Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Post That Keeps on Giving

Back on March 7, 2009 I wrote a post about Moral Dilemmas. I didn't even get one comment! Of course at that time I didn't have any followers either! Now I have a few faithful ones and I wanted to reshare it because a blogging buddy of mine, Sextant from Navigating the Finite ran across this ancient blog post and more than made up for the fact that it had no comments by leaving four of them! Four very long, very interesting, very fascinating comments that made me want to learn more. Sextant was so impressed with my post and his comments that he decided he would just steal his own comments back and do a whole blog post linking back to my original post and adding to his comments.

Many times I've left long comments on someones post and thought, wow, I could write a whole post just using my comment and the ideas this post inspired and then Sextant goes and beats me to it. Well done Sextant, well done!

So I'm going to copy and paste and re-run my whole post below, then please click this LINK to go to my original post and read Sextants fascinating comments and then click this LINK and go to the post Sextant wrote with inspiration from my post. Wow...are you all following this?  Anyway...I hope you find this all as interesting as I did and I'd love to hear your thoughts. Feel free to be inspired by me or by Sextant and write your own post about Moral Dilemmas or just leave your own super long comments or even short ones!

Original Post from March 7, 2009 - Moral Dilemmas

I was stumbling again today and I came across a Website called Some Moral Dilemmas. This websites gives a list of moral dilemmas from a book called Moral Reasoning, by Victor Grassian (Prentice Hall, 1981, 1992).

Reading this website brought back memories of an Ethics class I once took where I argued with a professor that ethics and morals have a religious background. If you don't know right from wrong because you were never taught as a child what God considered right or wrong than how can you know what is ethical or moral? This professor did not agree with my theory and brought up the question of atheists who don't believe in God, weren't taught right or wrong as decided by God. Did that mean atheists didn't know how to be ethical or moral? It made me think. But I think what I was trying to say is that for me, making ethical or moral decisions is based somewhat on WWJD - What would Jesus Do, even way before that saying became popular.

So in reading some of the moral dilemmas on the website I noticed that my decisions are based on my faith, my religious upbringing and WWJD. Read some of them and see what you think? For instance...here's a random one:

A Parent's Agonizing Choice

You are an inmate in a concentration camp. A sadistic guard is about to hang your son who tried to escape and wants you to pull the chair from underneath him. He says that if you don't he will not only kill your son but some other innocent inmate as well. You don't have any doubt that he means what he says. What should you do?

My immediate reaction is that God says Thou Shall Not Kill. He doesn't say Thou Shall Not Kill unless your children are in mortal danger. So morally and ethically according to my religious upbringing I answered that I would not do what the guard wanted me to do. Not because it was my son, but because it's not in my hands to take another person's life. Even if taking that life will save another.

But then I got to thinking further, that peace officers and soldiers and doctors make those decisions everyday. Sometimes you have to take the life of someone to save the life of someone else. Peace officers may have to shoot a bank robber who has taken hostages in order to save the lives of the hostages. Soldiers may have to take lives of innocent bystanders in order to save the lives of even more humans in the community. A doctor may have to terminate a pregnancy in order to save the mother.

It's interesting to contemplate all these different dilemmas and choices that can be made and why. For instance, this dilemma:

The Fat Man and the Impending Doom

A fat man leading a group of people out of a cave on a coast is stuck in the mouth of that cave. In a short time high tide will be upon them, and unless he is unstuck, they will all be drowned except the fat man, whose head is out of the cave. [But, fortunately, or unfortunately, someone has with him a stick of dynamite.] There seems no way to get the fat man loose without using [that] dynamite which will inevitably kill him; but if they do not use it everyone will drown. What should they do?

Since the fat man is said to be "leading" the group, he is responsible for their predicament and reasonably should volunteer to be blown up. The dilemma becomes more acute if we substitute a pregnant woman for the fat man. She would have been urged by the others to go first out of the cave.

What do you think? How would you vote?


