marymary100 - 3-10-2008 at 18:55
You're on a mountain, where there is a rail crossing - you have control of the switch.
Down one side of the mountain, there are five people tied to the track, down the other, one.
If you do nothing, the train will go down the side with five.
If you switch it, it'll go down the side with one.
You can't do anything other than switch the train
Do you take the decision that will definitely lead to the death of one person or leave it to the inevitable death of five?
janet - 3-10-2008 at 19:01
I'm not going to answer this one (as I've never quite decided) - but I posed this to an ethics class about three years ago, and whenever two or more
of them are in the same place, they STILL bring it up!
It does cause a few stares when they start in with, "Well, yes, but you're a murderer!" "I am not! At least I took action and SAVED lives, unlike
SOME I could mention!"
victor - 3-10-2008 at 19:05
That's easy apply the brakes.
TooCute4Words - 3-10-2008 at 19:20
..and as Mr Spock says to Captain Kirk..
"The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few...or one?"
TooCute4Words - 3-10-2008 at 19:21
You have to answer..
janet - 3-10-2008 at 19:22
No, I don't. I didn't then (because I was teaching the course, and posing the question) and I don't now.
victor - 3-10-2008 at 19:28
It depends if its five women and one man.
Or vici versa.
If it was one woman she would have to go.
marymary100 - 3-10-2008 at 19:32
SRD - 3-10-2008 at 19:52
As it's a hypothetical case, with no bearing on reality, the real question is 'Is it better that one should die for the common good?' and the
answer has to be no, the one with quandary should abdicate responsibility and let chance decide.
When one says 'You have to decide' there is a third option, not to decide.
TooCute4Words - 3-10-2008 at 20:25
I don't agree
The OP asked a straight forward question. there is only one decision to make,
1) Make a choice between the two
TooCute4Words - 3-10-2008 at 20:26
What does that mean?
TooCute4Words - 3-10-2008 at 20:27
So your not Henry VIII then
one was not enough
SRD - 3-10-2008 at 20:37
No they don't, it isn't a straight forward question because the premise is wrong. If I said to you 'Red and blue make up a
colour, orange or green, you have to make a choice' you would see that the question poses an unanswerable dilemma. This is the same.
marymary100 - 3-10-2008 at 20:45
It's answerable. You can choose to do nothing as if you hadn't happened on the switch or you can pull the switch and save the five who were going to
be killed by whoever tied up everyone to the tracks in the first place.
In general I think that the needs of the many do outweigh the few but you knock that argument out of the water if the "one" is someone you admire or
love and the many are people you dislike or oppose.
TooCute4Words - 3-10-2008 at 20:51
But this is not about colour, this is about people's lives.
Kill less, or Kill more.
If it was two children to die or 16 adults, I guess that children would be the right choice.
Do you wish to talk about the Titanic Simon??
Who would you have given the lifeboats to?
All those poor men that died
(Women and Children first) Why? Why? Why? eh'
SRD - 3-10-2008 at 21:19
No it isn't, it's about moral dilemma which has been applied using an emotive
Throughout history children have been sacrificed to the greater good, we can always make more children. But this isn't about which is more worthy
it's about the moral dilemma of the person in the 'choosing' role, and the example given is a false one so one can't properly make that
The moral question then was 'Why were so many people's
money taken for the passage with such insufficient life saving capacity?' And don't believe the sentimental stories of gentlemem allowing the women
and children to go first, much of it was done at the point of a gun. As this shows, there were a fair few men in amongst the survivors and many more women amongst the drowned.
the bear - 4-10-2008 at 11:17
Its good that this wasnt the take on "Little boy" and Hiroshima!!!
Regards the Bear
janet - 4-10-2008 at 11:26
SRD's entirely right - it's a well known means of teaching students to get to the heart of seemingly emotional issues, to find out what the question
In this case, I might have articulated the question a bit differently, but then, I tend to use it when teaching Christian Ethics - and the question
becomes one of agency. In not switching the train, five people die, in switching it, one. Is not switching an action, or lack of action, and is
It also gets students to grapple with the idea that at times there is no *best* solution.
janet - 4-10-2008 at 11:29
And to be honest, in terms of survival of a group, the people to save are the youngest women able to have children - it takes far more of them to
repopulate a group than it takes of men.
the bear - 4-10-2008 at 11:52
So in our hypothetical lottery perchance one of the candidates was a pregant women would she get two tickets or automatically be considered safe and
free from the ordeal of the lottery altogether?
Regards the Bear
janet - 4-10-2008 at 11:54
In the hypothetical case, you know nothing of who is where...
the bear - 4-10-2008 at 12:00
I posed this by way of an extension, a hypothetical what if?
Regards the Bear
SRD - 4-10-2008 at 13:16
All of which goes to show that the original question is a poor one, a case of lack of academic rigour perchance?
marymary100 - 4-10-2008 at 14:01
I'll be sure to pass that on to the prof in question....
the bear - 4-10-2008 at 14:59
The question posed is intriguing!!!
