The train morality problem

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The train morality problem

Postby David N. Snyder » Sun May 29, 2011 3:10 am

I don't think this has been discussed yet here, so thought I would give it a try here:

The Train morality problem / philosophical dilemma / (First Precept issues)

A trolley is running out of control down a track. In its path are five people who have been tied to the track by a mad philosopher. Fortunately, you could flip a switch, which will lead the trolley down a different track to safety. Unfortunately, there is a single person tied to that track. Should you flip the switch or do nothing?

(If you flip the switch, you are possibly "responsible" for the death of that person. If you don't flip the switch, five people die)

What would you do?

What would Buddha do?

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Re: The train morality problem

Postby retrofuturist » Sun May 29, 2011 3:15 am

Greetings,

Oh, the amount of time we spent discussing this in philosophy class....

I say flick the switch.

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


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One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: The train morality problem

Postby David N. Snyder » Sun May 29, 2011 3:28 am

retrofuturist wrote:Oh, the amount of time we spent discussing this in philosophy class....


:) Yes, I remember this from class too and was just reminded about it from my son who just finished Philosophy 101 at the university.

And for the sake of this argument, we know nothing about the people in the above example, if they are good or bad, terminally ill, etc. And the train cannot stop in time and throwing yourself onto the track will not stop it either (I imagine that would be the Buddha's choice, but for the sake of this scenario let's say that you cannot throw yourself onto the track or even if you did, it would not stop and you know this for certain.)
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Re: The train morality problem

Postby Jhana4 » Sun May 29, 2011 3:30 am

Ah, I remember this problem from philosophy classes in school.
In reading the scriptures, there are two kinds of mistakes:
One mistake is to cling to the literal text and miss the inner principles.
The second mistake is to recognize the principles but not apply them to your own mind, so that you waste time and just make them into causes of entanglement.
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Re: The train morality problem

Postby retrofuturist » Sun May 29, 2011 3:30 am

Don't worry, I wouldn't be throwing myself under that train, even if that would stop it.

:guns:

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: The train morality problem

Postby christopher::: » Sun May 29, 2011 4:24 am

David N. Snyder wrote:
(If you flip the switch, you are possibly "responsible" for the death of that person. If you don't flip the switch, five people die)

What would you do?

What would Buddha do?

Image


Have no idea what Buddha would do but I'd definitely flip the switch, and then run as fast as I can to try and get that one person off the track. If unable to help I'd have to watch the person die, which would be pretty horrible. Then would apologize to their family and pray for them to have a fortuitous rebirth.

In terms of "responsibility" inaction is often as much an action (in life) as taking action so it's be responsible for one death or five. Is there a "better" choice?
"As Buddhists, we should aim to develop relationships that are not predominated by grasping and clinging. Our relationships should be characterised by the brahmaviharas of metta (loving kindness), mudita (sympathetic joy), karuna (compassion), and upekkha (equanimity)."
~post by Ben, Jul 02, 2009
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Re: The train morality problem

Postby retrofuturist » Sun May 29, 2011 4:28 am

Greetings,

It starts to get more interesting when you move onto the gun-man who is about to kill 5 people.

You have the means to kill him, and by doing so, save the five.

Or do you not kill him, and let him kill the five.

Arguably, that's a much more difficult choice.

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: The train morality problem

Postby ground » Sun May 29, 2011 4:40 am

Practice will lead to a state in which there will be neither doubt nor "thinking about" how to act or how not to act in all kinds of "situations".
Until this point is reached I will not engage in speculations that do just enhance my ordinary and deluded way of thinking and perceiving.

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Re: The train morality problem

Postby Modus.Ponens » Sun May 29, 2011 5:14 am

I would let the train run over 5 people.
And the Blessed One addressed the bhikkhus, saying: "Behold now, bhikkhus, I exhort you: All compounded things are subject to vanish. Strive with earnestness!"
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Re: The train morality problem

Postby Reductor » Sun May 29, 2011 5:58 am

Since i am able to make the switch and know that i can make the switch, then both pulling or not pulling that switch becomes an intentional act does it not?

So what is my motivation? That is the heart of this for me. Presuming that i have no other criteria on which to base my decision then i can only choose to spare the greater number. I would flip the switch.

But this alone presumes that five deaths to be fives times greater than one death. That is, it presumes all six parties to be equally fettered by craving. Also presumed is that each death would create the same amount of grief.

