A Look at the Trolley Problem

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Amperage
 
Reply Thu 14 Jan, 2010 03:33 pm
@Pyrrho,
Pyrrho;119996 wrote:
No, though one could be, given what I have said so far in this thread. In the case of the hypothetical hijacker, one is killing him not as punishment, but in order to prevent him from succeeding in what he is doing.





Are you serious? When you see the person hijacking the plane, you decide he is not doing what he ought to be doing. This is very different from the person who is tied to the tracks in the first version of the trolley problem, as he or she isn't doing anything, and is simply an innocent victim.

You don't seriously believe that people who do bad things deserve the exact same treatment as people who do not, do you? They may start with the same basic rights before they do anything bad, but they can forfeit at least some of their rights by their bad actions. Thus, if I am out and about, and I meet a stranger, who merely passes by, I treat that person differently from the one who attacks me or someone else. There is nothing inconsistent in saying that people who do bad things do not deserve to have the exact same treatment as other people who do not.





I wouldn't use the death penalty, but the way someone would decide that would be based upon various considerations, such as the kind of crime the individual in question has committed. I don't know anyone who advocates the death penalty for people they judge to be innocent of wrongdoing.





I did not say that everyone had such an instinct, and it certainly is not a fully formed one in many people, if it is there at all. And given the actual responses that most people give to the various versions of the trolley problem, I think it is pretty clear that most people are not consistently following any particular method of reasoning.





Yes. Then we would not be dealing with an innocent person, we would be dealing with someone who is setting up the situation.

But even in this case, if there was another option, such as waving for the driver of the trolley to stop (or untying the five people, or calling the police when the person starts tying people up, etc.), I would do so (possibly after flipping the switch, just in case it does not stop). But if the person who set it up survived, I think some jail time and/or time in a mental institution would be in order.
I'm with you man. I think you gave a compelling argument for why you wouldn't flip the switch, I just think that there are many more factors that go into the situation beyond just being responsible for killing an innocent person. Consider this: If I just arbitrarily said that I have 6 innocent people in front of me and either 5 get killed or only 1 gets killed but either way people are dying, the choice is yours? Why would anyone say 5?
 
Jebediah
 
Reply Thu 14 Jan, 2010 03:51 pm
@Pyrrho,
Pyrrho;119979 wrote:
I don't think it is accurate to call the one method "rational" and the other "emotional" (the one approach appears to be motivated by the principle that we should always do whatever saves the greatest number of people, and the other approach appears to be motivated by the principle that we should never intentionally kill an innocent person), but I don't think it is essential to go into that too much for what I want to say. However, I am making this disclaimer because I do not want anyone to suppose that I endorse those labels for the two approaches.


From the joshua greene webpage:

Quote:
On the one hand, there is a system that tends to think about both of these problems in utilitarian terms: Better to save as many lives as possible. The operations of this system are more controlled, perhaps more reasoned, and tend to be relatively unemotional. This system appears to depend on the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain associated with "cognitive control" and reasoning.

On the other hand, there is a different neural system that responds very differently to these two dilemmas. This system typically responds with a relatively strong, negative emotional response to the action in the footbridge dilemma, but not to the action in the switch dilemma. When this more emotional system is engaged, its responses tend to dominate people's judgments, explaining why people tend to make utilitarian judgments in response to the switch dilemma, but not in response to the footbridge dilemma.
Although as you mention, if one used different reasoning, then this part of the brain would come to a different conclusion. However, when they decide to not save the five it is an emotional response not a rational one. They are not acting on the principle "it is wrong to kill an innocent person to save others", in fact they disagree with that principle.
Pyrrho wrote:

If we consider the "rational" approach to the original Trolley Problem, where one chooses to flip a switch and kill one to save five, there needs to be some justification for that. I mean, of course, that one must first value life for the question to even be important.
The point of this is, of course, that in order for someone to seriously take a position one way or another, one must care about the things in question.
Yes, and this is where I find your position to be radical. If you must care about life, how can you not care about a million lives more than you care about one life? They are all innocent.

