Sunday, June 14, 2015

Ethical diversity in the Sherlockian Canon.

"In a modest way I have combated evil," Sherlock Holmes said in The Hound of the Baskervilles, "but to take on the Father of Evil himself would, perhaps, be too ambitious a task."

Sherlock Holmes must be looked at with some measure of forgiveness as a man of his era, for not recognizing ethical diversity in the above statement. It is like many sexist, racist, or ethicist attitudes common to that time. In that one statement he portrays himself as at war with evil, implies that the Mother of Evil, the Children of Evil, and even the Grandparents of Evil would be something he could handle. But today let us not dally with the age-ist and sex-ist aspects of the Victorian detective, let us focus on the ethics-ist aspects of his words and behavior.

In The Hound of the Baskervilles, for example, Sherlock Holmes is hounding a man who is ethically challenged in the areas of murder, kidnapping, fraud, petty theft, breaking hearts, mistreatment of butterflies, and a host of other areas. He refers to Rodger Baskerville Jr. as one of the "agents of  the devil" and eventually chases him into a bog and a fate traditionally reserved for "evil" moor ponies.

While "evil" is plentiful in the Canon of Olde, you can scrutinize page after page of that venerable text and never find the words "ethics" or "ethical."  You will, however, find the word "moral," a good many times. The difference? Ethics is a debatable field of philosophy categorizing right and wrong. Morality, however, connotes an invisible set of pre-determined rules of right and wrong. In an ethical argument, one might encounter shades of gray. In a moral argument, however? Black and white.

Heady issues, these, but when one considers the full range of ethical diversity after heading beyond black and white, the Canon of Sherlock Holmes offers a wide range of characters with which to populate a scale of ethics diversity.

Rodger Baskerville, Jr., was a fairly complex case involving many ethical spectrums. Taking another character like James Ryder, the attendant at the Hotel Cosmopolitan from "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle." Ryder is a had man to place on any scale of ethical diversity as it was entirely possible that he was merely a pawn of Catherine Cusack (sure a generations-before relative of the Cusack acting family from which John and Joan later sprung).  Sherlock Holmes would seem to agree, chasing Ryder just out the door and not into a bog, as with Baskerville.

The only "evil" Holmes does cite in Ryder's case are those "evil influences" which have fallen upon Henry Baker, whose wife has ceased to love him and who may drink a bit much. In Baker's case, there is no chasing, however, just the gift of a nice fresh goose. So while Holmes does not speak of the scale of ethical diversity, he, as an evolving specimen of humanity, seems aware of it: On the "drinking a bit too much" end of the scale, you get a Christmas goose. On the "murder, kidnapping, fraud, etc." end of the scale, you get chased into a bog where you might find a moor pony on your way down.

Now, if you've read this far down the page, I really have to give you credit for your stamina. I'm not entirely sure what this essay was an attempt at . . . perhaps social parody? I'm not entirely sure, but it does stand as example of how well Watson's writings can be used to delve into any topic or concept one gets into one's head . . . like "ethical diversity." In any case, thanks for reading.

I'll try to come up with a topic I don't get bored with before the end of the essay next time.


  1. found it interesting - not boring

    1. Thanks, Jim. I think I just ran out of steam late in the weekend. Perhaps we will see a "part two" as I didn't even get into statistical breakdowns. (Which, actually, I had . . .)

  2. Yes, and BBC continues that tradition. I love, for instance, discussing the question of when, if ever, it is appropriate to shoot one's friend in the heart, or perhaps just a bit to the left of said organ, in an attempt to mortally wound, or perhaps not, said friend, or perhaps not.