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'24' - A Philosophical Masterclass

Karl Morgan takes a break from constantly watching 24 to write an article about...24

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by Karl Morgan, for outsideleft.com
originally published: February, 2007
Is it right to force a team of surgeons, at gunpoint, to abandon the critical patient on whom they're operating and instead make them treat a seriously wounded suspect you've just brought in, if it'll help you find a nuclear bomb?
by Karl Morgan, for outsideleft.com
originally published: February, 2007
Is it right to force a team of surgeons, at gunpoint, to abandon the critical patient on whom they're operating and instead make them treat a seriously wounded suspect you've just brought in, if it'll help you find a nuclear bomb?

All the late nights and endless essays could be getting to me but having been deeply immersed in Season 5 of 24 for the last week or so, I have noticed a few things I find to be interesting. It seems to me that there are some strong philosophical undercurrents running beneath the polished veneer of this adrenaline-fueled action-fest. First and foremost among these are obviously the countless ethical dilemmas and impossible moral situations that develop in each episode. Jack Bauer is a classic utilitarian - constantly putting the greatest good for the greatest number above all else. This ruthlessness is masked somewhat by his fierce patriotism, but if it came down to it, he would kill a child if it saved the lives of a few hundred Californians.  

Bauer constantly uses 'the good of the country' to justify his horrific, but ultimately necessary, behaviour. This creates an uneasiness in the viewer because it forces you to ask yourself questions like - 'Is it right to force a team of surgeons, at gunpoint, to abandon the critical patient on whom they're operating and instead make them treat a seriously wounded suspect you've just brought in, if it'll help you find a nuclear bomb?' Of course it is. It's ridiculous to think that Jack should have just let the suspect die and allowed the nuke to go off and incinerate most of downtown Los Angeles, but the point is that it makes us feel uneasy. The consequences of the 'good fight' aren't always good.

As well as the ethical concerns addressed in the show, we also have the fact that each season is essentially one long stunning example of Aristotelian cause and effect. A few significant events in the first episode set off a chain of reactionary events for the next 24 hours. It's incredible. If you watched the last episode, every character's position and situation can be traced all the way back to a few catalystic events the day before. If you were to write it out on paper it would make a ridiculously complex causal chain, and while there's obviously only the tiniest trace of realism in the whole thing, you could, without much difficulty, write a thesis on Aristotelian or Humean causation using that stuff.

I also like all the explosions.

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