The train morality problem

Exploring Theravāda's connections to other paths. What can we learn from other traditions, religions and philosophies?
nameless
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Re: The train morality problem

Postby nameless » Thu Jun 16, 2011 2:01 am

No, it is not fatalist. Perhaps I phrased it wrongly; the options we have at each moment is limited by the conditions we have experienced. Within those options we can still have a choice, but our choices are still limited.

Opinions/views can be based on rational thought. But where does that rational thought come from? My conditioning leads me to check an online dictionary for the meaning of "rational", so that I can give what I think is a proper response (which is also conditioned). Someone else might check a different dictionary, someone might just draw upon the common idea of what "rational" means in their respective English-speaking community. Someone might not think it is important to know the definition of "rationality" and argue based on their own definition. All conditions.

So checking up on rationality, the common point in the definitions is "reason". Reasoning is a skill which is dependent again upon conditions. Some people's conditions lead them to not be skilful in it, you can see that from the multitudes of people believing in cults and scams and whatnot. Whether you've learnt to reason, whether you have the intelligence to reason well, whether you mix with rational people, all these conditions influence rational thought. So yes, opinions can be based on rational thought, but rational thought is still conditioned.

alan
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Re: The train morality problem

Postby alan » Thu Jun 16, 2011 2:43 am

Fatalist.

alan
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Re: The train morality problem

Postby alan » Thu Jun 16, 2011 3:17 am

Hi nameless.
If it is not possible to rise above conditions, Buddha's awakening would never have happened. That is the implicit assumption of the eight-fold path.
For example, what is the point of right view? If we respond only to the conditions around us, and do not have the ability to change our perceptions given new information, it would be useless.

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daverupa
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Re: The train morality problem

Postby daverupa » Thu Jun 16, 2011 3:20 am

Given that the description offers a place for willful agency, it can only be called Fatalism if a willful agent's choices are also fated to be just so, and no other way. However, in describing how there is limited free-will, he departs from the Fatalist, who would maintain that despite this appearance of limited free-will (I cannot choose to double the length of my arm, I can choose to lift it) there are no constrained choices, merely fate. This is not the position being advanced. Therefore, it is not Fatalism.

alan
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Re: The train morality problem

Postby alan » Thu Jun 16, 2011 3:56 am

That is not a proper understanding of fatalism from the Buddhist perspective. Here is a sutta which describes the Buddha's take. http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html

alan
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Re: The train morality problem

Postby alan » Thu Jun 16, 2011 4:15 am

Hi daverupa
nameless supposes a world totally based on conditions, and where we can't get out of our conditions. It places no emphasis on willful behavior. The description does not offer a place for willful agency.
If nameless really thinks he can check a different dictionary hoping to find a new definition of rationality, that is up to him.

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Gregor
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Re: The train morality problem

Postby Gregor » Thu Jun 16, 2011 6:39 am

Hi,

I'm still influenced by the book I've read 'broken Buddha' which is very critical towards Theravada tradition. I'm thinking what Theravada monk would do in trolley situation. He probably wouldn't touch the switch because it is against Vinaya rule. If he is a meditator he would maybe sit and meditate loving kindness towards those 5 who are about to be run over by train.

santa100
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Re: The train morality problem

Postby santa100 » Thu Jun 16, 2011 6:34 pm

well, be very skeptical with any book or people that dissing a particular school of Buddhism or saying this school or that school is the best. It that's true, there would only be great masters or practitioners from that school only. In reality, there're wise and compassionate masters and students from all different schools. By the way, why would pulling the lever be considered breaking the Vinaya? Since trying to un-tie 1 guy has a much higher chance of success than un-tieing all 4 guys, that's why the monk might pulled the lever, so that he could run toward the single guy on the other track to improve the chance to save his life. Even if after exhausting all his wisdom to no avail, we could expect to see his final act of compassion: throwing himself in front of the train with some slim hope of stopping it. In short, it's highly unlikely a true Theravada master would just sit and pray. He would do everything for the sake of others. Thats what he is and that's what he's been training for...

phil
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Re: The train morality problem