Regards the Bear
janet - 4-10-2008 at 15:08
Academic rigour doesn't actually apply to hypothetical situations, asked as discussion starters, for heaven's sake.
Academic rigour applies to RESULTS.
It would apply to the framing of a hypothesis for a doctoral thesis. It would apply to the publication of the results of a series of research
interventions based on using this as a discussion starter - but the rigour would apply to sampling, sample size, methods (action research?
ethnography?), full disclosure, data capture, coding, retrieval and storage, and such things.
SRD - 4-10-2008 at 15:28
accept that, I would think it is very poor for an academic to set a question that is so easily shown to be such an artificial one. So artificial in
fact that any discussion can only be based on false premise.
I recall a question set by our A-level teacher along the lines of "Hemingway called his book 'A Farewell to Arms'; in what ways does the author
relate the story to the title?". In one sentence I pointed out that, according to the biography we had been given as our main reference to
Hemingway's life, he had a list of titles for all of his books and chose one with the use of a pin and that therefore the answer was none. I
received 0 marks until the question was brought up in class and it ws generally agreed by all except the teacher that the question was a damned silly
one. Eventually he was persuaded to withdraw it and remove all marks given from the record. The other students had prepared all sorts of essays in
answer to the question, but due to the lack of academic rigour in the setting of the question, it was useless.
janet - 4-10-2008 at 15:33
SRD, have you ever taught a university level ethics course?
The point of the discussion was not "this is a real situation - what would you do???" because the situation is manifestly false.
That's the POINT - it allows people to delve into the situation and find out what the questions actually are.
There are a number of ways of teaching ethics, but they mainly boil down to : give people a list of principles, and let them work from there, or, give
people a bunch of situations, allow them to find their own principles, and go back and let the apply them to see if they are valid.
I've always worked with the second, because I think it far more suited to adults (having been trained by both Dominicans and Jesuits, I've undergone
both and I know which I think leads to the greatest chance for criticality).
It's a THOUGHT problem. It wasn't an essay. It wasn't marked. (Well, the students weren't marked. I know what the students thought of the
session and the module, however).
And it still has nothing whatsoever to do with academic rigour.
You're talking about pedagogy, not academic rigour.
SRD - 4-10-2008 at 15:55
So what would you do about the student who said "What is there to consider? It's a totally false situation so no results can be considered
SRD - 4-10-2008 at 15:58
Further to that, I would consider that any course that relied on such artificiality should be immediately removed from the curriculum as it could only
encourage woolly thinking.
janet - 4-10-2008 at 16:01
Tell them that they'd signed up for a course in ethics, they knew me by now (this is a second year module) and that though they didn't have to
participate, they had to not interfer in others doing so.
janet - 4-10-2008 at 16:01
Where, ever, did I say that the course relied on this one, single example?
I submit that you are the one leaping to conclusions here.
SRD - 4-10-2008 at 16:07
But isn't that student correct in challenging
such a disreputable question?
janet - 4-10-2008 at 16:09
It's not a disreputable question.
It's a perfectly legitimate *hypothetical* question, asked within an entire course, etc....
SRD - 4-10-2008 at 16:11
If that is the only example of an academically
unrigorous question in the course fine, as the tutor would obviously remove such a question when they realised the damage it would do to the
reputation of the course, if however the course is littered with such irrelevancies then I repeat, there is no place for such a course in the
education system. It might be acceptable for the amusement of such as frequent forum but as part of an academic course, no way.
SRD - 4-10-2008 at 16:12
it's a disreputable question, relying as it does on a completely artificial situation and requiring students to base their argument on baseless
janet - 4-10-2008 at 16:18
Hypothetical questions in the teaching of
It's an extremely common techique which is one of a large range of techniques used for teaching of ethics.
Perhaps a more approachable one...
janet - 4-10-2008 at 16:19
They are not basing their arguments on any such thing.
The arguments come down to issues such as agency, choice, etc.
I can see that you don't like the teaching method.
However, on the basis of nothing other than your dislike of a method, to call someone's teaching disreputable (in the face of all other evidence,
such as longevity in role, student feedback, etc...) is a bit much.
janet - 4-10-2008 at 16:20
The damage it would do to the course?
Yesss.... the only damage to the course that I know about is an external examiner commenting that the students were clearly working near master's
level, when it came to critical thinking (they were first year undergraduates).
I ask again, have you taken/taught university level ethics?
Swish Checkley - 4-10-2008 at 17:11
I wanted to answer the question but in all honesty I don't want to get dragged into an argument justifying my decision so I'm not going to.
marymary100 - 4-10-2008 at 17:17
Quaver - 4-10-2008 at 18:04
Would me jumping in front of the train help? Or is it too far a jump?
