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dream_weaver

The Humanitarian with the Trolley

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The Humanitarian with the Trolley

Robert Tracinski makes public, sometimes, publications that he sends out to former subscribers, of which I am one.

This one struck me because it identifies insights, that once stated, seem obvious. Even with Rand's Ethics of Emergencies, and having seen variations on the Trolley Car Problem, the observations made are like ones I'd like to be able to make more often in life.

He couches the dilemma early as:

This is an old philosophical conundrum about a runaway streetcar, where you have to decide whether to pull a switch that will divert the trolley onto Track B–where it will kill a single person–thereby diverting it from Track A, where it would kill a whole crowd full of school kids who all look exactly like Oliver Twist from that old movie.

We've seen variations here about stealing water in the desert to live.

I've held the rather unsympathetic view that lifeboat scenarios do not merit much consideration. In this short piece, a predecessor to shed insight where he is intending to make a more public version, he states:

Ayn Rand’s memorable rejoinder was in “The Ethics of Emergencies,” where she dismissed such “lifeboat” scenarios as irrelevant to morality. Moral principles are formed from and intended for the 99.9% of existence that happens when you are not in a life-and-death emergency. So the question is: why are philosophers so fascinated with those extremely rare scenarios?

He directly address this in the next paragraph, but what really stood out was the assessment of what such an approach does in the culture:

The cost of this is that in making philosophy seem more complex and difficult, these scenarios also make ethics seem irrelevant to all of our ordinary decisions. It’s just there for lifeboats and runaway trolleys, should such an emergency arise in the course of your everyday life.

Bold, my emphasis added. A similar thought exists in political assessments were the contrast is sometimes drawn between the publicly stated 'unintended consequences' of a policy are re-couched as the 'intended consequences' of later analytical pieces of the same policies. He goes on:

Yet there’s a deeper and much creepier attraction. Notice that all of these emergency situations have one thing in common: they require sacrifice. Somebody has to die if others are going to live. They all carry the implicit premise that moral problems require sacrifice, and that the main purpose of morality is to tell us who should be sacrificed to whom.

Granted, in the water in the desert scenario, what is laid on the sacrificial alter is not life, per se, but of when property rights can be sacrificed, by whom, and for what.

He sums these two up with the following:

So the purpose of starting with the trollies and lifeboats is to instill in us the idea that morality is synonymous with altruism, that it is synonymous with a morality of sacrifice.

Granted, these are not the explicitly stated premises of altruism, but when, other than a rare moment or two, does altruism state its premises explicitly? Altruism thrives by the unstated, the unnamed, the unidentified, — camouflaged to avoid detection and operate behind the scenes. Oh my. Am I touting conspiracy theory? I can only tout this tidbit that comes to mind from Galt's Speech:

"It is a conspiracy of all those who seek, not to live, but to get away with living, those who seek to cut just one small corner of reality and are drawn, by feeling, to all the others who are busy cutting other corners—a conspiracy that unites by links of evasion all those who pursue a zero as a value[.]

The last part that I'd like to share with you here from Robert's article is:

Which is monstrous when you think about it. Under the guise of an exercise in moral clarity, the Trolley Problem is trying to convince us that otherwise decent men should be prepared to kill innocent people for the greater good.

What other package dealings lie at the heart of other pseudo-ethical dilemmas?

 

postscript: The Trolley Problem

Edited by dream_weaver
Link added to "Package Dealings," Fallacy of
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the trolley problem is not "trying to convince us... to kill innocent people for the greater good"; the trolley problem is a question and it is possible to answer otherwise.

the point of posing extreme thought experiments is not that ethics is "irrelevant to ordinary decisions" (these should be easy to answer) or that emergencies are the norm (most everyone admits they are not). the point is that an ethical system should be capable of handling anything, providing guidance for any decision you could face. and a moral philosopher should be prepared to stand by their positions even under the most difficult of circumstances, or else reevaluate and amend the principles they have accepted if they are shown to lead to problems when followed out.

if ethics is an applied science, as Rand believed it was, then it should be held to the same standards as other applied sciences, and engineers of every kind stress-test their structures. thought experiments like these can be considered to be the moral philosophy equivalent of software testing.

