AFA Forums

AFA Forums (
-   Ask an atheist (
-   -   Fun with ethics (

His Noodly Appendage 17th February 2009 06:38 PM

Fun with ethics
Let's start off with my favourite pair of ethical dilemmas...


A runaway train is speeding down the track, and is about to collide with six railway workers doing maintenance on the track. You don't have time or the means to warn them, but right in front of you is the switch to divert the line. If you pull the switch, the train will go down the other track... where one worker is standing. If you do nothing, six will die, if you act, only one will - a net saving of five lives. The one, however, would have survived had you done nothing.

Is it right to pull the switch?


At a hospital, after a terrible storm. The roads are undrivable and the phone lines are down. A tree fell on the building next door, and seven people have been brought in. Six of them have ghastly injuries, each with a different vital organ destroyed, and none are expected to live out the night. The seventh has miraculously escaped all injury except being knocked unconscious - and will be out for the next twelve hours by the look of things. However, by sheer billions-to-one freakish chance, it turns out that he is exactly tissue-compatible with the other six. If you were to organ-harvest the survivor, he would die, but the other six would all survive.

Is it right to go ahead with the transplant?

Do your answers to the two questions differ?

If so, then on what basis?

davo 17th February 2009 07:13 PM

Re: Fun with ethics
Other than the obvious 'wouldn't the workers see the train' etc etc etc these types of ethical dilemmas are not really accurate, unless you are in the situation. They are fun to talk about tho

I'd just bring out my plank of carneades +3 and float away ;)

The first dilemma is one that I would want more to survive the situation than one, the fact that we could intervene in a situation and save 6 people compared to one.

The second dilemma takes active involvement in the killing someone, to save others, I don't think I could choose that as I couldn't bring myself to do it, the family etc etc, I could be wrong, have no knowledge of medicine so don't know really what can be done just going by the words of others etc etc.

really however, as the situation and all the nuances are not presented, along with the stress of the situation, this is just an interesting mind game ;)

eclectic 17th February 2009 07:13 PM

Re: Fun with ethics
:) I will have to get back to you on this, even though I've done it in ethics class.

My brother is an engineer, and it I love the difference between how my philosophy class responded and his engineering class. We of course took up the dilemma in all seriousness and debated all the different theories and their implications... the engineers didn't get past the first scenario - their answer was "jam the switch in the middle and save everyone." :D

His Noodly Appendage 17th February 2009 08:57 PM

Re: Fun with ethics
But davo - doesn't pulling a switch to run a train over someone constitute taking an active involvement in killing them?

I mean if you just went and did it without the people on the other track, it would be murder 1...

:D :D

Godless Ray 17th February 2009 11:03 PM

Re: Fun with ethics
OR... you could do what my little brother did in a real life situation..

fall asleep so someone else has to connect the train when it's connected incorrectly and goes hurtling down a track, chuck a big log under it, derail it, wipe out $50K signal news paper.. get "heroic save of train" story and citi rail can't fire your ass..

worked for him

Godless Ray:cool:

SchizoDeluxe 17th February 2009 11:37 PM

Re: Fun with ethics
The first I would save the 5, at the end of the day, I could at least say I tried rather than doing nothing or the very least.

The 2nd, I would not kill one person in order to save the others. The difference to this and the first one is subtle but it's there. Unless the person was a willing volunteer to die to save the others, I would not make that decision for that person. Unfortunately, people die in tragic circumstances.

Of course, therés an argument for other solutions and different circumstances, I don't think it's a morality thing as much as it is an instinctive decision but then, doctors probably make these kinds of decisions everyday so who knows.

alanqui 17th February 2009 11:39 PM

Re: Fun with ethics
As stated in Dawkins GD the person on the siding is not being used to save the lives of the five, it is the siding that is being used. Satisfactorily handled as long as you don't read further and compound the thought experiment with more if's.
The same type of thing happened on HMS Ashanti about 30 years ago or more. The engine room caught fire and nearly every one was out so that steam drenching could take place and save the ship. However, there were still a number of sailors still in the engine room and the captain ordered the hatch closed, locked and steam drenching to take place. It saved the ship and remainder of the crew. The thing is, the sailors that had to close the hatch and lock it in place were still there when they heard the knocking on the hatch as the steam drenching took place. Imagine that, would you as one of the sailors have taken the chance, disobeyed orders and opened the hatch and possibly sacrificed the ship and other crew members. Or, would you have let the captain wear the guilt. No, I wasn't there on Ashanti but I received the Mayday.

His Noodly Appendage 18th February 2009 01:18 AM

Re: Fun with ethics
Heh. There's a reason I phrased it as 'is it right to do X', as opposed to 'what would you do?' :p

davo 18th February 2009 09:00 AM

Re: Fun with ethics

His Noodly Appendage said (Post 4292)
But davo - doesn't pulling a switch to run a train over someone constitute taking an active involvement in killing them?

I mean if you just went and did it without the people on the other track, it would be murder 1...

:D :D

Yes, but there are people on the other track, regardless of what the State decides, those would be my actions, as they would be right to me :)

As I mentioned these 'ethical dilemmas' aren't really so, as they avoid all the nuances of a situation, I played along with the '2 basic choices you have' and what I would do, but in reality I would look for any way to avoid anyone getting hurt, I might even just freeze and freak out. Who knows unless you in that situation? So really, ethical dilemmas presented like this are more games than anything else.

As to what is 'right', as I mentioned, us being social animals, my actions lean toward saving as many as I could from the situation.

The second situation, the right thing for me to do is not try and judge something I don't understand and kill someone for that.

davo 18th February 2009 09:16 AM

Re: Fun with ethics
Out of interest, and again on a small tangent, the Stanford prison experiment was very interesting, and is what I mean when people can seem, and say, they will do one thing, but can act totally different in a specific situation. It showed the impressionability of people when presented a legitimised ideology. So maybe in fact we act in ethical situations as to what we perceive is right, based on culture and upbringing, or the situational position we stand in when it occurs. Are ethics 'inherent' or a product of our experiences? both I'd say.

All times are GMT +11. The time now is 07:54 PM.

Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.11
Copyright ©2000 - 2018, vBulletin Solutions Inc.