Sunday, December 17, 2006

Your Moral Sense

I was listening to NPR today and was reminded of The Trolley Problem. It is an interesting hypothetical scenario which asks you to imagine a trolley approaching five people who are in its path. There is a switch that you can pull which will divert the trolley onto another path where it will surely hit and kill a person who is on that track. Do nothing and five people die. Pull the switch and one person dies. More often than not, participants reply that they would pull the switch.

Then, the question is asked again, but with a twist. You are watching the whole thing unfold from atop a bridge. Instead of one person on another track, one person is by your side. Your choice is between doing nothing (five people die) and pushing that one person over the bridge and onto the track (he dies). For this scenario, most participants cannot imagine the physical act of pushing someone onto the track.

The story link is here.

An accompanying Moral Sense test is here.


Sam Davidson said...

Wow. This is crazy to think about. Thanks for the link.

Heidi said...

ugh. i followed the links and took their tests and i find those morally reprehensible. i once had someone tell me i have no moral sense because he tried to give me some 'moral test' and i could not give an answer. i may think i know what i might do in such an unlikely situation, but what we think and what we actually do are not always the same. other psych studies show that people who have doubts and caveats actually do end up acting more morals in actuality when push comes to shove. (the test was that you are in a room with a psychopath killer. you have a gun. the killer will kill a hundred babies in the next room if you don't kill him/her first. i refused to answer. i'll tell you when i encounter such a situation.)

the 'moral test' questions were slightly different than the trolley scenario, but in that case i wondered, why wasn't there the option of putting one's own life in danger?

life rarely if ever offers either/or instances of moral decision, and often when people think it is that, they are not opening their minds to other possibilities. morality is a creative process, and these tests deliberately shut that down.

oh, and the first test assumes you think there is a god that punishes, or that if i were god, i would be one that punishes. ugh again.

shauna said...

I supppose it all depends on who is standing next to me on that bridge.