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Tracinski states,

Quote

Ayn Rand’s memorable rejoinder was in “The Ethics of Emergencies,” where she dismissed such “lifeboat” scenarios as irrelevant to morality. Moral principles are formed from and intended for the 99.9% of existence that happens when you are not in a life-and-death emergency.

This is not what Ayn Rand says in her essay "The Ethics of Emergencies".

The essay begins with her asking us to consider the implications of someone who begins their approach to the subject of ethics with lifeboat scenarios - which she regards as a disintegrated, malevolent, and basically altruistic approach to the subject, that cannot ultimately yield a rational system of ethics.

She did not say that lifeboat scenarios are "irrelevant", that they are the 0.01 of cases that morality is "not intended for", she says exactly the opposite:

Quote

It is important to differentiate between the rules of conduct in an emergency situation and the rules of conduct in the normal conditions of human existence. This does not mean a double standard of morality: the standard and the basic principles remain the same, but their application to either case requires precise definitions.

And she absolutely did not say that moral principles are "intended for the 99.9% of existence":

Quote

“Sacrifice” is the surrender of a greater value for the sake of a lesser one or of a nonvalue... The rational principle of conduct is the exact opposite: always act in accordance with the hierarchy of your values, and never sacrifice a greater value to a lesser one.

This applies to all choices, including one’s actions toward other men.

She does not say to act in accordance with your hierarchy of values 99.9% of the time, she says always. Sacrificing a greater value to a lesser one is not okay 0.01% of the time, it's never okay. She did not say that moral principles apply to 99.9% of one's choices - she says they apply to all choices.

She then goes to take those principles of ethics that apply in the 99.9% of existence in which one is not in an emergency, and proceeds to apply those very same principles to emergency situations:

Quote

To illustrate this on the altruists’ favorite example: the issue of saving a drowning person. If the person to be saved is a stranger, it is morally proper to save him only when the danger to one’s own life is minimal; when the danger is great, it would be immoral to attempt it: only a lack of self-esteem could permit one to value one’s life no higher than that of any random stranger. (And, conversely, if one is drowning, one cannot expect a stranger to risk his life for one’s sake, remembering that one’s life cannot be as valuable to him as his own.)

If the person to be saved is not a stranger, then the risk one should be willing to take is greater in proportion to the greatness of that person’s value to oneself. If it is the man or woman one loves, then one can be willing to give one’s own life to save him or her—for the selfish reason that life without the loved person could be unbearable.

Conversely, if a man is able to swim and to save his drowning wife, but becomes panicky, gives in to an unjustified, irrational fear and lets her drown, then spends his life in loneliness and misery—one would not call him “selfish”; one would condemn him morally for his treason to himself and to his own values, that is: his failure to fight for the preservation of a value crucial to his own happiness. Remember that values are that which one acts to gain and/or keep, and that one’s own happiness has to be achieved by one’s own effort. Since one’s own happiness is the moral purpose of one’s life, the man who fails to achieve it because of his own default, because of his failure to fight for it, is morally guilty.

The virtue involved in helping those one loves is not “selflessness” or “sacrifice,” but integrity. Integrity is loyalty to one’s convictions and values; it is the policy of acting in accordance with one’s values, of expressing, upholding and translating them into practical reality. If a man professes to love a woman, yet his actions are indifferent, inimical or damaging to her, it is his lack of integrity that makes him immoral.

As we can see in this example, the virtue of integrity, which applies in the 99.9% of existence in which one is not in an emergency, also prescribes what one ought to do in the 0.01% of life in which one is in an emergency, too.

I started a separate thread answering what one ought to do in the trolley problem here:

 

Edited by epistemologue
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Epist and splitprimary each of you have good points that the science of morality applies always.