However i doubt such presumptions would be true, so its obvious that my decision in even this simple hypothetical must be deeply flawed, and must be even more so in real life where there are many times greater variables.

Its a crap shoot.

I would just be sure to stay mindful in the act, spare the greater and observe the outcomes on my thinking process to minimize as well as able any unpleasent consequence.

... So do i win the 'Most Unnecessarily Long Post' award?
:tongue:
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The thoughts I've expressed in the above post are carefully considered and offered in good faith.

And friendliness towards the world is happiness for him who is forbearing with living beings. -- Ud. 2:1
To his own ruin the fool gains knowledge, for it cleaves his head and destroys his innate goodness. -- Dhp 72

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Re: The train morality problem

Postby David2 » Sun May 29, 2011 6:16 am

David N. Snyder wrote:A trolley is running out of control down a track. In its path are five people who have been tied to the track by a mad philosopher. Fortunately, you could flip a switch, which will lead the trolley down a different track to safety. Unfortunately, there is a single person tied to that track. Should you flip the switch or do nothing?


Nearly the same problem is this situation:

Should you kill a dictator who is killing thousands of people to save these people?
Would the Buddha have killed Hitler to save millions of Jews?

The 1. Buddhist precept is: "Not to harm living beings." But every human being does harm living beings. We are killing thousands of bacteria every time we are washing our hands. We have probably already crushed hundreds or thousands of ants with our feet without noticing it.

So in reality the precept is more like: "Harm living beings as little as possible."

So the Buddhist answer would be in my opinion: "Flip the switch." and "Kill the dictator."

(If you flip the switch, you are possibly "responsible" for the death of that person. If you don't flip the switch, five people die)


If you don't flip the switch, you are fully responsible for the death of the five people, too. (Because you have the chance to flip the switch.)
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Re: The train morality problem

Postby christopher::: » Sun May 29, 2011 7:04 am

David2 wrote:
If you don't flip the switch, you are fully responsible for the death of the five people, too. (Because you have the chance to flip the switch.)


Right, exactly.

Important here I think are what your intentions are in the case of each action, or inaction. And, what will the results be (of action/inaction) that you are aware of, or try to avoid thinking about (and acknowledging responsibility for).

example: The Murder of Kitty Genovese

Catherine Susan Genovese (July 7, 1935 – March 13, 1964), commonly known as Kitty Genovese, was a New York City woman who was stabbed to death near her home in the Kew Gardens section of Queens, New York on March 13, 1964... The circumstances of her murder and the lack of reaction of numerous neighbors were reported by a newspaper article published two weeks later; the common portrayal of neighbors being fully aware but completely nonresponsive has later been criticized as inaccurate. Nonetheless, it prompted investigation into the social psychological phenomenon that has become known as the bystander effect (or "Genovese syndrome") and especially diffusion of responsibility.



:spy:
"As Buddhists, we should aim to develop relationships that are not predominated by grasping and clinging. Our relationships should be characterised by the brahmaviharas of metta (loving kindness), mudita (sympathetic joy), karuna (compassion), and upekkha (equanimity)."
~post by Ben, Jul 02, 2009
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Re: The train morality problem

Postby Ben » Sun May 29, 2011 7:57 am

There are other options...

Neither one nor the other: place the lever half-way will cause the carriage to derail.

Or my favourite:delegate!
"One cannot step twice into the same river, nor can one grasp any mortal substance in a stable condition, but it scatters and again gathers; it forms and dissolves, and approaches and departs."

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Re: The train morality problem

Postby christopher::: » Sun May 29, 2011 8:28 am

Ben wrote:
Neither one nor the other: place the lever half-way will cause the carriage to derail.



Into the crowd of innocent bystanders, including an unknown number of school children, not shown in the drawing?

(collateral damage option)

:stirthepot:
"As Buddhists, we should aim to develop relationships that are not predominated by grasping and clinging. Our relationships should be characterised by the brahmaviharas of metta (loving kindness), mudita (sympathetic joy), karuna (compassion), and upekkha (equanimity)."
~post by Ben, Jul 02, 2009
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Re: The train morality problem

Postby Ben » Sun May 29, 2011 8:47 am

Hi Chris,

christopher::: wrote:
Ben wrote:
Neither one nor the other: place the lever half-way will cause the carriage to derail.



Into the crowd of innocent bystanders, including an unknown number of school children, not shown in the drawing?