Pyrrho wrote:
Now, going back to the trolley example, what is it that makes the lives important? It is only from looking at the matter from an "emotional" perspective that makes the decision important in the first place. If the killing of innocent people is not a problem, then there is no reason to bother flipping the switch. The root, if you will, of the whole concern is "emotional", and so it is primary, not the so-called "rational" approach.
Agreed. But we have to subject the emotional to the rational. Otherwise what do you say to people who have an emotional position on stem cell research or an unemotional one on the plight of other races because they see them as less than human?


Pyrrho wrote:
If it is okay to merely use people as a means only, without treating them as ends in themselves, then what is the problem with letting vast numbers of them die? How are they different from the amoebas? If it is wrong to use people as a means only, then it is wrong to flip the switch because that is using the one person as a means to save the others, and not treating that person as an end in him or her self.
You're making this too "either or".


Pyrrho wrote:
Let me add that my biggest concern is that people make some effort to be consistent, whatever their ideas are on morality. If we should always do whatever saves the greatest number of people, then we should pull the lever in the one case, push the fat person in the version with him on the bridge, and harvest the organs to save others. If we should never intentionally kill an innocent person, then we should not pull the lever, we should not push the fat person, and we should not harvest the organs. However, what most people say is not consistent with either of these two options, so upon what basis are people making these ethical decisions? And what should be the basis for their decisions?
I think with this example, when asked why it is right to flip the switch people say "because it saves the greater number of people". And then when the organ donor problem is posed, they appear to believe differently, but really the only problem is that they made a too general rule as an explanation in the first place. Which is exactly what you are doing with the "wrong to kill an innocent person to save millions" rule.

I don't agree that the inconsistency is a problem, at least not a real one. The fact that we have moral emotions that can overpower rationality is the reason we have morals at all. Our set of moral emotions leads us to be inconsistent. But it's a net positive. Obviously we aren't ideally made.


Pyrrho wrote:
I don't think it is right to kill the baby. If you are asking, would I prosecute the person for murder afterwards, that is a very different question from asking whether it was the right choice or not. Many times, it is not a good idea to prosecute someone for doing something that is not right.
This is part of the source of the inconsistency I think. In the trolley example, the rational moral reasoning lines up with our impression of what a "good" person would do. In the organ donor problem, we know that a "good" person could not bring themselves to grab an innocent and remove their organs. You would have to be amoral (or have your family members the ones who need saving). So there's an obvious conflict.
 
Jebediah
 
Reply Fri 15 Jan, 2010 01:58 am
@Jebediah,
I have here another dilemma which I would like you to consider:

Quote:
"A brain in a vat is at the wheel of a runaway trolley. There are only two options that the brain can take: the right side of the fork in the track or the left side of the fork. There is no way in sight of derailing or stopping the trolley and the brain is aware of this, for the brain knows trolleys. The brain is causally hooked up to the trolley such that the brain can determine the course which the trolley will take.

On the right side of the track there is a single railroad worker, Jones, who will definitely be killed if the brain steers the trolley to the right. If the railman on the right lives, he will go on to kill five men for the sake of killing them, but in doing so will inadvertently save the lives of thirty orphans (one of the five men he will kill is planning to destroy a bridge that the orphan's bus will be crossing later that night). One of the orphans that will be killed would have grown up to become a tyrant who would make good utilitarian men do bad things. Another of the orphans would grow up to become G.E.M. Anscombe, while a third would invent the pop-top can.