Tracinski and Dream weaver do have a point which should not be ignored, which is that the selection of issues to look at, the way in which the issues are contrived does bespeak of implicit premises and package deals.  A proponent of a morality based on rational selfishness should do well not to ignore the motives and philosophy behind of those who oppose it.

To be sure, many ethical dilemma's are raised purposefully to uphold or criticize certain moral theories or to instill complete skepticism in morality as such.  Most appeal to emotion and how you feel to distract one from the process and exercise of reason.

The plan then is present a "dilemma" A, show how it is confusing or difficult or leads to outcomes which makes a person "feel" wrong (how can we let a poor little boy starve to death?)... the hope being that the target concludes his/her morality must be wrong or that there is no morality.

I would suggest one certainly does not have to run away from these moral dilemma's but one needs to see them for what they are.

 

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NOTE just HOW contrived these so called moral dilemma's are, and how they try to reduce Man's capacity to create choices for himself, act within a wide range of his capabilities within all possibilities presented by reality... to an automaton barely having the agency to be a moral actor.

 

It reminds me of the type of person who says are you going to do A OR B?  When in fact there are A, B, C, D, E, F, G ...

 

Imagine a real trolley emergency.  What would you do?  Well, as soon as you saw the emergency you would try to contact someone to warn the people on the tracks.  You would try to contact other railway personnel or initiate some emergency system... try to contact anyone or anything within range of the trolley or the tracks to try to stop it... either turn on its brakes, turn off its power, block and or destroy the track to stop or derail it, have someone jam the track switch halfway to make the train derail in a third direction.. etc

 

Now imagine a conversation with the dilemma contriver, who will say "But you know none of those other actions will work, why bother trying them"

To which you will reply:  How do I know nothing else will work?

"Well, you have no phone to warn anyone."

I'll use the radio to radio other track personnel of the emergency.

"Well you have no radio... the radio and telephone are gone from that room"

I'll use my cell phone or the internet.

"Your cell phone is missing, and... there is no internet service in the room."

I'll run out into the street and look for help...

"Uh... the door is locked."

From the .. OUTSIDE? .. I'll use the key... because I have one .. because I am an authorized controller/switch operator?

"um... YES it's locked from the outside... and you don't have a key... its missing ... NO, you aren't an authorized operator"

Okay.... I'll use an emergency over-ride to stop the trolley.

"... all controls for emergency brakes, or emergency power shut off... or any emergency diversion side tracks... are gone"

How do I know that the people ARE on the tracks... one on one track and ten on the other?  That could be faked... and how do I know that I can do anything about where the trolley goes? 

"BECAUSE... you are in the railroad control room, you know that the video feed is accurate and you know that pulling the lever will activate the switch to redirect the trolley"  SMILE

If I am not an authorized operator how do I know this?

"Well... OK.. you actually ARE an authorized operator ... your keys are just missing."

Just out of curiosity, who locked me in?

"... who locked...???  I mean, you don't know who locked the door or why"

How do I know it's even the control room when it is unrecognizable, the phone and radio are gone,  and all emergency controls are gone?

"You just know"

OK, let me get this straight, I am locked in a room by who knows who, for who knows why.  Instead of there being a phone, radio, or internet access to contact other railway personnel there is nothing... the controls for emergency brakes, power shut off or diversion tracks have been removed. My phone and keys are missing, possibly stolen. I can do nothing except pull a lever which presumably controls the switch on the tracks?  I am supposed to just know that the video is real and that the lever really works, and therefore I can be held accountable morally for my action or inaction even though I HIGHLY doubt the veracity of any of this and suspect I have been drugged, stolen from, and locked in a room by unknown persons playing an evil trick on me?

