John Reese- a character in the television show “Person of Interest”. The show revolves around the existence of an Artificial Intelligence which can predict crimes before they happen. But it only gives the Social Security Number of the person involved. The incidents which involve huge loss of life, are deemed to be ‘relevant’ and passed on to the government, while singular events are deemed to be irrelevant and are passed on to John Reese and Harold Finch, who work towards helping the people caught in such crimes. It is rarely known whether the “Number” is the victim or the perpetrator. Harold Finch is a reclusive billionaire with unlimited resources, and is a tech genius. While, John Reese provides the muscle, and has tactical training. He lost his father at an early age. His father was part of the military, which also inspired him to join the same. After being decommissioned after a couple of tours in Iran, following the 9/11 Attacks, he decides to re-join the Army. This is done at the cost of his relationship. As he excels at all the skills required, the Central Intelligence Agency recruits him to work for a mysterious program, which involves killing enemies of the State. He is at constant battle with himself, to reconcile his actions with that of leaving his girlfriend. Adding on to his misery, the girlfriend marries someone else, who ends up being the reason for her death. The show begins with Reese travelling in a subway train. All the previously mentioned backstory, is revealed as the show progresses. It is later revealed that Reese is travelling in the subway with one destination in mind- the Brooklyn bridge. He has decided to kill himself, by jumping off the bridge. But in the meantime, he gets arrested by the police, from whom he is rescued by Finch. Finch gives him a new purpose, a new meaning in life- to save the irrelevant numbers. He recruits two police officers, Detective Carter, and Fusco. He becomes close (in the sense, to the maximum he is capable of being close to a person, without exposing himself to any forms of vulnerability) to Carter. When she dies, he loses all hope and takes off. It takes Finch’s life to be in imminent danger, for him to return. When a rival AI by the name of Samaritan forces Team Machine to go into hiding, Reese’s emotional side is explored further. Finally, Reese has never held his life in high esteem. Hence, at the very end he sacrifices himself to save Finch from Samaritan’s agents.
John Reese, to begin with is the wide-eyed, yet mature child who understands the importance of joining the Army, and to serve the nation. He joins the Amy, because it gives his life meaning, and he believes it is the right thing to do. In a similar manner, when the Towers fall, he forsakes his personal life, to re-join the Army, because he believes it is the right thing to do. His actions continue to develop in their inherently Kantian contours. For instance, while working for the CIA, he begins investigating into the theft of a few guns in Afghanistan, from the US Military. When the suspect, a military officer in the United States Army, begins to claim that he didn’t deserve such suspicion after all that he had done for the country, Reese ends up shooting him. He understood that the officer was justifying too much, for someone who still believed in the cause. An important facet of a soldier’s life comes into the spotlight here. The need for the soldier to act in accordance with Kantian ideals. He must believe in the cause, for the sake of it. He must believe what he is doing is right, and must be doing it because he believes it is right, not to achieve personal glory, or to take revenge on the government for their poorly paid burden.
He accepts the CIA job, because he believes that this will allow his girlfriend to have a life, not waiting for his corpse to end up on her doorstep one day. Thus, begins the shift from Kantian behaviour to that of a selfish nature, or even from another perspective, an altruistic one. An altruism that is directed at the girlfriend. He commits atrocious acts, for his government. The government and Reese here work on a utilitarian principle. A few people’s rights have to be violated, to save the many. A few people have to be tortured to help others lead a normal life. He understands the need for the existence of the unhappiness of the few, to protect the many. Furthermore, he to kill people for the security of the nation, requires the killers to treat the people they kill as a means, rather than as ends in themselves. This anti-Kantian action becomes second nature for Reese. But it is only when the girlfriend dies, that he turns the coin completely. He goes from being a believer, to a complete nihilist. His employers try to kill him, and the death of his girlfriend send him down a spiral of emotions that lead him to the nihilist utopia- suicide. He sees no meaning in life, sees no purpose in life and comes to the basic nihilist conclusion, that his life would be better off dead than alive.
There are also hints towards the notion that Reese was always heading towards becoming a part of the CIA. He had the capabilities to become an agent of the covert agency. A modern-day Plato’s commonwealth, if you will. A more apt philosophy would be the Spencerian alternative. Even while being a part of the CIA, he understands the telos of the requirement of his actions. The purpose was to protect national security. Hence, if that could be done while saving lives, that is preferable to that of killing every single person associated with the security breach. (Although that may have been the logos.)
But when Finch rescues him, their vigilante work becomes inherently implicit of three important philosophies. Libertarianism, Machiavellian Realism/ Empiricism and Kant’s idealism. If one has the means to save the irrelevant numbers, then one should be allowed to do so. Clearly, the authorities lack the resources to help them, so why not us? But at the same time, the people who are to be saved, are saved not because Finch pays Reese to do so. But are saved because life is deemed to be precious, and those people deserve to have a protector, because it is a pure good. Saving lives, is a pure good, in the words of Harold Finch. But that goal, that pure good, can be brought about by means that are not entirely ethical or within the realm of legal action. To shoot kneecaps and to impersonate police officers, is not entirely within the territory that covers the moral high ground. Hacking databases and corrupting detectives are justified given the end which is being pursued. But within that morally questionable landscape, to maintain a morally justifiably stance is important to Reese. The ends provide simply that, while the means aren’t really too bad in the face of all the good that is being achieved.
