Legion. An amalgamated journal.

Kenobian consequentialism

Something disturbing recently occurred to me. Namely this passage:

There is a large bonfire of Jawa bodies blazing in front of the Sandcrawler as Ben and the robots finish burning the dead. Luke drives up in the speeder and walks over to Ben.

BEN: There’s nothing you could have done, Luke, had you been there. You’d have been killed, too, and the droids would be in the hands of the Empire.

LUKE: I want to come with you to Alderaan. There’s nothing here for me now. I want to learn the ways of the Force and become a Jedi like my father.

I never thought very much about this scene before, but when you dig into it, a worrisome question emerges: Did Kenobi know ahead of time that Owen and Beru were going to be murdered? He certainly knows that they are dead before Luke even tells him. If he did know of the impending raid, why did he knowingly allow them to die? We know from experience that Kenobi could easily have finished off a small dispatch of Imperial troops. So if he knew what was about to happen, why didn’t he intervene?

The answer, horribly obvious when it appears, is that Kenobi elected to let Owen and Beru die for the purpose of liberating Luke from them and allowing him to join the Rebellion. Certainly that paid off in the end—leading to the fall of the Empire, restoration of the Jedi, &c. &c. It rests on some shaky moral footing, however. Is Kenobi a plain scalar consequentialist? Can we justify the death of two innocent moisture farmers on the presupposition that it is necessary in a chain of events that will liberate the galaxy? Sounds a little like Lenin’s bloody argument: “how can you make a revolution without executions?”1

I welcome participants in Justice to help me sort out this dilemma.

1 In Richard Pipes, The Russian Revolution 1899-1919. (London: Harvill, 1990), 179.

Garrett Dash Nelson

August 25th, 2008 at 11:11 am

But perhaps you disagree

One response so far

  • [ # ] Maryellen McGowanAug 25, 2008 at 8:54 pm

    You officially discovered our blogospheric niche with this one. Officially.

  • [ # ] Tyler NelsonAug 29, 2008 at 1:58 pm

    Like I told you, Obi Wan didn’t know ahead of time, he only sensed it through Luke. As Yoda states, even a Jedi master cannot clearly see the future, and Old Ben would never have let them die if he did predict it.