Morality

Kill One Man to Save Five? Answers Depend on What Language This Moral Dilemma Is Posed In

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Ashley Dace/Flickr

It's a timeworn and some might say tired rhetorical dilemma: Would you sacrifice one person's life to save five? But a new study published in the journal PLOS One provides a fresh twist on this morality test. It seems people's answers may depend on whether the question is posed in a native or a foreign language, with people making "substantially more utilitarian" decisions in the foreign language. 

"People often believe that moral judgments about 'right' and 'wrong' are the result of deep, thoughtful principles and should therefore be consistent and unaffected by irrelevant aspects of a moral dilemma," note the researchers, led by Albert Costa of Spain's University Pompeu Fabra.

Not so! Study participants—a mix of Americans, Koreans, French, and Israelis—were asked to imagine a situation where pushing a heavy man off a footbridge in front of a moving train could save five people about to get hit. The moral dilemma was posed to them in either their native language or a foreign language that they were proficient in but did not grow up speaking at home. Across all groups, more participants selected the utilitarian choice—to save five people by killing one—when using a foreign language than a native tongue.

Overall, only 18 percent of participants decided to push the man to his death when using their native tongue, compared to 44 percent when using a foreign language. 

In a second experiment, participants were given another version of the same dillemma—but this time, pulling a switch could divert the train from hitting five people to only hitting one, no pushing required. This time, participants preferred to divert the train in nearly equal numbers using native and foreign languages. 

The researchers speculate that this has to do with the more emotional nature of the first scenario. "Most likely, a foreign language reduces emotional reactivity, promoting cost-benefit considerations, leading to an increase in utilitarian judgments," they write. "This discovery has important consequences for our globalized world as many individuals make moral judgments in both native and foreign languages."

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  1. Look at that 82% of people are libertarians in their native language.

    1. I thought the libertarian answer was to shoot everyone and sell the train for parts, thus making a tidy profit.

      1. Bullets cost money. You should have your orphans kill them, which costs you nothing.

        1. +1 Longshanks

      2. Enslave, not shoot. How else would I get my monocle polished?

      3. No. The libertarians take 12 of their least productive monocle polishing orphans, tie them on the track so that the train derails. Then they send their remaining monocle polishers to disassemble the train, to sell for parts, and remind them to think about their monocle polishing quotas.

        1. It only takes 12 to derail a train?

          Fuck, I’ve been doing it wrong this whole time…

          1. Ponder it…..on the TREE OF WOE!

        2. Why are you wasting orphans when there are five people you don’t own who are already going to derail the train?

          1. Productivity incentive!

      4. Other way around = the bodies could be harvested for organs; the train used to monopolize commerce between our diamond mines.

        1. I like the way you do bidness!

          /Four Brothers

        2. +1 robber baron.

      5. The five people on the tracks are your employees whom you forced to sign lucrative life insurance policies naming you the beneficiary.

        You thus let the train hit them.

  2. I am disappointed that the image was not a screen cap from Thomas the Tank Engine

    1. I was thinking more like this

      http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-YOo1…..TRAIN2.jpg

      1. my thoughts went to Kobayashi Maru: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z49bBPf7b4g

  3. I think most people just want to push someone in front of a train.

    1. If someone = mother-in-law I fail to see the harm.

  4. Overall, only 18 percent of participants decided to push the man to his death when using their native tongue, compared to 44 percent when using a foreign language

    Well, when you can’t understand the question, that’s what happens.

    1. I wonder if they chose German specifically for the nazi germany connotations it may have provided to the europeans that this study was conducted on.

      1. “However, the Teutonic reputation for brutality is well-founded: their operas last three or four days; and they have no word for `fluffy’.”

    2. Isn’t it hard to push anyone using your tongue, native or otherwise?

  5. I have to ask, why are these hypothetical people on the track in the first place? I never got that part, because if they were there by their own stupid choices, I’m not saving them.

  6. These types of “morality questions” are stupid.

    Who’s killing the one man? How do I know with absolute certainty that the act of killing the one man will actually save 5 lives that are on the precipice of death? Under what circumstances would this scenario ever exist in the real world?

    Humans do not and can not know the future; we live in a natural state of uncertainty. We take precautions to ensure a favorable outcome for the future, but cannot possibly know it.

    So yes, every time, I will not pull the trigger to kill one person to “potentially” save 5, simply because I know I can save one life right now and one life -guaranteed- saved is definitely worth 5 “possibles.”

    1. Exactly. These moronic “morality” questions are just mental masturbation for the test givers. Since you would never, ever actually end up in the hypothetical situation, the question is idiotic. It’s like asking “if you found yourself in an Alison Brie/Gillian Jacobs threesome who would you do first?” Of course the answer is: yes. So much yes.