  1. Love this post and shared it. The questions you ask are very interesting and I loved to read Sextants comments. This is a subject I don't think about ever. I would hate to put myself in a position to make a difficult descision. But then I realized, we make small decisions every day of our lives. I read the news and always think, why did that mother killed her baby, why did that father burned his child, how can a man just shoot and kill 9 innocent people in a matter of seconds. What would I have done if I was present when these events were happening. Would I have stopped the mom, or the dad, or the shooter. Would I put my life in danger for a stranger? No. But for my child, I would do anything. So I think. These are just too many questions that we cannot answer. I was brought up Catholic, I work in a business where Ethics is required and I see others not being Ethical. I can't do much about others actions, but I can do something about my actions. I'm not a church goer, but I have my faith and belief that God exsist. Just because you can't see God does not mean he does not exist. He is looking down on us and puts obstacles in our way so we can overcome those obstacles and be a stronger better person. If you fail his test, you will be judge by the court system.

  2. Your immediate reaction is correct. Our upbringing tells us :"Thou shall not kill", neither yourself nor others. It doesn't tell us Thou shall save (saving is a more complex matter).

    As for your question:
    I think a fat man or a pregnant woman should not lead any group anywhere in their condition. If they do, then it is at their own risk.

  3. Angie - Thanks for reading and for commenting. I have no doubt that you would make the right decision no matter what the situation because you're an intelligent woman with a good heart. I hope I'm still around when you're my age because you're just going to be a freaking genius by that age!

  4. DUTA - It is thought provoking though isn't it? To contemplate these things. I hope I never have to face a decision where it is physically going to affect someone losing their life. It would be a difficult decision to make.

  5. These are a bit tougher than the trolley problem. Duta makes a very good point about killing and saving. However, I question whether the act of being forced to pull the chair is killing. It is a fore drawn conclusion that your son is going to be killed either way. You being forced to do the deed really is not killing on your part. This act makes you a victim of an additional evil, not a perpetrator. What if the guard says OK we will shoot an inmate once a minute until you pull the chair. Where do give in? Ha! Tough question, very tough. It is a lot easier to ask theses questions than to answer them. Well my stab at it, which outcome results in the most good? Then it is a no brainer, you pull the chair. Your inaction doesn't do any good other than spare you the horror of being the executioner of your son. It that not in some fashion a more selfish stance?

    The fat man in the cave. Hmmmm. I don't know, I am getting a headache thinking about this. Immediately though I find myself asking for numbers. If we don't blow the mouth of the cave, how many do we lose? 1? 3? 5? 30? 500? At some point one's mind seems to say, fat man your toast. Want to make the problem a bit more horrific? You don't have a stick of dynamite (which is a bit like pulling the lever on a the switch--action at a distance). You have ax, big enough to do the job slowly. How is that for a devious mind? My head hurts, no more! I am going to take the ax to myself so I never have to think about this again.

    Great post!

  6. Sextant - wow...your comment certainly took a wild turn at the end there...lol. Thank you for posting a link to my recent post on your post regarding my older post. This has been so much fun!

  7. Yeah, fun for you Alicia, you are not the fat man in the mouth of the cave.

    Your wacko friend is going to meat cleaver the poor bastard!

    No, you are right, these things are fun but damn, hard on the thinking cap.

  8. Oh I hate those questions. But, really, I guess they are good for your brain to work them out.

  9. Alicia, first of all, let me tell you I think you're brilliant. It's so refreshing to read interesting, intelligent blogs, and not blogs about cats and tired recipes. I wish I had more time to visit blogs, especially yours. Sextant has a great blog too. Smart people!

    What a dilemma. I have to think about this some more, and then come back and post my conclusion. :-)

    You have given me something to think about today.



  10. Rebecca - The great thing about questions like the ones in my post, is it gets us to thinking and we get those wheels a'spinning in our heads and that's always good as an active mind is less prone to Alzheimers & Dementia than an inactive one.

    And considering how much television we watch where we aren't compelled to think we mainly watch in a vegatative state and in fact are even told when something is funny through the use of laugh tracks; it's wonderful to just use our minds!

  11. Jo...dear, dear Jo, ditto what you said. I find your blog so interesting and refreshing and thought-provoking and intelligent.

    If not visiting other blogs often enough leaves you more time to work the magic you do on your blog then I say stick to what you do best and know that when you do visit my humble blog and leave a comment I will feel honored and proud!

