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    Thread: Runaway Train Dilemma

    1. #1
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      Runaway Train Dilemma

      Say there's a runaway train. It's hurtling out of control towards ten people standing in the middle of the tracks. The only way to save those people is to flip a switch, send the train down another set of tracks. The only problem is—there is a baby in the middle of those tracks.

      Question is: is it appropriate to divert the train and kill the one baby to save the ten people?

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      One innocent baby > Ten stupid people

      I'd tell them to get out of the way, if they don't they're as good as dead alive anyway lol.

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      ^ My thoughts exactly, 10 people standing in the middle of a train track while a train is approaching is pretty dumb, so they just get whats coming to them.

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      Xei
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      halp gais how do i analogys?

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      Quote Originally Posted by Wayfaerer View Post
      One innocent baby > Ten stupid people

      I'd tell them to get out of the way, if they don't they're as good as dead alive anyway lol.
      Ok suppose they can't see/hear the train coming lol.

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      Xei
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      You taking philosophy A-Level?

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      Hastily written, sorry.

      Whenever I've heard this dilemma before it's been a person off to the side, and 5 people on the tracks, all adults. Even in that case, I say to veer it to the side and kill the one person. So in this case, of course. Kill the baby. I don't know how anyone could judge otherwise. The excuse that they're "stupid people" isn't valid. That isn't part of the question. You need to assume that they somehow didn't see the train coming or couldn't get out of the way fast enough. 10 people > 1 baby. Perhaps some parental instincts might tell some of us that a nice innocent baby is more precious than an infinite number of vile adults, but I don't think that's right.

      But it is a bit of a problem to answer why. A seemingly similar situation often brought up is one in which a doctor has 5 dying patients. Each one needs a different internal organ to survive, but won't get it. Another patient comes in for a regular check-up. Should the doctor kill the patient and harvest his organs, to save the 5 other people? The answer is obviously no, even though the situations are analogous, and the answer to the former is obviously yes.

      I suspect the relevant difference is that there's a trust between the doctor and patient. If doctors did this, everyone would fear to go to the doctor. But with the train example, it's a momentary thing, and a rare case. The people on the tracks haven't voluntarily stood in the train's way while trusting you to veer off the tracks upon an agreement.

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      Dionysian stormcrow's Avatar
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      Traditionally I have heard of this dilemma involving a "fat man" in place of the baby, I would imagine that the baby was added to tug at our heart strings and give the illusion of changing the context of the dilemma. But does the baby change the dilemma? Notice how Wayfaerer added "ten stupid people" to the context of the the dilemma (the OP mentioned nothing of the sort) to demonize the ten people.

      Whether or not the people where in fact stupid or if the man was in fact obese or it is a defenseless baby, this doesn't nothing to change the dilemma in any meaningful way. He would have to answer the question "why is one life (the babies) intrinsically worth more than ten "stupid peoples"? Does the dilemma change at all if there where 20 people? Or 100? It is clear to me that the addition of "the baby" is a red herring causing the rational agent to make a decision based on their emotions rather than their rationality.

      (On a side note I am not necessarily attacking the role of emotions in decision making. Our emotions have evolved over hundreds of thousands of years enabling us to make quick heuristic decisions; where trying to reason about what to do when a tiger is chasing you, would have been an impediment to our survival. Clearly emotions (for better or worse) play an indispensable role in our judgements and decisions.)

      It is interesting to see how people would ad hoc rationalize their decisions by asserting that the 10 people "deserved it" or were stupid in some way (Although I would expect nothing less from Ne-yo).

      I would think that a typical utilitarian response would be to change the track and kill the baby/fat man because 10 lives are intrinsically more valuable than one single life, regardless of whether or not it is a baby, Mother Theresa, or Ted Bundy. For a utilitarian the moral value of an action lies in the outcome so sacrificing the baby to save ten people would be the moral thing to. Letting the ten people die results in 10 women who are without husbands and several children without fathers; all of which result in more suffering for a greater number of people. Of course the question is not adequately answered (I'm not sure it can be): But what makes the lives of ten people intrinsically more valuable than one person?

      But before we answer that question we must ask a rather unusual question: Do entities have intrinsic value independent of our perception or utility of that entity? In other words does a hammer have value independent of the meaning I attribute to it (its function: hammers boards together, can be used as weapon)? Using this example it is clear that we attribute value to the hammer (we created to perform a specific task) the hammer does not contain an intrinsic value independent of our conception of it. What I am trying to (long-windedly) drive at is the conjecture that objects do not have value independent of the value we attribute to them through the functional role they play in our everyday life's.

      The value of entities is tied up with our very way of life, we cannot step outside of our subjectivity or humanity to conclude that human life does indeed contain an intrinsic value independent of our minds. Human life is valuable to us because we value our own life's (I realize this seems callous, even paradoxical) and because we are simply hardwired to value the life's as is evident in the tendency of mammals to live in groups. If someone has any evidence that life is intrinsically valuable (without postulating the existence of a transcendental reality or a supernatural deity) let me know...