      1. I’ll be in my bunk.

      2. Since you would never, ever actually end up in the hypothetical situation, the question is idiotic.

        The exact intellectual equivalent of “Would you suck a dick for a million dollars?”

        1. Are you offering? I will suck any dick for a million dollars.

          1. I forget the comedian’s name, but he really rips into it. “Who the fuck is going to pay *me* a million dollars to suck a dick? I’m sure he can do better than me for $25 down the street.”

            1. John Caparulo.

          2. I need to see the cash, though.

          3. Do I have to swallow?

        2. I wouldn’t even think twice.

          1. Even Donald Sterling?

    2. Not only are the situations stupid and contrived, but no one is actually being asked to kill anyone. There is a big difference between being asked to imagine what you would do and actually being faced with the choice. I’d bet that actually faced with pushing someone in front of the train very few people would really do it even if somehow you could know exactly what the results would be.

      I think that is a major flaw (among many major flaws) in a lot of psych studies like this. The situation is not real and the participants know it is not real. There is no reason to believe that what they say is what they would actually do in the situation.

      1. What gets me though is the assumption of perfect knowledge is -given- with no debate; like somehow the stars can align or some bullshit to provide perfect knowledge of the situation.

      2. And when in life are you 100% assured of an outcome?

        “Would you kill a fat man for the possibility that it might result in five people not being kill? We can’t tell you the odds, because who could know them?”

        1. It’s really just all idiotic. And this crap gets reported as news.

        2. And when in life are you 100% assured of an outcome?

          When you are part of the academic-industrial complex, that’s when.

        3. “Would you kill a fat man t-”

          “Yes.”

          “You didn’t let me fi-”

          “Yes.”

      3. But you assume the question is to find out what they’d actually do. It’s not. Rather, it’s about how they think about it and what they choose to say.

        Finding out what they’d actually do would be a fool’s errand. When would that ever pay off? What are the odds you’d meet that person again while you were crossing some RR and needed to know whether to avoid hir?

        1. I see what you mean, but still, what use is knowing that?

          There is some interest in the language aspect in seeing how language connects with other parts of the brain in native and non-native languages, but I’d think there would be better ways to look at that.

      4. Even given perfect knowledge, the physics of the question are absurd. Here’s a train with so much mass it will kill 5 people if they get in its way, but here’s a fat guy who’s so massive his very bulk could derail the train. Now here’s you, who’s job it is to push a guy who’s heavier than a train into the path of a train.

      5. Stanley Milgram, call your office.

    3. You’re right! Damned natural language making people all emotional and judgemental and shit.

      my @five_people = (‘person 1’, ‘person 2’, ‘person 3’, ‘person 4’, ‘person 5’);

      my $heavy_man = ‘250 lbs.?’;

      my @train = ();

      while (scalar(@five_people) = 5) {
      push(@train, ($heavy_man));
      }

      Take that ‘heavy man’!

  7. Es logico. Las necesidades de la mayor?a superan las necesidades de unos pocos.

    1. He said, “yes”

    2. So…Ima go with “push him in front of the train”, then.

      /non-other-language-than-Engrish speaker

    3. Eu nao entendo. Entao, vou matar voce.

    4. Por que no te callas!

      1. Cordoba? Chimichanga?

        /typical ‘murcan

    5. I’ll take the burrito dinner too.

      1. Com muitas cervejas!

    6. ?Donde estan mis pantalones?

      (the first question mark should be upside down)

      1. Try hitting alt+168 to get that.

      2. ?D?nde est? la cerveza?

        FIFY

        And you are correct Reason censorbot, it does not appear to be in English script, does it?

        1. I got this:
          “Your comment does not appear to be written in an English script. Please comment in English.”

          1. If you write something in english with it, it goes through.

            1. ?Probando?

              1. My comment worked. What is giving you guys the English message?

                1. Try typing in my first line above without teh engrish below it.

                  1. Ah ha! That was it. I just didn’t have enough gibberish and gobbledygook in my comment for the censor-bot to yell at me.

  8. 1: If you had the choice of pushing Pro Lib in front of a train to save Tony, Bo, Tulpa, PB and that Commie from “The Independents”, would you?

    2: If you had the choice of pushing those five in front of a train to save Pro Lib, would you?

    and 3: If you had the choice of pushing those five in front of a train to comment on the PM Links before Fist of Etiquette, would you?

    1. 4. You had the choice to push all five in front of a train “just cause” and filmed it to show ProLib over teh interwebz, how quickly would you make that happen?

    2. 1: Hah! Trick question: ProL is probably driving with me as co-pilot or whatever trains use, so we’re actually just cackling while sipping whiskey.

      2: Why bother? They’re dumb enough to wander in front of it anyways.

      3: Another trick question: FoE can’t be out-firsted.

