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The ultimate ethical dilemma


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#1 Samson Corwell

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Posted 02 February 2013 - 12:35 PM

You are presented with two buttons. If you press the red button, someone close to you dies. If you push the blue button, a random person dies. If you press neither within a certain amount of time both die. What to do?

My reaction might be to let the timer run out, because I cannot knowingly condemn someone to death by my actions. If someone did opt to press the red button, I would not blame them, but I might not call it ethical.

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#2 BaalChatzaf

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Posted 02 February 2013 - 12:46 PM

You are presented with two buttons. If you press the red button, someone close to you dies. If you push the blue button, a random person dies. If you press neither within a certain amount of time both die. What to do?

My reaction might be to let the timer run out, because I cannot knowingly condemn someone to death by my actions. If someone did opt to press the red button, I would not blame them, but I might not call it ethical.

Failure to decide costs two lives.  Choosing costs one life. If you are chicken to chose then one more person than necessary dies. 

 

This is a standard type of ethical puzzle.  Do you chose a course of action (or non-action) based an a prior ethical principle or do you decide based on the consequences.   

 

See Trolley Problem

 

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אויב מיין באָבע האט בייצים זי וואָלט זיין מיין זיידע

#3 Samson Corwell

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Posted 02 February 2013 - 12:53 PM


You are presented with two buttons. If you press the red button, someone close to you dies. If you push the blue button, a random person dies. If you press neither within a certain amount of time both die. What to do?
My reaction might be to let the timer run out, because I cannot knowingly condemn someone to death by my actions. If someone did opt to press the red button, I would not blame them, but I might not call it ethical.

Failure to decide costs two lives.  Choosing costs one life. If you are chicken to chose then one more person than necessary dies. 
 
This is a standard type of ethical puzzle.  Do you chose a course of action (or non-action) based an a prior ethical principle or do you decide based on the consequences.   
 
See Trolley Problem
 
Ba'al Chatzaf 
It's like a tug of war between consequentialism, intent-based ethics, and duty-based ethics, and one of the most enduring problems in the search for what is right and what is wrong. I've seen the trolley problem, too. It also brings up the problem of what import inaction has.

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#4 BaalChatzaf

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Posted 02 February 2013 - 01:06 PM


You are presented with two buttons. If you press the red button, someone close to you dies. If you push the blue button, a random person dies. If you press neither within a certain amount of time both die. What to do?
My reaction might be to let the timer run out, because I cannot knowingly condemn someone to death by my actions. If someone did opt to press the red button, I would not blame them, but I might not call it ethical.

Failure to decide costs two lives.  Choosing costs one life. If you are chicken to chose then one more person than necessary dies. 
 
This is a standard type of ethical puzzle.  Do you chose a course of action (or non-action) based an a prior ethical principle or do you decide based on the consequences.   
 
See Trolley Problem
 
Ba'al Chatzaf 
It's like a tug of war between consequentialism, intent-based ethics, and duty-based ethics, and one of the most enduring problems in the search for what is right and what is wrong. I've seen the trolley problem, too. It also brings up the problem of what import inaction has.

Refusal to act,  in some circumstances is itself an action.

 

There are some neurological studies of people presented with this sort of problem:  Various area of the brain  "light up" depending on which aspect (consequence,  duty)  is most heavily weighted.

 

You might find this:  http://www.wjh.harva...gNeuroIV-09.pdf

of interest.

 

Human beings  are "cursed"  with ethical conflict.  The problem is there are no slam bang solutions to these problems.  The gods were cruel in giving us ethical  cognition  but giving us obvious way to "solve"  these problems.   And these problems are knotty because, as social beings we live together and interact and it is the interactions that  are at the base of these ethical dilemmas.  

 

Ba'al Chatzaf 


אויב מיין באָבע האט בייצים זי וואָלט זיין מיין זיידע

#5 Dglgmut

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Posted 02 February 2013 - 01:29 PM

What happens if you pressed both buttons at the exact same time?

 

How the hell did I get in such a situation, I wonder? Is the blue button really going to kill someone at random? Or will the people that forced me to make this decision just remember which button I pushed and go out and kill someone? Even so, it wouldn't be at random... what about people in other parts of the world? Or maybe they'll spin a globe and randomly stop it with their finger, go to that place, and THEN randomly kill someone. But then how could they choose a point on the globe at random? They'd have to choose the general latitude--maybe near the equator if they want a relaxing vacation, aside from the murder part, of course.

 

Anyway, I'd press the blue button without giving it much thought. I think that's what Jesus woulda done.



#6 Samson Corwell

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Posted 02 February 2013 - 01:37 PM

What happens if you pressed both buttons at the exact same time?