Reese has always fought the inner darkness that he has harboured within his soul. This becomes unleashed when Detective Carter, a person he grows pretty fond of, is killed. He then no longer cares of the good. He has one goal, which is revenge. This is the stage beyond nihilism. A purpose rooted in nihilism. There is meaning, but that meaning is not implicit or answerable to any higher power. His obsession with structure, and with a protective father-figure archetype also comes to the forefront here. He has never had a father-figure. The government served as a surrogate, but they betrayed him to the extent, that they continually want to kill him. And now, The Machine which offered up to Reese, a new ray of hope, structure and order, itself fails to protect Carter. Hence, he goes off the reservation. The Hobbesian obsession with security and safety becomes delineated in Reese’s motivating philosophy. When he begins working with Finch, as he’s been exposed to the horrors that humanity is capable of, he adheres to the Hobbesian assumption that man is inherently brutish and savage, and is capable of the worst. But as time and the show goes on, he begins to realise that not all people are ‘Bad Code’. People, unlike computer code, are capable of changing and evolving. This realisation begins to dawn on Reese, and although he does not completely switch to the notion of the Rousseau’s noble savage, he understands that not all of humanity is made up of terrorists and traitors. He is initially unable to reconcile his own brutish actions and has resigned to the fact that he is probably present in the set of the worst of the worst, that he is ‘Bad Code’. But over the course of the show, he begins to realise that he himself can evolve, and can become a better person. This renews the hope of Reese, in humanity. This obsession of Reese with safety and security, also extends to his emotional side. He cocoons himself into an emotional shell, with not many people given access to enter. He believes he is less likely to be caught off guard, less likely to be vulnerable if he does so. This again changes as he realises the strength of friendship, of companionship and of multiplicity.
Self-evaluation is yet another important theme that runs central to the show’s various storylines. For Reese, he understands the atrocities he has committed do not warrant forgiveness. But this battle emerges within him. As mentioned previously, the battle to reconcile his previous actions with his current-self, and with his conception of a ‘good man’. He justifies his actions by telling himself that after all he was doing was his job- regardless of whether what he did was right or wrong. It’s not like he had a choice. This Positive thought process helps him reconcile his past to an extent. But his current self’s conscience does not let him get away with it. This becomes the motive force behind his endeavour to save lives. To become a better person that he ever was, better than the person he was while working for the CIA. He makes a moral extrapolation, akin to the philosophy of Natural Law to make himself responsible to some higher power, to a higher arbiter who deems those actions done by him as wrong and unjust and immoral. In a sense, he has always been holding himself answerable to that greater arbiter, to justify his actions. With hindsight, comes greater capacity for self-reflection. Self-reflection by definition, is synonymous with the principles of Natural Law. There is an Eternal Law that is violated by Reese, which does not let him get away with those actions. Once again, this faith in that eternal law is shaken when Carter is killed. He no longer believes good prevails over evil. The good, he begins to believe must have the capacity for evil, if it has to prevail. Carl Jung’s quote of “No tree, it is said, can grow to Heaven unless its roots reach down to Hell”, becomes explicitly influential in Reese’s outlook of the world. John embodies the archetypal form of the ‘Hero’. The man who has lost everything, yet does good because he believes in it- the ultimate Kantian, with a mean streak. Reese is capable of the worst, yet chooses to be good. He has looked into the abyss, and is still capable of moral action. That is the ultimate good.
In order to escape Samaritan, an all-powerful AI bent on world domination, Reese and the team are forced to assume cover identities. He is assigned the identity of a police officer by the Machine. His reckless disregard for the rules becomes apparent here. He shoots suspects in the kneecaps to catch them, thereby firing in broad daylight. He believes the rules hinder the ability of the police to catch the perpetrator. He considers his moral code to be superior to that of the Police. His moral code, based on Machiavellian principles, deems that shooting “perps” in the kneecaps is a more efficient way of catching them, which is the telos of the Police. This justifies his actions. He is the opposite of a positivist in this respect. It does not matter to him what the law says. All that matters is that the right thing is done, regardless of the repercussions. This is inherently additive of two important philosophies. Natural Law and Kantian idealism. The existence of a ‘right thing’ implies the adherence to a Natural Law philosophy, while the careless disregard for the consequences, implies the following of Kant’s philosophy.
To conclude, a good place to begin is the end. The Essay is suspended momentarily to make way for a Spoiler Alert. John dies. It is at the very end that we understand the undercurrents that influence his world-view. Minimalism. He concedes that at the very beginning, he felt that it was only saving multiple lives, like he was doing at the CIA, was meaningful. But then, he came to realise that even saving a single life, if it was the right life, is enough, is important, is meaningful and purposeful. He understands that there are certain problems that simply are not solved by the conception of a civilized solution. The structures of civilized society simply fail in the face of certain dangers. Hence, it becomes paramount for those with the ability to act, to do so outside the realm of civilization. To this end, he accepts Death as an old friend, in the words of the Story of the Deathly Hallows. He has always accepted that his end will always be his death. And that in the end, he will probably be dead. It was St. Augustine who said that there is no Saint without a past. Only thing that matters is the sincerity of your actions, and even if Reese was deceptive in all other respects, he was never insincere. Parting words of the show, are impeccably apt for the end of Reese too. “Everyone dies alone. But if you meant something to someone, if you helped someone or loved someone, if even a single person remembers you, then maybe you never really die. And maybe, this isn’t the end at all.”