The train morality problem

An open and inclusive investigation into Buddhism and spiritual cultivation

Re: The train morality problem

Postby Modus.Ponens » Mon Jun 20, 2011 3:31 am

Hypotetical situations like these help us refine our moral positions. I know it helped me. I'm more comited with non-violence now than I was before.
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 whynotme » Thu Sep 22, 2011 5:34 am

It is a bit sad that so many Buddhists chose to touch that damn switch. I want to say something:

First of all, if you know you will kill someone with your action, then you do that action, and then that one die, it is called killing, no matter what motivation. It has knowledge, intention, action, and effect of action, it is against the first precept.
Yes, the Teacher said should not killing, but now the students said, we should consider it when it needed with good intention.

Secondly, let think a little deeper. Who do you think you are so you have the power to choose which one should die, which one should not? Are you are judge? A king? God? Are you the ultimate creator that has responsibility to other lives? Oh God, which lives are more valuable?
I am not those type of things so I won't do any action with the knowledge that my action will lead to other's death.

Thirdly, let think a little little deeper. Five is more worthy than one? lol, if that one is an arahant and five normal people, do you touch that switch? Oh, or if that one is the Buddha and five others are arahant, which one you choose?
But the Buddha could not be killed so let say all of them are arahants, which one you choose? Remember that killing an arahant could not be salvage, directly to hell after death, while do nothing mean kill nothing. So the safest way in an uncertain situation, when you don't know those people are arahants or not, don't kill them.

Some of you do the maths very well, five is bigger than one. But do you ever put yourself in the position of the one that is chosen to be sacrificed for others? What will that one think? Is it fair, why me, why not them? I don't want to die, I could live but they chose me to die for the others, why don't just let them die and let me live? Their lives are more valuable than me?
And if the victim says please don't touch that damn switch, please please, I don't want to be dead. And do you still want to take away his will to survive? Or you will say, sorry, I must help others, five is bigger and you are the chosen one, lol.

And finally, do you believe in karma? In my opinion, if you do good deeds, even you are unprepared, you will never be putted in those hard, brain exhausted situations, and if you do bad deeds, those dilemmas always be with you. So no need to prepare for them, we could evade all those situations by stop reborn, it is the simplest answer.
And remember, people are their karma, I am not saying don't help people, but you could not save them or save the world by the way you want. If you could save the world the way you want, I am pretty sure there will be no Hitler, no Stalin, because all those Devas, Brahmas, even Buddhas and arahants would kill them for us. They all have the power, but why their don't kill these ones to save other ones?

Just my opinion,
Regards.
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Re: The train morality problem

Postby DarwidHalim » Thu Sep 22, 2011 5:51 am

Well, assuming I have no choices, in the sense that I cannot jump to the train or hold the train, or run and save that person.

Assuming I only have 2 choices: Change the switch or Do nothing.

I will do nothing and I can only pray for them. May be it has been their karma.

We see in daily life, the bus fall down from the bridge, the aeroplane fall down. Let's see Buddha. He is there. He can just save the bus and save the aeroplane. But what happen? The bus still fall, the plane still fall.

I am a believer that if it is not your time to die, you want die. For example, when aeroplane fall or in the situation that it is not possible for you to survive, there are still people can survive. It is not because Buddha save him, but it is because of their karma.

Same here, whether that person will die or not, if it is not his time, although the train pass him, he won't die. Seems not possible, but I believe the impossibility.

In short, I can only let nature do their best and I can only interfere their karma with my praying.
Last edited by DarwidHalim on Thu Sep 22, 2011 6:36 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: The train morality problem

Postby rowboat » Thu Sep 22, 2011 6:12 am

These morbid hypothetical dilemmas always give me a chill. I say no, it's never right to take a life. :candle:
Rain soddens what is covered up,
It does not sodden what is open.
Therefore uncover what is covered
That the rain will not sodden it.
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Re: The train morality problem

Postby Claudia » Thu Sep 22, 2011 7:30 am

Frankly I think, I would become so desperated and overchallengend that I would become completely incabable of action and getting a mental breakdown.
No matter how much I am trained to act in challenging situations - this situation would freeze me.
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Re: The train morality problem

Postby chownah » Thu Sep 22, 2011 8:42 am

OK....let's get real about this dilemma.
Imaging that there is a drought in sub Saharan Africa and over 20,000 children are dieing every day for lack of nutrition.
Imagine that in the US there is a turkey meat company that has 34 million pounds (about 15 million kilograms) of turkey meat which has been recalled because it is estimated that about 1% of the meat is contaminated....the rest is fine but it would be almost impossible to seperate the good meat from the bad.
So....do you ship this food to the starving millions and in the process kill some of them but at the same time you save even more of them from death by starvation?...or do you bury the meat in a landfill?