Nuts! I don't know. The world explodes or something. Anyway, let's place the buttons twenty feet apart.

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#7 Samson Corwell

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Posted 02 February 2013 - 01:38 PM




You are presented with two buttons. If you press the red button, someone close to you dies. If you push the blue button, a random person dies. If you press neither within a certain amount of time both die. What to do?
My reaction might be to let the timer run out, because I cannot knowingly condemn someone to death by my actions. If someone did opt to press the red button, I would not blame them, but I might not call it ethical.

Failure to decide costs two lives.  Choosing costs one life. If you are chicken to chose then one more person than necessary dies. 
 
This is a standard type of ethical puzzle.  Do you chose a course of action (or non-action) based an a prior ethical principle or do you decide based on the consequences.   
 
See Trolley Problem
 
Ba'al Chatzaf 

It's like a tug of war between consequentialism, intent-based ethics, and duty-based ethics, and one of the most enduring problems in the search for what is right and what is wrong. I've seen the trolley problem, too. It also brings up the problem of what import inaction has.

Refusal to act,  in some circumstances is itself an action.
 
There are some neurological studies of people presented with this sort of problem:  Various area of the brain  "light up" depending on which aspect (consequence,  duty)  is most heavily weighted.
 
You might find this:  http://www.wjh.harva...gNeuroIV-09.pdf
of interest.
 
Human beings  are "cursed"  with ethical conflict.  The problem is there are no slam bang solutions to these problems.  The gods were cruel in giving us ethical  cognition  but giving us obvious way to "solve"  these problems.   And these problems are knotty because, as social beings we live together and interact and it is the interactions that  are at the base of these ethical dilemmas.  
 
Ba'al Chatzaf 


Thanks for the link, Ba'al. I'll definitely look into it.

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#8 Michael Stuart Kelly

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Posted 02 February 2013 - 02:37 PM

What to do with only three possible choices?

 

Heh.

 

Here's a rule-busting answer:

 

Shoot the jerk who made the rules and put you in that situation.

 

(When morality ain't possible, it ain't relevant... Ditto for reality...)

 

:)

 

Michael


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#9 Kyle Jacob Biodrowski

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Posted 02 February 2013 - 02:44 PM

Huh, I was just in this kind of situation last week...


"I’ve been waiting for awhile to meet you. For the chance to shake your hand. To give you thanks for all the suffering you command." - STP

 

"There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root." Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)


#10 Samson Corwell

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Posted 02 February 2013 - 03:04 PM

What to do with only three possible choices?
 
Heh.
 
Here's a rule-busting answer:
 
Shoot the jerk who made the rules and put you in that situation.
 
(When morality ain't possible, it ain't relevant... Ditto for reality...)
 
:)
 
Michael
I'd have to agree with you there. Something like rage against the cage is what I might also do. Or work to the max to save both lives. But, I have to disagree with the "morality ain't possible bit". I'm not sure why or in what respects, though, so I'd have an extremely difficult time explaining this. My positions on ethics and politics conflict with Objectivism's in some ways. I should write a manifesto someday. Samson Corwell's Corollaries I'd call it.

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#11 Michael Stuart Kelly

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Posted 02 February 2013 - 03:35 PM

Samson,

 

Come to think of it, morality is just a code, not a specific code.

 

So as long as there is an aware conceptual consciousness, I suppose morality is possible in all situations for it. Just not a rational morality for situations where no rational choice is possible.

 

So, to alter my comment: "When rational morality ain't possible, it ain't relevant."

 

btw - Writing that suddenly sent echoes along dark recesses in the alleys of my mind. There are contexts, then there are contexts, and even contexts where that can apply.

 

I'll have to think about reality, too.

 

That sucker doesn't like being not relavant...

 

:)

 

Michael


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#12 whYNOT

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Posted 02 February 2013 - 03:37 PM

The question itself is immoral, only a determinist like Dawkins could have come up with the

trolley problem.

Its whole purpose is to negate rational morality. If given a 'choice' between a person dying and a person dying - neither of whom you know - then there is no choice. No choice = no morality.

Its improbability of occuring in reality in aclose approximation to this scenario indicates it

is impractical, so is further indication of its irrationality.


"To know that we know what we know, and to know that we do not know what we do not know, that is true knowledge". Nicolaus Copernicus (An original objectivist) 1473-1543 ***No man may be smaller than his philosophy...***

#13 Mikee

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Posted 02 February 2013 - 03:51 PM

With the givens and no other choices I would choose to save the life of my loved one.  I would experience zero guilt and determine to kill the person who put my loved one at risk to make sure it never happened again and I would seek justice for the life lost.  I would not have any difficulty making this decision.  Inaction would be contemptible.  Choosing an unknown and possibly negative value over a known positive value would be irrational.  Not saving a loved one if given the opportunity would be inhuman.



