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<   No. 3630   2017-03-24   >

Comic #3630

1 Serron: Look, the potential damage to my reputation isn't worth it. If you wanna dump the cargo, I'd rather you dump me first.
2 {beat}
3 {beat}
4 Serron: Let me rephrase that...

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I'd be curious to hear how Serron could rephrase that in a way that didn't result in him essentially demanding to be thrown out the airlock. Though given it's Serron, I'm sure he could manage to turn it into throwing everyone else out the airlock somehow.


Simon Beard writes:

As a philosopher, I think I may be able to help here.

As a logical statement the claim

If you want to dump the cargo, I'd rather you dump me first.
simply implies that the antecedent - you want to dump the cargo - is inconsistent with the denial of the consequent - I'd rather you dump me first. I.e. there is no possible world (let us say) in which you want to dump the cargo and I'd rather you didn't dump me first.

The important point here is that Serron's claim concerns the relationship between two mental states (his crew's desire to dump the cargo and his preference to be dumped first) and not any claim about the relationship between two physical states. Serron is not saying, for instance, 'my cargo stays or I go' - that claim would be far more problematic for him.

As it happens, however, Serron's claim is very helpful. Assuming it is true, he has simply discovered that he has a degree of mind control over his crew. So long as he can avoid having the preference to be dumped before his cargo (i.e. he only ever wants to be dumped after his cargo) it is logically impossible for his crew to want to dump the cargo. I think therefore that the rephrasing he may be about to make is simply the logically equivalent statement that makes the nature of this relationship more explicit i.e. that:

You only want to dump the cargo if I'd rather you dump me first.
or in logically purer terms:
You want to dump the cargo only if I'd rather you dump me first.
Now, of course, there remains the intriguing possibility that what Serron says is false, i.e. that his crew may want to dump the cargo without him preferring that he be dumped first. However, this unlikely possibility merely renders his statement logically meaningless (its antecedent is now logically consistent with both the consequent and its denial, so that statement implies nothing in particular about the universe), it doesn't have any logical implications itself.

Therefore, if there is any doubt about the truth or falsity of Serron's claim then we have some reason for his crew to not want to dump the cargo so long as he avoids preferring that he be dumped first and no reason for his crew to want to dump the cargo (or at least none that derives from this particular claim), so it is still helpful for Serron and, given the nature of the stares his crew are giving him in panels 2 and 3, I think they are all at least willing to entertain the truth of the statement.

Finally, what if Serron does, in some moment of madness, entertain a preference for being dumped before his cargo? This merely creates the possibility that the universe as it is is consistent with his crew wanting to dump the cargo. It does not imply that they actually want to do this. Both the crew's wanting to dump the cargo and their not wanting to dump the cargo are consistent with Serron's preferring to be dumped first, it is merely that their wanting to dump the cargo is inconsistent with his not wanting to be dumped first. So again, the statement is at worst neutral for him. However if there remains any doubt about whether or not Serron really has this preference then, as above, the statement is on balance helpful for him.

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