The train morality problem

Exploring Theravāda's connections to other paths - what can we learn from other traditions, religions and philosophies?
Sanghamitta
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Re: The train morality problem

Post by Sanghamitta » Sun Jun 19, 2011 11:50 am

Sorry to be a killjoy...but lets face it, that scenario is not going to happen to us is it ?
So my answer which is as good as any, I would contend, is...

I would stand on one leg and sing Old Man River.
The going for refuge is the door of entrance to the teachings of the Buddha.

Bhikku Bodhi.

chownah
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Re: The train morality problem

Post by chownah » Sun Jun 19, 2011 12:26 pm

Sanghamitta wrote:Sorry to be a killjoy...but lets face it, that scenario is not going to happen to us is it ?
So my answer which is as good as any, I would contend, is...

I would stand on one leg and sing Old Man River.
Sanghamitta,
Good Answer!!! I guess this means you would not deliver the lesson....unless standing on one leg and singing Old Man River was exactly the lesson which was to delivler the result!!!....should I go back to the post and edit it to include that standing on one leg and singing Old Man River was in fact that teaching....probably not...

I'm glad that you pointed out that the scenerio is not going to happen....perhaps this is why some people have a difficult time making sense of it....so I'm including here a link to Wikipedia's entry for "counterfactual conditional" since I think that my latest offering as well as all of the problems posited in this thread can reasonably considered to be counterfactual conditionals at least in opposition to indicative conditionals in that the probability of any of these things happening is vanishingly small....If there is any value in considering counterfactual conditionals it is not in the answer found but in what goes on in the process of formulating the answer....i.e. for some people it is a window opening onto their inner workings. I am offering this link in that hopes that it helps in making sense of my post.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Counterfactual_conditional" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
chownah
P.S. Can I gather from your reply that you can in fact make sense of my post?
chownah

Sanghamitta
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Re: The train morality problem

Post by Sanghamitta » Sun Jun 19, 2011 12:32 pm

I wasnt responding to your post Chownah....on the whole my eye has learned to just float over certain posters posts without stopping.
I was responding to the OP.
The going for refuge is the door of entrance to the teachings of the Buddha.

Bhikku Bodhi.

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DNS
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Re: The train morality problem

Post by DNS » Mon Jun 20, 2011 1:54 am

These type of scenarios are not likely to happen for most of us, but they do provide a hypothetical for better understanding or evaluating different philosophical positions and in that way it is related to the Buddhist philosophy in the First Precept. I'm not saying that there is "correct" answer at all from the Buddhist pov, but just that it can be interesting, if you are interested in philosophy and ethics.

But in another way, it can be a real-life scenario, at least for political leaders and military generals. Often the leaders must decide between one course of action involving the loss of many lives, military and/or civilian versus other scenarios. And we become indirectly involved by electing our democratic representatives and leaders.

A classic example, is when President Truman decided to drop the "bomb" on the Japanese. The rationale was that the huge loss of life in one incident would cause the Emperor of Japan to surrender, thereby saving millions of other lives instead of having the war continue another 4, 5, or more years. When the Emperor did not surrender, a second A-bomb was dropped and then he surrendered. I'm not placing a value judgment on the decision (although I would not condone the targeting of civilians), but it is very similar to this train dilemma.

alan
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Re: The train morality problem

Post by alan » Mon Jun 20, 2011 3:09 am

To construct a useful ethical question within the realm of the hypothetic it is first necessary that both options are undesirable. These questions are useful only when they force a confrontation between actions which have both good and bad results. The listener is then forced to examine their intentions as the consequences of each side is examined.
Second, these questions need to have a bit of plausibility.

