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    Thread: Moral Dilemmas

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      Moral Dilemmas

      This is something I'm sure most people have heard before, but I'm curious how a discussion might go. I'll bring up three moral dilemmas which are essentially the same, in a way, but which people tend to have different answers to. The thing to note is that you'll probably have a different answer to the first and the last. If this is true for you, do you have a rational reason for the different choice, or is your decision due to a feeling? What is the 'right' thing to do, and why? Feel free to bring up your own moral dilemmas.

      The Trolley
      You find yourself on a trolley headed down a track. You see 5 unaware people in front of you on the track which the trolley is about to hit and kill. You may choose to pull a lever which will send the trolley down a different track, which one hiker is walking across. If you choose to hit the lever, you'll be killing the hiker, who was minding his own business, to save the other 5 people. Do you pull the lever?

      The Bridge
      You are standing on a bridge above a trolley in a similar situation to the last, except there is no one in the trolley now and it will definitely hit the 5 people. A stranger is standing next to you. You know, somehow, that if you push this person off the bridge, they will land on the track and slow down the trolley enough to save everyone else. Of course this will kill the person. Do you push him off?

      The Patients
      You are a doctor with 5 patients. Each one is suffering from the failure of a vital organ, and there have been no matches found for transplants. All 5 patients are surely going to die. A 6th patient comes in for a regular check-up, and you find they are completely healthy. Also, during your analysis, you find that his organs happen to be perfect matches for your 5 dying patients. Do you murder the healthy person to save the other 5?

      Does your answer to any of these questions change if you would be saving less or more people than 5? What about 2 people? What about 10,000?
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      Quote Originally Posted by Dianeva View Post
      The Trolley
      You find yourself on a trolley headed down a track. You see 5 unaware people in front of you on the track which the trolley is about to hit and kill. You may choose to pull a lever which will send the trolley down a different track, which one hiker is walking across. If you choose to hit the lever, you'll be killing the hiker, who was minding his own business, to save the other 5 people. Do you pull the lever?
      Are there no brakes?

      The Bridge
      You are standing on a bridge above a trolley in a similar situation to the last, except there is no one in the trolley now and it will definitely hit the 5 people. A stranger is standing next to you. You know, somehow, that if you push this person off the bridge, they will land on the track and slow down the trolley enough to save everyone else. Of course this will kill the person. Do you push him off?
      I'd tell the 5 people to get off the track...

      The Patients
      You are a doctor with 5 patients.
      What is my other job, the one that I can actually support myself with?

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      I know you were joking but those are the types of non-answers people usually give, because the situations are so bad people automatically just try to find some alternative. But of course they're hypothetical scenarios in which the only choices you can make are the ones given. No, there's no brake. You can't tell them to get off the track because you're too far away. You're the doctor and there's no way to get out of the situation.

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      I can say for sure that I'd not murder the healthy patient to save the other five. Not exactly sure why that answer comes on the strongest yet.
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      Good questions. I read about the first two some time ago (perhaps you know them from a book by Richard David Precht?).

      I would not rely on the rational mind in these situations, just on the intuitive feeling (for the first two you kinda have to, as you have not that much time to think). So there should be no 'why' or 'what if', just the plain answer and action.

      The Trolley: Yes
      The Bridge: No
      The Patients: No

      The afterwards reasoning might include: In the first situation you are passively reducing the amount of suffering, in the other two you are actively causing death. I think when you feel responsible for your own actions, the latter is hard to do. Or maybe not... depends... dunno really... that's why I would not rely on rationalism there.

      In the bridge situation, you could ask yourself 'do I fear that the other knows the same and might throw me off?'. I think the best answer on that one is: I jump down myself, because, think about it: I know the consequences of action and non-action and will in either case have to continue living with a horrible memory and guilt feelings, so in that sense it is not really a selfless but a selfish action. And when knowing that if I do that, then 5 will live, then it is kinda my responsibility. That's because then it is like the first example, were I reduce the amount of dead people by trading five for one, and here, as in the first case, I don't care WHO it is that dies innocently. Still the wisest and most realistic choice is probably: close your eyes and run away!