"Well for our purposes you must assume you ARE omniscient.  You KNOW the video feed is true, you KNOW that the lever works and that you can do nothing else, I.e. you KNOW the future with certainty ... it contains only two possibilities for the trolley and those people... the trolley will go on one track or the other.  You ARE morally accountable. Please, you must realize, this "dilemma" is not supposed to be a real emergency, it's a specifically distilled one to expose you to your morality and the choice it forces upon you."  SMILES AGAIN

 

To which you can reply:

Only reality forces choices upon me, and my morality is the standard by which I will make the choices I will make...   

and then walk away.

Edited by StrictlyLogical

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2 hours ago, StrictlyLogical said:

NOTE just HOW contrived these so called moral dilemma's are, and how they try to reduce Man's capacity to create choices for himself, act within a wide range of his capabilities within all possibilities presented by reality... to an automaton barely having the agency to be a moral actor.

All you did was explain how NOT to write a moral dilemma. A bad writer or thinker would let plot holes appear all over. Novels have moral dilemmas all the time, and it's normal and expected to ask what you would do. The trolley problem is... okay... but there are ways to address it without resorting to looking for plot holes. There is no reduction of choice, as all choices are constrained. The only issue is suspension of disbelief. Splitprimary is right on this one.

By the way, the trolley problem was developed by Philippa Foot, who is more Aristotelian about ethics than not. Its purpose is just to think about ethics. If it signals to you that it only seeks to show altruism, or "reduce" man that's just personal bias.

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19 hours ago, splitprimary said:

the trolley problem is not "trying to convince us... to kill innocent people for the greater good"; the trolley problem is a question and it is possible to answer otherwise.

the point of posing extreme thought experiments is not that ethics is "irrelevant to ordinary decisions" (these should be easy to answer) or that emergencies are the norm (most everyone admits they are not). the point is that an ethical system should be capable of handling anything, providing guidance for any decision you could face. and a moral philosopher should be prepared to stand by their positions even under the most difficult of circumstances, or else reevaluate and amend the principles they have accepted if they are shown to lead to problems when followed out.

if ethics is an applied science, as Rand believed it was, then it should be held to the same standards as other applied sciences, and engineers of every kind stress-test their structures. thought experiments like these can be considered to be the moral philosophy equivalent of software testing.

Thought experiments like this are the moral philosophy equivalent of product testing a porcelain doll by shooting it out of a cannon.

In reality, the porcelain doll isn't designed to survive getting shot out of a cannon, and moral codes aren't designed to be able to answer unrealistic situations which have all context stripped from them. Moral codes should be able to provide an answer in all REAL situations, not in all hypothetical ones.

The reason why Objectivist Ethics does that is because it starts out with the very fundamental premise of rational selfishness, which applies to all situations (there's no situation in which you can't be selfish). And then it formulates more specific principles, to cover the most common specifics we face (i.e. there are more specific principles that help us live in civilized society).

The reason why the trolley problem breaks Objectivist Ethics is because it removes all context that would allow someone to decide which option is the selfish one. Like I said, in real life there are no such situations. So an ethics aimed at living in reality doesn't need to cover this hypothetical.

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21 hours ago, splitprimary said:

if ethics is an applied science, as Rand believed it was, then it should be held to the same standards as other applied sciences, and engineers of every kind stress-test their structures.

Engineers also make assumptions based on incomplete and/or poor data, include very generous safety-factors (over design), rely on feedback from in-the-field, independent 3rd-party special inspectors, and continuously make changes to designs throughout construction.

And after all that (and more) concrete still cracks, building are still pulled apart by expansion/contraction and differential settlement, and they start falling apart even before construction is finished.  And they require continuous maintenance and repairs throughout their life-cycle....

"Life-boat Ethics" assumes that you only have one chance to get an ethical decision right.  The applied sciences know that this is darn near impossible (or too expensive) and roll with the punches.   They try to find a happy balance between profit/loss, knowing that entropy always wins in the end.

Most decisions that we make in life are not life/death decisions.