"Would you have dropped the bomb?" is an example of a useful question.
Here is an example of a pointless question:
"Would you drink the spell of a witch if that gave you powers to destroy all evil, except every third evil person was actually good, and it was the potion which made you wrong, but anyway isn't it cool to destroy evil?
:smile:

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Modus.Ponens
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Re: The train morality problem

Post by Modus.Ponens » Mon Jun 20, 2011 3:31 am

Hypotetical situations like these help us refine our moral positions. I know it helped me. I'm more comited with non-violence now than I was before.
"He turns his mind away from those phenomena and, having done so, inclines his mind to the property of deathlessness: 'This is peace, this is exquisite — the resolution of all fabrications; the relinquishment of all acquisitions; the ending of craving; dispassion; cessation; Unbinding.' " - Jhana Sutta

whynotme
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Re: The train morality problem

Post by whynotme » Thu Sep 22, 2011 5:34 am

It is a bit sad that so many Buddhists chose to touch that damn switch. I want to say something:

First of all, if you know you will kill someone with your action, then you do that action, and then that one die, it is called killing, no matter what motivation. It has knowledge, intention, action, and effect of action, it is against the first precept.
Yes, the Teacher said should not killing, but now the students said, we should consider it when it needed with good intention.

Secondly, let think a little deeper. Who do you think you are so you have the power to choose which one should die, which one should not? Are you are judge? A king? God? Are you the ultimate creator that has responsibility to other lives? Oh God, which lives are more valuable?
I am not those type of things so I won't do any action with the knowledge that my action will lead to other's death.

Thirdly, let think a little little deeper. Five is more worthy than one? lol, if that one is an arahant and five normal people, do you touch that switch? Oh, or if that one is the Buddha and five others are arahant, which one you choose?
But the Buddha could not be killed so let say all of them are arahants, which one you choose? Remember that killing an arahant could not be salvage, directly to hell after death, while do nothing mean kill nothing. So the safest way in an uncertain situation, when you don't know those people are arahants or not, don't kill them.

Some of you do the maths very well, five is bigger than one. But do you ever put yourself in the position of the one that is chosen to be sacrificed for others? What will that one think? Is it fair, why me, why not them? I don't want to die, I could live but they chose me to die for the others, why don't just let them die and let me live? Their lives are more valuable than me?
And if the victim says please don't touch that damn switch, please please, I don't want to be dead. And do you still want to take away his will to survive? Or you will say, sorry, I must help others, five is bigger and you are the chosen one, lol.

And finally, do you believe in karma? In my opinion, if you do good deeds, even you are unprepared, you will never be putted in those hard, brain exhausted situations, and if you do bad deeds, those dilemmas always be with you. So no need to prepare for them, we could evade all those situations by stop reborn, it is the simplest answer.
And remember, people are their karma, I am not saying don't help people, but you could not save them or save the world by the way you want. If you could save the world the way you want, I am pretty sure there will be no Hitler, no Stalin, because all those Devas, Brahmas, even Buddhas and arahants would kill them for us. They all have the power, but why their don't kill these ones to save other ones?

Just my opinion,
Regards.
Last edited by whynotme on Thu Sep 22, 2011 5:56 am, edited 1 time in total.
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DarwidHalim
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Re: The train morality problem

Post by DarwidHalim » Thu Sep 22, 2011 5:51 am

Well, assuming I have no choices, in the sense that I cannot jump to the train or hold the train, or run and save that person.

Assuming I only have 2 choices: Change the switch or Do nothing.

I will do nothing and I can only pray for them. May be it has been their karma.

We see in daily life, the bus fall down from the bridge, the aeroplane fall down. Let's see Buddha. He is there. He can just save the bus and save the aeroplane. But what happen? The bus still fall, the plane still fall.

I am a believer that if it is not your time to die, you want die. For example, when aeroplane fall or in the situation that it is not possible for you to survive, there are still people can survive. It is not because Buddha save him, but it is because of their karma.

Same here, whether that person will die or not, if it is not his time, although the train pass him, he won't die. Seems not possible, but I believe the impossibility.

In short, I can only let nature do their best and I can only interfere their karma with my praying.
Last edited by DarwidHalim on Thu Sep 22, 2011 6:36 am, edited 1 time in total.
I am not here nor there.
I am not right nor wrong.
I do not exist neither non-exist.
I am not I nor non-I.
I am not in samsara nor nirvana.
To All Buddhas, I bow down for the teaching of emptiness. Thank You!

