May 02, 2006

What if… some philosophical propositions

Follow-up to Death row injections and whether we have our priorities right from Musings of a blonde

The BBC is currently running a survey which presents four hypothetical philosophical dilemmas representative of potential real–life situations.

What if (and here I paraphrase)...

  • You are in hospital and are providing life support for someone else. If you stay there for the next nine months the other person will be cured and you will leave unharmed. Do you have an obligation to stay?

  • You are watching a train run down a track towards a group of five people who are unable to move and will certainly be killed. You have the chance to divert the train down another track which has only one person stuck in its path. Should you change the direction of the train?

  • The same train is running down the same track towards the same five people. You are standing on a bridge over the track, next to a fat man. You want to jump down onto the track to stop the train from running over the five people, but you are not heavy enough to stop it. The fat man is. Should you push him over the edge? Is your answer the same as that for the previous example? If not, why not?

  • You and five people are stuck in a cave and there is a small hole in the wall you could get out of. The largest of the group is chosen to go first but he gets stuck. The tide is rising and you need to get out quickly. You find some dynamite, which will not blow a hole in the wall but will move the man who is stuck. He pleads with you for his life. Do you blast the man out, allowing you and the remaining four to escape? If you were in the place of the man would you say the same?
Is there a difference between killing someone and letting them die? Are consequences all that matter, or are there some things we should never do, whatever the outcome?

- One comment Not publicly viewable

  1. James

    These are very common hypothetical ethics questions. If the answer to the train questions is that you would always sacrifice the one, not the many, what then of the four patients each needing (different) emergency organ transplants: do you take them from the fifth patient who has an entirely separate condition? If not, again, as with the cave, what is the distinction?

    I think the answer comes back to (i) if it was you, human nature is that you would save your own skin; but if not, then (ii) having not created the situation, you are not morally obliged to change the random event of five dying in favour of the one dying. But no, those aren't very satisfactory. A philosophy lecturer friend came up with much more sophisticated answers once, I might ask him to remind me what they were.

    02 May 2006, 16:35

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