Edited by New Buddha

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20 hours ago, epistemologue said:

The essay begins with her asking us to consider the implications of someone who begins their approach to the subject of ethics with lifeboat scenarios - which she regards as a disintegrated, malevolent, and basically altruistic approach to the subject, that cannot ultimately yield a rational system of ethics.

If Tracinski had started his article with something more like this, it still ties in well with the points he made that were referenced in the OP.

 

3 hours ago, Nicky said:

The reason why the trolley problem breaks Objectivist Ethics is because it removes all context that would allow someone to decide which option is the selfish one. Like I said, in real life there are no such situations. So an ethics aimed at living in reality doesn't need to cover this hypothetical.

This would be another good point for Robert to have raised.

 

22 hours ago, splitprimary said:

an ethical system should be capable of handling anything, providing guidance for any decision you could face. and a moral philosopher should be prepared to stand by their positions even under the most difficult of circumstances, . . .

if ethics is an applied science, as Rand believed it was, then it should be held to the same standards as other applied sciences . . .

More broadly, the trolley problem is often submitted to students seeking to firm up their precariously semi-rational state. How many of the instructors positing this today are seeking the sanction of their students to provide themselves with a source of certainty? From Galt's Speech, pg. 960:

"When you listen to a mystic's harangue on the impotence of the human mind and begin to doubt your consciousness, not his, when you permit your precariously semi-rational state to be shaken by any assertion and decide it is safer to trust his superior certainty and knowledge, the joke is on both of you: your sanction is the only source of certainty he has.

Are the instructors laying the groundwork for a rational basis in ethics, stressing that most moral problems do not require a sacrifice of this kind? Or do they use it to undermine the efficacy of the human mind, stressing that the "right" consists of picking the least amount of victims based on quantity per at best a metaphysically based trolley run amuck, or perhaps allowing the turning of moral culpability to the designers of a failed braking system, or perhaps a yardman who neglected to set the brakes?

 

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47 minutes ago, dream_weaver said:

Are the instructors laying the groundwork for a rational basis in ethics, stressing that most moral problems do not require a sacrifice of this kind? Or do they use it to undermine the efficacy of the human mind,

Generally, I've only seen it used to either talk about consequentialism versus deontology (as probably popularized by Joshua Greene and other moral psychologists), or just to discuss how people tend to pose moral dilemmas. It does not propose an "answer", it only poses a question. It's not totally implausible, either. In a way, it's the movie "Speed", or to decide to nuke Japan in WW2. Or say, is it right to nuke Iran and kill innocents too or kill no innocents at all as a deontological rule.

For what it's worth, I'd say the answer depends on -who- is at risk. If I had to risk 5 strangers to save 1 friend, I'd do whatever it takes to save my friend. If it's 5 strangers versus 1 stranger, I'd do what I can to save the 5.

Edited by Eiuol

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4 hours ago, Eiuol said:

For what it's worth, I'd say the answer depends on -who- is at risk. If I had to risk 5 strangers to save 1 friend, I'd do whatever it takes to save my friend. If it's 5 strangers versus 1 stranger, I'd do what I can to save the 5.

As stated, then, the answer depends on additional content, implicitly imported or otherwise.

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On ‎10‎/‎20‎/‎2016 at 0:17 AM, splitprimary said:

if ethics is an applied science, as Rand believed it was, then it should be held to the same standards as other applied sciences, and engineers of every kind stress-test their structures. thought experiments like these can be considered to be the moral philosophy equivalent of software testing.

It is the particular nature of the stress test which is instructive.

It reduces the choices of the moral actor to a binary choice.  It invokes death or murder of innocents presumably to inject emotionalism into the "problem".  It pits one individual stranger against a group... (WHY? such an odd choice.. why not a moose and a mouse?) and is rigged to show more carnage if you choose not to murder the individual.

There is a LOT more going on here than something like "software testing".

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2 hours ago, StrictlyLogical said:

It reduces the choices of the moral actor to a binary choice.

Are you even reading my posts? I'm not saying it's a good moral dilemma, but you're misunderstanding its purpose.

