Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A Few Trolley Addenda

So, uh, is there a reason everyone suddenly talking about ethics? Yet more evidence that I'm not 'most people.' Note that I might have been better off as a 'most people.'

I suspect what's actually happening is that most can see for an implication distance of zero. I'd feel sick even pulling the switch, though undoubtedly I'd feel more sick after pushing a dude, because more of my brain's systems would recognize what's going on.

I realized that my previous analysis had neglected the factor of whether they potential victims were there voluntarily or not.

I kind of demand that rail workers to be responsible for their own safety, not to rely on random passers-by with inconsistent ideas about what's murder and what isn't. If you work on rail and don't at least sometimes spare a glance for passing trains, I have a bridge in London to sell you. Who told them they were safe and why did they buy it?

I corrected this subconsciously, and used the tied-down victims version. Which as a bonus makes clearer that the solution is almost always never to get into a trolley situation in the first place.

As Kent pointed out, it is hard to find an actual, physical situation of playing God. Perhaps trolley intuitions are whacked because there has literally been no adaptive pressure to fix them, because it never, ever comes up.

Now is later, and I found something beautiful.
"Wherever I go, whether my audience consists of local students, congressional staffers, or post-Soviet professors, when I present the Trolley case and ask them whether they would switch tracks, about ninety percent will say, “there has to be another way!” A philosophy professor’s first reaction is to say, “Please, stay on topic. I’m trying to illustrate a point here! To see the point, you need to decide what to do when there is no other way.” When I said this to my class of post-Soviet professors, though, they spoke briefly among themselves in Russian, then two of them quietly said (as others nodded, every one of them looking me straight in the eye), “Yes, we understand. We have heard this before. All our lives we were told the few must be sacrificed for the sake of many. We were told there is no other way. What we were told was a lie. There was always another way.”
They were right. As Rawls and Nozick (in different ways) say, justice is about respecting the separateness of persons. We are not to sacrifice one person for the sake of another.i If we find ourselves seemingly called upon to sacrifice the few for the sake of the many, justice is about finding another way."
Suffering soviet rule is one of the greatest inoculations against sophistry. But surely, there must be a less devastating vaccination...

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