moral questions
Posted: 20 July 2006 02:10 AM   [ Ignore ]
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There has been some debate in my office concerning some questions posed in a BBC article. In particular, #2 and #3 caused the most debate.

When I first encountered question #2 ("runaway trolley car"), I said that I would flip the switch. I felt that in a way I was really faced with who to have killed. And faced with not knowing anything about the people, I thought it would be sound to kill the 1 person rather than 5 people, because there was potential for more suffering if 5 people died (loss of 5 people + their families, friends, etc). Anyway, then #3 ("the fat man and the trolley car") came up, and I said I would not push the fat guy. I wasn’t exactly clear why, and now the whole thing is just troubling me.
NOTE: the arguments were much deeper, and lasted for days.

Anyway, if anyone has a chance to read the article, i’d be interested in some thoughts…
thanks

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Posted: 20 July 2006 02:10 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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moral questions

There has been some debate in my office concerning some questions posed in a BBC   article . In particular, #2 and #3 caused the most debate.

When I first encountered question #2 (“runaway trolley car”), I said that I would flip the switch. I felt that in a way I was really faced with who to have killed. And faced with not knowing anything about the people, I thought it would be sound to kill the 1 person rather than 5 people, because there was potential for more suffering if 5 people died (loss of 5 people + their families, friends, etc). Anyway, then #3 (“the fat man and the trolley car”) came up, and I said I would not push the fat guy. I wasn’t exactly clear why, and now the whole thing is just troubling me.
NOTE: the arguments were much deeper, and lasted for days.

Anyway, if anyone has a chance to read the article, i’d be interested in some thoughts…
thanks

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Posted: 20 July 2006 02:29 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Excellent questions. These are fodder for intro ethics courses because they push the boundaries of our conventional notions of ethics ...

One possible answer I like is to go the Utilitarian way, where the greatest good for the greatest number is what is best to do.

Another possible answer I like is that there is no correct response to these dilemmas, because they are so-described as to be roughly equally good or bad no matter what you do.

Then there are more complex or baroque responses which justify one or another solution as springing from an account of Human Nature or the like ... I will be interested to see what people think.

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Posted: 20 July 2006 07:03 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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My answers were the same as yours Tom: I would switch the rail to save the 5 resulting in the death of the one, but would not push the fat man off the bridge to save the five.

Here’s my reasoning:
My moral view is similar to Doug’s - the Utilitarian view (serve the greatest good), however I also think that protecting the integrity of individual free choice is an overwhelming good.

#3) The fat man may choose to save the five people walking in front of the run-away train, but he has no obligation to do so, and I don’t have the right to force him to sacrifice himself. Moreover, the 5 people on the tracks must bare some responsibility for their choice to walk on the tracks in the first place.

#2) The 1 person on the train tracks made the choice to put himself in this danger and must accept the responsibility of his choice to walk on the train tracks. It’s a true dilemma, but in order to serve the most good, I would save the 5 at the expense of the 1. (even if none of the people on the tracks chose to be there, I would still make this choice, but it’s a lot clearer choice to make I think when all involved chose to put themselves at risk)

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Posted: 20 July 2006 07:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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[quote author=“Riley”] (...snip ...)

#3) The fat man may choose to save the five people walking in front of the run-away train, but he has no obligation to do so, and I don’t have the right to force him to sacrifice himself. Moreover, the 5 people on the tracks must bare some responsibility for their choice to walk on the tracks in the first place.

This was actually discussed, and I think it’s a difficult thing because we really don’t know much about the whole scenario. For example, we could imagine a scenario where there were 5 drunk teenagers being reckless on the tracks, etc. However, I think that might be missing the point. I think the purpose of the train question is not to think of who may be at fault. Rather, I think the questions are supposed to be a simple and detail-free. So, my co-workers and I attempted to approach it as though there was no negligence on the part of the people on the tracks. I’m not sure if this is the best way to approach it, but it certainly made it the most difficult. Because, I agree with your reasoning. However, if you remove responsibility, then I would still come to the kill 1 vs. 5 decision on #2, but have a more difficult time with #3.

[quote author=“Riley”]
#2) The 1 person on the train tracks made the choice to put himself in this danger and must accept the responsibility of his choice to walk on the train tracks. It’s a true dilemma, but in order to serve the most good, I would save the 5 at the expense of the 1. (even if none of the people on the tracks chose to be there, I would still make this choice, but it’s a lot clearer choice to make I think when all involved chose to put themselves at risk)

again, i suppose the questions are far from perfect, but I think adding responsibility by painting the people on the tracks as putting themselves at risk might be missing the point. (although I could be wrong)

Thanks for the response.

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Posted: 21 July 2006 06:38 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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One of the problems I had was regarding what I originally said about #2…

And faced with not knowing anything about the people, I thought it would be sound to kill the 1 person rather than 5 people, because there was potential for more suffering if 5 people died (loss of 5 people + their families, friends, etc).

Someone mentioned to me that this might be flawed because we don’t know anything about the people involved. If we go strictly by numbers, how can we know that one of the 5 people we “saved” doesn’t later cause more harm than if we hadn’t saved him (a serial killer, for example - or a reckless driver who hits a bus of kids or something). I was a bit stumped by this one. Any thoughts on this point?

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Posted: 21 July 2006 09:30 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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[quote author=“tom_g”]how can we know that one of the 5 people we “saved” doesn’t later cause more harm than if we hadn’t saved him

I presume all people to be equal until proven otherwise.

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Posted: 28 October 2006 03:22 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Since the boy’s going to be dead from the nuclear blast anyway, there’s no problem with shooting him dead to prevent other deaths.

However, for the other questions, I’d probably not have to worry about them because, I’d take so long trying to figure out which way to go that the event would have happened before I decided.

Occam

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