If the brain in the vat chooses the left side of the track, the trolley will definitely hit and kill a railman on the left side of the track, "Leftie" and will hit and destroy ten beating hearts on the track that could (and would) have been transplanted into ten patients in the local hospital that will die without donor hearts. These are the only hearts available, and the brain is aware of this, for the brain knows hearts. If the railman on the left side of the track lives, he too will kill five men, in fact the same five that the railman on the right would kill. However, "Leftie" will kill the five as an unintended consequence of saving ten men: he will inadvertently kill the five men rushing the ten hearts to the local hospital for transplantation. A further result of "Leftie's" act would be that the busload of orphans will be spared. Among the five men killed by "Leftie" are both the man responsible for putting the brain at the controls of the trolley, and the author of this example. If the ten hearts and "Leftie" are killed by the trolley, the ten prospective heart-transplant patients will die and their kidneys will be used to save the lives of twenty kidney-transplant patients, one of whom will grow up to cure cancer, and one of whom will grow up to be Hitler. There are other kidneys and dialysis machines available, however the brain does not know kidneys, and this is not a factor.

Assume that the brain's choice, whatever it turns out to be, will serve as an example to other brains-in-vats and so the effects of his decision will be amplified. Also assume that if the brain chooses the right side of the fork, an unjust war free of war crimes will ensue, while if the brain chooses the left fork, a just war fraught with war crimes will result. Furthermore, there is an intermittently active Cartesian demon deceiving the brain in such a manner that the brain is never sure if it is being deceived."
 
Pyrrho
 
Reply Fri 15 Jan, 2010 12:23 pm
@Amperage,
Amperage;119999 wrote:
I'm with you man. I think you gave a compelling argument for why you wouldn't flip the switch, I just think that there are many more factors that go into the situation beyond just being responsible for killing an innocent person. Consider this: If I just arbitrarily said that I have 6 innocent people in front of me and either 5 get killed or only 1 gets killed but either way people are dying, the choice is yours? Why would anyone say 5?


What happens if I say nothing?

One of the key issues in the Trolley Problem is that one of the possibilities is what happens if you do nothing, or take too long to decide whether you should act or not. That possibility is the one where you are not actively killing anyone.

So, if we reversed the people on the original Trolley Problem, and said that there is one person tied to the tracks in front of the trolley, but one can save that person's life by switching the trolley onto the side line, where there are five people tied to the track, using my approach, one ought not murder the five people, so one does not switch the track. There is no preference for having more people die, when one follows a principle that one ought not to intentionally murder any innocent people.

---------- Post added 01-15-2010 at 01:40 PM ----------

Jebediah;120003 wrote:
...
Although as you mention, if one used different reasoning, then this part of the brain would come to a different conclusion. However, when they decide to not save the five it is an emotional response not a rational one. They are not acting on the principle "it is wrong to kill an innocent person to save others", in fact they disagree with that principle.



Curiously, though, they only tend to disagree with the principle on the original version of the Trolley Problem, where they throw the switch, but they seem to agree with the principle in the other versions (e.g., pushing fat man off bridge, organ donor). And that means, unless there is some hidden principle that no one has ever articulated, they are inconsistent and irrational. For it to actually be rational, they would have to be aware of this unnamed principle, so they should be able to tell us what it is. Since they don't, the only reasonable conclusion is that they are not aware of any such principle, and are in fact inconsistent and irrational.


Jebediah;120003 wrote:
Yes, and this is where I find your position to be radical. If you must care about life, how can you not care about a million lives more than you care about one life? They are all innocent.



It is not a question of caring for one person more than for many; it is a question of whether or not it is okay to murder an innocent person. As I said to Amperage above, if we reversed the people on the original Trolley Problem, and said that there is one person tied to the tracks in front of the trolley, but one can save that person's life by switching the trolley onto the side line, where there are five people tied to the track, using my approach, one ought not murder the five people, so one does not switch the track. There is no preference for having more people die, when one follows a principle that one ought not to intentionally murder any innocent people.


Jebediah;120003 wrote:
Agreed. But we have to subject the emotional to the rational. Otherwise what do you say to people who have an emotional position on stem cell research or an unemotional one on the plight of other races because they see them as less than human?



The solution, insofar as there is one, is to discuss what it is to be human (or, to use a more philosophical sort of term, what it takes to be a "person") and to come to terms with that. As long as one is convinced that one thing is a person and the other is not, and that persons have rights that other things do not, then the one is likely to treat the two things differently.


