Spider in the Urinal

Release Date
October 29, 2015

Topic

Ethics Morality Philosophy Role of Government
Description

Would you save the Spider or let him be?
The Spider in the Urinal is based on an essay by Professor Thomas Nagel, Philosopher at New York University.
A few months ago, in the men’s room in the philosophy department, a large spider appeared in the urinal. I saw him in the same spot for a week straight. I noticed that whenever the urinal was in use, he would try to scramble out of the way as fast as humanly possible.
Often, he would get caught, tumbled and drenched by the flushing torrent of Princeton’s city water and the urine of aspiring philosophers. The worst part was, that there was no way for the spider to get out, and no way to tell if he even wanted to. None of the other students or professors did anything to alter the situation.
As the months wore on, I arrived with much uncertainty and hesitation at the decision to liberate him. He just sat there, not moving a muscle. The next day, I found him in the same place. His legs shriveled in that way characteristics of dead spiders. His corpse stayed there for a week until they finally swept the floor.
No! For weeks after, I had recurring nightmares, giant spiders, teeth, webs, me, your humble narrator, charged with manslaughter in the high spider court. Your honor, my client was acting with the best of intentions when he rescued Mister Spider from the urinal.
Mister Spider was forcibly removed from his home.
Objection!
Sustained. Please proceed.
Your client without fully considering the potential consequences of his actions proceeded to interfere in and ultimately, end Mister Spider’s life.
We find the defendant guilty!
This thought experiment forces us to question the morality of intervention. Good intentions do not always yield good results.
You gotta let these people think for themselves. If you were in my position, would you move the spider or let him be? What do you think? I’m not that bad of a guy. Am I? Am I? Am I?

The View From Nowhere (Book): Read about the Spider in the Urinal thought experiment and other philosophical questions in Professor Thomas Nagel’s book. 
The Philosophy of Liberty (Program): Join our On Demand Program for a deeper look at the philosophy of freedom. 
Learn Liberty Philosophy (Playlist): Watch more Learn Liberty videos about philosophy. 

A few months ago, in the men’s room in the philosophy department, a large spider appeared in the urinal. I saw him in the same spot for a week straight. I noticed that whenever the urinal was in use, he would try to scramble out of the way as fast as humanly possible.
Often, he would get caught, tumbled and drenched by the flushing torrent of Princeton’s city water and the urine of aspiring philosophers. The worst part was, that there was no way for the spider to get out, and no way to tell if he even wanted to. None of the other students or professors did anything to alter the situation.
As the months wore on, I arrived with much uncertainty and hesitation at the decision to liberate him. He just sat there, not moving a muscle. The next day, I found him in the same place. His legs shriveled in that way characteristics of dead spiders. His corpse stayed there for a week until they finally swept the floor.
No! For weeks after, I had recurring nightmares, giant spiders, teeth, webs, me, your humble narrator, charged with manslaughter in the high spider court. Your honor, my client was acting with the best of intentions when he rescued Mister Spider from the urinal.
Mister Spider was forcibly removed from his home.
Objection!
Sustained. Please proceed.
Your client without fully considering the potential consequences of his actions proceeded to interfere in and ultimately, end Mister Spider’s life.
We find the defendant guilty!
This thought experiment forces us to question the morality of intervention. Good intentions do not always yield good results.
You gotta let these people think for themselves. If you were in my position, would you move the spider or let him be? What do you think? I’m not that bad of a guy. Am I? Am I? Am I?