The train morality problem

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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.
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Re: The train morality problem

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

Fatalist.
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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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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.
    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.
- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]
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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
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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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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.
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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...
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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)
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Re: The train morality problem

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

alan wrote: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.


I did not suppose such a world. "Within those options we can still have a choice, but our choices are still limited" is what I said. "we can still have a choice" meaning we can have willful behavior.

It also does not go against the sutta you quoted. I assume the purpose you quoted it is this "that the present experience of pleasure and pain is a combined result of both past and present actions. This seemingly small addition to the notion of kamma plays an enormous role in allowing for the exercise of free will and the possibility of putting an end to suffering before the effects of all past actions have ripened". What I said was "the options we have at each moment is limited by the conditions we have experienced (past). Within those options we can still have a choice (present), but our choices are still limited".

I don't deny the possibility of rising above conditions. But that is something which takes a lot of training. One must first see how one is conditioned before one knows what is unconditioned, just as one must touch water in order to know what dryness is. You talk about having the ability to change one's perceptions given new information, yet isn't the new information yet another condition? The eight-fold path allows one to rise above conditions, but is the encountering of the eightfold path, the ability to understand it, the desire and ability to put it into practice, are they not conditions?

But I shall stop here.
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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?
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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.
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Re: The supermundain train problem

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

chownah wrote: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
It makes no sense.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson
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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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Re: The train morality problem

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

nameless wrote:I don't deny the possibility of rising above conditions. But that is something which takes a lot of training. One must first see how one is conditioned before one knows what is unconditioned, just as one must touch water in order to know what dryness is. You talk about having the ability to change one's perceptions given new information, yet isn't the new information yet another condition? The eight-fold path allows one to rise above conditions, but is the encountering of the eightfold path, the ability to understand it, the desire and ability to put it into practice, are they not conditions?

Well said.
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Re: The supermundain train problem

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

tiltbillings wrote:
chownah wrote: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
It makes no sense.

Gee Willikers....I just read it again and it makes perfect sense to me. I would be glad to explain it to you in greater detail so that it makes sense....but really I think that most people reading it will be able to make sense of it. Do you think that most people reading this will not be able to make sense of it?
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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.
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Re: The train morality problem

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

Sanghamitta wrote: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.

Sanghamitta,
Good Answer!!! I guess this means you would not deliver the lesson....unless standing on one leg and singing Old Man River was exactly the lesson which was to delivler the result!!!....should I go back to the post and edit it to include that standing on one leg and singing Old Man River was in fact that teaching....probably not...

I'm glad that you pointed out that the scenerio is not going to happen....perhaps this is why some people have a difficult time making sense of it....so I'm including here a link to Wikipedia's entry for "counterfactual conditional" since I think that my latest offering as well as all of the problems posited in this thread can reasonably considered to be counterfactual conditionals at least in opposition to indicative conditionals in that the probability of any of these things happening is vanishingly small....If there is any value in considering counterfactual conditionals it is not in the answer found but in what goes on in the process of formulating the answer....i.e. for some people it is a window opening onto their inner workings. I am offering this link in that hopes that it helps in making sense of my post.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Counterfactual_conditional
chownah
P.S. Can I gather from your reply that you can in fact make sense of my post?
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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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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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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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