By Jeremy Stangroom
Norton. 144 pp. $Paperback, $15.95
Curiosity doesn’t kill the cat of this title, but it does play a role in what happens to the corpse. In the first of 25 ethical dilemmas concocted by Jeremy Stangroom, a well-loved cat dies in an accident. The bereaved owner decides to cook and eat part of the animal, both as a kind of memorial tribute and because she hears that cat meat is delicious. Stangroom asks, Is her meal morally wrong?
To most of us, this gross but victimless performance barely rises to the level of a PETA protest. It’s not a question of morality; it’s a question of taste.
Unfortunately, the essential silliness of the cat-owner’s “conundrum” is repeated many times in this mildly entertaining self-helper. There is the woman chained to a box that emits poisonous fumes; should she be allowed to take it on a public bus? (Forgive me if I respond, Duh, no.) There’s the Roman emperor debating whether he should employ toothless lions against gladiators, so people can get the entertainment without the killing. Seriously? And the hapless man who is strapped to a hospital bed for months while doctors transfuse his antibodies to a dying celebrity; if he insists on pulling out the IVs, is he guilty of murder?
Stangroom, a frequent writer and twitterer on philosophical issues, tries to use these outrageous plot lines to illuminate questions that are both more serious and more common. The man forcibly linked to a dependent body, for example, leads directly to a discussion of abortion: Even if a fetus is considered a human being, is there “a moral requirement for [a pregnant woman] to allow the fetus to use her body in order to survive”? “Not surprisingly,” he writes, “this argument is highly contentious.” Indeed it is, but you’re unlikely to arrive at a deeper understanding of the issues by reading this essentially lightweight book.