Doug Taylor and Rabbi Morton Moskowitz

"Three million dollars over a cup of coffee??? Are you kidding???!!!" I didn't realize my voice had reached carnival barker volume until I looked up from the newspaper and saw half a dozen irritated faces glaring in my direction. I hadn't meant to shatter the intimate atmosphere of this quiet coffee shop, but the story placed in front of me by my friend, the King of Rational Thought, was more than I could take.
"I can't believe it," I said, lowering my voice. "It's crazy."
The story concerned a fast food restaurant patron who spilled coffee on herself, sued the restaurant claiming the coffee was too hot, and was awarded almost three million dollars by a jury.
"How could someone do that?" I asked, not expecting an answer.
"Philosophy," said my friend, as he sipped his apparently-not-too-hot coffee.
I looked up. "What do you mean, philosophy?"
"Every person has a philosophy of life, whether they're aware of it or not," he replied. "It's the basis on which they make decisions. The person in that story is acting in accordance with her philosophy."
"What's the philosophy?" I asked.
The King of Rational Thought smiled. "Come on now," he said, "this isn't hard. What kind of philosophy of life would lead a person to file a lawsuit like that?"
I put the paper down and sipped my rapidly-becoming-lukewarm coffee. "How about a philosophy of blaming someone else for everything that happens?" I suggested.
"Close," he replied. "What's the basic underlying philosophy behind blaming someone else for everything?"
"I'm not responsible," I said.
"Bingo," he said. "I'm not responsible, so someone else should pay. Now, here's the really important question. What's wrong with that philosophy?"
"It's irresponsible," I said.
"I know, but that's a value judgment. Tell me why the philosophy won't work, why it's irrational."
I was stumped.
"It's like this," he said. "If I hold that I'm not responsible for myself, but everyone else is, then everyone else should be able to make the same claim, right? They should be able to sue me for everything that happens to them because, after all, they're not responsible. It's unlikely that people who file huge lawsuits such as this one ever consider what would happen if everyone lived by their philosophy. Society would break down almost overnight.
"It's not hard to identify other popular but irrational philosophies that exist in our society," he continued. For example, what's the philosophy behind almost every action-adventure movie you've ever seen?"
How did he know I liked action-adventure movies? "Uh," I fumbled, "good guys always win?"
"How about 'might is right'?" he countered. "Do the so-called good guys win by carefully analyzing their enemy's philosophy and pointing out the logical errors? No, they just beat them to pieces, often killing them, usually in some final dramatic 'I'll show you' fight scene."
"Incidentally," he added, "you can tell when a person's philosophy is based on emotions. Just question him about it. If he gets angry, you know it's emotion-based. People living in reality have no emotional fears about challenges to their philosophy."
"So how do you develop a correct philosophy of life?" I asked.
"Study reality and base your life decisions on a careful analysis of that reality," he said. "Act in accordance with your intellect, not your emotions and fantasies. If you can, find a righteous person who is living in line with reality, and get him to teach you."
I was, at that moment, doing precisely that. In fact, I was so focused on listening that as we got up to leave, I inadvertently made what some might consider a multi-million dollar move.
I spilled the remains of my coffee in my lap.