Struggle

A question of morality

I'll explain the context of this later, including where I found these questions. For now, just take a gander at the poll.



Poll #264460 Slight Morality Quiz

The railroad trolley you're riding on will kill five railroad workers unless you flip a switch. That will send the trolley down another track and only kill one worker.

Flip the switch and kill one worker.
24(82.8%)
Don't flip the switch and allow five workers to die.
5(17.2%)

You see a railroad trolley bearing down on five unsuspecting workers. If you do nothing, they will die. There is a huge, fat many standing next to you. If you push him in front of the trolley he will die, but the five will live.

Push the man and kill him.
16(55.2%)
Don't push the man and allow the five to die.
13(44.8%)
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That is an interesting poll. I will be looking for the explaination later. I am very curious what this is all about.
I read that article.

I have answers that aren't allowed in the poll, but would give away the matter discussed in the article, so I'll refrain from explaining them here at this time.
Thanks, I appreciate that. I would encourage everyone to discuss the implications of the poll, so long as they don't reference the article. This is an interesting moral conundrum.
The results thus far are what I would expect them to be. It's much easier to flip a switch than to push another human. The former is remote and mechanical, the latter is highly personal. Similarly, more murders are committed with a weapon than by hand.
ah, that's a good point.

with two choices of two scenarios where at least one life is endangered in both, i think it becomes an easier decision...
I don't think I could willfully cause the death of any person (except myself, as I have chronic Messiah Complex), even to spare a greater number of other lives. Is that me casting lots to Fate, which I don't believe in? I don't know. But I don't think I have the moral authority to justify taking someone's life (other than my own) to save others. Well, unless that person is Hitler. Or some other agent of evil. But then how do i justify that? ow my head. Thanks you bastard.
Interesting answers. In essence, flipping the switch is as much a willful act as pushing the man. The result is the same. I voted to do both (flip the switch and push the man) but paused on the second one...the actual physical contact with the person makes the act seem much more personal.

I'm anxious to read the article.
I figured I wouldn't push the fat man in case I wouldn't be able to push him hard enough to move him. ;)

J/K ... I think this has to do with willful acts AND physical or proximate contact with the ramifications of one's actions.

In the first one, I flipped the switch. It was a willful act that caused the death of one man I couldn't see, but it also saved the lives of five men I also couldn't see.

In the second one, I didn't push the man. My inaction killed five men I couldn't see, but somehow between the two alternatives I would be less comfortable with having caused the death of a man I could see, or touch, or otherwise directly experience. His being fat actually had nothing to do with it.
It's also interesting from a political standpoint. Conflict in other countries generally raises the "we have a responsibility to assist with xyz" or the "who are we to inflict our culture's beliefs on xyz" arguments.

Depending on an individual's belief system, standing back and not choosing to kill one person in this example for the good of the other five can be seen as a) not causing a death or b) killing five people because you had the power to do something to prevent their deaths.
That's a very interesting observation. It's one that's covered in the article previously alluded to and has a lot to bear on how one might respond to these sorts of problems.

I used to believe that moral quandaries are usually created via a previously immoral action on someone's part. I now realize that this was very simplistic and due, in part, to a desire to transfer blame. Taking away the blame transfer changes things. For example, I heard versions of this that had a person captured by a guerrilla commander who ordered that person to kill one person or the guerrillas would kill them all. In philosophy classes, many (including myself) felt that we were absolved of moral responsibility regardless of our choice of action because we could blame someone else. Now, there's no one else to blame.
I'm having flashbacks to the ridiculous no-win choices that took up the bulk of my Torts classes. Meanie.
For me, it's less about the intimacy of pushing a man versus flipping a switch and more about damage control and personal responsibility. I'll flip a switch to save four lives and lose 1, but I will not actively conspire to end a life just to thwart the design of fate.
I think that if we didn't take the time to reflect, the actions people take would be even more polarized than the actions indicated by the quiz. Still, I think this is an issue where rationalizing the answer may not work terribly well.

Do I get to name the one?

Do you get to name the one what? I'm not sure what you mean.
Random
Hi, was reading my friendsfriends list and had to take your poll..

I selected to let everyone die as I believe we all have free will..it is not up to me to determine if one life is worth more or less than any other.
Re: Random
Not a problem. That's why the poll is open to all.

Incidentally, I'm leaning against the "let everyone die" choices. If this stuff interests you, see some of the new commentary in this thread.
Degrees of Mechanical Removal
These days most of us work with machines enough that it is second nature to push a button, press a pedal, or pull a lever and observe the result. Cars, elevators, computers, all of these are now in the common physical vocabulary.

Less so, to willfully push a person into physical danger with one's bare hands. I answered that I would flip the switch in the first question, but not push the man in the second question; This is probably pretty common, as it is more inhibitive to most people I think to deliberately kill a person to a desired effect rather than to alter a mechanical process that you know will result in someone dying.

This seems to produce a contradiction between actions and outcomes, as each decision can be reduced to sacrificing the one for the many, but the key difference I think is that there is no direct sense of personal responsibility when you perform work through a mechanical process versus with your own two hands. Especially in this example, as the mechanical process itself is not of your doing, and the best you can do is modify its inclination. Perhaps that's an unintended red herring, but it would have been a considerably different question if pressing the switch actually started the trolley in motion from a resting state.
I had to kill the five in both cases....it's not my place to make a decision like that, so I just pretend I'm not involved at all.

It is your place
Ah - but if you are present at the scene, then it is your responsibility to make a decision if no one else is able to (i.e. aware of the options). Doing nothing and pretening not to know anything is worse than making the wrong decision.
At first glance it looks like you're distinguishing between whether it matters how direct ones connection is with the deaths.

I spent 7 years in the Army Reserves, the bulk of that time as the Nuke/Bio/Chem defense sergeant. We always had to close out the chemical suit training by selecting one mission non-critical guy as a guinea pig for removing his mask first, and I usually had to pick that guy.

Even though we rarely used riot control gas, and it was mostly just going thru the motions to provide a realistic-ending to our training, you learned early on that they weren't kidding about getting his weapon away from him in some sneaky fashion prior to ordering him to de-mask; people got furious when they were selected as our canary in the goldmine.
I hate these either/or type thought experiments. How often in life are we really put in situations where those are the only two possibilities? Why is it not an option just to alert the unsuspecting victims so they can get themselves safely out of the way?
This is an attempt to make a psychological or sociological point, but it seems to rely an unreasonable degree of abstraction from most realistic situations... don't you think?
To me, this isn't one of those "do you want to burn to death or freeze to death" questions. In this case, people often choose to let one person die in the first example and to let five people die in the second, despite the relatively similarity of situations. The question, therefore, is not who someone chooses to let die, but why that person makes a decisions that, on the surface, seems to contradictory.

Why will we pull the switch but not push the man, if the ends are the same? Even if those are not your personal choices, you can see from the poll results that many people have made this choice.

It's also interesting to note that, as of this writing, of the four people who voted to not pull the switch, not one voted to push the man. Of the people who would pull the switch, we have 10 voting to push the man and 7 voting not to. Those who vote not to do anything are consistent (with an admittedly small sample), but those who vote to do something in one case are not as likely to be consistent. What is the distinguishing feature in these cases?