    3. Can the train be going *very slow*?

    4. There are only a handful of people associated with this blog worth killing someone to save:

      Emily Ekins, Naomi Brockwell, Kennedy, Elizabeth Nolan Brown, and of course Kibby.

      I’d add the Jacket but the Jacket needs no saving.

      1. I’d add the Jacket but the Jacket needs no saving.

        In libertopia, jacket save you!

      2. There are times that I would push the Jacket in front of the train to get Kennedy to STFU.

      3. I notice all of the people you listed are women. Obviously this is why there are no female libertarians.

        1. Y chromosomes are a dime a dozen here. It’s the Double X’ers we need to protect like an endangered species.

          1. How paternalistic.

      4. How dare you leave out Tracy Oppenheimer.

    5. 1: If you had the choice of pushing Pro Lib in front of a train to save Tony, Bo, Tulpa, PB and that Commie from “The Independents”, would you?

      Nonsensical question, next.

      2: If you had the choice of pushing those five in front of a train to save Pro Lib, would you?

      Maybe.

      3: If you had the choice of pushing those five in front of a train to comment on the PM Links before Fist of Etiquette, would you?

      The glory is fleeting, so I’m not sure if it changes the calculus about the effort required.

    6. 5. If you had the opportunity to push Tony, Bo, Tulpa and PB in front of a train, would you hesitate and if so why?

      1. 5. If you had the opportunity to push Tony, Bo, Tulpa and PB in front of a train, would you hesitate and if so why?

        Fucking LP purity test!

        1. +1 “No true Scotsman…”

      2. I’d ask why I wasn’t allowed to pick which Commentators I’d get to murder.

        1. I think those percolate to the top because they actively support people who routinely initiate aggressive force, so killing them falls into a fuzzy limbo where the NAP is concerned.

      3. “Would you let Tulpa be eaten by his own sockpuppets?”

        1. Let? I’d sell tickets!

    7. Poor Bo. Does he really deserve to be lumped in with those others?

      I completely fail to comprehend all of the hate for that guy.

      1. Pedantic arguments that he either intentionally misunderstands so he can keep arguing, long after the information content has dropped to zero?

        1. I guess, but there are a number of regulars here guilty of the same sort of thing.

          Yeah he gets annoying, but he seems sincere enough. The other three are dishonest and just want to annoy people and argue in bad faith.

      2. Bo is the bad kind of retard. Even worse than the kind that poops themselves.

      3. Supra Bo showing up here, the arguments tended to be more about substance and less on pedantic minutiae.

        1. Since MNG and John broke up anyway.

          1. Yes. MNG is a very good analogy, only Bo has fewer moments where he’s just an okay guy. Although, as noted last week, I might just be remembering MNG with a fondness built on absence.

            1. I didn’t really mind either of them too much. The pointless, long arguments are tiresome, but it takes two to have a pointless, stupid argument that uglies up half of the thread.

              1. I guess I’m just a tolerant sort. I’ve always been one who gets along with most people OK and am charitable in my assessments of people.

                1. I guess I’m just a tolerant sort.

                  and you call yourself a libertarian. (or not)

            2. MNG was dishonest and annoying. He did, however make substantive points and occasionally good ones. Bo almost never makes a substantive point. He just pics some semantic argument that is at best tangentially related to the thread in hopes of obscuring the original point of the thread with some 40 post argument about the meaning of some term someone used.

              For example, on the Sterling thread I made the statement “just once I would like to see someone tell the race baiters to go fuck themselves and see the NBA just ignore this”. Bo then immediately posted something to the effect that the people angry about this are not race baiters. Whatever you call them, my point was “the NBA should ignore them and do nothing”. Rather than engage that point Bo tried to start an argument about what it means to be a “race baiter” as if there is one set definition or my use of the term was somehow beyond the pale. I ignored him but what he wanted was a long and pointless argument about that rather than the larger issue of what if anything the NBA should do about Sterling.

              That is pretty much Bo’s move. Everything he posts fits that example of something pretty close to that.

              1. Bo is the idiot who tried to argue that it wasn’t necessarily insulting to call a black man an Uncle Tom. Have pity on the poor kid, because he’s working with some disadvantages.

            3. MNG got worse and worse. Once joe stomped off on his tiny feet in a huff, MNG felt he had to step in to make sure the Smug Liberal Dipshit level didn’t plunge.

              Even joe could be a regular human on occasion, but dropped all that in the run up to the 2008 election.

              He tried to tulpa his way back on under a sockpuppet, but that didn’t last very long.

              1. Joe was bearable when the Dems were not in power and all he had to do was attack Bush. Attacking Bush gave him honest points to make and allowed him to present a fantasy version of how the Democrats would be if only they ran things.

