Ethics

April 26, 2007 at 9:55 pm (Thoughts)

Today in Philosophy Club we skimmed the surface of the broad and touchy subject of morality and ethics. The main topic that was being discussed was what one would do if placed in a certain situation. The situation at hand was that there was a train track. The train track came to a fork, in which the train could either go straight or could be switched and go to the side. The problem with this situation, is that ahead of the train is an ominous cliff, anything really, but it means certain doom for the car of people. And tied to the side tracks is a person. The individual is standing at the switching machine for the track and must decide whether to let the car crash, or let the person on the tracks die.

This situation holds an obvious dilemma. Either way, one loses. Using the Modern Utilitarianism point of view, as the purpose of human existance is to minimize suffering/maximize happiness, then because the car of people has more people then letting them die would create more suffering than letting one person die, therefore the person on the tracks must be sacrificed.

This raises an interesting question, however. The suffering of the car of people would be great when dying, but would they feel greater guilt cumulatively over their life in knowing that their car killed someone then that of what could possibly be a short and painless, but inevitable death? Along with this, what even allows someone to judge and weigh the sufferings of one person to another?

Others have raised the idea that because 10 lives are greater than one, then the car should be saved.  But this raises another interesting question. What if the person on the tracks were someone extremely important, or someone that was extremely close to the individual making the decision? Would their effect and place in that person’s life constitute sacrificing more lives just to save that one person? And not just this, but what gives the individual the right to make the judgement that one person is more meaningful and useful to the world or society than another? Who is to say that a 24 year old woman with a promising career and fiance is more “worthy of living” or has more “meaning” in their life compared to say a 50 year old bachelor. Who can say that that 50 year old man wasn’t going to in his later years write a revolutionary book that changed the world while the promising young woman ended up getting divorced and losing her job? Not to say that either would happen to them, but what gives a person the right to judge the potential and meaning in the life of someone? Just existing a person effects someone, whether it be their mother, reletives, or just a person on the streets. Even a child that is born and dies from complications has an impact on the parents. Even a fetus in the womb that is aborted has an effect on the parents or people around them. There is no one alive that does not have meaning.

There was more to the debate, but the question that got to me was addressed above, and I suppose my answer would be that no one should, although of course others may think differently.

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A Delve into Philosophy

April 14, 2007 at 4:14 am (Thoughts)

We have a philosophy club at my school, and today was the first time (out of the three times it has met) that I have gone. I thought the idea was rather neat–a club where you can just discuss philosophical ideas, the kind of thing that we never get the opportunity to do in class because that would be a digression from the lesson plan (Aside from the one day in History where the teacher conducted a 30 minute debate in class of the difference between desks and tables which lead up to a broader point about the rise of France as a nation).

So entering into the classroom I was excited; What kind of neat things would we be discussing? I had heard a rumor that salvation would be part of the topic. But once I was in the room, the leader of the discussion, Kathrine, read four questions from a book she was reading (about the history of philosophy). The questions were simplistic; but as you may know, even the most simple of questions can have the most extraordinarily complex answers. Can a baker bake 50 identical cookies? All horses are the same. Do men and women have equal sensibilities?

In theory these questions could have worked through to become interesting, but with the types of people who attend our school (which are mainly scientifically and mathematically minded) the discussion got a little too literal, and so the discussion ended up in contemplating what the ideal cookie was, and whether replicating 50 of them would really work, seeing as how not every atom would be the same and in the same spot (etc. etc.) The culmination of that discussion was probably the idea of coming up with an ideal cookie “DNA”, but there were so many variables and different aspects of how one could define ideal or identical that to look so strenuously at such a topic begins to run the conversation in circles.

I saw how all of the questions lead up into a single discussion, which was whether any two things could be exactly alike or equal. But the debate we had instead of addressing this, went in round about ways as though the club were a class of students with a teacher that beats around the bush to get to the point because they believe the class is too dim-witted to understand it themselves. In all honesty, this made me somewhat angry; We as a group of students are not ignorant people who need to have our opinions and views prompted for us to be able to recognize them and speak. We are a strong, opinionated body that knows what we are trying to say. And so what student can stand in front of a classroom of students which voluntarily met on their own time, and has the right to subtly belittle them?

To me it seems that a philosophy group should not be so point-to-point, but consist of a more flowing conversation. The method of how to speak this afternoon allowed no speaking unless you were holding the stuffed penguin, which got thrown across the room to whoever raised their hand. This means one opinion at a time, but some were left behind in the process. True, it kept people from raising their voices, but to not be able to make a side comment about something unless fighting to get the penguin seems a little…contradictory. What I imagine to be the “ideal” (to use a common word from today’s discussion) Philosophy club would include a group of people sitting around talking, not necessarily with a leader to direct the conversation, but people bringing in different topics and everyone discussing them as in a conversation. Not a “you talk, now you talk, now your turn, sorry we won’t call on you because you already talked” manner.

I am going back to Philosophy club next week to see if it changes at all or if it holds my interest more. But if it doesn’t, I suppose I’ll just call myself a dreamer and leave the philosophies and methods to the scientists.

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