Author Archives: luca paris-griffiths

The Close Call effect in The Earthquake in Chile

One of the many questions The Earthquake in Chile is why Jeronimo decided to spare himself from the earthquake leading up to his suicide. Why would a man in a vehement state of grief deter his suicide when death was “offering itself to him at all times” (11)? The simple answer would be the natural instinct of survival that all humans share, or even animals, overcame his desire to kill himself. Yet this has an obvious paradoxical logic to it, how can one want to die but subsequently want to survive? Nevertheless, there is another reason why Jeronimo chose to survive, which conveniently corresponds to large scale disasters.

While pondering this question I was reminded of a book titled David and Goliath, underdogs, misfits, and the art of battling giants by Malcolm Gladwell, which focuses one chapter on the London bombings of WWII. The chapter asked why the nazis failed achieve their goal of demoralizing Britain or forcing surrender by bombing London repeatedly for 57 consecutive nights. The book used historical evidence to show that the bombings did not only accentuate national pride, but that many residents of London enjoyed being bombed. This seemingly perverse reaction, Gladwell argues, happens because of his theory of the “close call”, wherein most people enjoy the “challenge” of being hailed with explosives (or other disasters), providing they have a chance of surviving it. In The Earthquake in Chile, the theory of the “close call” helps us understand why Jeronimo didn’t simply let the earthquake kill him. While it isn’t addressed in the novella, one could assume that Jeronimo enjoyed the thrill of escaping from an earthquake, as would many others. Obviously not all disasters are enjoyable, but they can be provided there is a good chance of survival. Gladwell also argues that the “close call” effect is an extension of our natural desire for challenge, even, and especially when it threatens our life.

Ultimately, we can conclude that the human instinct of survival and our tendency to enjoy the thrill of disaster were enough for Jeronimo to overcome wish to die, even at the height of his grief. While most people would never to admit to enjoying the challenge of an earthquake, it is as much of an instinctual desire as our desire for survival.

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Rousseau’s faulty critique of Hobbes’ natural man

In the Second Discourse, Rousseau founds many of his arguments in opposition to Hobbes’ arguments about the state of nature. However, both of their concepts on the state of nature are based on completely different grounds. Rousseau also has a naïve interpretation of Hobbes’ natural man, which serves the theory that Rousseau did not fully understand Hobbes.

Firstly, while Hobbes’ and Rousseau’s arguments are founded in their perception of the state of nature, their presuppositions on what the state of nature actually is are radically different. For Rousseau, the state of nature can be interpreted literally, or as a period in time. His ‘nascent’ men are supposed to be actual human beings that lived within a specific time period of human evolution. This also implies, as Rousseau himself does, that humans today cannot revert to this ‘nascent’ state, and can only mimic it. Hobbes’ state of nature differs quite greatly, and not just because of moral principles. Hobbes’ state of nature, civil war, is not a period in time, nor has it ever actually existed. He argues that it is merely the point which men can potentially revert to in the absence of law and order. It is therefore impossible for Rousseau to base his arguments upon Hobbes’ when their definitions of the state of nature itself are different.

Secondly, Rousseau misinterprets Hobbes’ argument about men in the state of nature almost entirely. He states as follows, “Hobbes claims that man is naturally intrepid and seeks only to attack and fight” (82). The first problem with his interpretation comes with the use of the word intrepid. Intrepid is defined as someone who is fearless and adventurous, which is the opposite word Hobbes would use to describe his natural man. Hobbes’ natural man is actually  in a perpetual state of fear, because without someone upholding peace, he cannot be assured that other people won’t kill him. Rousseau also thinks that Hobbes’ natural man seeks only to attack and fight, which is not the case either. Men merely do not see any constraint on killing one another, but are not naturally inclined towards homicide.

While there are many more references to Hobbes in Second Discourse, there is a clear issue with Rousseau’s critique of Hobbes. These two issues highlight why Rousseau’s perception of the state of nature according to Hobbes should be interpreted with skepticism.

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Does everyone really fear death?

Fear of death is commonly seen as the underlying reason for a secure and civil society to exist. Hobbes’ argues in Leviathan the need for a sovereign ruler is caused primarily by the fear of death. Likewise, he also interprets the fear of death as a natural human aversion that everyone shares. However, there is evidence that suggest that our natural inclination to avoid and fear dying is not omnipresent. Suicide, willingly giving up one’s life for a cause, and even courage can all be considered a lack of fear of death. So what exactly is the fear of death, and is it truly shared by everyone? I will focus in this post primarily on the most common cause of death, aging.