                Once the Dems took Congress in 07, Joe quickly became much more unbearable than he ever was before. Since the Democrats now actually had a real say in things, he no longer could just attack Bush. Joe now had to defend Congress. Since Joe was incapable of making an honest criticism of the Democrats and their control of Congress meant he had to talk about reality and not his fantasies about what Democrats would do, Joe became completely dishonest and quickly lost all ability to be a regular human.

                Once Obama took over and the Democrats ran everything, Joe had about three months of smug glee before the burden of defending the sorry reality of Democratic control became too much for him and he ran off. Joe had spent most of the Bush years making promises about how wonderful the Democrats were going to be. He knew everyone on here was dying to throw all of that in his face. So he ran away.

                1. I remember, ahh when I was a wee lad, arguing in good faith with Joe. How naive I was. I spent at least 4 posts trying to be decent. Then I looked at myself and said “Dude, wake up”. And after the screaming had subsided I firmly placed joe in the same hole that Dunphy ultimately made it into. I would still engage MNG if I felt sassy…not joe, and NOT dunphy.

    8. Has anyone ever put together a quick guide to the Reason commenters before? I feel like I need more knowledge of the various alliances, factions, and sock puppets …

      1. There is no way to make it quick.

      2. There used to be a wiki, but it was taken over and defaced.

      3. The only way to do that is to read the comments, Elizabeth. Maybe you could ask Lucy Steigerwald for some background.

        DON’T TALK ABOUT LUCY

        1. DO NOT TALK ABOUT LUCY!!!!

          1. AND, if you call her she should charge a Commenter Consulting Fee.

      4. This is totally a job for SugarFree. Or the next summer intern to be late to a staff meeting.

        1. Yeah, but I might be a wee bit biased…

          1. Hey, you’ve already got several chapters on Warty. Just stick those in, and we’ll correct any liberties you’ve taken with the actual Warty later.

            1. There is a real Warty? I thought it was just some sort of Turing test out of JPL or something.

      5. Well there is a wiki, but I’m like the only one on it.

        1. Didn’t Lonewacko put a bunch of his stupid blustering threats on the wiki?

          1. I think Mary Stack beat it like her Epi doll when everybody ignored her one time.

        2. There’s a reason you’re the worst, nicole.

          1. 2 hours too slow…damn employment

        3. Well, Nicole…you ARE the worst.

      6. Episiarch’s an ugly guido and SugarFree’s evil. That’s all you need to know.

        1. You don’t think STEVE SMITH is relevant?

        2. Ugly?!?

        3. I prefer to think of myself as misunderstood.

          1. You know that the vote tally was ‘malodorous.’

      7. I know Episiarch’s real name is Francis Soyer and that he once served in the Army, but that’s about it.

        Oh, and I met my wife on the pages of H&R and our first baby’s name is “Reason” and our second is “Liberty Ordeth”.

        1. Lighten up, Ken.

        2. Sloopy, if we ever meet, you and Banjos have just earned a free meal based on Liberty’s middle name alone.

          1. True story: the nurse filling out the birth certificate refused to put it on there when Kara told her to. I got there and told her it was her job to do what we told her, not to question our fitness as parents.

            And then, for good measure, we added the second middle name “Cranberry”. So our daughter that was born on Thanksgiving is named Liberty Ordeth Cranberry Spicer.

            Fuck the system! If I can’t take it down by civil disobedience, I’ll bring down their databases.

            1. It’s really spelled -deth? Like, as in Mega-?

              1. DROP TABLE ALL would be a great middle name.

                /12 yo script kiddie

            2. Cranberry?! I thought you would have gone for “Artisinal Mayo.”

              1. The Thanksgiving tie-in was just too [cough] delicious [cough] to ignore.

                And Pumpkin Pie was just going to look ridiculous.

            3. There is a similar story from Frank Zappa from when his son Dweezil was born. The nurse wouldn’t write “Dweezil” on the birth certificate, so he and his wife just listed the names of all of their friends and put 10 names or something on the birth certificate. Which they had no problem with.

            1. You registered her with the government?!

            2. Sloops, you fucking rule!

        3. I’ve heard tales about this!

          1. He actually auctioned off Reason’s name to the highest bidder right here in the comments.

      8. Let me break this down:

        RC Dean: Lawyer
        John: Lawyer
        Bo Esq: Wanna be Lawyer
        Bret L: Lawyer (?)
        some other commenter: Lawyer

        others: computer programmers or unemployed dumpster divers.

        1. nicole and I are book whores, thankyouverymuch.

          1. Yeah! And some of us are former paralegals married to an unemployed dumpster diver!

        2. Brett L is an engineer of some sort.

          Bo Cara: Not a law talking guy.

          1. He claims to be a recent law school graduate.

            1. MNG had a PHd and was better than you.

        3. What?! I demand satisfaction!

          Programmer. Although, I appreciate that you think I have enough spare time to be a lawyer.

