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# The Trolley Problem

rufio

1
Mon 23 Feb, 2004 01:47 am
Inaction occurs when there are inactive things. Human beings are not inactive things. If you choose to do nothing when the brakes stop working, that choice is an action. And you're right about inaction, actually. It is everywhere. For instance, the brakes, whether they work or not, are inactive. So they cannot be held reponsible for killing anyone.

I bet you think that guns are responsible for killing people too.
0 Replies

1
Mon 23 Feb, 2004 09:30 pm
Quote:
I meant to confer the straightforwardness I saw in what I consider an impossibly straightforward situation.

I don't think this situation is straightforward at all. There is no "right", "simple" or "good" path for Edward to choose here. The only thing he can moderate is his level of PERSONAL resposibility.

If he makes the choice to stay on course and five people die, is Edward going to be charged with anything? Is anyone going to say to him; "Gee Edward, why didn't you switch tracks and just kill that other person instead of these five?" Of course not! He would be treated as another victim of the tragedy.

If he makes the choice to switch tracks then he has chosen to kill somebodAdrian - my analogy pertained only to the point that choosing not to act in a situation where there is a choice as to whether or not to act IS an action in and of itself.

If it is seen as an action in the car situation, would you concede that it is an action in the trolley situation?y that otherwise would not die. True, it can be convincingly argued that his choice also saved five other people but it would be hard to argue against the idea that he is PERSONALLY responsible for the death of the one.

Case 1: A brake failure in the trolley results in the death of five people.

Case 2: A brake failure in the trolley AND the decision of the driver Edward to switch tracks results in the death of one person.

Which case is "better" for Edward?

Quote:
Adrian - my analogy pertained only to the point that choosing not to act in a situation where there is a choice as to whether or not to act IS an action in and of itself.

If it is seen as an action in the car situation, would you concede that it is an action in the trolley situation?

OK, granted. Would you concede that freezing in terror when confronted with this situation, as you and Heevan have both alluded to, would constitute inaction? Or would you say that the person involved has "chosen" to freeze and do nothing?

Quote:
And you're right about inaction, actually. It is everywhere. For instance, the brakes, whether they work or not, are inactive. So they cannot be held reponsible for killing anyone.

They most certainly can and, barring any human negligence, would be held responsible.

Quote:
I bet you think that guns are responsible for killing people too.

There's no need to cast aspersions Rufio, this is only a discussion. Anyway you would lose that bet.
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dlowan

1
Mon 23 Feb, 2004 10:26 pm
"OK, granted. Would you concede that freezing in terror when confronted with this situation, as you and Heevan have both alluded to, would constitute inaction? Or would you say that the person involved has "chosen" to freeze and do nothing?"

Ah - I am glad that is granted. I wil pursue this later.

Re the freezing - it would constitute inaction - but not, generally, chosen inaction - ie freezing in such situations is, I believe, a deeply inbuilt human reaction to great stress and fear - as such I would regard the driver as much less culpable for freezing, than for choosing not to act - if we assume swerving is the correct action. The suffering would be the same, though.
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Craven de Kere

1
Mon 23 Feb, 2004 10:32 pm
Quote:
I meant to confer the straightforwardness I saw in what I consider an impossibly straightforward situation.

I don't think this situation is straightforward at all.

You seem to, just to a different conclusion.

Quote:
There is no "right", "simple" or "good" path for Edward to choose here. The only thing he can moderate is his level of PERSONAL resposibility.

Which case is "better" for Edward?

"Better" is relative. Personally I don't think he's an island with no social responsibility.

Personally I think choosing to act to minimize the harm of the situation is "better" for Edward.

I don't really buy the culpability arguments.
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joefromchicago

1
Mon 23 Feb, 2004 10:42 pm
Craven de Kere wrote:
Unless the evidence proves the conclusion it's inclusion is on subjective terms and is an ipse dixit.

This statement makes no sense, but then that's to be expected. Craven, I get the sense that you'd call anything an ipse dixit as long as it was subject to dispute. I suppose that's one way to look at things, but then that would mean, for instance, that Kant's categorical imperative, Newton's theory of gravity, Smith's theory of supply and demand, and Craven's personal preference are all logically equivalent "sez me's." That is something I cannot accept.

Craven de Kere wrote:
sez you.

Yep, sez me.
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joefromchicago

1
Mon 23 Feb, 2004 10:46 pm
OCCOM BILL wrote:
Joe, saving the 5 would make me feel the most "good" and should therefore be acceptable per your own examples above. That is what you come too if you break down my lesser of two evils statement.

