Communicator (communicator) wrote,

Thought experiments

The BBC has an online 'quiz' about various ethical thought experiments (often boiling down to, 'if you could save five people by sacrificing one, would you do it?') and there is an extensive discussion on Crooked Timber here.

I think these ethical puzzles (like most of ethical philosophy in general) don't work in illuminating real moral issues. That's because they are set up in a false way. They often say something like 'If you knew that your action would definitely have good effect x, and not bad effect z, then would you...'). But in real life we never know that. We never know anything for certain, so we have to develop an emotional philosophy, rooted in uncertainty.

Abstract moral philosophy is engaged in developing a set of moral standards for a different species - perhaps a species of superhuman brains in vats, or a species of all-knowing angels. And not surprisingly it is a cold, intellectual, non-intuitive ethics.

I also think this is something wrong with philosophy in general these days. It's thin cold stuff compared to the passionate philosophy of the past.

Just as a taster, here is one of the ethical dilemmas - what is your answer?

A runaway trolley car is hurtling down a track. In its path are five people who will definitely be killed unless you, a bystander, flip a switch which will divert it on to another track, where it will kill one person. Should you flip the switch?

Despite all I have said about 'not knowing' I probably would flip it. And I can imagine running up to a car crash, or escaping from a burning building, and being confronted with this sort of dilemma, and I might end up doing something ruthless but necessary. I hope it never happens to me.
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