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rowboat
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Re: The train morality problem

Post by rowboat » Thu Sep 22, 2011 6:12 am

These morbid hypothetical dilemmas always give me a chill. I say no, it's never right to take a life. :candle:
Rain soddens what is covered up,
It does not sodden what is open.
Therefore uncover what is covered
That the rain will not sodden it.
Ud 5.5

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Claudia
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Re: The train morality problem

Post by Claudia » Thu Sep 22, 2011 7:30 am

Frankly I think, I would become so desperated and overchallengend that I would become completely incabable of action and getting a mental breakdown.
No matter how much I am trained to act in challenging situations - this situation would freeze me.
Many greetings from

Claudia

chownah
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Re: The train morality problem

Post by chownah » Thu Sep 22, 2011 8:42 am

OK....let's get real about this dilemma.
Imaging that there is a drought in sub Saharan Africa and over 20,000 children are dieing every day for lack of nutrition.
Imagine that in the US there is a turkey meat company that has 34 million pounds (about 15 million kilograms) of turkey meat which has been recalled because it is estimated that about 1% of the meat is contaminated....the rest is fine but it would be almost impossible to seperate the good meat from the bad.
So....do you ship this food to the starving millions and in the process kill some of them but at the same time you save even more of them from death by starvation?...or do you bury the meat in a landfill?

Just so you known...there actually is a drought going on in Africa and I don't know what is happening today but a couple of months ago there were over 20,000 children a day dieing form it...and at the same time there was a company in the US which did have a huge amount of turkey meat as I described except I am estimating the percent of contaminated meat at 1% which is my own uninformed estimate but it is likely that the real amount is less than 1% but I don't know for sure. Also subsequently there was another company in the US which had more than a million pounds of turkey meat in a similar condition.....as far as I know ALL of that food was destroyed.

chownah

santa100
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Re: The train morality problem

Post by santa100 » Thu Sep 22, 2011 7:38 pm

Actually, there's no need to ship the entire 34 mil. pounds; let's go over the data we know: if each child consumes at most 1 pound of turkey/day, and given that household's refrigerator might be a scarce resource over there, so optimistically speaking, with some form of preservation methods, let's say the meat will last about 1 week before they get rotten under Saharan sun, we can ship:

20,000 mouths x 1 pound/mouth x 7 days = 140,000 pounds

this is 0.41% of the total amount of 34,000,000 pounds, even less than the contaminated amount (1.0% or 340,000 pounds)
To minimize the odds of picking the contaminated group, run a stats of all the locations where contamination was reported and do not ship the meat from those locations. Since we only need to distribute 0.41% of the total amount, with careful selection we can significantly reduce the 1.0% contamination rate down to a much smaller number. Then ship them over. In the worst case scenario, there'll be 200 kids out of 20,000 developing food poisoning symptoms, that's still a better option than the option of guaranteed death due to starvation..

Nori
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Re: The train morality problem

Post by Nori » Mon Oct 03, 2011 12:03 pm

Is there really an existence of an objective 'right' or 'wrong', ('moral' or 'immoral') decision?

Or are all 'decisions' (i.e. mental occurrences) due to prior causes and conditions?

If they are due solely to causes and conditions, then there is no such 'decision'-making; there is only what occurs.

The notion of 'decision'-making implies that there is some 'thing' that makes 'decisions' completely independent from causes and conditions, and it is already apparent that 'decisions' are greatly influenced, if not entirely influenced, by causes and conditions. If this is the case, then there is no 'right' or 'wrong', nor is there ever any 'decision' that takes place; there is only what occurs.

Of course this is the eternal debate (or investigation) of free-will.

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Modus.Ponens
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Re: The train morality problem

Post by Modus.Ponens » Mon Oct 03, 2011 1:15 pm

Hi Nori

Maybe you're interested in this discussion about free will vs determinism:

http://www.dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.ph ... eterminism" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
"He turns his mind away from those phenomena and, having done so, inclines his mind to the property of deathlessness: 'This is peace, this is exquisite — the resolution of all fabrications; the relinquishment of all acquisitions; the ending of craving; dispassion; cessation; Unbinding.' " - Jhana Sutta

Brivat
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Re: The train morality problem

Post by Brivat » Fri Oct 07, 2011 5:24 pm

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Last edited by Brivat on Sat Apr 14, 2012 2:21 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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