Update and Morals

<p> A friend sent me a link to a New York Times article called <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/13/magazine/13Psychology-t.html?_r=2&pagewanted=all&oref=slogin">The Moral Instinct</a> (free reg req'd.) Fairly interesting, though it contains one of my pet peeves:</p> <p><blockquote> On your morning walk, you see a trolley car hurtling down the track, the conductor slumped over the controls. In the path of the trolley are five men working on the track, oblivious to the danger. You are standing at a fork in the track and can pull a lever that will divert the trolley onto a spur, saving the five men. Unfortunately, the trolley would then run over a single worker who is laboring on the spur. Is it permissible to throw the switch, killing one man to save five? Almost everyone says "yes." <br> Consider now a different scene. You are on a bridge overlooking the tracks and have spotted the runaway trolley bearing down on the five workers. Now the only way to stop the trolley is to throw a heavy object in its path. And the only heavy object within reach is a fat man standing next to you. Should you throw the man off the bridge? Both dilemmas present you with the option of sacrificing one life to save five, and so, by the utilitarian standard of what would result in the greatest good for the greatest number, the two dilemmas are morally equivalent. But most people don't see it that way: though they would pull the switch in the first dilemma, they would not heave the fat man in the second. When pressed for a reason, they can't come up with anything coherent, though moral philosophers haven't had an easy time coming up with a relevant difference, either. </blockquote></p> <p>I hate these so-called utilitarian questions. I wouldn't throw the fat man, and I'll tell you why: it might not work. In fact, my aim with a fat man throwing off a bridge is less than 20% likely to work. Plus he might resist, and I might get hurt, or he might just slow me down until it's too late. Plus he might be about to discover the cure for cancer, or otherwise save lives (though that's true of the single man on the spur as well). There are so many practical distinctions between these so-called "moral equivalents", I don't understand how they're an accepted technique for experimentation. Even in the first one: is that really the only way you can intervene? Really? Are you sure none of the men know it's coming? I'm not sure I'd throw the switch even in that case, though I'd certainly try to do something. In fact, wouldn't the men hear the trolley coming and jump out of their way on their own?</p> <p>My philosophy textbook had one about (as I recall -- it was old writing) someone saying they were going to kill 20 Indians unless you shot one of them yourself, then the other 19 could go free. Again: how do I know he's telling the truth? It certainly sounds implausible. If it's true for 20, it's true for 2, and if that happens, I'm doing half the "immoral work" for this mysteriously murderous man. I have no reason to believe him.</p> <p>These are cases of <a href="/wiki/TreesRainAndIntuition">over-analysis of an intuitive decision</a>, without properly trying to understand the intuition. </p> <p>In other news: <ul><li><a href="/blog/life/man-vs-nature.html">Mouse</a>: still there. Still only one, I think. We thought he was gone, but I've seen him recently. He either doesn't go into the trap, or can get back out again (I think the former, but I'm not sure.) I really don't want to get a sticky trap, but I might have to get the snappy kind. I sat one night trying to wait for him to come out, but that didn't work either.</li> <li><a href="http://pembina.org">Pembina</a> work: Good. Working on something substantial, doing some web work and some research and some good discussions.</li> <li>Ants (did I mention we had some ants?): seemingly gone.</li> <li><a href="http://picasaweb.google.com/rob.ewaschuk/AroundOrilliaAndTorontoWithGraceWinTwoFreePints">Clare's mum's visit</a>: victorious. </li> <li><a href="http://picasaweb.google.com/rob.ewaschuk/ToMontrealWithGraceAndClare">Trip to Montreal</a>: great. better than I expected. weeeird modern dance thing. nice churches. fairly good food. looks like Europe.</li> </ul> </p>
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