#14 Samson Corwell

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Posted 02 February 2013 - 03:56 PM

With the givens and no other choices I would choose to save the life of my loved one.  I would experience zero guilt and determine to kill the person who put my loved one at risk to make sure it never happened again and I would seek justice for the life lost.  I would not have any difficulty making this decision.  Inaction would be contemptible.  Choosing an unknown and possibly negative value over a known positive value would be irrational.  Not saving a loved one if given the opportunity would be inhuman.
Ahh, yes, yes. Because in one way you are not the person who has killed the random person.

whYNOT, it is extremely difficult to understand how a question can be immoral.

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#15 whYNOT

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Posted 02 February 2013 - 04:11 PM

If it does not pertain to reality, it's irrational. If it's irrational, it's immoral.

 

Only to imagine forcing some poor sod into this cruel dilemma, let alone the person who 's about to die indiscriminately -

is an inessential mind-game with no purpose. It also undermines a rational morality by its inherent nihilism.

Or don't you think words can be immoral/irrational?

 

Mikee got it right - IF there were a loved one involved (which there's not). I'd save her, then go and kill the guy who put me and her into that nightmare.


"To know that we know what we know, and to know that we do not know what we do not know, that is true knowledge". Nicolaus Copernicus (An original objectivist) 1473-1543 ***No man may be smaller than his philosophy...***

#16 Dglgmut

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Posted 02 February 2013 - 04:26 PM

He said "someone close to you", not "a loved one".

 

It depends how your concept of "someone close to you" sizes up with your concept of an average stranger.

 

Wait, could the person killed at random be YOU? If so, maybe it is more moral to potentially save yourself.



#17 whYNOT

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Posted 02 February 2013 - 04:34 PM

Oh. I misunderstood obviously. So there is a choice - according to one's value, then.

It would be moral to save someone close, rather than an arbitrary choice.. Mike is right.

In which case - where is the "dilemma"? I don't get it.

(I'd still shoot the bastard who put me into it.)


"To know that we know what we know, and to know that we do not know what we do not know, that is true knowledge". Nicolaus Copernicus (An original objectivist) 1473-1543 ***No man may be smaller than his philosophy...***

#18 Dglgmut

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Posted 02 February 2013 - 05:41 PM

What if it was your own mistake. You were building a machine with two buttons--red and blue--maybe a pop dispenser with Coke and Pepsi, but accidentally wired it so the red button would kill someone close to you while the blue button would kill someone, anywhere in the world, at random. After turning the machine on you realized you bought the wrong part and the timer had already started.

 

Would you shoot yourself afterward, or dedicate your life to spreading awareness of negligent engineering practices?

 

But the buttons are 20 feet apart... I forgot. Is it more ethical then to press whichever button is closest, saving your productive energy for more self-interested activities?



#19 Michael Stuart Kelly

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Posted 02 February 2013 - 06:18 PM

If it does not pertain to reality, it's irrational. If it's irrational, it's immoral.


Tony,
 

This is one of the double-speak things Rand sometimes does and it is a trap.

 

Morality, like almost every other word in English, has more than one meaning. It is a field of philosophy, in other words, a category of normaltive issues, and it is a value judgment on those issues.

 

Altruism is a morality and it is not a morality at the same time, depending on which meaning of morality you use.

 

I was once going to write a paper on Rand's double use of meanings and someday I might revisit it. For example, Rand will start discussing Altruism as an evil morality, then end by calling it immoral and not morality at all.

 

Things can get awfully confusing when you do that.

 

btw - This habit generally does not invalidate her observations or reasoning on a conceptual level. But it does muddy the waters a bit.

 

Michael


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#20 Samson Corwell

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Posted 02 February 2013 - 06:38 PM

If it does not pertain to reality, it's irrational. If it's irrational, it's immoral.
 
Only to imagine forcing some poor sod into this cruel dilemma, let alone the person who 's about to die indiscriminately -
is an inessential mind-game with no purpose. It also undermines a rational morality by its inherent nihilism.
Or don't you think words can be immoral/irrational?
 
Mikee got it right - IF there were a loved one involved (which there's not). I'd save her, then go and kill the guy who put me and her into that nightmare.
Irrationality implies immorality? If anything, I'd argue that the set of everything that is immoral is a subset of everything that is irrational. I know Objectivism operates on a principle of rational self-interest, but you've got to be kidding me when it comes to this. How in anyway whatsoever is posing this kind of question or simply even pondering it immoral or nihilistic? If you can put your explanation into a two-column proof, then it might make a whole lot more sense. I'm not trying to sound rude or anything, but this is just so...strange to me.

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