          1. I must have been thinking Pro L.?

            I just can’t keep my sockpuppet life in order /whoops

        4. I am a former wielder of author-itay, now a mere servant of the Swiss, toiling to make their hidden vaults burst with lucre.

        5. You forgot:

          Sudden: International playboy

        6. I think there are also more than one real estate developer, a few academics, some doctors. Definitely heavy on STEM fields and lawyers, though.

          I guess I fall into the general technology category (robots), but I’m not a programmer or an engineer (though sometimes I have to pretend to be an engineer).

        7. Aerospace Engineer.

          When I’m not trying to usurp the throne of Asgard, that is.

  9. What option lets me have all six killed? /psycho killer

    1. Clearly you leave the train on it’s existing course and strangle the sixth (unless you have your weapon of choice on hand).

      1. Only strangle if your police department is unionized, otherwise you won’t get paid leave.

    2. Qu’est-ce que c’est

  10. pushing a heavy man off a footbridge in front of a moving train could save five people about to get hit

    Is that man Chris Christie? My answer greatly depends on that.

    1. You evil bastard! You want to derail the train?!

      1. Chris Christie falling is more destructive than a romulan mining laser drilling to the planet core.

  11. So we should expect to see the next round of DNC ads in foreign languages?

  12. The problem with these sorts of dilemmas is that they assume perfect knowledge. Regardless of what your answer to the question is reality is unlikely to ever create a situation where the choice is so clear and so stark.

    Consequently, contemplating these sorts of moral hypotheticals really doesn’t accomplish much and what it does accomplish is mostly bad. The instinctive answer is of course save the five people. Indeed, if the situation were really that clear, it is likely the right answer. Of course the situation is never that clear. So what these sorts of examples do is just provide justification for people do commit all kinds of evil as they imagine that their situation is analogous and they know for sure that killing this one person will save many more lives.

    1. You haven’t solved the issue. Even without perfect knowledge, life contains ethical conundrums, and there is a utilitarian way to approach them and there are other ways.

      Your answer to the question is to let the 5 die and claim imperfect knowledge in your defense. Is that really satisfactory?

      1. Your answer to the question is to let the 5 die and claim imperfect knowledge in your defense. Is that really satisfactory?

        Yes because first I am not the agent that killed them. Second, no one asked the innocent person if he wanted to sacrifice his life to save the others. Even if I have perfect knowledge, I do not have the moral standing to decide their lives are more important than his and to unilaterally decide his must be sacrificed.

        In the end, I am not responsible for stopping other people or even fate or the forces of nature from doing harm to such a degree that my duty to do so gives me the power of life and death over someone not involved with or responsible for the situation.

        1. But you have that power in this scenario. Your conscious, free choice has resulted in 5 dead people when you could otherwise have chosen the outcome with 1 dead person.

          Of course the point isn’t to figure out the right answer but to measure how people answer and gain insights into how our ethical thinking works–such as the language variable in the study here.

          1. But you have that power in this scenario. Your conscious, free choice has resulted in 5 dead people when you could otherwise have chosen the outcome with 1 dead person.

            I only have the power if you think “failure to prevent” is the same as “making it happen”. And morally those two are not the same thing. You are assuming if I don’t act to stop this I am as responsible as the person or force of nature that caused this. And that is just not true. If it were, we would all be morally killing people any time we didn’t spend a moment of our life trying to prevent death. There is always someone dying. Right now millions of people in the third world or even America are facing death due to disease or starvation or whatever. What am I doing to help them? If I tried to do something surely I could save one or two of them, especially if I dedicated my whole life to it. We all are in this situation every day. It is just less dramatic and takes place over larger distances and longer periods of time.

            While that is a great example of why we are all guilty sinners, it is a terrible lesson for every day morality. I am not responsible for the harm I don’t cause in the same way I am responsible for harm I actually cause. Do I have some duty to try and prevent harm when I can? Sure. But that duty has a limit and that limit is taking the lives of innocent people.

            1. I only have the power if you think “failure to prevent” is the same as “making it happen”. And morally those two are not the same thing.

              That’s the question at hand. In this scenario–no other conditions applied–failing to prevent results in a worse outcome than acting. Is all moral culpability removed? What if the scenario were a guy manning a nuclear missile launch site and it accidentally starts counting down to nuke a city. Is he completely guilt-free if he fails to press the cancel button?

              1. What if the scenario were a guy manning a nuclear missile launch site and it accidentally starts counting down to nuke a city. Is he completely guilt-free if he fails to press the cancel button?

                No because he has a duty to undo the harm he caused. Moreover, even if it were a third party who pushes the switch, pushing a switch is not killing someone. I have a duty to stop harm when I can. That duty isn’t so great that it gives me the power to take an innocent person’s life to do so.

                Now, what about the situation where killing that innocent guard who doesn’t know what is going on and there is no time to explain it to him is the only way to stop the launch? Then maybe you do kill the guard. But that is saving hundreds of thousands of people. Moreover, saying you should is proof of nothing more than the fact that there never are any true categorical moral imperatives. You can always dream up some example extreme enough to justify violating any categorical imperative.

                That means Kant was wrong and ethics is a really hard and mushy subject. It doesn’t mean I should kill the one person to save five in nearly every situation.

                1. So the line is somewhere between 5 and hundreds of thousands?

          1. I never said I think deniers should be executed. I just asked a question, which nobody answered. What is the appropriate punishment for taking an active role in the destruction of the biosphere? I’m against the death penalty, fwiw.

            1. DesigNate|4.16.14 @ 12:05PM|#|?|filternamelinkcustom

              I’m sure it has something to do with lining anyone who doesn’t agree with you along a wall and shooting them once in the head.

              Tony|4.16.14 @ 3:27PM|#|?|filternamelinkcustom

              What do you think is the appropriate punishment for people actively working to destroy the human species as we know it?

              1. Tony also believes slavery is acceptable by a majority vote. Of course that was tony with spaces.

  13. Did they control for time? I suspect the effect seen is mediated by how long the respondent thinks about it. They have to think longer if it’s presented in the language they don’t have the greatest facility in.

    1. Dude, it’s a sociology experiment. They don’t “control” for anything.

      1. Agreed. All controls are performed by a group of people called an ‘Ethics Committee’ (as retarded as it sounds). Everything outside of that is either phenomenally publishable stimulus/response or cause/effect data or is crap that is willfully and completely ignored.

  14. Does any participant in this study volunteer to throw themselves in front of the train, I wonder? Seems like that would be the more moral choice.

    I think I just came up with a better version of this question. Suppose 5 of your children or other people you care very much about are going to get hit by the train. And you can stop it either by pushing some guy off the bridge, or jumping off the bridge yourself and dying.

    1. I would jump off the bridge. Unless you are just a sociopath, the aftermath of killing some innocent person to save your family or doing nothing and watching them die would be so horrific I really can’t see living a happy day again. If I were ever confronted by that situation, my life at least as a happy one worth living would be pretty much over. Might as well die a heroic death and save my family and the other innocent person.

      1. I think that tells you a lot more about people than the original question.

    2. What would Jaime do?

  15. Questions on the latest round of police academy questionnaires:

    1: If you had to push a brother in front of a train to save five civilians, would you?

    2: If you had to frame five civilians with felonies that would ruin their lives in order to cover for a brother, would you?

    3: If five civilians near a railroad track saw you commit a violent felony, how many drop guns would you need to make the problem go away?

    1. I think I fail, my answers were ‘in a heartbeat’, ‘no’, and ‘zero’.

    2. “If you had to commit 5 no-knock dog murders to catch one drug dealer, would you?”

  16. If you had to knock one astronaut’s mailbox clean off its post to save five DoE bureaucrats, would you?

    Hell, I don’t even know how I’d answer that one. A true libertarian mind-fuck if ever there were one.

    1. No sir, not even if it would save 50,000 bureaucrats!

    2. From what?

      And which Astronaut?

      1. You know, The Astronaut.

        1. So, Buzz Aldrin?

    3. Hand me the bat.

  17. BTW, the answer I think to this dilema is to refuse to kill the one person. The reason is that in killing the one person you know 100% for sure that one innocent person’s life will be lost because you are doing it. Since you are not the agency that is killing the five people, you can never say with 100% certainty that your killing the innocent person will actually save those people or that they even need to be saved at all. The worst possibility from this situation, one that the question doesn’t take into account, is somehow being mistaken and killing the innocent person only to see the five die anyway or have it turn out that they were never in danger in the first place. We can pretend that we really know all we want. Since we never will know 100% for sure, any hypothetical that doesn’t account for the possibility of mistake or misinformation is irrelevant.

    Once you consider and calculate the possibility of mistake, I don’t see how you could ever justify killing the innocent person.

    1. This all depends on your background. If you’re a Vox writer, for instance, you push that motherfucker off halfway through the question and then spend the rest of your life claiming you saved 5 lives and are therefore an authority on ethics and life-saving and economics and anyone who disagrees with you just wants more people to die.

      1. Yes. If you are a leftist you kill that one person and two others just to be sure you got the right guy and call yourself a hero who saved the world.

        1. A leftist pushes the guy off too late but then claims they made everyone equal (because they’re all dead).

        2. In that case, wouldn’t you also leave yourself a credit for one more kill to be named later so you can still say “it would’ve been worse if I had not acted?”

      2. Please, like Ezra has the strength to push someone over a railing.

        1. Well, I didn’t think he’d do the actual pushing, more of a management role. But he’d take credit for it.

      3. “saved 5 lives and are therefore an authority”

        and when those people have children, you get to add to the “or created” column.