Jebediah;120003 wrote:
...

I think with this example, when asked why it is right to flip the switch people say "because it saves the greater number of people". And then when the organ donor problem is posed, they appear to believe differently, but really the only problem is that they made a too general rule as an explanation in the first place. Which is exactly what you are doing with the "wrong to kill an innocent person to save millions" rule.

I don't agree that the inconsistency is a problem, at least not a real one. The fact that we have moral emotions that can overpower rationality is the reason we have morals at all. Our set of moral emotions leads us to be inconsistent. But it's a net positive. Obviously we aren't ideally made.



How is it that you come to the conclusion that it is a net positive? Is it simply that you have decided that the answers coincide with your own feelings, and therefore it is right?


Jebediah;120003 wrote:
This is part of the source of the inconsistency I think. In the trolley example, the rational moral reasoning lines up with our impression of what a "good" person would do. In the organ donor problem, we know that a "good" person could not bring themselves to grab an innocent and remove their organs. You would have to be amoral (or have your family members the ones who need saving). So there's an obvious conflict.



It may line up with your impression of what a good person would do, but that is no proof of anything. Do you seriously think that we are best off if people do not consider why they feel the way that they feel, and do not try to correct any errors?
 
Jebediah
 
Reply Fri 15 Jan, 2010 02:03 pm
@Pyrrho,
Pyrrho;120183 wrote:
What happens if I say nothing?

One of the key issues in the Trolley Problem is that one of the possibilities is what happens if you do nothing, or take too long to decide whether you should act or not. That possibility is the one where you are not actively killing anyone.


Let's say you had an alternate situation where instead of choosing between killing, you had to choose between saving 5 and saving one. There would be immoral to save the 1 at the expense of the 5, yes? So if you agree to the rule of "saving more lives" why do you put the "ought not to intentionally murder" rule ahead of it?


Quote:

Curiously, though, they only tend to disagree with the principle on the original version of the Trolley Problem, where they throw the switch, but they seem to agree with the principle in the other versions (e.g., pushing fat man off bridge, organ donor). And that means, unless there is some hidden principle that no one has ever articulated, they are inconsistent and irrational. For it to actually be rational, they would have to be aware of this unnamed principle, so they should be able to tell us what it is. Since they don't, the only reasonable conclusion is that they are not aware of any such principle, and are in fact inconsistent and irrational.
But according to the psych guy you linked to, they are being irrational when they follow your rule of "never kill an innocent". According to him, you are being irrational and extending the irrationality to situations where most people are rational, and that is the source of your consistency. Consistency is not a quality when what you are being consistent about is not a positive thing.



Quote:
It is not a question of caring for one person more than for many; it is a question of whether or not it is okay to murder an innocent person.
No, it's a question of it whether or not it is ok to allow billions of people to die when it is in your power to prevent their deaths.




Quote:
How is it that you come to the conclusion that it is a net positive? Is it simply that you have decided that the answers coincide with your own feelings, and therefore it is right?
If you observe humanity, we do not follow rules just because they are rational. We are not really rational beings, reason does not hold much sway over us. We follow moral rules for emotional reasons. Without empathy, it would be a world of sociopaths.




Quote:
It may line up with your impression of what a good person would do, but that is no proof of anything. Do you seriously think that we are best off if people do not consider why they feel the way that they feel, and do not try to correct any errors?
Well, no, since I said the opposite earlier.
 
deepthot
 
Reply Fri 15 Jan, 2010 05:56 pm
@Amperage,
TROLLEYOLOGY REVISITED


Humans are extremely biased, but not aware that they are. We perfer helping friends and family rather than strangers. We prefer our own preconceptions over evidence to the contrary. We prefer generalizations and categorizations rather than individual exceptions. Ethical dilemmas help to expose these biases and turn our biases against us by showing it to be inconsistent or irrational.

