is one of the most extraordinary ventures in the entire
history of catering.
It is built on the fragmented remains
of an eventually ruined planet which is enclosed in a vast time bubble and projected
forward in time to the precise moment of the End of the Universe.
This is, many would say, impossible.
In it, guests take their places at
table and eat sumptuous meals whilst watching the whole of creation explode
This is, many would say, equally
You can arrive for any sitting you
like without prior reservation because you can book retrospectively, as it were
when you return to your own time.
This is, many would now insist,
At the Restaurant you can meet and
dine with a fascinating cross-section of the entire population of space and
This, it can be explained patiently,
is also impossible.
You can visit it as many times as you
like and be sure of never meeting yourself, because of the embarrassment this
This, even if the rest were true,
which it isn’t, is patently impossible, say the doubters.
All you have to do is deposit one penny in a savings account in
your own era, and when you arrive at the End of Time the operation of compound
interest means that the fabulous cost of your meal has been paid for.
This, many claim, is not merely
impossible but clearly insane, which is why the advertising executives of the
star system of Bastablon came up with this slogan: ďIf you’ve done six impossible things this morning, why not
round it off with breakfast at Milliways, the Restaurant at the End of the
Well, by the end itís a little hard to
imagine this all happening, but by my estimation, the imaginative resistance
kicks in long after the situation becomes blatantly impossible.
example: Back to the Future. Remember the scene where Marty McFly starts
to fade from existence because he derailed the situation that led to his
parents getting together. It all gets sorted out in the end. But we can imagine
a variable movie, Back to the Futureī (great name, what?), in which it
doesnít. In that scene, presumably the last of the primed movie, Marty McFlyís
tamperings cause him to not exist. And not just in the sense that any regular
suicide or Darwin Awardee might
cause themselves to no longer exist. No, in that movie Marty McFly would cause
himself to have never existed. And thatís about as blatantly impossible as you
can imagine. But, in a sense, you still can imagine it. We get nothing like the
same kind of resistance that we get in ethical cases, etc.
donít even have to prime the movie to get this odd result. In the movie as it
is played, Marty McFly gets involved in time travel because, inter alia,
he is from such an unconfident loser family, and the result of this is that he
is not from an unconfident loser family. This is just obviously
impossible, but if you ask anyone to describe the plot of the movie to you,
(they will pretend they never saw it, then attempt to change the conversation
to avoid admitting they saw it, then) they will say something just like this.
Upshot: Gendler is right, regular impossibility doesnít trigger resistance, so
we need a different explanation for resistance in the moral cases.
to all this. Most of the imaginative resistance literature discusses the thin
moral concepts. But the point seems to extend to the thick moral concepts, like
friendship. At least, it does if one has the right amount of resistance
to the following story:
Well, Frankie Lee
and Judas Priest,
They were the
best of friends.
So when Frankie
Lee needed money one day,
pulled out a roll of tens
And placed them
on a footstool
Just above the
your pick, Frankie Boy,
My loss will be
Bob Dylan, The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest