One of the hypothetical situations discussed is a trolley with failed brakes. The conductor of the trolley can take no action in which case the trolley will kill 5 people, or he can throw a switch and cause the trolley to go on another track where it will kill one person.
Does anyone know of an actual incident like this, where a person had 2 horrible options, but where the active choice might be considered better?
I’ve used a story similar to this before in a discussion on absolute morals. But this is the true story:
A man and his wife were political prisoners. They were devoted to each other and took their marriage vows very seriously. But a guard took an interest in the woman and propositioned her: He would let both the husband and wife escape and return to their children if she would have sex with him. But she had made a vow before God and that was sacred to her. What was she to do?
Although it was a difficult decision, the woman accepted the proposition. She and her husband were released and allowed to return to their family. Further, the woman was impregnated by the guard. That child grew up to be especially dear to all because she had brought the family back together.
Also, I have often heard, though I don’t know that I believe it anymore, that Truman had the A-Bombs dropped on two Japanese cities in order to save lives – the lives of American and other Allied forces.
In the case that you described, I don’t understand why the conductor would NOT avert the five people.
Here’s a link with more detail on the trolley dilemma (Google for “moral dilemma trolley” to find lots of discussion on this). The results are pretty interesting. Two cases are presented, each with the same two possible results (one person dies, or five other people die). But people tend to make different decisions in the two cases, meaning that people use something other than the case outcomes to decide what they think is “right.”
I’ll speak to this comment, but try to avoid a hijack by bringing it back around.
From what I’ve seen (including stuff that came out much later), it appears that Truman (& advisors) acted on the belief that the damage of the bombs would save more lives than it would destroy. Based on the actual number of casualties and the intelligence of sixty years, it most likely did not.
The important point is that, in many many situations, the moral dilemma is affected by what you know or do not know about the situation. In the trolley case, how does the conductor know that those people wll/won’t get killed. Sure, it may be a clear-cut case but that seems rare.
What about a Scylla & Charybdis situation? Suppose, for example that the one person cannot walk or is stuck to the track, so it is certain death that way. The five, on the other hand, are all in a car and if they see the train in time, there’s a chance they all survive. Or all die if they don’t.
What sort of moral judgment are we to make with such hypotheticals? I don’t judge Truman for attempting to end the war based on the information, but then there must be a moral obligation to gather the best information possible. What exactly determines how well you know the situation and when you should make your decision? (Consider the current situation with the US Govt. & Iraq).
For another recent situation, consider the passengers of Flight 93 on September 11. Few (if any) know the details, and the people at the time knew even less, but we know the passengers did act, and very likely did so in such a way as to kill themselves. But there were many other outcomes had they not acted, including :
The plane is flown to the Capitol or the White House, where it crashes, killing Congress/the President and creating a terrible governmental crisis in the US.
The plane is flown to another nationally visible target akin to the WTC, e.g. Sears Tower. More lives are lost on the ground, but government is not as affected as in the first case.
The plane is flown to any of those targets (or no target), causing little damage to it but killing everyone on board.
The plane is flown to any target, crashes, but there are survivors from the plane.
The plane, which was only intended for use as a ‘backup’ by the terrorists, lands safely; the terrorists are killed and the hostages are freed.
“For another recent situation, consider the passengers of Flight 93 on September 11. Few (if any) know the details, and the people at the time knew even less, but we know the passengers did act, and very likely did so in such a way as to kill themselves. But there were many other outcomes had they not acted, including :”
That is the perfect example of the moral dilemma, however it is unclear if it was the passengers dilemma or the us govs dilemma when they shot it down.
Churchill was faced with with kind of dilemma djbdjb asks about during the bombing of Coventry. They England knew beforehand all about the bombing, but evacuating the city would have revealed that they had cracked an important German code. The story I’ve heard is that Churchill did not warn the city but made a point of going there the day after the bombing to remind himself of the implications of his choice. (That sounds a bit like a legend–I can’t swear it’s true.)
A real life dilemma I faced is I was offered $1000 to take somebody else’s final when I was an undergrad. Being a poor student, that’s a lot of money. I couldn’t be found out because that’s a take home exam. But it wouldn’t be a moral thing to do.
The Coventry story is bogus. In fact, Churchil did not have assurance that the information he was given was totally reliable, especially when the British considered the city had little strategic value - and it didn’t. Evacuating the city would mean putting resources not readily available in time of war, so they had to trust the city’s underground shelters.
The city was torched because the Germans were using a more accurate radio-navigation system that could pin-point the bombers to the target. This is how the term ‘coventrize’ came into being when the British prepared the Hamburg raid, which was very similar. And even though the flak guns available were not that numerous to begin with, they still managed to shoot down some bombers, so it wasn’t a milk run for them.
The good part is that, after that, Churchill had assurance that Intelligence could provide him with some reasonably accurate information.
This comes up over and over in the discussion of the decision to drop the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Some say tens of thousands were killed (true), others say millions more may have been spared because of the action (the work will never know).
if truman did NOT have quality information, then his decision would be immoral. quality = best possible info. = hard to get = he probably made an immoral decision. but i don’t know the specs obviously.
it’s a judgement call. if the call is beyond our cognitive capabiities as a human, then any decision we make couldn’t be called moral, but would be classified as NOT IMMORAL. the train situation is such a case. there absolutely HAS to be an assumption before making the decision. (5 people will or will not see train) given that there are more people at stake with the 5 people track, i would probably assume that the 5 people would NOT see the train, in order to make the worst possible situation impossible. this is most logical course of action. however, someone else could try to be the hero and barrel towards the group in the hopes that they will see. if he had some sort of logical, visual cue that this group saw the train and he continued on the track, then i say that his decision was NOT IMMORAL.
by the way, if the train conductor has to take an action as opposed to letting the train keep it’s course… this is irrelevant for the decision. he has equal power to go both ways, pulling a level doesn’t matter morally.
bottom line is having enough info to make decision. i don’t make a quick turn on my morocycle unless i can see the road ahead. if it is dark or raining, i will be careful. NEVER BASE A CRUCIAL DECISION BASED ON AN ASSUMPTION. you cannot assume those 5 people will see the train and get off. only last second visual cue can get you off the hook.