I believe there is a chance to save a life every single moment and the fact that we are unaware of this possibility shows how strong the bias is -- especially in wealthy, confortable countries.



It is a fact that people feel that their loved ones' lives are more important, more valuable, than a stranger's life; and our ethical system must take that into account. They judge, and will continue to judge, that in these circumstances one life is worth many. What if we generalized this principle for purposes of constructing a good ethical theory?

What if we operated in keeping with the premiss that "one person is to be treasured as much as a billion persons"? What kind of world would we have? Would we then choose to wilfully kill a person in the name of any good cause, such as to save more? And how do we ever know we really will save more?

What if one of the individuals that we save is a serial killer who commits monstrous crimes, and the one we killed was an innocent who everyone would describe as 'a good person.'? What if you had good reason to believe the one we sacrificed (by switching the onrushing trolley into his path) would have gone on to invent something that would have made life more comfortable for millions, say, a superior design for a city neighbrohood that enhanced moral growth and enabled the people to flourish? Would it make any difference in your calculations?

That is why when a pacifist is routinely presented with the pessimistic scenario of a sniper over yonder ready to shoot him -- what would he do? -- it is advisable for him to answer: "I have two other snipers over here, hidden in treetops, and they each have a telescopic rifle with rubber bullets, ready to take down your sniper before he even shoots."
------- of course it is all nonsense. These counterfactual hypotheticals are a game people play... They have some value in revealing one's biases but there are enough factual dilemmas in the real world to ponder, and hopefully solve, without our having to make some up. Much philosophical discussion is a pointless exercise in self-confusion. I doubt this Trolley 'mind experiment' is going to clarify many student's thinking; more likely it will just confirm biases they already hold. {I am aware that discussions in philosophy can result in an explicit awareness of our presuppositions, and also can reveal that they may not be factual or may themselves require rational support. Also counterfactual hypotheses sometimes can reveal entailments that we had not realized (ranging f rom unintended consequences to logical absurdities.}


If people are polled currently, many would vote to kill one to save five. Could they be wrong in their beliefs that lead to this conclusion? A majority of people in the West once believed the Earth was flat. Did that make it so? Were they wrong? So let's not get 'hung up' on what people do at present -- as if "50 million Frenchmen" can't be wrong. Let's not speak about how people live now, and what they believe now, as if it's fixed for all time. People can, and do, change their views, learn new values, and as a result behavior changes accordingly.

To play along with The Trolley Dilemma posed in the original post, I would make this observation: If you know pulling the switch will kill one to save five, then you intend to kill one to save five when you pull the switch. This is an intentional transgression because you know it is a crime (by Kant's definition of the term). Wolfman taught us this in earlier threads.

I agree with his stance, which is this: "I do not feel obligated to save any number of people if it entails committing an intentional transgression. The omission is but one link in the chain of causal connection, since, in part, my omission helps to cause the deaths of five people; but it is misleading to say that I am the cause of the deaths.

I would assert that the act of commission is worse than the act of omission in this case."


He is right, ethically-speaking. What he argues reflects what he learned from studying Immanuel Kant, METAPHYSICS OF MORALS. (MM), also known as the Grundlagen.
This is not mere opinion; Kant was onto something here that is really fundamental. The Unified Theory of Ethics shows that it is wrong to use a person as a thing, or as a number. To do so is the commission of an Ethical Fallacy. To deliberately kill a person is to commit an evil: it is the denigration or disvaluation of a person. Whether it is done by a system, by a thing, or by another person, it is still wrong.

Kant is also doing some sharp and persuasive reasoning whey he, in that same (MM) essay, asks: Why should we want to act morally? That is, why should we will in a rationally consistent manner? Why can one not make an exception of oneself and one's case? According to the writer on this topic in Wikipedia
 
Robert Gentel
 
Reply Thu 10 Jun, 2010 04:52 pm
@Amperage,
It's interesting to read this same discussion from the Philforum group. Here is an able2know thread about the Trolley Problem.
 
 

 
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