Postby phil » Thu Jun 16, 2011 7:10 pm

Not worth pondering, in my opinion, a distraction dressed up as a Dhamma issue..
Kammalakkhano , bhikkhave, bālo, kammalakkhano pandito, apadānasobhanī paññāti
(The fool is characterized by his/her actions/the wise one is characterized by his/her actions/Wisdom shines forth in behaviour.)
(AN 3.2 Lakkhana Sutta)

nameless
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Re: The train morality problem

Postby nameless » Sat Jun 18, 2011 4:00 pm


chownah
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The supermundain train problem

Postby chownah » Sun Jun 19, 2011 4:41 am

Suppose that you somehow acquired some knowledge which if taught to a group of six students then one of them would straight away become an arahant and the other five would upon finishing the life they are now in would end up in the worst possible destination (hell?...hungary shades?...whatever it might be).....would you go ahead and teach the lesson?
chownah
P.S.obviously there are many different permutations one can make with this idea...for example how about 5 getting enlightened and 1 going to hell....or 1 getting enlightened and YOU going to hell....etc.
chownah

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tiltbillings
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Re: The supermundain train problem

Postby tiltbillings » Sun Jun 19, 2011 4:47 am


alan
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Re: The train morality problem

Postby alan » Sun Jun 19, 2011 5:11 am

And the reason it makes no sense is because there is no dilemma.
There is nothing to be learned from contemplating this question, which makes it pointless.

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octathlon
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Re: The train morality problem

Postby octathlon » Sun Jun 19, 2011 5:50 am


chownah
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Re: The supermundain train problem

Postby chownah » Sun Jun 19, 2011 11:41 am


Sanghamitta
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Re: The train morality problem

Postby Sanghamitta » Sun Jun 19, 2011 11:50 am

Sorry to be a killjoy...but lets face it, that scenario is not going to happen to us is it ?
So my answer which is as good as any, I would contend, is...

I would stand on one leg and sing Old Man River.
The going for refuge is the door of entrance to the teachings of the Buddha.

Bhikku Bodhi.

chownah
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Re: The train morality problem

Postby chownah » Sun Jun 19, 2011 12:26 pm


Sanghamitta
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Re: The train morality problem

Postby Sanghamitta » Sun Jun 19, 2011 12:32 pm

I wasnt responding to your post Chownah....on the whole my eye has learned to just float over certain posters posts without stopping.
I was responding to the OP.
The going for refuge is the door of entrance to the teachings of the Buddha.

Bhikku Bodhi.

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David N. Snyder
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Re: The train morality problem

Postby David N. Snyder » Mon Jun 20, 2011 1:54 am

These type of scenarios are not likely to happen for most of us, but they do provide a hypothetical for better understanding or evaluating different philosophical positions and in that way it is related to the Buddhist philosophy in the First Precept. I'm not saying that there is "correct" answer at all from the Buddhist pov, but just that it can be interesting, if you are interested in philosophy and ethics.

But in another way, it can be a real-life scenario, at least for political leaders and military generals. Often the leaders must decide between one course of action involving the loss of many lives, military and/or civilian versus other scenarios. And we become indirectly involved by electing our democratic representatives and leaders.

A classic example, is when President Truman decided to drop the "bomb" on the Japanese. The rationale was that the huge loss of life in one incident would cause the Emperor of Japan to surrender, thereby saving millions of other lives instead of having the war continue another 4, 5, or more years. When the Emperor did not surrender, a second A-bomb was dropped and then he surrendered. I'm not placing a value judgment on the decision (although I would not condone the targeting of civilians), but it is very similar to this train dilemma.
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alan
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Re: The train morality problem

Postby alan » Mon Jun 20, 2011 3:09 am

To construct a useful ethical question within the realm of the hypothetic it is first necessary that both options are undesirable. These questions are useful only when they force a confrontation between actions which have both good and bad results. The listener is then forced to examine their intentions as the consequences of each side is examined.
Second, these questions need to have a bit of plausibility.

"Would you have dropped the bomb?" is an example of a useful question.
Here is an example of a pointless question:
"Would you drink the spell of a witch if that gave you powers to destroy all evil, except every third evil person was actually good, and it was the potion which made you wrong, but anyway isn't it cool to destroy evil?
:smile:


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