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Answering questions

Watch the below video version of the trolley problem, a well-known moral dilemma analyzed from a utilitarian perspective.

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The first version of the problem is sometimes called the “switch dilemma.” This is based upon the idea of a runaway trolley which is moving down the tracks toward five people who will be killed if it the trolley continues on its present course. You are a bystander and can save these five people by pulling a switch and diverting the trolley onto a different set of tracks. The added problem is that this switch will place the trolley on a different track that has only one person on it; however, if you pull the switch that person will be killed. Is it morally permissible to divert the trolley and prevent five deaths at the cost of one? Most people say it is, regardless of culture, gender, ethnicity, religion, or nationality.

Next we have what is sometimes called the “footbridge dilemma.” In this case, the trolley is again headed for five people. However, you are now standing on a footbridge over the tracks. Leaning over the side of the bridge is a very fat man (fat enough to stop the trolley). You are standing next to him on the footbridge and realize that the only way to stop the trolley and save the five people is to push this man off the footbridge and onto the tracks. Is that morally permissible? Most people say it is not, regardless of culture, gender, ethnicity, religion, or nationality.

Answer the following: What is your own moral analysis of these two cases? Provide reasons to justify your position(s). If you agree with the majority of people regarding these two cases, then what makes it acceptable to sacrifice one person to save five others in the switch dilemma but not in the footbridge case? If you disagree with the majority of people regarding these cases, what explanation do you offer?

NB: In this thread, students often say what they would or wouldn’t do, could or couldn’t do, and then explain their feelings related to their choice (e.g. ‘I would pull the lever in the first scenario, but I could never push the man off the bridge because I would feel too guilty.’ Or ‘I would push the lever because I wouldn’t have to touch anybody, but I couldn’t push the man off the bridge because I wouldn’t want to directly murder someone.’) But a moral analysis is an analysis about why an action might be moral or immoral, with reasons. While we of course have emotional responses in considering what to do, such responses do not reason about the morality of an action. So, in your response, do not answer the question ‘how would you feel about each scenario?’ but rather ‘what would be the morally right action in each scenario?’

To avoid simply saying what you would or wouldn’t do, could or couldn’t do, perhaps begin with something along the lines of ‘the morally right action in the first scenario is to do x because’….(give your justification for what you claim is the morally right action), and ‘the morally right action in the second scenario is to do x because’…(and again give your justification for what you claim is the morally right action).

Make sure to follow the instructions given in Unit 1 in the Discussion Forums: Protocol and Grading Criteria folder for making specific references to texts, videos, and podcasts; posts that do not make references according to these instructions will not receive full credit.

And just for fun, here’s a clip from The Good Place dealing with the trolley problem (and if you haven’t watched The Good Place, you should!):

Watch the below Crash Course Philosophy video on Kant’s categorical imperative.

Then, demonstrate your understanding of Kant’s categorical imperative by considering the following scenarios. In your post, do the following:

State the maxim that would be created in each situation (*see note below!)

Explain how you believe a good Kantian would respond based on the maxim. Include reasons for your answers; in other words, instead of simply saying ‘a Kantian would respond thusly’ explain WHY you think a Kantian would respond that way. Your response must make reference to aspects of Kant’ theory as justification for your response. 

· Scenario 1: You witness a coworker stealing from your place of employment, but you do not report the incident because the coworker is a close friend of your boss.

· Scenario 2: You lie to a friend about your dislike of her choice of outfit to avoid hurting her feelings.

* Pgs. 549-551 of our text specifically discuss how a maxim would be reached in 4 example scenarios. A maxim is a general principle derived from a specific situation, and it is expressed as a complete sentence. As an example, were I late to a meeting and wondering if it would be ethical for me to speed from a Kantian perspective, the maxim I would derive from this specific scenario, my speeding to get to a meeting, would be a general, universal statement: everyone should speed, or, it would be morally right for everyone to speed. Then, I would reason about this general, universal statement to decide whether it would be moral for me to speed. Formulate a maxim for each of the above scenarios as a complete statement expressing a universal action. Here are some more examples of maxims generated from moral dilemmas, as students often seem unsure of how to generate a maxim:

Moral dilemma : You want to cheat on your taxes because you are having a rough time financially after losing your job due to the pandemic.

