Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Sam-I-Am and the Ethics of Nagging

Green Eggs and Ham features two characters, an unnamed narrator and Sam-I-Am. The book begins with the narrator declaring that he does not like that Sam-I-Am. Despite this antagonistic attitude towards him, Sam-I-Am incessantly suggests that the narrator try the green eggs and ham that the narrator repeatedly insists he does not like. Ultimately, he wears down the narrator's defenses and he agrees to try them if Sam agrees to stop nagging. Upon eating the green eggs and ham, the narrator find that he really likes green eggs and ham. The book ends with the narrator offering deep thanks to Sam and the two emerge as friends.

Sam's nagging brought about the best possible consequences. The narrator's life and their relationship are both better as a result of his persistance. We can assume that Sam was acting out of care. Assume he had a reasonable belief that if the narrator would only try the green eggs and ham, everything would turn out for the better. Was the nagging justified?

Philosophers use the word "autonomy" to mean possessing the right to make one's own decisions about one's own life. Paternalism is seen by some philosophers as an assault on what it is to be human. To treat someone authentically is to give them their full freedom. Others say that care is the basis a moral relationship, that one should think about the well-being of the other. If you really care about someone, how far can you go to get them to act in their own self interest? If it really is for their own good, what are the limits of nagging?

Oh, and everyone over 35 who is reading this, if you are female get a baseline mammogram and if you are male get a baseline PSA.