    2. They love it because it is a complete return to the dark ages. “If we just kill one virgin every Winter Solstice, the Gods will bring the Sun back and save our tribe.” That is exactly the type of rationality that this hypothetical supposes.

    3. I’ve taken cognitive science classes, and philosophy classes, and studied these problems at the graduate level, and I think John basically is correct here.

      You are a bystander at the start of the situation*. So you have no moral responsibility for how those people got on the track. If you push the one guy off the bridge, however, you immediately become morally responsible for his death.

      (*Unless you are a train operator or someone who has elected to take responsibility for what happens on the tracks, in which case, you’re responsible for those people getting there.)

      Although the knowledge issue is just part of the problem. Even if you make it part of the hypothetical that you *know* the five people will die, if you are a bystander, you still don’t have any moral responsibility for the outcome until after you inject yourself into the stream of events.

      1. If you take out the knowledge issue it raises the question of are you responsible to stop the evil of others and if so does that allow you to commit evil yourself. At the micro level the answer is probably no. What did the poor bastard you are killing do?

        At the micro level it becomes much harder. This is really just a microcosm of the problem of war. The Nazis are at the border and plan to march in and kill and enslave everyone. Stopping them requires killing more than a few innocent people or asking innocent people to sacrifice their lives in a war to stop them. Is killing the innocent people justified? By the logic you give to this dilemma it is not since it is the Nazis who are the agent of evil and that doesn’t justify you or anyone else injecting themselves into the situation and killing more innocent people.

        Your logic taken to the macro level becomes extreme pacifism. It is a good example of why ethics sucks so badly as a subject. There are really never any clear and right answers, just degrees of grey.

        1. And this is why war is to be avoided except when someone forces it on you. In war, you end up with a chain of events in which firebombing Dresden is as morally valid a choice as any other available choice.

          1. Yes. And why people should never pretend war is an easy choice or anything but a last resort that circumstances force upon you. At best war prevents harm. It never does any good on its own.

            The smart ass response to “war never solved anything” is “yeah except slavery and fascism” is true as far as it goes. What the answer never says but only implies if you think about it is that war, while solving some things, only solves them to the extent that it can stop ongoing evil. War never creates positive good on its own. It just keeps bad things from happening, and more bad things than it causes if you are lucky.

    4. When you do an evil thing to achieve a good end, all you can be sure of is that you’ve done an evil thing.

      1. Exactly. And the lesson of this dilemma is exactly the opposite many people think it is. It is not that a justification for utilitarianism. It is the opposite. Once you start thinking that your taking other people’s lives is saving people in the aggregate, there is no stopping. Worse still, the good you claim to achieve rarely if ever comes to pass. So you just end up killing people in the vain hope of making things better.

    5. Uncertainty isn’t a part of this thought experiment. You *know* for certain that killing 1 saves 5. That’s how this works.

      It’s about the role of agency in ethical decision making, and you’re trying to ignore the point by introducing a concept that’s not part of the deal.

      1. Uncertainty isn’t a part of this thought experiment. You *know* for certain that killing 1 saves 5. That’s how this works.

        I know that. And that is why the question is irrelevant. It could never happen in the real world and ignores a key element in the real world. This is why the question and your answer doesn’t teach anything or exhibit any kind of moral lesson beyond providing people with a ready made rationalization to do evil. Since uncertainty is inherent in any situation, talking about the situation without considering uncertainty is invalid.

        1. If we’re introducing uncertainty then you have to consider it from all angles. You’re at least somewhat certain that killing 1 will save 5, so not acting and blaming uncertainty doesn’t get you off the hook. Adding odds just makes the ethical calculation more complex. That’s why it’s simple in the first place, to get to fundamentals.

          1. You’re at least somewhat certain that killing 1 will save 5, so not acting and blaming uncertainty doesn’t get you off the hook.

            In reality it does. In reality I could never know for sure that killing that one person would actually save those five. I am not on the hook if you assume I know for sure, which I never can.

      2. Here it is laid bare.

        In the two posts above Tony, Warty and John give concise and insightful reasoning why the answer for a moral person should be “I would not push a fatty onto the tracks”.

        Tony’s response could not be a better example of leftist point missing. His certainty is the same as the certainty the Obumbles admin was filled with when they pushed the healthcare industry onto the tracks.

  18. On Sunday, Michael Hiltzik, a Los Angeles Times columnist, tweeted that local voter records show Sterling to be a registered Republican “since 1998.” We followed up on that, and a search of the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder’s website for Sterling’s name, date of birth, and address confirmed that he’s registered as a Republican:

    http://www.motherjones.com/moj…..nba-racism

    Amazing – Wingnuts wrong yet again.

    1. Girlfriend beating Obama donor gets off with probation thanks to political connections then whines about how unfair life is.

      http://www.jammiewf.com/2014/w…..ets-fired/

      Because the actions of one member of a political party clearly reflect on all members. So shreek, why do you support wife beating?