Quaver - 4-10-2008 at 18:12
How about flipping the switch, but just as the train reaches the crossing, switching it back again to cause the train to derail? Hopefully the train
is slow enough not to overturn ...
marymary100 - 4-10-2008 at 18:20
And there are 100 people in the train?
scholar - 4-10-2008 at 19:25
I would set the switch to save more people, and kill the one. I hold that I am morally responsible for a foreseeable consequence of inaction, as I am
for a foreseeable consequence of action.
Why is it my decision? Because I am there, and have the power to act.
janet - 4-10-2008 at 19:40
Not an option, in the scenario - you have only the two choices - to do something (one person dies) or to do nothing (five people die).
In reality, jumping in front of the train would only just bring the death toll to two or six...
janet - 4-10-2008 at 19:41
FWIW, I don't think there is a right answer It's not set so students
get the "right" answer but so that they address the issues. (Though my
students STILL argue about it, when they meet!)
Quaver - 4-10-2008 at 21:31
the bear - 4-10-2008 at 22:11
The train could be the one in Back to the future and would transport into another time zone before it gets to the distressed people, with a resultant
that the 5 are saved, the 1, is saved as are the 100 passengers, the engine driver, the fireman and the guard in the caboose. not to mention the
railway cat along for the ride.
Regards the Bear
the bear - 4-10-2008 at 22:33
Sorry MM, perhaps before I let my mind wander I should ask if it safe to be out on its own.
Janet its very apparent that you are an excellent exponant of your craft and I would deem it a privilage to sit in on one of your ethics classes.
Very best regards, the Bear
janet - 4-10-2008 at 22:41
Grin - I'd love to have you there, bear.
But the next thing I'm teaching is about vampires!
the bear - 4-10-2008 at 22:48
That could be a pain in the neck, are you having a field trip to Whitby?
Regards the Bear
janet - 4-10-2008 at 22:50
heh - don't I wish!!
the bear - 4-10-2008 at 23:06
They hold a very interesting Goth festival in Whitby, will make it there one year.
Regards the Bear
janet - 5-10-2008 at 00:14
I keep saying this - but I've never made it, in spite of having friends that go!
the bear - 5-10-2008 at 00:51
It would be a lot of fun, I've looked at the ( Web site) Mrs Bear would love the chance to dress acordingly, just her thing.
Regards the Bear
SRD - 5-10-2008 at 07:34
If this is an example of how ethics are taught in our colleges and universities nowadays then it is no wonder we are so morally and ethically
bankrupt, and that businessmen make the kind of decisions that result in the kind of crisis we are currently experienccing.
I'm not personally criticising you janet, but the system that allows such subjects to be taught so poorly.
marymary100 - 5-10-2008 at 09:24
I think you'd get a real kick out of signing up for an ethics class Simon.
It's about trying to work our what your personal ethics are when the situation you are discussing allows you to be impartial, fully informed about
the situation, vividly aware of the relevant facts and free from barriers such as emotion, fatigue etc. It's not about getting the whole class to
agree that one solution is the perfect one. It's about getting you to acknowledge what in your past experience has led you to be of the opinion that
you currently hold and to see if that opinion holds up to to the close scrutiny of others.
Nimuae - 5-10-2008 at 10:33
Nice one, Bear !!
Nimuae - 5-10-2008 at 10:35
They have been so successful that they now have two each year - one in April, and one in October!
janet - 5-10-2008 at 11:17
So, bascially, you have no experience of such classes, no knowledge of how they have been taught in the past (as is clear, since this is one of the
ways ethics has been taught since the time of Socrates), and yet feel that you are in a position to criticise.
I've made it clear, a number of times, that this is ONE part of such a course - that there are a number of different elements involved in it.
Do you think we would have 30 hours of just sitting around talking about trains and death?
delanti - 5-10-2008 at 20:32
Since you as the teacher 'don't think there is a right answer" then I can assume that if I position the switch to kill one person and SRD positions
it to kill 3 people then we are both right and therefore have the same ethical character regardless?
janet - 5-10-2008 at 20:41
Not necessarily, no.
The point of the exercise (as I think I've said a number of times) is not to come to the "right" answer ...
Let me try an analogy.
Many of us did geometry in school. We measured angles and figured out what other angles must be. Was this because the makers of the textbooks and
our teachers really needed to know what the measurements of those other angles were, or so we would know?
No, it was, instead, to teach us the tools of being able to FIND OUT what the angle was.
It's the same with these sorts of questions. The important thing isn't the outcome, it's the process.
My students often disagreed on things, but the one thing that they could all agree on was that the course made them think - stretched their minds,
gave them the tools to think *for themselves*. This exercise was a small part of that (fairly far into the process).
delanti - 6-10-2008 at 02:09
OH, I'm sorry, I thought we were discussing ethics not hypothetical questions.
LSemmens - 6-10-2008 at 14:37
Despite Simon's ramblings, Janet, I understood your premise. Like Quaver, my thinking was to force a derailment in the hope of saving all. A
derailment, at least, gives the chance that the passengers, too, may survive.
janet - 6-10-2008 at 22:26
So, thinking outside the box
LSemmens - 7-10-2008 at 12:36