A very interesting shot

Random blog-hopping led me to a short story that I’m really glad I read: The Ethical Dilemma of a Sandwich Down The Pants by Kelly Shriver.

It is a very different kind of short story. I don’t know how to put it, but it is about the ethical dilemma that is caused on account of a sandwich that has been stuffed down someone’s pants. Saying anything else would kind of give away the story; so, I won’t.

The story is available online here.

You SHOULD read this story, and reflect on it. It makes for a lovely, thought-provoking read. On the surface, the story might appear a light and fun read, but the questions that it inspires are in no way light. I am still seeking satisfactory answers to the ethical dilemma that has been raised in my mind.

I also came across an interesting analysis of the questions the story raises, here.

Do check out the story, and do let me know what you think abuot the issue. I would love to discuss it.


I read this story for the 100 Shots of Short Challenge. This was the 71st Shot.


Filed under Reading Ramana

3 responses to “A very interesting shot

  1. Krishna

    The link provided does not seem to work. I had to google it and read it from google’s cache.

  2. A nice story..very good material for a class on ethical philosophy. And since I am currently doing a course on ethical philosophy, here’s my attempted answers to the questions raised in the analysis link.

    1) There is probably nothing actually wrong with the sandwich. It is not a health risk. I, however, wouldn’t eat it, unless I was starving. In what way is the sandwich actually tainted, and why wouldn’t I eat it or serve it to a guest?

    The ‘taint’ comes from the knowledge of the taint ! Taint in this case, would be the corruption of the sandwich. It is not in general human nature to ‘equate’ such a sandwich to one that is fresh off the shelves (albeit the fact that even the latter might have been ‘tainted’ unknowingly). In short, I largely agree with the analysis in the link given.

    2) Given that it seems nothing is actually wrong with the sandwich, is there really anything wrong with letting someone eat it? It seems true that the sandwich is only tainted to someone who knows where it has been.

    This question needs a premise to answer it. A premise may be anything. For instance, the analysis in the blog talks of ‘etiquette’ not letting someone have something which you won’t have. Now, I may have an ‘etiquette’ that says I should not interfere/influence someone’s decision when I am not invited to give an opinion. So, it purely depends on one’s premise. In short, it depends on what one feels comfortable with – some people may just not let others have the sandwich just because they might feel nauseating at the thought that someone has a tainted sandwich (and not because of a goodwill for the other person!). So, ethical arguments in this case do NOT stand ground because rationally consistent but varying answers may be given if different premises are laid out initially. No answer is wrong.

    3) Throwing the sandwich away when there was a (probably starving) person who wanted it seems wasteful and fundamentally wrong. Letting someone else eat it seems to go against the rules of etiquette. Letting the thief have the sandwich is questionable because it seems to reward his act of theft. Is there a correct course of action?

    There is no CORRECT (or incorrect) course of action. However, a rational answer might be to just walk away, as in the story. Because even if one prevents someone from having it, one can’t be expected to wait all day long to warn everyone who comes later to the shop about it (assuming here that the shopkeeper doesn’t do that and just wants to have it sold). As an ethical justification, I would say stuffing one’s prejudice (about the taint) on others might be interfering with other’s rights.

    4) I can imagine myself purchasing the sandwich for the man in the scenario described. On the other hand, if he showed up in the store and didn’t try to steal, instead turning to the people in line and asking them to buy him a sandwich, I’m not so sure I would respond to that. Why do I think I would buy him the sandwich after it’s been down his pants, but not if he asked for the sandwich before putting it there?

    This question is personal. If a beggar does this, one might just not buy him the sandwich as it would apparently encourage such acts. However, in this case, after the act has been committed (the act of ‘tainting’ the sandwich and the sandwich being put back in the freezer for sale (by the unethical(is that unethical? – thats a separate question) shopkeeper), one might desire to get him the sandwich purely for a personal reason of not wanting to be a witness to the unplesant sight (unpleasant to us) of someone buying that and having it.

    These answers were for the questions raised in the above analysis link.

    As for the story, I marvelled at the philosophical questions it raised. There is no ONE answer to this and that is clearly obvious because even fundamentally the premises one can have are different. So each answer can be shown to be WRONG if one does not agree with the corresponding premise. For instance, if one were to say one could buy the sandwich and throw it away so as to avoid anyone else purchasing it, I might argue saying that would be denying some potentially hungry person (who comes to the shop and all other sandwiches are sold out and he/she can’t find any other food shop nearby). If one were to say one could warn a buyer, then I would argue saying one can’t potentially stay at the shop for hours on end to warn everyone (and if you warn just people who come in during your stay at the shop, that would amount to a bias because you are biased to those people and not to those who come later).

    So, on goes the arguments. A very nice problem. Solution largely depends on the premises one has. And as in most ethical questions, premises can’t be shown to be right/wrong. It is only the deductions one makes from the premise that can be checked for consistency. And that is more important (having a belief/premise and sticking with it all the way through – self consistency/logic/rigour).

    A problem I discussed at length with brother and also lead to atleast an hour of other ethical philosophy questions – like the classic case of devout parents not wanting to have a caeserean for the mother even if it means a chance of saving atleast one of two babies (twins), as against low survival chances for both if natural birth was allowed.

    All these were self thought. It would be interesting to examine it after seeing what Kant/Sartre/Camus have to say on related issues. Shall do that.

    And hope you don’t mind the essay like comment 🙂


  3. priyaiyer


    the link seems to be fine.. could you pls check again?


    no, i don’t mind the long comment… 🙂
    glad you liked the story.. interesting analysis.. shall write about my thoughts some time later 🙂 i had a discussion with the better half about this issue too..

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