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2 hours ago, Eiuol said:

Are you even reading my posts? I'm not saying it's a good moral dilemma, but you're misunderstanding its purpose.

I read your posts. I disagree.  I've chosen not to argue with you.

That said, I have chosen to stay engaged in this thread in an open conversation where there are many interesting things to consider and say in an exchange among many people.

 

Edited by StrictlyLogical

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Just now, StrictlyLogical said:

I read your posts. I disagree.  I've chosen not to argue with you

Fine then, but it's not other stuff to consider, you got the facts wrong, so your analysis is exaggerated and/or missing how to argue against trolley problems in principle. It'd be more rational to engage and talk rather than ignore one another.

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42 minutes ago, Eiuol said:

Fine then, but it's not other stuff to consider, you got the facts wrong, so your analysis is exaggerated and/or missing how to argue against trolley problems in principle. It'd be more rational to engage and talk rather than ignore one another.

I said I did not want to argue. 

I do not believe that gives you license to assert that I "got the facts wrong" or to imply I am being irrational by choosing not to argue with you.

I said I disagree, and I don't feel the need to attack you or your position, so I wont.

I leave it to any other reader to judge for themselves whether I presented any "facts" which are wrong, or whether my choice to ignore you is or is not irrational, and I hope they understand my further silence on anything else you say does not indicate my implicit agreement therewith.

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1 hour ago, StrictlyLogical said:

I do not believe that gives you license to assert that I "got the facts wrong" or to imply I am being irrational by choosing not to argue with you.

Well, I did read your posts, addressed errors and parts you got right, but if you don't want to address possible errors, then it is rather anti-intellectual. The facts are wrong in that you're seeing patterns that aren't there. I mean, see where you're coming from, but there is no bad intent or attempt to devalue thought. So silence indicates nothing but unwillingness to address what is actually questionable about trolley problems. Or, ignoring what is problematic in your objections.

More specifically, I agree with splitprimary, and your response to her while ignoring me suggests bias - because my posts do build a little from her first post. Better to add or build onto arguments/ideas.

" why not a moose and a mouse? "

Because at least for people who aren't vegans, a moose and a mouse isn't a worry at all. The difference is acting in a way that results in you *killing* someone. There are ways to make trolley-like problems, despite the rather weird and arbitrary trolley. "Sophie's Choice" is an example of a good way, where good writing ends up with a plausible dilemma that trolley problems try to get at.

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Tragedy in art and emergencies in ethics take questions to the level of existentialism. What if you're faced with the situation of a man who is irrational or a universe that is malevolent? These questions completely separate your ability to make ethical decisions from the outcomes, and force you to justify your actions on the basis of being rationally self-consistent with your nature.

Likewise in tragedy, it forces you to completely separate your judgment from whether or not you like the outcomes or the effect (you won't; it's a tragedy), and to evaluate the artwork according to its metaphysical self-consistency, especially when it comes to judging the characters in the tragedy according to these same ethical standards of rational self-consistency with human nature. 

Emergencies take ethics to its extreme to reveal the character of the system to the furthest possible extent. At what limit do one's principles break down, if at all? If the outcomes seem to be working against you, at what point do you break down to accepting a malevolent universe premise? What would break Roark? The only way to stress test that limit is to put them up against an extreme test: amidst a complete absence of his values, his ability to work, to have someone to love, etc, does he abandon his principles, or does he persist?

If your ethics is a fragile, porcelain doll, you'd fold like a house of cards facing half of the adversity Roark faced.

Only a consequentialist would be so deathly afraid of a hypothetical emergency that they'd evade the question or declare their inability to handle the moral question. Roark was given an ultimatum, that he must design according to popular styles, or be crushed by Wynand's power, and he did the opposite of evading the issue or crumbling under the pressure: he sketched what it was he was being asked for, and laughed it off as the most absurd thing he'd ever heard, as if to say, of course my principles are completely unbreakable, no matter how impossible you make it for me to succeed - this is my identity, and integrity compels me to act accordingly, regardless of the consequences.