(collateral damage option)

:stirthepot:


If they're not in the drawing, they don't exist.
kind regards

Ben
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Re: The train morality problem

Postby christopher::: » Sun May 29, 2011 8:58 am

Hi Ben. In this situation that may well be true.

But that perception...

If they're not in the drawing, they don't exist.


when held by people in leadership and decision-making positions is what sometimes leads to great suffering and innocent deaths in "real life" imo....

:toilet:
"As Buddhists, we should aim to develop relationships that are not predominated by grasping and clinging. Our relationships should be characterised by the brahmaviharas of metta (loving kindness), mudita (sympathetic joy), karuna (compassion), and upekkha (equanimity)."
~post by Ben, Jul 02, 2009
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Re: The train morality problem

Postby Lazy_eye » Sun May 29, 2011 12:00 pm

retrofuturist wrote:Greetings,

It starts to get more interesting when you move onto the gun-man who is about to kill 5 people.


There's an interesting Mahayana perspective on this...

"The Buddha, in a past life as a ship's captain named Super Compassionate, discovered a criminal on board who intended to kill the 500 passengers. If he told the passengers, they would panic and become killers themselves, as happened on a Southwest Airlines flight in 2000. With no other way out, he compassionately stabbed the criminal to death. Captain Compassionate saved the passengers not only from murder, but from becoming murderers themselves. Unlike him, they would have killed in rage and suffered hell. He saved the criminal from becoming a mass murderer and even worse suffering. He himself generated vast karmic merit by acting with compassion."

Thus it might be meritorious to kill the gunman if your intention is to prevent the terrible negative karma that would result for him otherwise.

As for the train problem, the last time I saw this, I said "flick the switch." Now I'm not so sure. It seems to me this choice depends on a questionable assumption that the value of life can be quantified -- i.e., that 5 people are "worth" more than 1. But what if those 5 people turned out to be escapees from a maximum security prison, where they were being held on death row, and the 1 person was Albert Einstein, the Dalai Lama, or a single parent with five small children? We can't know. I'm not sure, therefore, that a simple numerical majority settles the question.
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Re: The train morality problem

Postby David2 » Sun May 29, 2011 12:14 pm

Lazy_eye wrote:As for the train problem, the last time I saw this, I said "flick the switch." Now I'm not so sure. It seems to me this choice depends on a questionable assumption that the value of life can be quantified -- i.e., that 5 people are "worth" more than 1. But what if those 5 people turned out to be escapees from a maximum security prison, where they were being held on death row, and the 1 person was Albert Einstein, the Dalai Lama, or a single parent with five small children? We can't know. I'm not sure, therefore, that a simple numerical majority settles the question.

The decision is actually more based on quantity than on quality in this case (imo).

Of course it is a difference if an insect or a human gets killed because the human has a larger capacity of feeling.

But there is not much difference between one human and another.
It is very possible that a cruel murderer changes his life completely and becomes more compassionately.
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Re: The train morality problem

Postby christopher::: » Sun May 29, 2011 1:02 pm

David2 wrote:It is very possible that a cruel murderer changes his life completely and becomes more compassionately.


There's so many unknowns in this Universe, with mysteries of how karma works, such as depicted in this Star Trek episode....

THE CITY ON THE EDGE OF FOREVER




SYNOPSIS...

When Dr. McCoy is accidentally injected with a powerful drug, he goes mad and beams himself down to a planet. On the planet, McCoy jumps through a time portal, vanishing from view.

Kirk and Spock who have beamed down to the planet, in pursuit of McCoy, also enter the portal. They all end up in New York City, in 1930. They can't find McCoy. Kirk falls in love with Edith Keeler. Spock builds a tricorder out of odds and ends.

Spock determines that Kirk's new girlfriend must die in order that the future not be horribly altered. Kirk lets his girlfriend get hit by a car. A very unhappy Kirk beams back up to the Enterprise with his crew.

"As Buddhists, we should aim to develop relationships that are not predominated by grasping and clinging. Our relationships should be characterised by the brahmaviharas of metta (loving kindness), mudita (sympathetic joy), karuna (compassion), and upekkha (equanimity)."
~post by Ben, Jul 02, 2009
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Re: The train morality problem

Postby Stephen K » Sun May 29, 2011 1:35 pm

You may find the Wikipedia article on this same topic interesting:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trolley_problem
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