Section: Features

To do or not to do? A look into moral dilemmas on campus

Who doesn’t know better than to skip to the front of the line at Peirce, or to pull off one’s mask in the middle of class? Rather than face the death stares, scandalized looks and gasps which may follow such impious acts, most Kenyon students bow in the face of mass social judgment. Should we not, however, as Diogenes likely said at some point, “throw off the shackles of social convention to do what is right?” Is it not true that what is not shameful at home is not in society, whatever public opinion may say? Read on for a ridiculous and pedantic over-analysis of trivial, if controversial, Kenyon actions with commentary from two Kenyon veterans.

Skipping the Peirce Line

“It’s a bad thing to do.” — Jackson Wald ’22

On first glance this may seem like a no-brainer. When you skip to the front of the line in Pierce, you violate something akin to Locke’s social contract. Every person who enters Peirce enters into a tacit agreement not to skip the line, and by doing so ensures that the servery is orderly and runs well. Jumping to the front of the line is a violation of both this collective agreement and everyone in the line who made it. In doing so, you’re treating people as means rather than ends, breaking one of the basic principles of Kant’s deontology. Kant may have another objection to skipping the line: Doing so would violate the categorical imperative — the idea that we should apply universality to every moral act. Imagine if everyone skipped the Peirce line. It would be pandemonium! 

That said, skipping to the front of the Peirce line may earn you some dirty looks, but the social contract won’t come crashing down and, for the most part, people will still obey the lines. Jumping to the front may cause some small — but insignificant — inconvenience to the people in the line, but it could have great utility for the line-skipper. Maybe they have class in 10 minutes. Maybe they just got back from the gym, and they have class in 10 minutes. Any good utilitarian would say to skip the line. 

Still, Lili Bernstein ’22 disagrees: “Have a banana and just get out.” 

The Middle Path Wave, an Obligation? 

“The head nod should be universal.” —  Wald 

Who hasn’t seen an acquaintance walking down Middle Path and asked themselves whether they should — or have to — say “hi”?  Certainly we all have moments where we want to pull our hoods up and keep walking, but it’s also true that ignoring someone, or not getting a wave back, can leave a sour taste in one’s mouth. Wald makes the case that a head nod is merited as the bare minimum in all scenarios. It’s easy, and it shows just enough acknowledgement not to hurt any feelings. But what about nodding to an ex, or that person you just got into a heated debate with in class? Even in the case of a deep personal betrayal, Wald remained consistent. “Everyone gets the nod,” he said. 

Take 10 dollars off the couch in Ascension Hall

“I’m taking it in a heartbeat.” — Wald

Is it right to pick up 10 dollars you found lying around Ascension? If no one is there, this one might be clear cut. It’s fair to say at this point the money is lost, and rather than letting it fly out the window with an incoming breeze, it may even be moral to take the 10 dollars. 

Alternatively: Someone’s sleeping on the Ascension couch, and next to them is 10 dollars

“That’s their 10 dollars.” — Wald

While a utilitarian may suggest taking the 10 dollars and donating it to a cost-effective charity, it’s hard to classify this one as anything other than stealing. Yet according to Kenyon students, a gray area may exist depending on how close you and the person sleeping are to the 10 dollars. “If they’re 20 feet away, and 10 feet away is a dollar, I’m taking it,” Wald said.

Talking in Chalmers

“Don’t do it loudly.” — Bernstein, in an Australian accent

This one also seems pretty clear. Chalmers is another one of those spaces where students have made a collective agreement to keep it down, giving everyone the opportunity to work in peace. Still, if you’re sitting with your friends, a well-timed joke may raise everyone’s happiness a lot more than the annoyance felt by the people at the table next to you. There may be a fine line between disturbing everyone and talking within the group, but a balance can be found. 

Blaming a Loud Fart on the Person Next to You in Class

“It’s understandable, but it’s not a good thing to do.” — Bernstein

There’s really no excuse for this one. From a utilitarian perspective, it really doesn’t matter whether you or your classmate take the fall for that loud fart, given that your interests are identical. Yet few other moral systems are likely to justify this. Blatantly selfish, blaming a loud fart on the person next to you in class would be immediately condemned by any virtue-ethicist as wrong. In fact, the moral action may be to take the fall for a loud, anonymously given fart. What better display of altruism than to stand up in the middle of class and announce, “I farted!”


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