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The train morality problem - Dhamma Wheel

The train morality problem

Exploring Theravāda's connections to other paths. What can we learn from other traditions, religions and philosophies?
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David N. Snyder
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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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retrofuturist
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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. :)
"Do not force others, including children, by any means whatsoever, to adopt your views, whether by authority, threat, money, propaganda, or even education." - Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh

"The uprooting of identity is seen by the noble ones as pleasurable; but this contradicts what the whole world sees." (Snp 3.12)

"To argue with a person who has renounced the use of reason is like administering medicine to the dead" - Thomas Paine

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David N. Snyder
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Re: The train morality problem

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

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Jhana4
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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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retrofuturist
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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. :)
"Do not force others, including children, by any means whatsoever, to adopt your views, whether by authority, threat, money, propaganda, or even education." - Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh

"The uprooting of identity is seen by the noble ones as pleasurable; but this contradicts what the whole world sees." (Snp 3.12)

"To argue with a person who has renounced the use of reason is like administering medicine to the dead" - Thomas Paine

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Re: The train morality problem

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

"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. :)
"Do not force others, including children, by any means whatsoever, to adopt your views, whether by authority, threat, money, propaganda, or even education." - Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh

"The uprooting of identity is seen by the noble ones as pleasurable; but this contradicts what the whole world sees." (Snp 3.12)

"To argue with a person who has renounced the use of reason is like administering medicine to the dead" - Thomas Paine

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ground
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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.

Kind regards

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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.
He turns his mind away from those phenomena, and having done so, inclines his mind to the property of deathlessness: 'This is peace, this is exquisite — the resolution of all fabrications; the relinquishment of all acquisitions; the ending of craving; dispassion; cessation; Unbinding.'
(Jhana Sutta - Thanissaro Bhikkhu translation)

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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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Re: The train morality problem

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


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christopher:::
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Re: The train morality problem

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

"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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Ben
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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!
“No lists of things to be done. The day providential to itself. The hour. There is no later. This is later. All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one's heart have a common provenance in pain. Their birth in grief and ashes.”
- Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.
- Sutta Nipata 3.725

(Buddhist aid in Myanmar) • •

e: ben.dhammawheel@gmail.com..

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christopher:::
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Re: The train morality problem

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

"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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Ben
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Re: The train morality problem

Postby Ben » Sun May 29, 2011 8:47 am

“No lists of things to be done. The day providential to itself. The hour. There is no later. This is later. All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one's heart have a common provenance in pain. Their birth in grief and ashes.”
- Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.
- Sutta Nipata 3.725

(Buddhist aid in Myanmar) • •

e: ben.dhammawheel@gmail.com..

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christopher:::
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Re: The train morality problem

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

"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


David2
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Re: The train morality problem

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


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christopher:::
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Re: The train morality problem

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

"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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Stiphan
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Re: The train morality problem

Postby Stiphan » 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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