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      The Trolley: No
      The hiker is "Walking across", he might have already seen the trolley coming but saw it was on a different path and decided it won't hit him. While i suppose ( it wasn't stated otherwise) that the 5 people are just standing there in my way. Now i know people can't be aware all the time, but if they are just standing there, they will get hit. So no, i don't pull the lever and i kill the 5 people.

      The Bridge: No
      Pretty much the same as the other situation. If the five people aren't aware they are about to get hit, that's their fault. I'm not about to push a person off a bridge to save 5 people who can't hear or see the trolley coming. so No i don't push him off.

      The Patients: No
      Now this is one of my personal beliefs, if you get daily training (exercise,stretching, and etc..) and believe that you will never get sick ever. Your subconscious will start accepting your belief and work to keep you healthy. Also the daily training will improve your health even more.

      So if 5 people unluckily get sick, i can't just murder the innocent healthy man. It wouldn't be like me just to steal this man's perfect health from him. So No, i wouldn't murder the guy.

      Now i will admit on this one, i don't exactly have much to back my decision up. But the healthy man must be doing something to maintain that perfect health right? ( Well, i'm sure he could easily go home and get the same sickness as the other 5 people overnight and come back sick the next morning, but if he's healthy, i'm going to assume he's doing something right.) And if the healthy man can maintain his health while the others can't, then the healthy man deserves to live. Even if it's only his genes that makes him healthy, i'd rather have the healthy mans genes spreading in my society than the sick peoples' genes.
      Last edited by Subjects; 06-29-2013 at 02:15 AM.
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      From a psychology point of view, this is fascinating. It's a bit unfair though because people are biased to certain choices. On a personal level, this is quite simple for me

      Trolley: kill the least people possible, so yes I'd pull the lever. Simple choice here.

      Bridge: most likely no, because someone would see me doing it. If not, the people I saved would wonder and that would be complicate to explain later to the police.

      Doctor: no, I'd get caught. Assuming getting caught is not a problem, still no: just because someone has the means to save others, doesn't mean they got priority. It's a bit like praying in public schools: even if the majority wants it, that's not how things work.

      I'd apply the same principles regarding the number of people by the way.
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      Here is an interesting one. Lets say there is a natural disaster that is expected to hit your home and you don't have insurance. You know there is nothing you can do to save your home but you have warning so you pack up all your earthly belongings and pile them into a truck. You are worried the banks might get wiped out in the area as well so you cash out all your money from the bank to take with you. You have everything you own with you in your truck as you drive out of town.

      As you are driving your truck stalls on a railroad track, and it wont start again. Luckily they are abandon tracks so you know you have plenty of time to get help. That is when you notice a train on a near by track and you see it is heading for a child who has fallen down on the tracks and seems stuck. You are to far away to reach the child in time but you notice the controls that will let the train switch tracks. If you flip the switch the train will miss the child but will instead head for your truck! You are positive nothing bad will happen to the train either way.

      What do you do? Leave the controls alone and let the train hit the child, or save the child and cause the train to destroy everything you own?

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      Quote Originally Posted by Alric View Post
      Here is an interesting one. Lets say there is a natural disaster that is expected to hit your home and you don't have insurance. You know there is nothing you can do to save your home but you have warning so you pack up all your earthly belongings and pile them into a truck. You are worried the banks might get wiped out in the area as well so you cash out all your money from the bank to take with you. You have everything you own with you in your truck as you drive out of town.

      As you are driving your truck stalls on a railroad track, and it wont start again. Luckily they are abandon tracks so you know you have plenty of time to get help. That is when you notice a train on a near by track and you see it is heading for a child who has fallen down on the tracks and seems stuck. You are to far away to reach the child in time but you notice the controls that will let the train switch tracks. If you flip the switch the train will miss the child but will instead head for your truck! You are positive nothing bad will happen to the train either way.

      What do you do? Leave the controls alone and let the train hit the child, or save the child and cause the train to destroy everything you own?
      Flip the switch. It's a really easy choice for me since I don't have many belongings. But even if I were rich, I'd still do it.

