Chapter 7 – The Moral Obligation to Kill Janet

In order to stop Michael from going into retirement where he will be tortured for all eternity, Eleanor hatches a plan to stop the train that will take Michael into retirement.  Stopping the train means killing Janet by pressing a red button.  Eleanor justifies doing a small bad for a greater good; meanwhile Chidi insists that killing is always a no-no.

There is an interesting discussion over if Janet can be killed since she is not human and not alive, but I want to focus on the personal identity of Janet.  Personal identity is the question of what a makes a person the same person over time and yet different from every other person.  The standard interpretation of John Locke’s account of personal identity holds that it is memory that makes a person the same person over time.  Such a view is intuitive.  In Freaky Friday, we are presented with the concept of minds switching into different bodies.  The person goes with the mental content instead of the physical body.  Identical twins have the same DNA, but are different persons because of differing mental content.

Connecting personal identity to one’s memory/mental content creates some potential problems.  Suppose that we copy all of your memory into a new body that has no memories.  Does that body now become you?  If you are your memories and that body has your memory, then it seems to be you.  On the other hand, if we were to copy your body and mind is exact duplication, we would like to think that the first you is the real you, while the clone is simple a copy of you.

In this episode, we learn that there have been 25 versions of Janet.  After each “death” the new version is upgrades with additional wisdom and social skills.  Chidi compares it to aging.  As humans age, we presumably develop.  In the same way, each time Janet is rebooted, she also develops.  We also learn that when Janet comes back, she is in the same body as before.  However, it takes a few days for Janet to reabsorb all knowledge.  As we learn from episodes in season 2, the development of Janet is in part due to what she learns from experiences.

If Chidi is correct in that rebooting is equivalent to aging, then each version of Janet is Janet.  However, just as people develop over time, Janet develops over time.  Most people at 20 years of age believe that they are the same person they were at 10.  However, they also recognized that they have changed.  In the same way, each reboot of Janet is the same Janet as before; however, it is one that has simply changed.  If personal development is a good thing, and the only way for Janet to develop is to be killed, then killing Janet is a good thing.  If we also assume an obligation to promote the good, then one has a moral duty to kill Janet periodically instead of not killing her.