      My conclusion is that we cannot really determine what is the "right" decision in this dilemma. Yes everyone on this thread will think that there is only one right answer and a wrong one; if only it were that easy. We cannot decide whether a single human life is more valuable than ten because the very faculty (the human mind) that determines whether this value is there or not is genetically hardwired to find value in human life in the first place. We are just begging the question.

      To reluctantly answer the question, I would presuppose the utilitarian position and save the ten people by killing the baby.

      What I cannot do however is to justify this decision as being the right one. I can only say that the decision pragmatically seemed to be the most suitable one to me and cannot determine whether it was derived through reason or emotion. I cannot say why this is the right decision to me other than that it seems to be the best available decision but cannot independently justify it in anyway.
      Last edited by stormcrow; 12-29-2011 at 01:27 AM.
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      Xei
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      Anybody care to explain how Dianeva's post doesn't directly lead to the conclusion that morality isn't an objective, consistent set of principles, but rather, disjointed norms of a purely social origin?

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      Dionysian stormcrow's Avatar
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      Quote Originally Posted by Xei View Post
      Anybody care to explain how Dianeva's post doesn't directly lead to the conclusion that morality isn't an objective, consistent set of principles, but rather, disjointed norms of a purely social origin?
      I wont oblige you with that explanation as I am overtly skeptical of any objective morals.

    11. #11
      Xei
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      'Objective' is a bit of a vague term. But it's hard to give credence to any concept which isn't even consistent... that is the very concerning thing to me.

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      Quote Originally Posted by stormcrow View Post
      Traditionally I have heard of this dilemma involving a "fat man" in place of the baby, I would imagine that the baby was added to tug at our heart strings and give the illusion of changing the context of the dilemma. But does the baby change the dilemma? Notice how Wayfaerer added "ten stupid people" to the context of the the dilemma (the OP mentioned nothing of the sort) to demonize the ten people.
      Standing in the middle of a train track while a train is coming is an unintelligent (stupid) decision, I was merely using the definition. The baby isn't just an emotional distraction, it doesn't know enough to move off the tracks. The people have the means to help themselves, so I think it would be best to hope they will and protect the baby who can't.

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      Dionysian stormcrow's Avatar
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      Quote Originally Posted by Wayfaerer View Post
      Standing in the middle of a train track while a train is coming is an unintelligent (stupid) decision, I was merely using the definition. The baby isn't just an emotional distraction, it doesn't know enough to move off the tracks. The people have the means to help themselves, so I think it would be best to hope they will and protect the baby who can't.
      This is still irrelevant. The thought experiment is setup in such a way that you have to choose to either kill the ten people and save the baby's life or kill the baby and save the ten peoples lives. There are no gray areas, you can’t choose to save the baby and hope the ten people move out of the way, that's not how the dilemma is constructed. Even if the people were stupid (or Nazi's or prostitutes) it doesn't change the content of the dilemma.

      You entirely missed the point of the dilemma. It is a query into how we value human life and how we make decisions based off of these values. The point of the essay I wrote above…up there…was to inquire into the basis of these values that underlie the decisions that we make.

      Quote Originally Posted by Xei View Post
      'Objective' is a bit of a vague term. But it's hard to give credence to any concept which isn't even consistent... that is the very concerning thing to me.
      I don't suppose replacing the word "objective" for "mind-independent" would dispel this ambiguity? Not entirely sure what you mean by "isn't even consistent".
      Last edited by stormcrow; 12-29-2011 at 02:00 AM.

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      I know how the popular situation is set up. My answer in psychology class to this was "I can't choose one, it's too black and white for reality". I think this is why your conclusion to the classic dilemma was "we can't decide rightly" because it doesn't address reality at all lol. The only dilemma I'm seeing is the one written in the OP, which seems more open to the actual possibilities of life.

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      Xei
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      It's quite simple... in one circumstance, the death of the one is 'morally obvious', yet in an analogous situation, the death of the ten is preferable. That's inconsistency, and it shows that the system is flawed, by any measure.

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      Basically, in reality, I would refuse such a black and white decision because I can. I would try to help everyone, logically, helpless first. The problem with these thought experiments is that reality will always present loopholes you can attempt.

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      If you think about it, though, the baby is probably stupider anyway. Babies aren't usually very smart.
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      Dionysian stormcrow's Avatar
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      Quote Originally Posted by Wayfaerer View Post
      I know how the popular situation is set up. My answer in psychology class to this was "I can't choose one, it's too black and white for reality". I think this is why your conclusion to the classic dilemma was "we can't decide rightly" because it doesn't address reality at all lol. The only dilemma I'm seeing is the one written in the OP, which seems more open to the actual possibilities of life.
      Not choosing is still a choice. By not choosing you are choosing to let the train kill the ten people because you could have done something to prevent it.

      My conclusion was not that "we can't decide rightly because it does not address reality at all".

      We must decide. What I meant is that whatever decision I make, I am skeptical of dubbing it the "right one" but I'm still making a decision. I don't think there is an easy answer to this dilemma, but that is not the main point of the dilemma. The answer does not necessarily matter; what is matters is that the dilemma calls upon us to explore underneath the surface of our ethical values by questioning the basis of these values.

