Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Closest Possible World?

The Wall Street journal poses a counter-factual: about Margaret Seltzer's Love and Consequences.

I’m curious to hear what Juggle readers might do in a similar situation. Not that many people will have a sibling who makes up a memoir, of course, but would you publicly call out a family member involved in unscrupulous doings — even if it meant ruining his or her reputation and career? Or in your family, does loyalty trump all?

According to David Lewis's method of handling counterfactuals (scroll down to Possible World Semantics), the way to analyze this question is to look at the closest possible world where it's true that my sibling wrote a fake memoir and see whether or not I ratted them out.

My intuitive answer is that I wouldn't rat out my siblings. But, thinking about it, that's because my siblings are cool and very nice people.

The kind of sibling who would not only gin up an entire book parasiting on the suffering of others, but also continue the lies through who knows how many meetings and, one would expect, future book tours and such, probably isn't a cool and very nice person. People don't just wake up one day and suddenly break into a massive pattern of deception and manipulation -- they've been practicing it for a long time. That's why they're so good at it. And, while I might not go out of my way to rat out that person, I'd certainly tell the truth if anyone bothered to talk to me.

Which shows one of the weaknesses of Lewis's treatment. Which world is closer: the one where my very cool sister suddenly writes a false memoir, or the world where my sister has serious emotional problems, a lifelong habit of manipulation, and finally gets called out on it after pushing everything too far?

Technically, I think the Lewis account would have to say A -- thus the answer should be "No ratting." But I think my more considered judgment is the correct answer.

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