      Hmm... I think I understand. Maybe we're supposed to give that answer because there's a follow-up question. I might say "a person's life is more important than my belongings" to justify the decision. But if I were rich I definitely wouldn't give all my money away to charity, to save some stranger's life I had no obligation to. Maybe thinking back I'd say that, if I did have a lot of money, I wouldn't save the child so I don't contradict myself.

      Like all of these dilemmas I think what makes the difference is how active we are in causing harm. I mean if we literally have to stab a person to death to save two people, we wouldn't be as likely to do it. But if we simply had to pull a lever or do nothing to save those two people, we'd do it without much thought.

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      You are right, there is a second part to the question. Pretty much everyone will say they will flip the switch and save the child, however that conflicts with what the vast majority of people are doing today. How can a person say they will sacrifice all their belongings to save one child but there are starving people all around the world who are literally dying but people don't help them? You could right this moment, sell everything you own and donate the money to save people's life, but no one here will do it.

      Every day you have a choice between having stuff, or giving it all away to help save lives, and pretty much everyone always picks stuff. Even if you are poor, you could give what little you have to charity but you don't. So the real question you should ask is, would you really destroy all your stuff to save someone's life, or if you would you let the train just go by and kill the child. No one would blame you for it, they might not ever even know you had that choice, and even if they did you didn't do anything wrong at all since you didn't kill the child, had you not been there he would of died any way.

      So the big two questions would be, are you really being honest about your self? And why would you save the child in this situation but not save all the other people by selling all your stuff and donating it?
      Last edited by Alric; 06-30-2013 at 08:33 PM.

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      There's a difference between seeing a child about to be killed in front of you and knowing that some child somewhere is starving. The latter is at the back of your mind; you're not even consciously thinking about it. The former is happening right in front of you.
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      Yea but when people see it on tv, and they directly see it, it doesn't really change their mind. Hypothetically though, lets go back to the original situations, and change it so that you knew the people were still going to die but you didn't see any of the people involved. Would not seeing any of them, change how you act?

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      To be perfectly honest, I simply cannot answer any of these questions with any certainty. I can't accurately predict how I'd act in these situations, especially in the ones that require immediate action. I might be in so much shock and be experiencing such a dilemma that I wouldn't be able to bring myself to act in time.

      Furthermore, the persons in question themselves might influence my decision. Take the train scenario; if the child in question were, say, under four years of age, I would probably be more inclined to save him/her than if he/she were, say, older than ten. Or the trolly scenario -- if there was a pregnant woman on the rail, I'd be more inclined to pull the lever or push off the other person.

      You may be thinking that I'm just talking my way out of answering the questions, and you may be right, but I think I have a valid point.
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      Double bind questions in OP's post will always have someone feeling affected in a negative way. And there's many factors that can make others unconsciously choose one option over the other, and a prime example is generally judging if the survivors would be worth it in the end in terms of having potential of creating more lives. Sort of how a person might save a child compared to an 80 year old man who pretty much doesn't have much to offer to the table with natural selection and offspring.
      Kind of like a question someone might ask with,

      "You haven't beaten your wife lately have you? Yes or No"

      Although that might seem easy to answer, even if they say no, it sends an implication that before they probably beaten their wife. So it's a matter of really thinking things through. Because words like "healthy," "aware," etc. can all cause unconscious emotional triggers that can truly be the determining factor in how a person unconsciously makes the decision without little to no cognitive processing (seeing how these scenarios are more of reaction rather than having more time judging).


      The Trolley
      You find yourself on a trolley headed down a track. You see 5 unaware people in front of you on the track which the trolley is about to hit and kill. You may choose to pull a lever which will send the trolley down a different track, which one hiker is walking across. If you choose to hit the lever, you'll be killing the hiker, who was minding his own business, to save the other 5 people. Do you pull the lever?
      Since I'm unaware of those 5 people being male or female or even their ages to determine which one would be able to procreate because of this and many factors, ultimately, I would've made an unconscious judgement that saving the lives of 5 would be better overall. Unless I knew in advance that those 5 people were just as capable of creating more life through reproduction as the hiker. But because I'm not aware of this, I'd HIT the lever.