Surely that cannot be an acceptable rationale for turning the trolley. After all, it would also justify Edward if he "felt the most good" by running over as many people as possible. Or could we, in that case, nevertheless condemn Edward for having the "wrong" feeling for "good?"
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joefromchicago

1
Mon 23 Feb, 2004 10:53 pm
dlowan: Actually, "freezing in terror" may be the only course which would subject Edward to condemnation. After all, Edward is a professional trolley driver, and he is expected not to freeze in terror in cases where he is to exercise his professional skills. "Freezing," in this situation, might be a failure to meet the standards of an average trolley driver faced with this scenario; in other words, it would be negligent for Edward to "freeze in terror."
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OCCOM BILL

1
Mon 23 Feb, 2004 11:15 pm
Impressive Joe,
But, as usual, you have out done yourself.

joefromchicago wrote:
OCCOM BILL wrote:
I would swerve and hit the lone human, reflexively, as it would be the lesser of two evils (in my mind).

Why would it be "the lesser of two evils?"

joefromchicago wrote:
OCCOM BILL wrote:
Joe, saving the 5 would make me feel the most "good" and should therefore be acceptable per your own examples above. That is what you come too if you break down my lesser of two evils statement.

Surely that cannot be an acceptable rationale for turning the trolley. After all, it would also justify Edward if he "felt the most good" by running over as many people as possible. Or could we, in that case, nevertheless condemn Edward for having the "wrong" feeling for "good?"

"Saving the five would be the lesser of two evils."
Evil is bad, which is, of course, the opposite of good.
Less evil=more good
More good=
joefromchicago wrote:
To put it into more common utilitarian terms, we can say that a person should act to produce the most good for the most people. And, for utilitarians, "good" is typically defined as some variation on "pleasure" (Craven's version, then, merely presents the traditional utilitarian calculus in negative terms). Now, given that pleasure and good are equated, the obvious question for the utilitarian is: why is pleasure good? A utilitarian of Craven's ilk would respond: because I say so. And that would be an ipse dixit.
But a utilitarian with a more fully formed belief system would be no more satisfied with a "sez me" than anyone else. Rather, the utilitarian would say that there is overwhelming evidence that pleasure is good (e.g. people tend to act in ways to maximize pleasure). I suppose the thorough-going skeptic would say that such evidence is yet another "sez me," but most, I think, would at least accept the evidence (if not the conclusions drawn therefrom) as something other than an ipse dixit.
Does that suffice?
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1
Mon 23 Feb, 2004 11:22 pm
dlowan wrote:
Re the freezing - it would constitute inaction - but not, generally, chosen inaction - ie freezing in such situations is, I believe, a deeply inbuilt human reaction to great stress and fear

dlowan wrote:
Ethically, if there IS a possible choice to be made, then "not" making it is choosing one or the other option. One is actively choosing not to choose - and this action leads to an outcome.

Which is it? If your answer is both then how do you tell the difference?

dlowan wrote:
as such I would regard the driver as much less culpable for freezing, than for choosing not to act

Assuming Edward didn't want to tell you, how would you know which was the case. If you can't then what is the difference?

dlowan wrote:
if we assume swerving is the correct action. The suffering would be the same, though.

That is your assumption not mine.
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Craven de Kere

1
Mon 23 Feb, 2004 11:23 pm
joefromchicago wrote:

This statement makes no sense, but then that's to be expected.

Makes sense to me. <shrugs>

I'll translate it for ya.

Unless the support for the argument is definitive proof its use is based on a subjective evaluation, simply delaying the "sez me".

Quote:
Craven, I get the sense that you'd call anything an ipse dixit as long as it was subject to dispute. I suppose that's one way to look at things, but then that would mean, for instance, that Kant's categorical imperative, Newton's theory of gravity, Smith's theory of supply and demand, and Craven's personal preference are all logically equivalent "sez me's." That is something I cannot accept.

Joe,

Calling something by the same name does not mean they are equivalent.

Do you also assert equivalence between all who can be called "human"?

Are all cars equal just because they can all be called automobiles?

IMO, this logic is what doesn't make sense Joe. Sharing a classification does not automatically translate into equivalence on any terms.
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rufio

1
Tue 24 Feb, 2004 03:16 am
"They most certainly can and, barring any human negligence, would be held responsible."

Sure. But there was human negligence, and there would be no matter who ends up getting killed.

"Anyway you would lose that bet."

Then how can brakes kill people but not guns? I mean, barring any human negligence, a gun would be responsible for killing someone too.
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dlowan

1
Tue 24 Feb, 2004 06:06 am
"dlowan wrote:
Ethically, if there IS a possible choice to be made, then "not" making it is choosing one or the other option. One is actively choosing not to choose - and this action leads to an outcome.

Which is it? If your answer is both then how do you tell the difference? "

Huh? Which is what? This is a play on words - choosing not to choose - a sort of paradox. I enjoy playing with words, and this was a most irresistible toy! Clearly I am arguing that APPARENTLY choosing not to choose is, in fact, a choice - therefore that one has not not chosen, but has chosen. The language makes it hard to say, but I think the meaning is clear!

Perhaps it is easier if I say that, in a situation where making a choice between two courses of action is possible, then the decision not to choose is, in effect, an action in itself. This action is probably only important where there are very different consequences depending upon which event takes place.