"I wish I could tell you that it was a temptation, at least for a moment."

If the story had ended with Roark stuck in the quarry it still would have been a great work of tragic art. To stress the point, instead of relieving the conflict with Enright getting in contact with him, she could have pressed Roark further, have him face death itself, starving from lack of work or crucified, and made it an even greater work of tragic art by showing the furthest extent of his integrity. She took Galt that far - she did have him facing the threat of death, and even had him tortured.

"It was the torturers who were trembling with terror... Wesley Mouch was first to break."

Edited by epistemologue

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3 hours ago, Eiuol said:

how to argue against trolley problems in principle.

I didn't take Strictly Logical's parody of a classroom situation as a how-to for arguing against the trolley problem.

Hearkening back to your importation of more content to provide an answer, I pictured students asking the professor, why can't we consider these potential other alternatives, while the professor continues to lop off the alternatives leaving you with a mechanical switching mechanism (which you are presumed to have happened on in this situation knowing full well what it does and just how to work it.) and the choice to switch it or not. Of course, by the time you get to ask if the sole person on the track can be a close personal friend or not, the professor may have gotten to the point and said . . . yes, yes . . . go ahead, if you must.

What is it that Rand stated in The Fountainhead: The Soul of the Collectivist? It was:

Don't bother to examine a folly—ask yourself only what it accomplishes.

 

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49 minutes ago, dream_weaver said:

What is it that Rand stated in The Fountainhead: The Soul of the Collectivist? It was:

Don't bother to examine a folly—ask yourself only what it accomplishes.

Leonard Peikoff explains that line in The Fountainhead:

Quote

That is Toohey speaking, not Rand. She would ask "How do you know it is a folly without examining it?"

From "Philosophy, Who Needs It?":

Quote

If you feel nothing but boredom when reading the virtually unintelligible theories of some philosophers, you have my deepest sympathy. But if you brush them aside, saying: "Why should I study that stuff when I know it's nonsense?"--you are mistaken. It is nonsense, but you don't know it--not so long as you go on accepting all their conclusions, all the vicious catch phrases generated by those philosophers. And not so long as you are unable to refute them.

That nonsense deals with the most crucial, the life-or-death issues of man's existence. At the root of every significant philosophic theory, there is a legitimate issue--in the sense that there is an authentic need of man's consciousness, which some theories struggle to clarify and others struggle to obfuscate, to corrupt, to prevent man from ever discovering. The battle of philosophers is a battle for man's mind. If you do not understand their theories, you are vulnerable to the worst among them.

 

Edited by epistemologue
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6 minutes ago, epistemologue said:

Leonard Peikoff explains that line in The Fountainhead:

Yes. To ask what it accomplishes, is to examine it.

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to merely look at the consequences is not to "examine the folly" or to "understand their theories".

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2 hours ago, epistemologue said:

Only a consequentialist would be so deathly afraid of a hypothetical emergency that they'd evade the question or declare their inability to handle the moral question. Roark was given an ultimatum, that he must design according to popular styles, or be crushed by Wynand's power, and he did the opposite of evading the issue or crumbling under the pressure: he sketched what it was he was being asked for, and laughed it off as the most absurd thing he'd ever heard, as if to say, of course my principles are completely unbreakable, no matter how impossible you make it for me to succeed - this is my identity, and integrity compels me to act accordingly, regardless of the consequences.

Interesting idea. Can you clarify? I mean, as far as I see, consequentialists are glad to answer hypotheticals, emphasizing how to calculate morality like a baking recipe. Mix in some pressing situation, some numbers or weights, then see what pops out. For this, a consequentialist easily says "save as many as possible". Likewise, a deontologist would easily say "NEVER act in a way that kills someone else". We can dismantle moral dilemmas to see weak points or information we want, even say a dilemma fails to address real moral concerns. But it's easy enough to make some answer without simply saying it's silly.