      We do not have the burden of making moral decisions in everyday life or "reality" as you say. When we are met by such dilemmas, we rarely have the luxury of having a myriad of possible decisions at our disposal. Often when these situations arise, we are indeed met with "a black and white" dilemma and on top of that we do not have the luxury of taking our time to reach a conclusion.

      Refusing to make a decision in a thought experiment because it "does not address reality at all" is entirely missing the point and is just lazy. No offense.
      Last edited by stormcrow; 12-29-2011 at 03:42 AM.
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      Quote Originally Posted by stormcrow View Post
      It is interesting to see how people would ad hoc rationalize their decisions by asserting that the 10 people "deserved it" or were stupid in some way (Although I would expect nothing less from Ne-yo).
      The difference between you and I is the fact that you only see numbers when it comes down to any life ( i.e, 10 lives vs 1), whereas what I see is the life quality of 10 adults vs 1 infant. I'm a father so that plays a major part in my decision regarding the sensitive conditions of this scenario. Even if the 10 were not stupid or whatever, my choice is still the infant regardless. I don't think you can relate to this because you're not a parent.

      Also speaking as a Marine. One person's life could easily out-weigh 10. Where I come from no one Marine gets left behind. If 10 Marines die trying to save 1 Marine then so be it, "death before dishonor".

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      Dionysian stormcrow's Avatar
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      Quote Originally Posted by Ne-yo View Post
      The difference between you and I is the fact that you only see numbers when it comes down to any life ( i.e, 10 lives vs 1), whereas what I see is the life quality of 10 adults vs 1 infant. I'm a father so that plays a major part in my decision regarding the sensitive conditions of this scenario. Even if the 10 were not stupid or whatever, my choice is still the infant regardless. I don't think you can relate to this because you're not a parent.

      Also speaking as a Marine. One person's life could easily out-weigh 10. Where I come from no one Marine gets left behind. If 10 Marines die trying to save 1 Marine then so be it, "death before dishonor".
      Oh I see. You are the final arbiter of whose life is more valuable.

      If you had read my post a little bit further you would have read the part where I questioned the utilitarian position about what makes it the case that ten lives are more intrinsically valuable than one persons life? I did not come to a satisfactory answer (I never really do).

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      Quote Originally Posted by stormcrow View Post
      We do not have the burden of making moral decisions in everyday life or "reality" as you say. When we are met by such dilemmas, we rarely have the luxury of having a myriad of possible decisions at our disposal. Often when these situations arise, we are indeed met with "a black and white" dilemma and on top of that we do not have the luxury of taking our time to reach a conclusion.
      This is where I disagree, I think life is too complex for us to even imagine the amount of actions possible in any possible situation.

      Quote Originally Posted by stormcrow View Post
      Refusing to make a decision in a thought experiment because it "does not address reality at all" is entirely missing the point and is just lazy. No offense.
      What meaningful thought or point can come from such a thought experiment? I just think it's just a waste of time.
      Last edited by Wayfaerer; 12-29-2011 at 04:18 AM.

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      Quote Originally Posted by stormcrow View Post
      Oh I see. You are the final arbiter of whose life is more valuable.
      But of course, who else hands are 11 lives in?
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    23. #23
      Xei
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      Quote Originally Posted by Ne-yo View Post
      The difference between you and I is the fact that you only see numbers when it comes down to any life ( i.e, 10 lives vs 1), whereas what I see is the life quality of 10 adults vs 1 infant. I'm a father so that plays a major part in my decision regarding the sensitive conditions of this scenario. Even if the 10 were not stupid or whatever, my choice is still the infant regardless. I don't think you can relate to this because you're not a parent.

      Also speaking as a Marine. One person's life could easily out-weigh 10. Where I come from no one Marine gets left behind. If 10 Marines die trying to save 1 Marine then so be it, "death before dishonor".
      10 infants vs. one infant.

      Quote Originally Posted by Wayfaerer View Post
      What meaningful thought or point can come from such a thought experiment? I just think it's just a waste of time.
      I really disagree. Thought experiments are extremely useful for giving insights to the truth, as has happened historically, both in science and philosophy.
      Last edited by Xei; 12-29-2011 at 04:33 AM.

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      To Engage in the idealistic thought experiment, there is no right or wrong decision here, it's all very personal. If I had to save my girlfriend (if I had one) or a complete stranger, I would choose my girlfriend with no guilt. If I had to save a talented scientist or a world renowned poker player, I would save the scientist. The value of a human only exists subjectively, but would understandably make your decision. Considering the OP to be the classic idealistic dilemma, I would save 10 strangers over a strangers baby; I don't think there is intrinsic relative value in being a baby lol. If it was my baby, that would be a little more difficult.

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      Quote Originally Posted by Xei View Post
      I really disagree. Thought experiments are extremely useful for giving insights to the truth, as has happened historically, both in science and philosophy.
      DUH! I was talking about this specific thought experiment which I think is too simple for reality. lol

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