For the most part, death of human individuals, and of most living things is caused by aging. Every person is aware that as time goes on, they will eventually die. Understandably, the elderly are the closest to death out of anybody. Yet do they fear death? Most older people tend to worry less and less about dying as time goes by. Accepting death, while a struggle to most, is not much unlike accepting the other things we don’t have control over, namely nature. The death of others, the law of gravity, and even our birth are all things everyone comes to accept, as there are no alternatives. It seems then, that when other factors that cause death are held constant, that very few people actually fear death.


Fear of death is also a driving factor in our own self-fulfillment. It can be argued that a fear death is merely fear of an unfulfilling life. Most people fear that on the brink of death they would look back on their bad choices and regrets with contempt. From this perspective, everyone’s decisions must be rooted in a fear of death. Furthermore, fear of death can also be considered the desire to live. Life, by all means, is better than death. This would imply that everyone wishes for immortality, yet this is not the case of everybody. Many wish they could experience the pleasures of life for eternity, yet many argue that the burdens of life would eventually outweigh the burdens of death.


In conclusion, two groups can be drawn. On one hand, there are many that do not fear death but still desire to live. These people generally accept death at the end of their lifespan as inevitable. On the other hand, there are those that fear the fatal aspect of old age and seek constant fulfillment. Ultimately, the fear of death is not necessarily shared by everyone. Should Hobbes’ fear of death be shared by everybody, it should instead be called the “desire to not die”.

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The dynamic of justice and injustice : Why such a tough debate?

One of the many challenges in the debate of justice and injustice is to find evidence that one is desirable over the other. Plato uses several examples, such as the shepherd and the sheep analogy, in which he argues that acting justly to others directly benefits oneself. Moreover, he uses the analogy of “The Just State”, an idealized city in which everyone benefits one another to achieve a good life. On the other hand, Glaucon’s Ring of Gyges story raises interesting questions about whether or not men can be truly just. Glaucon makes a convincing case that men may act justly simply out of fear of punishment.

Furthermore, it’s even more arduous to define the two concepts in the first place. The popular definition of justice is equatable to fairness, while injustice is essentially the opposite, or to act or treat others unfairly. However, these definitions can pose problems as human society diversifies and grows. Some may have different needs than others, or individuals may have personal desires that conflict with the law.

Personally, I think greater conclusions can be drawn if we challenge the logic of justice and injustice as mutual ideas. In other words, I think it’s important to look at both concepts in innovative ways, rather than just as two opposites. Eric Heinze, a professor at the university of London, shares this view as well. He argues that both ideas were not formed out of “strict deductive logic” but instead from the “arbitrary etymologies” of the words themselves.

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So what about Kreon?

When I first read Oedipus the King, one character stood out for me the most. For the greater part of the play, Jocasta’s brother Kreon seemed like an unassuming bystander to the unfolding action of the story, appearing mostly to be of occasional use to Oedipus. Pious and level-headed, Kreon tries to solve problems rationally, or with recourse to the gods. He seemed to be just another member of the sad, dysfunctional family. I would often ask myself, what purpose does he have to the story?

Early in the play, Teiresias reveals to Oedipus that the king himself is the killer he is looking for. Not taking the accusation lightly, Oedipus’ first reaction is to convict Kreon of being the killer, and a threat to his throne. Kreon uses his strong sense of reason to convince Oedipus’ that he does not desire to be King. He says: “Consider it rationally, as I have. Reflect: What man, what sane man, would prefer a king’s power with all its dangers and anxieties, when he could enjoy the same power, without its cares, and sleep in peace each night?” ( p. 49 )

After their exchange, it seemed to me that there was not much evil to Kreon. His reply convinced even me. However, it foreshadows that Kreon ultimately fills Oedipus’ shoes, and without the reluctance we would assume he had according to this quote. Is Kreon trying to deceive Oedipus? What are his true intentions? At the end of the play there is evidence that Kreon has resented Oedipus’ power, long before the true identity of the false king was revealed. Oedipus pleads with Kreon, “Drive me out of Thebes, do it now, now – drive me someplace where no man can speak to me, where no man can see me anymore.” To which Kreon replies, “Believe me, Oedipus, I would have done it long ago. But I refuse to act until I know precisely what the god desires.” ( p. 89-90 )

This response of Kreon’s not only reveals his ulterior motives, but also calls back to his piety, or his unwillingness to act without god’s aid. I find it interesting how his strong faith is holding him back from his desires. In the process of banishing Oedipus, we catch a glimpse of Kreon’s power-hungry side, which is fully explored later, in Antigone. Oedipus begs, “No. You will not take my daughters, I forbid it.” Kreon’s rejects his plea, saying “You forbid me? You have no power any more. All the great power you once had is gone, gone forever.” ( p. 93-94 )

In short, Kreon really surprised me as a character in an otherwise predictable tale. What first appeared to be an innocent brother-in-law, ( and uncle, sadly ) ends up taking the throne and exiling Oedipus to, in a way, save Thebes.

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