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The train morality problem - Page 2 - Dhamma Wheel

The train morality problem

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

Postby Pārasamgate » Sun May 29, 2011 2:44 pm


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octathlon
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Re: The train morality problem

Postby octathlon » Sun May 29, 2011 3:42 pm

I think Buddhist philosophy allows a simple answer to this question. It's all about Intention. In ignorance and delusion we constantly cause suffering to ourselves and others. Not being omniscient, there's no way we can know exactly what effects any given action will have--that's why we follow the N8P to develop our morality, concentration and wisdom, and reduce the amount of suffering we cause.

The scenarios of the train and the killer are contrived and don't allow for tricks like pulling a lever halfway, or talking the killer out of out of it or just shooting him in the kneecap. It comes down to a math problem since the only variable is the number of people killed as a result of our choice. Basically what the scenarios are designed to do is show the difference in our emotional response to causing death directly (the killer) or indirectly (the train).

When we can look at it from a Buddhist perspective, it still works as a math problem, considering our best intention is to reduce suffering. With the train I would pull the lever to kill the least number of people and would be acting out of my best intention. Standing by and doing nothing out of fear of doing the wrong thing would be a less skillful action.

With the killer, again it would be a better intention to save the victims from death and their families from suffering pain and possibly developing hate and desiring revenge, as well as stopping the killer from suffering the kamma of killing them. Of course you would still cause suffering to the killer and those who care about him/her, but it would be less, like the one versus five in the train example.

Usually killing comes out of hate and anger, but in these scenarios you wouldn't be killing out of hate but of out of the intention to reduce the amount of suffering.

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reflection
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Re: The train morality problem

Postby reflection » Sun May 29, 2011 7:25 pm

I would argue and think about it until it was too late to flick the switch. :tongue:

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David N. Snyder
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Re: The train morality problem

Postby David N. Snyder » Sun May 29, 2011 7:29 pm

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David2
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Re: The train morality problem

Postby David2 » Sun May 29, 2011 7:47 pm

What we should remember is that situations where we have such choices are really rare.

I think most of us will never be in a situation like this where he could kill someone to save others (and at the same time be 100-% sure that he can save them by killing someone.)

So, one of those questions that should be put aside?

Maybe we should just focus on questions that are more relevant for our day-to-day or year-to-year life?

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daverupa
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Re: The train morality problem

Postby daverupa » Sun May 29, 2011 7:59 pm

Thanissaro mentions in Buddhist Monastic Code I that a bhikkhu does not incur a penalty if he makes no effort to save a drowning person, even if that person dies as a result. What does this tell us about the Vinaya's response to these dilemmas?

Reference - Page 80:
Inaction. Given the Vibhaṅga's definition of taking life, we can infer that inaction
does not fulfill the factor of effort here, for it does not cut off the life faculty. Thus if
a bhikkhu sits idly when seeing a flood sweep a person downstream, he commits no
offense — regardless of his feelings about the person's death — even if the person
then drowns. Recommending that another person sit idly as well would also not
fulfill the factor of effort here, because the category of command covers only the
act of inciting the listener to do any of the four actions that would fulfill the factor of
effort under this rule.

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mikenz66
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Re: The train morality problem

Postby mikenz66 » Sun May 29, 2011 8:47 pm

Interesting quote Dave,

The discussion of what "taking life" means is helpful.

However, the problem I see with using the monastic code (or lay precepts) as a basis for thinking about complex situations is that they are more about whether or not an offence has been incurred than "which option is better (in a kammic sense)".

Mike

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Alex123
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Re: The train morality problem

Postby Alex123 » Sun May 29, 2011 9:40 pm

Regarding OP,


If you are forced into this miserable situation and none of this is your own making, then if you flip the switch, you will be accomplice to that one person's death. If you do not flip the switch then the 5 people that die, died not because of something that you set up and did but what that magician did.

Either you do the bad kamma of choosing one person to die, or you don't make any bad kamma by not making anyone die.
"Life is a struggle. Life will throw curveballs at you, it will humble you, it will attempt to break you down. And just when you think things are starting to look up, life will smack you back down with ruthless indifference..."

Kenshou
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Re: The train morality problem

Postby Kenshou » Sun May 29, 2011 9:55 pm

In my mind, inaction is a choice too, so I wouldn't be able to feel blameless in doing nothing, even if it's ok by the monastic code. Luckily these kinds of situations pretty much never happen in real life, so I don't have to decide.

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Alex123
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Re: The train morality problem

Postby Alex123 » Sun May 29, 2011 11:06 pm

"Life is a struggle. Life will throw curveballs at you, it will humble you, it will attempt to break you down. And just when you think things are starting to look up, life will smack you back down with ruthless indifference..."

lojong1
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Re: The train morality problem

Postby lojong1 » Mon May 30, 2011 3:19 am

An option I haven't seen yet:
Hey people on the track, here's the deal [...]. Any preferences real quick? Oh, you five want to live and single guy wants to save you five, thanks oodles.

alan
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Re: The train morality problem

Postby alan » Mon May 30, 2011 4:20 am

The OP is not a dilemma, because the answer is obvious.
A real dilemma involves making a choice between two unacceptable outcomes. For instance, what if that one person was your sister? Would you save her, and kill five other people you do not know?
There is no perfect answer, of course.
The point of asking a question that puts the listener into a dilemma is to force them to question their intentions. It's a useful device. It gets people thinking.

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pilgrim
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Re: The train morality problem

Postby pilgrim » Mon May 30, 2011 7:30 am

Form a Committee to debate the situation and then make a joint decision by secret voting.

By the way, is it true that in a firing squad, some participants would be given blanks so that they cannot be definitely certain of killing the target?

chownah
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Re: The train morality problem

Postby chownah » Mon May 30, 2011 2:30 pm

Flip a coin......blame the coin.....
chownah

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octathlon
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Re: The train morality problem

Postby octathlon » Mon May 30, 2011 4:31 pm


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David N. Snyder
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Re: The train morality problem

Postby David N. Snyder » Mon May 30, 2011 10:27 pm

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octathlon
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Re: The train morality problem

Postby octathlon » Tue May 31, 2011 1:02 am


alan
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Re: The train morality problem

Postby alan » Tue May 31, 2011 1:17 am

Slippery slope may be the most used, and least helpful, of all logical arguments. It's almost always invalid.
The two scenarios are not similar in terms of the moral question involved. In one case action is imperative, and the result would be universally seen as a proper, although perhaps difficult choice.
In the second there are many options that could work, including calling around to see if anyone has recently been run over by a train and has a kidney to spare.
I think it is obvious that no sane person would kill an innocent in order to harvest organs--which is why this is not an example of slippery slope, nor a useful thought experiment.

alan
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Re: The train morality problem

Postby alan » Tue May 31, 2011 1:31 am

As for Bush, his arguments of imminent threat were B.S. from the beginning. They were meant to scare the gullible. The idea of invading Iraq had been around for years--he used 9/11 to convince others to follow his folly.

Jhana4
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Re: The train morality problem

Postby Jhana4 » Tue May 31, 2011 1:36 am

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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