Utilitarianism in Philoctetes

Ramy Elshenawy

English 10-7/8 Mr. Storch March 19 2007

Outline I. Background on Philoctetes A. Story 1. Myth 2. Play B. Painting 1. Description 2. Symbols C. Fulfillment of Archetypal Hero Role 1. Quest/Task 2. Fellow Hero 3. Pre-Ordained Fate II. Critical Quotations A. Purposes of Myth 1. Mystical 2. Cosmological 3. Sociological 4. Pedalogical B. Meaning of Symbols

III. Utilitarianism A. Ideals 1. Rightness-Happiness Relation

2. Measurement of morality of action 3. Justifications of morality IV. Utilitarianism in Story A. Odysseus 1. Pro-Utilitarianism a. deceive Philoctetes b. lying and winning > being honest and losing B. Neoptolemus 1. Anti-Utilitarianism a. don’t deceive Philoctetes b. lying is never morally right V. Utilitarianism- Historical Connection A. Bush’s “big lie” 1. Bush lies to gain support for war 2. Never justifies lie- unsuccessful war B. Sam Adams in the Revolutionary War 1. Dramatizes tyranny of England 2. Causes revolution to achieve freedom from England VI. Utilitarianism-Philoctetes-Historical Connection A. Roles 1. Philoctetes = American Citizens = Colonists 2. Neoptolemus = Press = Boston Gazette 3. Odysseus = Bush = Sam Adams

B. Effectiveness 1. Bush = Utilitarianistic but utilitarianistically wrong a. means = lies = wrong b. end = unsuccessful, costly war = wrong 2. Adams = Utilitarianistic and utilitarianistically right a. means = deceit/lies = wrong b. end = successful war/independence = more right

Ramy Elshenawy Mr. Storch Honors English 10 / Section 3 19 March 2007

Utilitarianism in Philoctetes The myth of Philoctetes is one that explores the ideals of morality in a way that is seldom seen in most other stories. Philoctetes is a character that fulfills the archetype of a hero in several ways, for instance, the oracle’s prophecy of his necessity in the war against Troy exemplifies the idea of a pre-ordained fate (Sophocles, 236). Also, despite his initial intentions of duplicity, Neoptolemus proves to be a heroic companion to Philoctetes, providing another aspect of a hero. Yet, most importantly, Philoctetes establishes himself as a hero when he embarks on a quest from Lemnos to Troy, to help the Greeks win the Trojan War. However, despite his heroic qualities, Philoctetes is also a victim in his abandonment on Lemnos. When bitten by a snake on the way to the Trojan War with the Greek army, he is bitten by a poisonous snake and is deserted on the island of Lemnos. The painting of him on the island depicts his bitterness and depression of being left behind and the slain dove at his feet symbolizes his unrest and anger towards the army. However, in Neoptolemus’ and Odysseus’ scheme to steal his bow and arrows, he becomes more than just a victim; he becomes a martyr. Observing him in this light illuminates an underlying theme in his story that is ubiquitous throughout history: utilitarianism. Philoctetes is a symbol of the effects, justifications and the oppositions of utilitarianism, as well as the utilitarianistic actions of people throughout history.

In order to truly identify, understand and appreciate the significance of the myth of Philoctetes, it is necessary to first understand the purposes of myth in general. According to Joseph Campbell there are four: mystical, cosmological, sociological, and pedagogical. Mystically and cosmologically, myths provide possible clarification for the unknown, telling stories that explain the aspects of life that are obscure and not understood by human beings (Campbell). On the other hand, the sociological and pedagogical purposes of myth are to illuminate the actualities of life (Campbell). Sociologically, myths give insight on the realities and accepted aspects of life and pedagogically, they, teach us life lessons through symbols, characters and stories (Campbell). In the story of Philoctetes, the most significant purposes are both pedagogical and sociological because the concept of utilitarianism is taught. However, the concept is both supported and opposed throughout the story, making those that represent it true symbols in the eyes of Campbell: “… a sign that points itself to a ground of meaning and being that is one with the consciousness of the beholder” (Campbell). Utilitarianism is a philosophy of ethics that originated in the 18th century in England. One of its leading advocates, John Stuart Mill, wrote an essay defining it and explaining its ideals. Utilitarianism is essentially a philosophy that is built around the Greatest Happiness Principle which states: “actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness” (Mill). This principle is the basis of judging the morality of one’s actions: the more happiness or unhappiness caused dictates the morality or immorality of an action (Mill). It is also applied to situations involving both unhappiness- and happiness-inducing actions: actions causing more happiness than unhappiness are right, while actions causing more