Just so you known...there actually is a drought going on in Africa and I don't know what is happening today but a couple of months ago there were over 20,000 children a day dieing form it...and at the same time there was a company in the US which did have a huge amount of turkey meat as I described except I am estimating the percent of contaminated meat at 1% which is my own uninformed estimate but it is likely that the real amount is less than 1% but I don't know for sure. Also subsequently there was another company in the US which had more than a million pounds of turkey meat in a similar condition.....as far as I know ALL of that food was destroyed.

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Re: The train morality problem

Postby santa100 » Thu Sep 22, 2011 7:38 pm

Actually, there's no need to ship the entire 34 mil. pounds; let's go over the data we know: if each child consumes at most 1 pound of turkey/day, and given that household's refrigerator might be a scarce resource over there, so optimistically speaking, with some form of preservation methods, let's say the meat will last about 1 week before they get rotten under Saharan sun, we can ship:

20,000 mouths x 1 pound/mouth x 7 days = 140,000 pounds

this is 0.41% of the total amount of 34,000,000 pounds, even less than the contaminated amount (1.0% or 340,000 pounds)
To minimize the odds of picking the contaminated group, run a stats of all the locations where contamination was reported and do not ship the meat from those locations. Since we only need to distribute 0.41% of the total amount, with careful selection we can significantly reduce the 1.0% contamination rate down to a much smaller number. Then ship them over. In the worst case scenario, there'll be 200 kids out of 20,000 developing food poisoning symptoms, that's still a better option than the option of guaranteed death due to starvation..
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Re: The train morality problem

Postby Nori » Mon Oct 03, 2011 12:03 pm

Is there really an existence of an objective 'right' or 'wrong', ('moral' or 'immoral') decision?

Or are all 'decisions' (i.e. mental occurrences) due to prior causes and conditions?

If they are due solely to causes and conditions, then there is no such 'decision'-making; there is only what occurs.

The notion of 'decision'-making implies that there is some 'thing' that makes 'decisions' completely independent from causes and conditions, and it is already apparent that 'decisions' are greatly influenced, if not entirely influenced, by causes and conditions. If this is the case, then there is no 'right' or 'wrong', nor is there ever any 'decision' that takes place; there is only what occurs.

Of course this is the eternal debate (or investigation) of free-will.
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Re: The train morality problem

Postby Modus.Ponens » Mon Oct 03, 2011 1:15 pm

Hi Nori

Maybe you're interested in this discussion about free will vs determinism:

viewtopic.php?f=16&t=6322&hilit=free+will+determinism
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 Brivat » Fri Oct 07, 2011 5:24 pm

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Re: The train morality problem

Postby Modus.Ponens » Fri Oct 07, 2011 5:44 pm

:goodpost:
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 daverupa » Fri Oct 07, 2011 6:27 pm

We report a study in which participants responded to a battery of personality assessments and a set of dilemmas that pit utilitarian and non-utilitarian options against each other. Participants who indicated greater endorsement of utilitarian solutions had higher scores on measures of Psychopathy, machiavellianism, and life meaninglessness. These results question the widely-used methods by which lay moral judgments are evaluated, as these approaches lead to the counterintuitive conclusion that those individuals who are least prone to moral errors also possess a set of psychological characteristics that many would consider prototypically immoral.


Our study illustrates that the widely adopted use of sacrificial dilemmas in the study of moral judgment fails to distinguish between people who are motivated to endorse utilitarian moral choices because of underlying emotional deficits (such as those captured by our measures of psychopathy
and Machiavellianism) and those who endorse it out of genuine concern for the welfare of others and a considered belief that utilitarianism is the optimal way of achieving the goals of morality.


source

A fascinating line of inquiry into ethical reasoning, for those so inclined; the dilemmas used in the study involved variants of the train morality problem.
    "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 namaste » Sat Oct 08, 2011 6:45 am

Joining this discussion a little late. Back to the killer issue, presented near the beginning. This is a question that would likely bring a different response, depending on who the respondent is: Theravadan or Mahayana. In Mahayana, one can break a precept if doing so would result in a higher good. Someone presented the boatman story, in which the Buddha kills a murderous captain in order to save the passengers. He willingly took on the karmic consequences of taking a life in favor of saving many lives. There are, in fact, secondary bodhisattva vows that require the bodhisattva to break a precept, even to kill, if such an act would benefit a greater number of beings than would be harmed by the act. Even the Dalai Lama has said that if he encountered Hitler, he would have killed him.

Now, making the precepts relative like that can be a slippery slope. It assumes that conscientious Buddhists would carefully consider their motivation for making the choice to break the precept. This may be optimistic, that's open for debate.

