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# The Trolley Problem

JLNobody

1
Fri 20 Feb, 2004 11:30 am
truth

Joe, if a man should have an urge to murder someone, such as did Dostoyevski's Roskolnikov, and was confronted with Edward's "dilemma", he would have been given the opportunity to murder a single individual (intentionally) and be socially praised for saving the lives of five people.
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joefromchicago

1
Fri 20 Feb, 2004 11:34 am
Craven de Kere wrote:
Joe,

There are things that are not moral obligations but still the better choice than an alternative.

"Better" in what sense?
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Craven de Kere

1
Fri 20 Feb, 2004 11:38 am
Joe,

You can't forsee a situation in which there's a preferable course of action for an individual that is not a moral obligation?

Watch:

Person A meets hot naked model B.

Person A is faced with the choice of sleeping with hot naked model B or not.

Person A finds the first option to be preferrable to the second.

This is not a moral obligation, but it's a "better" one by person A's estimation.
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joefromchicago

1
Fri 20 Feb, 2004 11:39 am
Heeven wrote:
then Edward should throw himself off the trolley to avoid his own injury or death.

That would have no effect on the trolley. It would still go forward on its deadly path.

Heeven wrote:
We can argue he should do this or do that, but if the options are crossed off the list one-by-one what you are really asking is ... is it right to let one person die or five people die when only those two options are allowed.

Yes, that's pretty much the whole point of this exercise.

Heeven wrote:
I found The Book of Questions asks similar questions to what you are trying to get at here.

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joefromchicago

1
Fri 20 Feb, 2004 11:48 am
Craven de Kere wrote:
Joe,

You can't forsee a situation in which there's a preferable course of action for an individual that is not a moral obligation?

Certainly. But then it has to be "better" in some other sense. For instance, if I am considering the purchase of a product, and brand X is cheaper than brand Y, then my decision to purchase brand X is "better" in terms of being more cost-effective (all other things being equal, paying less is better than paying more). In your example, my decision to sleep with the hot naked model is "better" in terms of some sort of hedonic calculus (all other things being equal, more pleasure is better than less pleasure).

These are manifestly non-moral decisions. And that's fine. I have no problem with non-moral considerations playing a role in the trolley driver's decision. But you can't simply say that his decision to kill one is "better" than killing five without giving some basis for determining why it's better. In other words, if the trolley driver's decision is not based on moral considerations, what is it based upon?
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Craven de Kere

1
Fri 20 Feb, 2004 11:55 am
joefromchicago wrote:
Certainly. But then it has to be "better" in some other sense.

Indeed, and it can be as simple as one of criteria.

Quote:
For instance, if I am considering the purchase of a product, and brand X is cheaper than brand Y, then my decision to purchase brand X is "better" in terms of being more cost-effective (all other things being equal, paying less is better than paying more). In your example, my decision to sleep with the hot naked model is "better" in terms of some sort of hedonic calculus (all other things being equal, more pleasure is better than less pleasure).

This is a good example of other criteria.

Quote:
But you can't simply say that his decision to kill one is "better" than killing five without giving some basis for determining why it's better. In other words, if the trolley driver's decision is not based on moral considerations, what is it based upon?

It's based on my personal criteria. The very basic part is the least suffering for the most people.

There are sub-criteria that preclude comparison to the kill a patient to save five in case you are also wondering about that.
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Heeven

1
Fri 20 Feb, 2004 12:07 pm
With respect to what you are looking for - I have no answer for you, but here is a scenario for you:

You are tied and secured to a bed and an automated machine is strapped to your arm with a hypodermic needle ready to inject you at a moments notice. You have the ability to reach two buttons with your nose and do nothing else. You are told, by a recorded voice, that in one separate room there are 10 people, and in another separate room is one person, all similarly tied up. You must press one of the buttons to decide the fate of each room - the left button operates the hypodermic needles that kills all 10, the right button kills your loved one. You must act because if you do not then all 12 of you will die. What do you do?
The obvious knee-jerk reaction is to press the left button. You don't know these 10 strangers and your emotions race towards your loved-one. But what if further information is provided in that your loved-one is 80 years old and close to death and the 10 strangers are all children. How does that influence your decision?
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joefromchicago

1
Fri 20 Feb, 2004 12:15 pm
Craven de Kere wrote:
It's based on my personal criteria. The very basic part is the least suffering for the most people.

Well now, Craven, I must admit you have totally baffled me with this response. Your criterion of "the least suffering for the most people" looks like a traditional utilitarian approach to ethics, which is most definitely a theory of morality. Really, it could have come straight from the works of Jeremy Bentham or John Stuart Mill.

But if, as you assert, your criterion is not a moral criterion, then how is it justified? After all, you've made "suffering" the key element in this analysis, but if the diminishment of suffering is not a moral consideration, what is it? Is the goal of "less suffering" based on some kind of economic calculus? Some kind of efficiency argument? Perhaps some sort of evolutionary approach? Or is it something else entirely?
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joefromchicago

1
Fri 20 Feb, 2004 12:18 pm
Heeven: Interesting question. But I decline to answer it on this thread, as it would be a distraction from the question I posed initially. If you wish to pose this hypothetical in another thread, I'd be happy to respond.
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Craven de Kere

1
Fri 20 Feb, 2004 12:31 pm
joefromchicago wrote:

Well now, Craven, I must admit you have totally baffled me with this response. Your criterion of "the least suffering for the most people" looks like a traditional utilitarian approach to ethics, which is most definitely a theory of morality. Really, it could have come straight from the works of Jeremy Bentham or John Stuart Mill.

So? I don't think the driver has a moral obligation to act in your scenario.

Quote:
But if, as you assert, your criterion is not a moral criterion, then how is it justified?

Huh? Why does it need to be "justified"?

