NOTES / Moral Dilemmas

Intro

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quick poll: 2 choices

1. Who here belives in objective morality? That is, there is such a thing as real right and real wrong.

2. Who thinks morality is subjective or that there's no such thing? That is, it only has to do with whatever works best for you or your culture. One moral system is just as valid as any other. It's all relative and you can never say what is right or wrong, only what a particular society says is right or wrong.

Who thinks there should be another choice? Would anyone like to share it?

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Trolley Problem

Scenario 1: You have a Runaway trolley barelling down on 5 men tied to the tracks. [SLIDE] But you can pull a lever and divert the trolley onto another track where only one man is tied. Do you pull the lever?

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[SLIDE] Scenario 2: Same situation - trolley barelling down on 5 men tied to the tracks - only instead of a separate track, you now are on a footbridge over the track standing next to large man who if you pushed him over the edge of the bridge, would be killed but he'd stop the trolley from reaching the 5 men. Do you push him?

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What if you happened to know that the fat guy was a real jerk? Or has killed someone?

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Consequentialist (Jeremy Bentham): locates morality in the consequences of an act. Utilitarianism, a consequentialist theory, says the greatest good for the greatest number. Hedonistic Utilitarianism says the goal is to maximize happiness and minimize suffering. Each to count for one and none to count for more than one.

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Categorialism (Immanuel Kant): locates morality in certain duties and rights; having to do with the intrinsic quality of the act itself, consequences be what they may. Justice is a matter of respecting human dignity and a person's inalienable rights. Treating people as ends in themselves, never as means. Kant was such a categorialist that he said it would be wrong to lie to the murderer at the door to protect someone you're hiding.

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Consistent with his philosophy, before he died, Benthem had asked himself, "Of what use could the dead be t the living?" And so by the time he died in 1832 at age 85, he provided in his will that his body be preserved, embalmed and displayed at the University of London. [SLIDE] Although the embalming was a failure.

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Queen vs Dudley and Stephens

19th cen. British law case. 19 May 1884, the yacht Minonette set sail for Sydney from Southampton with a crew of 4: Tom Dudley, the captain; Edwin Stephens, the first mate; Edmund Brooks, sailor; and Richard Parker, the cabin boy. Parker was 17 years old, an inexperienced sailor with no family. The ship goes down in the south Atlantic, 1300 miles from the cape. The 4 crew members escape to a life boat with 2 cans of preserved turnips and no fresh water.

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For the first 3 days, the men eat nothing.

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On the 4th day, they open the first can of turnips. The next day they catch a turtle and the next, they open the other can of turnips. They stretch out their food for the next 5 days.

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Then they run out of food and eat nothing for 8 days.

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On the 19th day, Parker is sick from drinking seawater. Dudley suggests a lottery. Brooks refuses.

The next day Dudley told Brooks to avert his gaze and motioned to Stephens that it was time to kill Parker. Dudley offered a prayer, told the boy his time had come and killed him, stabbing him in the jugular vein with a pen knife. Then they all ate him.

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From Dudley's diary, "On the 24th day, as we were having our breakfast, a ship appeared at last."

The 3 survivors were picked up by a German ship, taken back to England where they were arrested and tried.

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(poll) keep in mind, is necessity a defense for murder? or fundamental rights?

Would a lottery have made a difference? or Parker's consent?

What's the difference between Dudley and the second trolley scenario?

Argument against Consequentialism

A common criticism of consequentialism: that it's too quick to produce an answer to these questions. That it's too simple a calculus that could say if a majority is big enough and if their will is strong enough, then you could justify some pretty heinous things.

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Like torture. Hypothetically, let's say New York City is about to be obliterated by a nuclear bomb and you are sure that the only way to stop it is to torture a known terrorist - or even his innocent daughter in front of him. Should you do it? [SLIDE] (poll)

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Henry Sidgwick would say yes but it might be a good idea not to tell anyone that you did it. That is, saying torture is sometimes justified as a rule is a bad idea because the rule, "do not torture" has good consequences. Sidgwick called this esoteric morality: it may be right to do something only if the fact that you did it can be kept secret. He's also saying that some people may be in a privileged position or have privilege anywhere outside of academic circles. Like it's too dangerous an idea for the people to receive.

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Outro




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