Philosophical Connections to Wrestling: Ethics

JSenior Analyst IMarch 20, 2009

This will be the third installment in my "connections" series, following my mathematics and biology pieces. If you haven't read them already, then follow the links I have made.

This next one takes me slightly out of my comfort zone, but I hope the knowledge I have will make for a good read.


For countless years, the great minds of every generation have pondered the world’s unanswerable questions—to seek meaning and value for our existence. Ethical study has been addressing questions of morality; how to achieve a moral outcome from a given situation.

Many scholars have tried to take varied perspectives in this endeavor, which have lead to many theories regarding ethical conduct. I would like to explore some of these theories, and see what relevance or significance they may pertain to wrestling.

Utilitarianism

The Utilitarian view is that any action can be valued solely by its contribution to the population overall—to coin a phrase: the greater good for the greater man. In the simplest form, it means the best moral action is one that provides the best mean outcome for the most people.

In practical terms: If you were given the decision to save one man's life or one hundred people’s lives, the utilitarian view would be to save one hundred. Similarly, if I could give an object to either a person to whom it will provide great joy or someone who will not appreciate it, this moral code would give it to the former.

This theory best applies to wrestling, not in terms of moral code but more what makes a show better. The WWE’s product can be thought of as the "population," so which ever decision makes it better overall is paramount from a utilitarian standpoint.

One aspect I think this reflects well in is which wrestlers get pushes. A pushed wrestler will have a big part to play in the show, so the best have to be picked to make it as entertaining as possible.

Many people put forward cases for some of the mid-card wrestlers receiving pushes, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s not what's best for the show. For example, I would quite like The Great Khali be pushed and used well, but a utilitarian ethicist may say that this would displace a better wrestler, and hence, lessen the overall quality of the show.

Deontology

This theory looks at the rights and wrongs of actions based on duty and principles. It is sometimes described as an obligation ethic, where you are bound to certain duties.

Using the same example as before, deontology would probably again save the hundred over the one. But in a slightly different scenario, where the one was your mother, deontology would say you have a duty to her, and you should save her life over the hundred others.

Duty and obligation are words that seldom seem to be associated with the WWE, with several aspects of their mechanics morally questionable.

In recent months, we have seen a vast increase in the number of wrestlers being released; and many have criticized the WWE’s decision to let certain people go. Money is tight and the WWE is a business, but they surely have some obligation to their wrestlers.

Sometimes it feels as if they treat their employees far too much like commodities—an act that deontology would disagree with. It would argue they owe more to them than to hire and fire at will.

I would, however, say that it appeared Vince McMahon was funding some of Test’s rehab prior to his death, which implies they do feel some duty towards their former stars.

Consequentialism

Consequentialism is concerned not with the morality of the act itself, but the quality of the outcome. Judging how ethical an act is using this theory is based solely on the end result—how you get there is irrelevant.

In a situation where saving someone’s life would severely hurt them, this theory would say it is justified, as the outcome is worthy.

Some story lines in the WWE recently have taken some very bizarre twists and have often been lackluster in places. End results have been arguably good though, with some entertaining matches ensuing.

Randy Orton winning the Royal Rumble was fantastic, but the Kane and Kelly Kelly "storyline" on the way there was unnecessary and weird.

Jeff Hardy finally capturing the WWE Championship was one of the best moments in the past year; some may have argued it should have happened earlier, but in the eyes of a consequentialist, that would be extraneous.

Philosophical and ethical debates have lead many scholars down many roads, usually resulting in more questions being asked than found.

We, in many respects, have a lot in common with these scholars, debating through articles the rights and wrongs of the wrestling world.

Though we may not always agree on each other's conclusions, we inevitably develop our love for wrestling, so whatever your opinion, share it.

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