Mad Philosophers and Killer Trains

Philosophy and Ethics


How do we come to know what is right and wrong? [discuss] Parents But parents might be wrong. Where did they get their morals from? The Law Where does the Law come from? Is the Law a good guide to right and wrong? For example: it is wrong to steal, but we can think of situations where it is RIGHT to steal, such as stealing medicine for a sick relative. Religion But there is so much in religion that we find wrong. If we know that it is wrong, then we must get or morals from somewhere else

In this course we will use a range of practical problems to discover what is right and wrong. You will figure it out for yourselves through rational discussion.

We will also explore different ethical theories, including: Utilitarianism, Moral Relativism, and Kantian ethics

By the end of this block, you will have learned how to make moral judgements for yourself, based on on sound reasoning.

Thought Experiments
A thought experiment usually involves a hypothetical situation. The purpose of a thought experiment is to help you explore an issue or theory without having to actually do the experiment.

We will use a number of thought experiments to explore issues in ethics. Using these thought experiments will help you question ³everyday morality´ and form your own view on ethics.

Thought Experiments
Imagine that you are standing at the side of a railway track There is a trolley running out of control down the track towards 5 people who have been tied to the track and cannot escape Luckily you are standing next to a switch and can divert the trolley onto another track [draw on board] Unfortunately there is a single person tied to that track.

Should you flip the switch?
Discuss with people next to you for 3 minutes

Thought Experiments
Deciding to flip the switch would be acceptable from a Utilitarian perspective. Utilitarians believe that an action is right if it increases happiness in the world. But we could say that by flipping the switch we are participating in the death of the single person. If we left it alone, then its not our problem because the train is already moving towards the group of 5. Flipping the switch means doing a moral wrong, whereas leaving it means we are free of moral burden.

Thought Experiments
Try another problem: As before the trolley is running towards to group of 5. You are standing on a bridge and can stop the trolley by dropping something heavy in its path. There is a fat man on the bridge«

Should you push him off?
Discuss for 3 minutes

Thought Experiments
Is this the same problem as the first example? why / why not? Is it different because in the first case we intend no harm to the person on the track (it¶s a side effect), but in this case we intend harm? In fact, harm is part of the plan to save the other five. Deliberately intending harm is wrong, even if it is for a good end result.

Maybe in the first case nobody has any greater right to not be run over, but in the second case the fat man has a right not to be pushed on the track.

Thought Experiments
Consider this logically similar problem

A transplant surgeon has five patients all needing a different organ. They will die without transplants but there are no organs available. Now, suppose that a young man visits the doctor for a checkup. The doctor discovers that the man¶s organs are all compatible with his five dying patients.

Should the doctor murder the young man and perform the transplants?

Thought Experiments
Try this version« The same as the first argument, a trolley is running down the track towards five people. The only way to stop it is to place your $2000 laptop on the track, which will derail the trolley.

Should you sacrifice your laptop to save the five people?

Thought Experiments
Did you answer ³yes´ There are at least five people starving to death in Africa.

Should you sell your laptop and send the money to save the the five people in Africa?

What did you learn?
Moral problems are difficult to solve. You can see that in these types of case it is not helpful to simply refer to The Law, or Religion, or your parents¶ wisdom. The problem is too complicated and requires deeper thought!

It is important to analyze problems like this because doing so makes us better at moral reasoning. Ultimately this will help us become better people.

Powerpoint by BRENT SILBY Produced at UPT Christchurch, New Zealand

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