      1. I really like his, “who are you going to believe? Me or the video?” blog post. Just because the police acquired it illegally doesn’t mean it was false.

    2. Hey, we’ve got some tracks we want you to take a look at over here…

      1. “You’ll be saving lives!”

    3. Mother Jones actually thinks spending half a day making a specious guilt-by-association argument is a good use of resources?

      1. Communists, dude. They’d rather fight with the enemy than sow next year’s crop.

    4. why would a self-described libertarian care?

  19. I would just move the 5 people off the tracks…

    I don’t believe in the no-win scenario.

    1. Huh. I figured a libertarian would be more Spock than Kirk.

      1. Spock is a commie.

        The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one?

        Fuck that collectivist shit, I’m fuckin the green bitch!

        1. That is not fair to Spock. Spock is sacrificing his own life to save people. There is never anything wrong with that. That is a whole lot different than taking it upon yourself to sacrifice other people for the general good.

          1. We may not agree about art, but I can find very little fault with your moral reasoning, John.

        2. that bitch was Batgirl.

    2. I would just move the 5 people off the tracks…

      Personally, I gotta wonder who these 5 people are who’ve found themselves in some sort of predicament where only pushing a fat man to his death would save them.

      I mean, I can only assume he’s some sort of psychopathic mob enforcer who’s drugged them or tied them all down and gagged them… Otherwise a “Hey, idiots! There’s a train coming!” would suffice. Presuming he’s innocent, despite the presumption that his death will save lives, heavy man is quite capable of yelling with you or helping you move them before the train gets there.

      1. Snidely Whiplash was skinny, not fat.

  20. The dumbest thing about these morality tests is the idea that you need a bizarre fictional scenario to gauge people’s morality in the first place.

    How about questions that actually relate to everyone’s life?

    Would you rather lie than admit you made a mistake?
    Would you cheat on your significant other if you had the opportunity?
    Do you scream obscenities at people when they don’t do what you want?
    Do you help those who are less fortunate?

    The idea that morality is something that can only be in an abstract context sounds suspiciously like a prog came up with it. They love making morality as far removed as possible from their immediate experience so they can achieve moral righteousness without having to change their asshole behavior.

  21. I’d really like to change the experiment to being a little boy instead of a fat man, and see if that changes the outcome.

    Pretty sure people would be a lot less willing to shove a little boy off a bridge. But can they explain why?
    Also, it makes a mice allusion to nuclear bombs.

    1. What’s the race of the little boy? /’Mericun

    2. Well, shoving the little boy would take less effort…

    1. There were three original versions of the video in the United States, totaling 36 missing children shown.[3] Depending on what country the video was being broadcast, they would show children from that area who are missing. The version shown in Australia showed a number of young backpacking tourists whose families were looking for them. Several of them turned out to be victims of Ivan Milat, the Backpacker Murderer.

      In 2006, guitarist Dan Murphy stated in an interview with Pasadena Weekly that some of the cases featured in the video had ended in tragedy: “Some weren’t the best scenarios. I met a fireman on the East Coast whose daughter was in the end of the video, and he’d been in a bitter custody battle with his wife over her,” Murphy said. “It turned out the girl hadn’t run away, but was killed and buried in her backyard by her mother. Then on tour, another girl told us laughingly ‘You ruined my life’ because she saw herself on the video at her boyfriend’s house and it led her being forced back into a bad home situation.” [4]

      The UK version of the video featured Vicky Hamilton and Dinah McNicol, who each went missing in 1991. Their remains were found in 2007 at a house in Margate. Peter Tobin has since been convicted of both murders.[5][6]

      Curtis Huntzinger, who was featured in the US video, was located deceased in 2008. His convicted killer, Stephen Daniel Hash, is currently serving a sentence of 11 years for manslaughter in Folsom State Prison.

    2. Your taste in music is only surpassed by your taste in women. And by taste, I mean “Bea Arthur”.

      1. You are just jealous Bea’s dick was bigger than yours.

        1. “I wouldn’t fuck Sandra Bernhardt with Bea Arthur’s dick.”

          1. They left off the last part of the joke “and Sandra is pretty disappointed she didn’t get the experience.”

  22. Fortunately these hypotheticals never happen. The only thing like it is where we have to decide to sacrifice ourselves to save others, acts for which the Medal of Honor is given in combat. The diff tho between the two scenarios is that the one is really off the wall, whereas the other makes at least some sense. I would argue that, regardless of language, ppl respond to the verisimilitude of the question. I would also argue that the greatest happiness for the greatest number doesn’t really figure in their thinking hence the 50-50 result.

  23. “This is why only fools are heroes – because you never know when some lunatic will come along with a sadistic choice!”

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