Thursday, February 04, 2016

Ethics in transit

In the "Exploring Religious Ethics" class last week, I vented (as I often do) at the infamous "trolley experiments" used in some moral philosophy courses. (A philosophy student mentioned them.) If a trolley's hurtling toward five people whom it would hit and kill and you could divert it to another track where only one person was killed, what should you do? Don't answer. If you do, there'll be a follow-up. Ten people? Three people? A newborn baby? A famous violinist? There's no end to it. And what is it supposed to achieve? It seems to me absurd to suppose people become better for engaging in such thought experiments.

Far better the kind of discussion we had today, when students shared ethical questions that troubled them. One student spoke about the difficulty of knowing when to stand up to give your seat to someone else in the subway. She mentioned she knew a young man who for this reason always stands. Another student in class said he does the same, to avoid getting it wrong. He was recently in a car accident, however, and standing is painful for him, but he doesn't sit. People can't see his injury so likely would think him selfish. Another student thought that it should be enough for him to know that he was right to sit; what others thought wasn't that important. We need to remember to take care of ourselves, too, added another student, not just others...

What a lovely discussion!

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