      Of course, I would feel guilty in the end, but even if I saved the guy instead of the 5 people, he and I would have greater emotional intensity of guilt because it's now just the two of us. When it comes to saving the 5 and killing the one guy, the emotional intensity is shared between the 5 and me, and it's easier to justify why my actions felt "just."

      Because the action of pulling the lever, it becomes a situation where my life is on the line, so because I'm not necessarily causing the murder directly, it becomes a situation where "I had to do it for my safety." Because anyone is going to unconsciously pull the trigger if they could.
      The Bridge

      You are standing on a bridge above a trolley in a similar situation to the last, except there is no one in the trolley now and it will definitely hit the 5 people. A stranger is standing next to you. You know, somehow, that if you push this person off the bridge, they will land on the track and slow down the trolley enough to save everyone else. Of course this will kill the person. Do you push him off?
      Since this is a scenario with abnormal Physics, implying that the body composition is enough to actually slow down a trolley that clearly weighs more than the person and is most likely isn't going to have its speed slowed down significantly to practically save those 5 people, I wouldn't even begin to push that person off the bridge.
      The mere action of grabbing and pushing that person off is an act of murder, and at most, with the logic of abnormal Physics in this scenario, I'd probably just use an inanimate object to throw towards the bridge. Because that same stranger could've grabbed me and threw me off, and when people know that he essentially caused my death directly (or the other way around if I did it to him), they'll ask, "Was it really worth it?"

      Because no one could really know if I had intentions to kill the stranger next to me, and using that situation with the machinery going towards those people's deaths and using that to cover up my plans (implying if I did had thoughts of murder), it would just be a shitty mess altogether. So I would just let those people die.
      It's not my fault, nor is it the stranger's fault, we couldn't do anything, so no point throwing each other off like we're projectiles. Shit happens.

      The Patients

      You are a doctor with 5 patients. Each one is suffering from the failure of a vital organ, and there have been no matches found for transplants. All 5 patients are surely going to die. A 6th patient comes in for a regular check-up, and you find they are completely healthy. Also, during your analysis, you find that his organs happen to be perfect matches for your 5 dying patients. Do you murder the healthy person to save the other 5?
      Kind of pointless seeing how unless he has 5 hearts, 5 kidneys, 5 livers, and whatever set of 5 vital organs to save those individuals, it's often unnecessary. But if that person is completely healthy, presuming that's a health report given to me in advance during my dilemma with 5 people, I wouldn't kill him.

      The mere act of performing a dangerous surgery, even with the assurance that the person's vital organs can save them, there's always the probability that I would fuck up the procedure. Simply because the more pressure there is because of the death of that person to save one or all 5 of those people's lives is augmented. This increases the chance of whatever skill set I have that allowed me to be a doctor in the first place to become less efficient.

      So if they're surely going to die, I would never even kill that other healthy person since it's not only impractical, but just another act of murder. The same principle would apply to just killing off your neighbor just to save your daughter who needs a heart transplant. You'd surely go to jail as a parent, and the child is going to think their existence is bullshit because their parents had to kill someone else to save them. They'll start having too many expectations of having to do well in order to compensate and not let the person's death be in vain.

      Does your answer to any of these questions change if you would be saving less or more people than 5? What about 2 people? What about 10,000?
      Either way, if I know the person is healthy, not going to kill them. If I have a situation where a lever is close by to me, I'd pull it because there's always the excuse to say one unconsciously pulled it. If I'm far away from death, and suddenly people around me become projectiles to save others, I wouldn't do that since I am not obligated to get my ass thrown in prison for murder. The whole "was it worth it," even if I found some way to win, everybody would still lose in having emotional trauma that probably won't fade away that easily.
      Last edited by Linkzelda; 07-05-2013 at 10:48 PM.

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      Quote Originally Posted by Linkzelda View Post
      vital orgasm
      Hah! Nice autocorrect typo!

      I suspect my reaction would be to pretty much freeze in each situation and take the passive route. Obviously the doctor situation is different because I'd have the time to consider and act, but I still don't think I'd take action to kill an innocent and healthy man to try to save 5 others.

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      Everyone dies. A persons death is not my responsibility, authority, blame or fault - unless I kill them.