"dlowan wrote:
as such I would regard the driver as much less culpable for freezing, than for choosing not to act

Assuming Edward didn't want to tell you, how would you know which was the case. If you can't then what is the difference?"

Huh? Edward would know. If I were in Edward's place, then I would know.

Do you regard this knowledge as meaningless? It certainly would not be to me if I were Edward. Actually, I would probably feel as bad about freezing, personally, as about choosing to kill five people as opposed to one. Like I said, there is no way to feel good in this situation.

Actually, the whole freezing thing seems to me to be a red herring. It had no place in the scenario as originally set out - we could argue about freezing until the cows come home, making up all different sorts of freezing and arguing about their degrees of rigidity. The situation being discussed assumes that Edward CAN make a decision and is able to carry it out.

"dlowan wrote:
if we assume swerving is the correct action. The suffering would be the same, though.

That is your assumption not mine."

Indeed. It was an assumption made in order to make clearer the particular issue being discussed - clearing the brush for a moment, if you will.
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dlowan

1
Tue 24 Feb, 2004 06:15 am
To anyone else feeling frustrated by not knowing what an ipse dixit is, here it is: (Ok, I admit it, I'm functionally illiterate!)

ip?se dix?it

Pronunciation: (ip'se dik'sit; Eng. ip'sE dik'sit), [key] Latin.
1. he himself said it.
2. an assertion without proof.

Damn near found out what an apse dixie is, too - but, after pretending the thing existed, the dictionary broke my heart by showing that they were two unconnected things....
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joefromchicago

1
Tue 24 Feb, 2004 09:28 am
Craven de Kere wrote:
Unless the support for the argument is definitive proof its use is based on a subjective evaluation, simply delaying the "sez me".

Yes, but then what constitutes "definitive proof?" According to your position, Craven, it would simply be another "sez me." To accept your conclusion would mean that there is no end to the ipse dixits: it's an infinite regress toward nothing.

Craven de Kere wrote:
Calling something by the same name does not mean they are equivalent.

No, but, as I specifically pointed out, all ipse dixits are logically equivalent, in that they are all logically vacuous. And your position, Craven, leads ineluctably to everything being an ipse dixit. As I said before, that is a position I cannot accept.

I am, however, willing to let this diversion go. We obviously have different opinions on this subject, but it is largely immaterial to the topic at hand. At the very least, however, we've taught dlowan a new phrase, so it hasn't been totally in vain.
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gustavratzenhofer

1
Tue 24 Feb, 2004 09:30 am
Hey, Joe, I'm curious about something.

Where ya from?
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joefromchicago

1
Tue 24 Feb, 2004 09:33 am
OCCOM BILL wrote:
Does that suffice?

So are you saying that you're a utilitarian, Bill?

And just out of curiousity, how would Ayn Rand approach this scenario?
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OCCOM BILL

1
Tue 24 Feb, 2004 09:37 am
Ayn Rand would likely save the five, relying on common sense... and she wouldn't give a rat's ass what anyone else thought.(though she might spend 50 pages explaining why she felt no need to explain :wink: )

edit=(in parenthesis)
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joefromchicago

1
Tue 24 Feb, 2004 09:42 am
gustavratzenhofer wrote:
Hey, Joe, I'm curious about something.

Where ya from?

Chicago.

Can't you tell by the accent?
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Craven de Kere

1
Tue 24 Feb, 2004 12:14 pm
joefromchicago wrote:

Yes, but then what constitutes "definitive proof?" According to your position, Craven, it would simply be another "sez me."

Joe, I've written it twice and am confounded that you say so.

No, if it were definitive proof it would not have any elements of a "sez me".

Quote:
To accept your conclusion would mean that there is no end to the ipse dixits: it's an infinite regress toward nothing.

And? You prefer to conjure certainty where there is none? Or call it (uncertainty) by another name?

Quote:
No, but, as I specifically pointed out, all ipse dixits are logically equivalent, in that they are all logically vacuous.

Sez you. Not all ipse dixits are created equal. I disagree with your ipse dixit to the effect that ipse dixits are all logically vacous.

Quote:
And your position, Craven, leads ineluctably to everything being an ipse dixit. As I said before, that is a position I cannot accept.

I'm willing to live with that. <shrugs>

Ultimately it's just a difference between the regard one has for ipse dixits as well as the variance we are willing to accept in its definition.

Thing is, an ipse dixit is only created by disagreement. Most of the time it is a "sez we" at some point. You touched on this earlier about skepticism. All it takes is for one to doubt.

The only way to eliminate an ipse dixit is to proove it or to get the other guy to agree and sign on to a "sez we".
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Letty

1
Tue 24 Feb, 2004 02:46 pm
Have to smile at the way deb says"dlowan wrote"...and of course Craven got his bit in about Atlas by shrugging.

Let's just assume that Edward fell asleep at the wheel.
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