Maxim : Everyone experiencing financial difficulty should cheat on their taxes.

Moral dilemma : You want to speed to a job interview to avoid being late.

Maxim : Everyone should speed when late to a job interview.

Moral dilemma : You want to share confidential information told to you by a friend with another friend.

Maxim : Everyone should share confidential information.

NB: The second part of the prompt says “Explain how you believe a good Kantian would respond based on the maxim. Include reasons for your answers; in other words, instead of simply saying ‘a Kantian would respond thusly’ explain WHY you think a Kantian would respond that way. Your response must make reference to aspects of Kant’ theory as justification for your response.”

Despite that notation, historically, many students miss the mark on this one by simply saying what they would do in each situation. But the prompt is meant to have you think like a Kantian, so, the question is NOT ‘what would you do and why’ but ‘what would a Kantian do and why. Below are 2 examples from a previous semester with different scenarios, this one being “You are experiencing symptoms that could indicate you have Covid-19, but you go to a friend’s birthday party regardless.” The first response DOES describe reasoning like a Kantian (this means giving reasons from Kant’s ethics to explain how a Kantian would respond), and the other does NOT give such reasoning; it says going to the party would be wrong because one could spread symptoms. Though this is true, there is nothing in that explanation that has anything to do with Kant’s ethics.

Student 1 : “Scenario 1: “According to Kant’s Principle of Universalizability, an act is morally acceptable if and only if, its maxim is universalizable” [page77]. “Kant thought that an action’s rightness depends on its maxim. For Kant, the morality of our actions has nothing to do with results. It has everything to do with our intentions and reasons for action, those that are contained in the principles we live by” [page78]. A Kantian would think- if everyone experiencing symptoms of Covid-19 can go to a friend’s birthday party – this will lead everyone getting infected with Covid-19 just because of one person’s behavior. Always imagine from the other side, what if we were on the other end. Imagine if this person had only the symptoms of covid-19 and not the actual disease. But if he went to the party and another person thinking just like him comes there with Covid-19, he is sure to contract the disease. Therefore, as this maxim is not universalizable, this act is immoral.”

Student 2 : “In this situation a good Kantian should not go to the party because it is not the right thing to do to go to a party when you have symptoms that indicate Covid-19 because, you could be giving the virus to more people by doing so thus putting more people in health risk.”

Your response/reasoning must be specifically described with reference to Kant’s ethics.

Make sure to follow the instructions given in Unit 1 in the Discussion Forums: Protocol and Grading Criteria folder for making specific references to texts, videos, and podcasts; posts that do not make references according to these instructions will not receive full credit.

At the beginning of the course, you read two pieces about the value of studying, or doing, philosophy (Bertrand Russell’s essay “The Value of Philosophy” and Rebecca Newberger Goldstein’s article “Why Study Philosophy? To Challenge Your Own Point of View’”). Now that you are finishing a course in philosophy, read the article “Why We Should Require All Students to Take 2 Philosophy Courses” and answer the following: What reasons does Howard Gardner, the author of the article, offer for his argument that everyone should be required to take philosophy courses? Do you agree with his argument? Why or why not? And regardless of whether you agree that philosophy should be required, what have you gained/learned from taking a course in philosophy?

Works Linked/Cited:

Gardner, Howard. “Why We Should Require All Students to Take 2 Philosophy Courses.” Chronicle Vitae. 20 July 2018. Why We Should Require All Students to Take 2 Philosophy Courses | Chronicle Community. Accessed 23 Aug. 2018.

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