      Its not murder to let those five people die, because its not my fault that they are idiots who are walking where they shouldn't be. In fact, its no ones fault but their own if they die. But by pulling lever I kill a person who was where they were supposed to be, away from the trolley. In other words, I am not going to kill a person to save those who place themselves willfully on deaths path. The only thing that could change my mind is if we were talking about children, who need the guidance of adults to keep them safe.

      Regardless if its 2 sick people, 5 or 10,000. Health is something that's out of my control. Again a persons failing health is not my responsibility or fault. But if I murder one innocent healthy person to save them all, then that is my fault.

      My problem with these moral philosophical questions is they always assume that theres only two alternatives. Life isn't so black and white. What if I toss a large rock at the trolley people below me? I dunno, do trolleys have a horn you can honk, trains do?

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      Quote Originally Posted by juroara View Post
      My problem with these moral philosophical questions is they always assume that theres only two alternatives. Life isn't so black and white.
      I could not agree more. Morality should not be about choosing within difficult dichotomies, it should be about figuring out how to think beyond those dichotomies. As long as we think in terms of dichotomies, ultimately we always loose: there is no right answer as long as we answer within the confines of the box.
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      Quote Originally Posted by juroara View Post
      Everyone dies. A persons death is not my responsibility, authority, blame or fault - unless I kill them.

      Its not murder to let those five people die, because its not my fault that they are idiots who are walking where they shouldn't be.
      But in one respect this is a total copout. Remember the 3 laws - a robot shall not harm a human being or through inaction allow a human to come to harm. And yeah, I know - we're not robots, but Asimov created that series in order to examine ideas about morality through the guise of robots. They're actually human moral imperatives. He was pointing out a real human dilemma, which is illustrated in these questions - true, murder through direct action is more immoral than allowing people to die when you could have prevented it quite easily.


      And I don't think the important thing is to give an answer - there is no right or wrong answer. It's just to wrestle with it and to think about how you would justify one response or the other. What if you found yourself in the same situation, but without the baby on the other track, so you could pull the lever without killing anyone, and save the 5 dumbasses. And they may have been there for a perfectly legitimate reason by the way - I've heard it told before so they're in a car that's stalled on the tracks and they can't get out. But really that's beside the point - people do dumb things, does it mean they deserve to die when someone could have easily saved them?

      Obviously if you did let them die knowing the lever would have saved them you're going to be wracked by guilt the rest of your life. Same if you switch the tracks and decide to let the baby die instead. In one case it's through your own agency, in the other through inaction. But really in a sense that inaction was itself an action, the action of choosing.

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      Yes, but by limiting the options the dilemma is impoverished. Yes, of course these are human dilemmas, but in real life we almost never have two options only nor should we. For example in the dilemma where you can throw the stranger under the wheels to slow the trolley down, throwing yourself under the wheels should be an option - the dilemma becomes too simplistic by taking that option out of the equation.
      Last edited by JoannaB; 07-07-2013 at 08:46 PM.
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      But people DO find themselves in double bind situations involving the lives of others. And who said you can't throw yourself under the train? That's obviously a third option (and the third law of robotics, a robot shall not take its own life as long as that doesn't interfere with the first two laws, or however it's worded).

      Which is beside the point really. Obviously these questions aren't mean to replicate reality in all its complexity, they're made in order to examine a particular dilemma. To just say "reality is more complex than that" is to avoid the issues that the questions are designed to make you ponder.

      And my conclusion is that once you know what the lever does you have no totally innocent way out. You're making a choice either way. Your physical action is only a reflection of the ethical action you've already taken. So you are killing somebody either way. You can lie afterwards and tell people you had no idea what the lever would do, but you can't lie to yourself. The interesting part is to see how people deal with that fact, the rationalizations. If you were really in the situation what good would it do to stand there and think "I wonder if there's another option I haven't thought of yet?" That's either freezing or making the choice to allow the baby to die and trying to rationalize it away.