On a more realistic level, one could debate whether killing Hitler would have changed anything. There was certainly no shortage of racist fanatics to take his place. This makes a good argument in favor of doing nothing, and sticking with the precepts. Whenever we're faced with a moral dilemma, there's always the possibility that the situation is not as simple as we perceive it to be, and that there could be unforeseen consequences to our decision, if breaking a precept is involved.
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Re: The train morality problem

Postby befriend » Sat Oct 08, 2011 11:09 am

NEGLIGENCE. NEGLIGENCE also creates bad karma. if i see a woman choking on a chicken bone and i walk right by her without calling out for a doctor or giving her asstistance, that would be bad karma and also creepy. how is it possible to know the virtue of the strangers who are about to die, thats not part of the question. obviously if the one person was a buddha and the other were criminals we would run over the 5 people. but this is not the case, there are 5 strangers, on one side, and one stranger on the other. the concept of its your fault because you flipped the switch should not even be on the table, the real question is, what is wholesome. having 5 people die or having one person die. obviously its better if one person dies instead of 5.
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Re: The train morality problem

Postby befriend » Sat Oct 08, 2011 11:15 am

the whole point of the precepts are to protect your mind from evil. its not the precepts per say that are followed but the SPIRIT of harmlessness which is the essence of the precepts that is followed. buddha lied to a hunter who said which way did the rabbit go, buddha saw which way the rabbit went, but said, i dont know, then he offered the hunter take his arm, and have it for supper, to make sure the hunter would have zero change of catching the rabbit. buddha killed himself as a bodhisattva in a past life by feeding himself to a starving tiger. did he break the precept for killing then? its this otherworldly heart that buddha had that MADE him a buddha, buddha doesnt care about himself or what other people think or about ettiquite he does what is harmless he doesnt follow rules because just because they say so.
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Re: The train morality problem

Postby chownah » Sat Oct 08, 2011 1:14 pm

Brivat,
An evil person has a two barreled gun with one barrel aimed to kill you and one barrel aimed to kill that evil person....the gun has a switch....if the switch is not activated you will die, if you activate it the evil person will die....while he is explaining how this works and laughing like a mad man (hahahhahahhahaaaahahahha) he tells you that he is a genius and has a nack for finding devout buddhists on the internet and kidnapping them and putting them into the situation that you are in now....he says that he is truely enlightened and so he can always pick buddhists who will choose inaction and thus they die while he lives on to perform the deed over and over again.....you are the tenth person to die this year.....and he is looking forward to doing more....
So, what do you do...or should I say don't do?
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Re: The train morality problem

Postby Brivat » Sat Oct 08, 2011 7:19 pm

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Re: The train morality problem

Postby cooran » Sat Oct 08, 2011 7:57 pm

Hello all,

Brivat said: as far as I can see the dilemma arises with the assumption that something has to be done, i.e. that activity (of this or that kind) is required in order to be a "virtuous person". I regard this as wrong. There is no obligation to do anything at all in order to be moral - or there would be no way out of samsara/dukkha. It's all about abstention, restraint and letting go. The first precept is not about saving life, it's about being harmless. To save lives is certainly a very meritorious thing, but not saving lives (even if one could) is not killing nor does it have any consequences apart from "having missed a chance" (which, in some cases, might be a "grave consequence" in itself). Whenever saving lives and harmlessness come into conflict (like in the above "dilemma"), one should stick to harmlessness if one wants to stay on the Buddha's path. That's how I see it.

So what would I do? I would not flipping the switch. Perhaps I would somehow try to stop the trolley or to free as much persons as I could - but these options are not part of the dilemma. What would the Buddha do? I'm sure he would not flip the switch. But I also think that he would save the persons lives if he could.


I agree.

with metta
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---It's not what happens to you in life that is important ~ it's what you do with it ---
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Re: The train morality problem

Postby chownah » Sun Oct 09, 2011 2:07 am

Brivat wrote:Hello chownah,

I think it doesn't matter how complicated such a dilemma is designed. The bad kamma is only on the side of the designer - and those people who act accordingly (thinking they have to). I don't deny that it is understandable to activate the switch when one is overwhelmed by feelings, but this is the very problem and not the solution.

That's how I see it. And I have nothing further to add.

All the best!

Brivat

Brivat,
I think I disagree with your assessment. I do agree that the designer has certainly some really serious problems with kamma (intention).....but I disagree with the idea that the only kamma which can arise from this situation is in the designer. In my view The "victim" very likely would create kamma depending on the action or inaction which results from their intention as well. I think that when you say 'when one is overwhelmed by feelings,' what it means is "when one feels the force of intention and clinging"....and I do agree that it is "understandable" that people act or fail to act through intention and clinging since this seems to be the default mode for most of us most of the time. The Buddha teaches that we are the inheritors of our own kamma and I think that by saying that the designer bears all the khamma is just an attempt to push the results of ones own intentions onto someone else...or perhaps I am misunderstanding what you are saying.
I think that if there is any value to these kinds of dilemma it is that it can help us to focus on what kinds of intentions we do have (although in less extreme situations) and how our "value systems" are involved in forming and being formed by our intentions....I guess...to deny that the victim has intention and resultant kamma from the dilemma is to eliminate any value that this exercise could possible have I guess....but maybe I'm wrong....
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Re: The train morality problem

Postby Jay1 » Thu Jan 31, 2013 7:22 pm

I wonder if the choice became between 1 and 500 000 people, would it become easier to choose?

Anyhow, I hope no one will have to make this choice :)
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