unhappiness than happiness are wrong (Mill). Mill describes this circumstance through the idea of an archetypal martyr: the martyr sacrifices his own happiness for that of others. These concepts are apparent during the course of the story but most clearly displayed in the play, Philoctetes, by Sophocles, which depicts the part of the story Neoptolemus and Odysseus attempt to deceive Philoctetes. The Greek army had initially abandoned Philoctetes on the deserted island, Lemnos, so when Odysseus and Neoptolemus arrive on the island, they are in dispute over how to retrieve Philoctetes’ magical bow and arrows, arousing the moral dilemma of the situation (Sophocles, 64115). Odysseus tells Neoptolemus to lie to Philoctetes and steal his bow, while Neoptolemus believes that he should be honest and attempt to persuade Philoctetes into rejoining the army (Sophocles, 64-115). Neoptolemus believes that being dishonest is not justified regardless of the circumstance; however, Odysseus contends that being dishonest is a small moral price to pay for the victory of the Greek army, which hangs in the balance (Sophocles, 64-115). In this situation, Odysseus assumes the role of a utilitarian; to him the unhappiness caused by Philoctetes’ deception is outweighed by the victory of the Greeks. Conversely, Neoptolemus believed that the immorality of beguiling Philoctetes is not right despite the good that could come of it. In the end, Neoptolemus foils the plan by telling Philoctetes. Yet, had he not, Philoctetes would have become, though unintentionally, the martyr of the situation, losing his bow and arrows to save the Greeks. Certain events throughout history draw very close parallels with the Mill’s archetypal martyr and utilitarianistic form of decision making including the American

Revolution and the Invasion of Iraq. During the pre-American Revolution era, Samuel Adams was at the forefront of propagandist journalism (Adams). Adams would constantly write articles dramatizing acts of the British Government and inciting rebellion among the American colonists (Adams). The results of his actions were civil unrest, anarchy and, in some cases, death. However his persistence in cajoling the colonists to rebel was a major factor in causing the war, which eventually led to America’s independence and freedom from England (Boston Tea Party). President George W. Bush also was dishonest in his determination to invade Iraq with his incessant claim that there were weapons of mass destruction (North). However, in this incident, the effect was as wrong as the cause; America was engaged in a long, unsuccessful war (North). In both of these cases utilitarianism is the train of thought for each person; Samuel Adams acted as a rabble rouser to inspire revolution among the colonists, and President Bush used fear that Americans were feeling after September 11th to manipulate them into supporting a war in Iraq. In their respective events, Bush and Adams personified the role played by Odysseus as the “schemers,” justifying the means of their actions by their results. The Boston Gazette and other newspapers Adams wrote for as well as the press in Bush’s first term were represented by Neoptolemus; all three, whether willingly or not, carried out the plan of the “schemers.” And those symbolized by Philoctetes were the preRevolution colonists and the American citizens; they were the archetypal utilitarianistic martyrs. In the myth of Philoctetes, Odysseus’ plan to deceive Philoctetes was prevented from occurring by Neoptolemus, so, whether or not it was utilitarianistically justified is a matter of opinion because what may have happened is merely a matter of speculation.

However, the machinations of Bush and Adams were carried out and the assessment of how just their actions were is definitive. Bush exploited the trust of a country that had just experienced one of the greatest tragedies in its history. He lied to start a war that should not have happened and by doing so turned the countries attention away from were it was really needed; in the capture of the perpetrators of the terrorist attacks. He sent troops into Iraq ill-equipped, captured Sadam Hussein (which essentially did nothing), and caused a civil war in Iraq that cost thousands of lives and billions of dollars. The results of the war were even worse than the way in which he started it and there is no question how wrong the whole incident was. Adams, on the other hand, may have lied and caused anarchy, yet his actions were justified: he caused a revolution that gave a country the independence it needed to prosper to its fullest potential and escape the unwarranted tyranny of its mother-country. In retrospect, Philoctetes’ theme addresses a philosophy that is rarely seen in Greek mythology. Although times are constantly changing and many stories’ messages are irrelevant to today’s society, this myth applies to an aspect of society that is timeless: ethics and morality. For that reason Philoctetes may always remain in obscurity but it will never be forgotten.

Works Cited Adams, Samuel. "Sam Adams, Boston Gazette." The Writings of Samuel Adams. Ed. Harry Alonzo Cushing. New York, NY: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1904. "Boston Tea Party," Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2007 http://encarta.msn.com © 1997-2007 Microsoft Corporation. Collins, Tom. "Mythic Reflections." The New Story 12(Winter 1985/86) 20 Feb 2007 <http://www.context.org/ICLIB/IC12/Campbell.htm>. “In Search of Myths and Heroes.” PBS. PBs. 27 Feb 2007 <http://www.pbs.org/mythsandheroes/myths_arch_hero.html#content> Mill, John Stuart. "Utilitarianism." BLTC Research. BLTC. 20 Feb 2007 <http://utilitarianism.com/mill1.htm>. North, David.”Weapons of mass destruction in Iraq: Bush’s “big lie” and the crises of American Imperialism.” World Socialist Web Site. 21 June 2003 27 February 2007 <http://www.wsws.org/articles/2003/jun2003/wmd-j21.shtml> Parada, Carlos.”Philoctetes.”Greek Mythology Link. 27 Feb 2007 <http://www.maicar.com/GML/Philoctetes.html> Sophocles, "Philoctetes." The Complete Plays of Sophocles. Ed. Moses Hadas. 1967: Bantam Books, 1967.

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