      Of course if there really is another option and if you discover it in time to save everybody or somehow realistically absolve yourself of guilt, then the situation is totally different, and we're not discussing that situation. So see, you're just refusing to grapple with the dilemma that's being presented. You're refusing to decide, which is the same thing I chose, but I'm acknowledging that I'll have to live with the guilt, you seem to be rejecting that by rejecting the whole question. For this to be at all meaningful you have to accept it at face value, you really do have only the option presented in the question.
      Last edited by Darkmatters; 07-07-2013 at 10:07 PM.
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    21. #21
      Member Photolysis's Avatar
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      Trolley: Yes. The 1 guy is collateral damage and there's no intent to hurt him.
      Bridge: No. You're deliberately murdering someone to solve a problem.
      Patients: No. You're murdering someone for their organs.

      Incidentally with the trolley problem I also reject the idea of doing nothing since I consider that once a person learns of the act he obliged to take action.

      Answer doesn't change if you modify the numbers.


      Here's a couple more variants listed in the wikipedia article on the trolley problem

      The fat villain
      The further development of this example involves the case, where the fat man is, in fact, the villain who put these five people in peril.
      Assuming there's no better option, yes I'd push the guy off. His responsibility for engineering the situation means it's fair to use him in a lethal plan because it overrides the morally wrong murder. Again though, only if there's no other option. If there is, it would be wrong.

      The loop variant
      Do nothing. If you divert the trolley you're murdering someone to save 5 others.


      The man in the yard
      Divert, if I can be reasonably sure that the likelihood of any harm is less than what would happen if I did nothing.

    22. #22
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      There are two types of people in the world: those who accept dichotomies, and those who don't.
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      You may say I'm a dreamer.
      But I'm not the only one
      - John Lennon

    23. #23
      Xei
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      When people are confronted with these questions, suddenly losing the ability to understand how analogies work and providing silly answers about obviously extraneous details or irrelevant things is so common that I can't help but wonder whether its symptomatic of some kind of deeply entrenched psychological phenomenon. It's very doublethinky. It's as if you've provided a computer with a logical paradox, and in response it intentionally overheats and spouts out some garbled nonsense, as some kind of emergency escape mechanism.
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    24. #24
      Tea & Noodles/Ban Master SnowyCat's Avatar
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      Quote Originally Posted by Darkmatters View Post
      Ok, then how do you think outside of these dichotomies?
      Wait a minute, your post is gone!! Oh well, I'll just leave this here for the sake of discussion.

      "Do without 'doing'.
      Get involved without manipulating.
      Make the great small,
      the many, few.
      Respond to anger with virtue.
      Deal with difficulties while they are still easy.
      Handle the great while it is small.

      The difficult problems in life
      always start off being simple.
      Great affairs always start off being small.
      Therefore the sage never deals with the great
      and is able to actualize his greatness."

      -- Tao Te Ching, Chapter 63

      The trick is to embrace simplification.

      Don't think of problems as choosing between options of great weight, look at them in their form where they are most unified. You aren't choosing to murder one person or murder five people, you just are murdering an inconsequential number of people. There is no dilemma here, save for the moral issues with murder as a concept. It doesn't matter what option you choose, you are still suspect to the same moral pitfall.

      Or at least that's how I see it.
      Last edited by SnowyCat; 07-09-2013 at 03:45 AM. Reason: wait a minute...

    25. #25
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      "Answer without answering"

      Seriously, how does that answer any of the questions asked on this thread? The philosophical mumbo-jubo is for afterwards.

      Somebody is going to die - it's in your power to choose who. In fact it's pretty much your responsibility to choose. Remember, allowing someone to die when you know how to stop it puts their death firmly at your feet.

      It doesn't matter if the questions fit real-life situations or not (though obviously there could be real life situations just like them) - they're distilled down to create a very clear cut situation and the only choices are the ones presented. How do you answer? And why do you make that choice?

      Refusing to answer or whaffling on about extraneous crap is simply avoiding the moral issues at hand. Hopefully you wouldn't whaffle and philosophize in a real-life situation where peoples' lives depend on your making a quick moral decision.

      ** EDIT

      Yeah, I decided my last post didn't add anything to the discussion and only gave people an easy way to go off topic and whaffle some more. I see you've added a bit at the end that actually answers the questions now.
      Last edited by Darkmatters; 07-09-2013 at 04:10 AM.

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