I disagreed before on the nature of "emergencies", but ones like this don't fall into what I say destroy the basis of morality, life.

DW, as far as I've experienced, a professor will be glad to hear you bring up questions like "doesn't valuing people affect this?" I've eyerolled at many a trolley problem, but generally people do get talking about parts that matter soon enough.

 

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6 hours ago, Eiuol said:

Interesting idea. Can you clarify? I mean, as far as I see, consequentialists are glad to answer hypotheticals, emphasizing how to calculate morality like a baking recipe.

Eiuol, I'm happy to clarify. As I said, tragedies in art, and hypothetical emergencies like this trolley problem and others in ethics, present the most extreme cases, where one is forced to deal with a person who is irrational or a world in which one's interests are frustrated, to the point of becoming existential questions about how to deal with a world where such things are possible.

Whether the case is a man with a moral code facing torture and death if he doesn't cooperate with the looters, or a man of genius and integrity driven to work as a day laborer in a quarry, or a starving man facing the choice to steal to live, or in this case one is faced with the choice to murder in order to save lives - these kinds of questions are designed to separate acting rationally and morally from the achievement of desirable outcomes. If you fundamentally rely on judging the ends in order to justify the means, then you are left without principles, without a moral code, helpless to make the right decision in these situations: you are forced to compromise your integrity, to steal, to lie, and to murder.

You've stated elsewhere that in some situations you are willing to steal and to murder in order to save your own life. And now you've said you're willing to do it in order to save other people's lives. As an Objectivist you claim to stand for your integrity, for moral principle, and for individual rights. You claim to stand on the side of Galt, Dagny, Rearden, Francisco, Ragnar, and Roark. Yet, for the sake of your ends, you are willing to sacrifice these, like James Taggart, Wesley Mouch, Floyd Ferris, or Robert Stadler.

Quote

"This is no time for squeamishness," James Taggart spoke up with unexpected vigor, but his voice, too, was oddly low. "We don't have to be sissies about it."
"It seems to me . . ." said Mouch dully, "that . . . that the end justifies the means . . ."
"It's too late for any scruples or any principles," said Ferris. "Only direct action can work now."
No one answered; they were acting as if they wished that their pauses, not their words, would state what they were discussing...
"It seems to me . . . that we have no other choice . . ." said Mouch; it was almost a whisper.

Well we've shot your ethics out of a cannon, and it's exploded like a porcelain doll. You're not going to make it out of the quarry. The heroine who should have been your true love regards you with that merciless indifference of a zero which Dominique had for Keating in bed. You will not be contacted to enter the gulch.

Such will be your status morally until you learn to justify your actions, not according to those values that come from the outcomes, but according to those individual rights and moral principles that come from the metaphysical nature of man.

Edited by epistemologue

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12 hours ago, splitprimary said:

to merely look at the consequences is not to "examine the folly" or to "understand their theories".

SP

I would submit first, that life boat and emergency dilemmas simply do not serve any purpose for someone who has voluntarily, deliberately, and finally adopted a morality of rational selfinterest.

As such, while no Objectivist need be afraid of turning his or her mind to such things it doesn't present a sufficient value for him to spend his time on it.

Importantly, however, we note its target mentality, minds attempting emancipation from altruism, mysticism, rationalism ... they are the ones we need crucially to reject the premise that morality requires sacrifice.  How will the rest of world come to discover reality and morality when such insidious traditions as this are unquestioned?  

We know our morality, the trolley scenario is not a problem because it confuses us (it does not), it is a problem because it stunts and confuses the minds of others towards altruism and the identification of morality with questions of sacrifice, minds whom we desperately need to win, to show that morality is about life and neither life nor morality is about sacrifice.  If man is ever to live in a rational and free society we need as many of those minds as possible.

There trolley dilemma presents us with a real and important problem... but it has nothing to do with who to sacrifice on some hypothetical railway.

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