In the hot naked model example do you think Person A needs "justification"?
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joefromchicago

1
Fri 20 Feb, 2004 01:27 pm
Craven de Kere wrote:
So? I don't think the driver has a moral obligation to act in your scenario.

Yes, you've already said that. But you have suggested that the driver has some kind of obligation to choose, in that you've stated that the "right act" for the driver is to switch the trolley. I'm just trying to ascertain the basis for that choice.

Craven de Kere wrote:
Huh? Why does it need to be "justified"?

In the hot naked model example do you think Person A needs "justification"?

Yes, he definitely does in order to describe the option he chooses as "better" than the option he rejects. Otherwise, there would be no criteria for determining which is "better." If option A is identical to option B, then a person would have no basis for making a choice. In other words, if choosing the model is no different from rejecting her, then there is no reason to judge the former as being "better" than the latter in any meaningful sense of the word. In that event, a random process for deciding, like flipping a coin, would be as justifiable as anything else. If, on the other hand, Person A deems it "better" to choose the hot naked model over anything else, then he must have some basis for saying that his choice was "better" than another possible choice.

And "personal preference" is not enough -- at least not in the trolley problem -- since "personal preference" is little different from a criterion based on a "sez me." Thus, if you have a personal preference for the trolley driver to switch to the right-hand track, there must be some justification for that personal preference. Otherwise, you might as well say: "the driver should switch because I said so."
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Craven de Kere

1
Fri 20 Feb, 2004 01:31 pm
joefromchicago wrote:

But you have suggested that the driver has some kind of obligation to choose, in that you've stated that the "right act" for the driver is to switch the trolley.

Incorrect. I did nothing of the sort.

Quote:
Yes, he definitely does in order to describe the option he chooses as "better" than the option he rejects. Otherwise, there would be no criteria for determining which is "better." If option A is identical to option B, then a person would have no basis for making a choice. In other words, if choosing the model is no different from rejecting her, then there is no reason to judge the former as being "better" than the latter in any meaningful sense of the word. In that event, a random process for deciding, like flipping a coin, would be as justifiable as anything else. If, on the other hand, Person A deems it "better" to choose the hot naked model over anything else, then he must have some basis for saying that his choice was "better" than another possible choice.

And personal criteria is just fine for this.

Quote:
And "personal preference" is not enough -- at least not in the trolley problem

Sez you.

Quote:
-- since "personal preference" is little different from a criterion based on a "sez me."

This is underwhelming.

Yes, personal criteria does tend to be a "sez me".

Watch:

I like strawberry icecream. It's better than chocolate icecream.

If you came to me with the questions about justifications and such I'd be perfectly happy to ignore them and simply say "sez me".

Quote:
Thus, if you have a personal preference for the trolley driver to switch to the right-hand track, there must be some justification for that personal preference. Otherwise, you might as well say: "the driver should switch because I said so."

I have already told you why I have that preference. You are still looking for "justifications" for this preference. <shrugs>
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OCCOM BILL

1
Fri 20 Feb, 2004 01:53 pm
Before Joe starts going off on you about straw men, I'll give him my answer;
I would swerve and hit the lone human, reflexively, as it would be the lesser of two evils (in my mind). And, providing I knew for sure that those were the only two options; I'd never lose a second's sleep over it either. :wink:
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Heeven

1
Fri 20 Feb, 2004 02:05 pm
Yeah but if the lone person was a young woman and the five were elderly men would you change your mind?
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OCCOM BILL

1
Fri 20 Feb, 2004 02:39 pm
Yep... Women and Children first... And sleep just as soundly.
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dlowan

1
Fri 20 Feb, 2004 03:42 pm
"For Adrian, dlowan, and anyone else who thinks that, in this hypothetical, killing one or killing five is morally equivalent: what if Edward the trolley driver was acting intentionally?"

Who says I think killing one or five is morally equivalent? I think the opposite. And I think inaction is wrong.

I would attempt to do the least harm that I could do ie, on the available info, kill the one. Hypothetically. In reality, I'd prolly just close my eyes and freeze....
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Heeven

1
Fri 20 Feb, 2004 03:42 pm
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soserene

1
Fri 20 Feb, 2004 03:50 pm
besides the fact that what heeven said about it being instinct to avoid things directly in front of you..

There is no way that Edward would KNOW that all five passengers would be killed... since in general, the risk of injury is preferred over the surety of death, of course he shouldn't change tracks.
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joefromchicago

1
Fri 20 Feb, 2004 04:47 pm
Craven de Kere wrote:
joefromchicago wrote:

But you have suggested that the driver has some kind of obligation to choose, in that you've stated that the "right act" for the driver is to switch the trolley.

Incorrect. I did nothing of the sort.

Craven, here's what you wrote: "I don't think the driver has a moral obligation to act. But I think that not acting would be the wrong choice. As in, I think the "right" choice is to act" (emphasis added) I leave it to you to explain how, in your previous statement, you "said nothing of the sort."

Craven de Kere wrote:
I have already told you why I have that preference. You are still looking for "justifications" for this preference. <shrugs>

Yes, your preference is for "the least suffering for the most people," and a decision by the trolley driver is justified by reference to that criterion. But then that criterion is, itself, not justified -- or, at least, you refuse to provide any justification for it. It would be somewhat like saying "the driver should make his choice based on what most pleases God," without then explaining what exactly it is that is pleasing to God or why God-pleasing is relevant to the choice to be made.

Now, Craven, if you steadfastly refuse to justify your "least suffering" criterion any further, that's fine. I have no problem with that. Just be aware that, by doing so, your argument ultimately rests on a logically insupportable ipse dixit -- a "sez me."
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joefromchicago

1
Fri 20 Feb, 2004 04:49 pm
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?"
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