    I hope you do however come back and post a conclusion. I'd love to have your thoughts and opinion!

  12. These situations call for solutions. Can another way be found to get out of the cave without blowing up the fat man? Probably. Use the dynamite to made a second hole in the wall of the cave. Escape thru that hole. When all are out, use rocks,shoes, whatever is handy to dig out the fat man or the pregnant woman. Work fast so no one drowns. Probably a win win situation

    Would I pull out the chair? Never. Not because I am against killing but because I couldn't even think of killing my son. I don't think I'd be able to analyze the situation at all. Upon analysis the "innocent" person would probably be me. And, I would be probably killed after pulling the chair. No win no win.

    Bottom line. Neither situation really is "moral." Both, to me, are situations that demand a quick decision.

  13. NanookMN:

    You are a good girl scout, but your other solutions violate the premise of the problem. By finding other solutions, you avoid the headache of making a moral decision. Its not real life where you would desperately try to find other solutions. Basically the idea here is to tie your hands so that you only have the two solutions offered, and ponder what you have to do. There is no simple answer. So yes, alternate solutions are very clever, but you are cheating! For the problem to be "fun" you have to stay within the constraints offered.

    On the trolley problem, everyone wanted to consider throwing themselves in front of the trolley. Cheating! Ergo you have a broken leg and all you can do is either nothing or push the other person off the bridge.

    But regarding the fatman, I would call 911 and tell them to get down here with a bucket of lard and a jack hammer and make it snappy, the tide is coming in.

    Here is a real story about a solution to a difficult situation (subject to the plasticity of my memory--I read it a long time ago I think in a book by Bruno Bettleheim.)

    Wow, I did a quick search and found a reference to the story.


    Read the second and third paragraphs. A woman who had been a dancer is being marched off naked to the gas chambers in a Nazi concentration camp. An SS officer recognizes her and insists that she dance. She begins dancing and then dances up to the officer takes his gun and kills him. Of course she was instantly gunned down. Bettelheim theorizes that dancing returned some element of humanity to her and she took a positive action. We have no idea if the woman knew her immediate fate, but surely she knew that there was no escape and shooting an SS officer would result in dire consequences. In retrospect she was lucky to only to have been gunned down. The Nazis certainly were masters in the various methods of torture that would make death a wonderful alternative.

    Ahhh and there you have it! And a pleasant day to you!

  14. These are fascinating examples, but I'm struck by the fact they do not point to 'real' everyday dilemmas. These are the arguments of philosophers who don't deal with the homeless man begging on the street when they frame their arguments. I am all that I do and all that I choose not to do. God, save for the concepts of right and wrong develop in his name, is not responsible for my moral choices. The decision to kill Adolf Hitler, knowing what he had done or would do, is easy compared to everyday choices we have to make. This was the best post I've read in weeks. Have a great day. Blessings...Mary

  15. I'm glad you reshared this post! And yes, I've often left comments long enough to be posts that I could use on my blog. But, I've left them as comments. Though, one of these days, I might just go ahead and translate them into a post as it's not a bad idea. :>

    What I get from your position and your professors position is that what is ethical and moral to a person is not strictly their religious upbringing or viewpoint. Rather, it is a person's worldview (which includes any religious upbringing, practicing or not, as well as what was practiced in your family in the generations before you...in addition to many other, nonreligious factors) that dictates what is moral and/or ethical in their world. Religion is only one piece of the ethical puzzle, but does have a profound impact on how the pieces come together. When we look at a person's or people's worldview as a whole, we can include many more groups of people (such as atheists or agnostics) in determining the ethics of humanity, rather than only religion.

    Thanks for getting me thinking and sending me back to my college days...as a sociology major! :>

  16. NanookMN - Ahhh, were life so easy that we could change the rules to suit us. But alas...we can't. Unfortunately in order to make the problems work you can't choose an alternate course. You can only choose one of the given choices.

    Although I love your idea of blowing a hole elsewhere in the cave rather than killing the man stuck in the exit.

    And as to the question of killing your son, well that one would be even more difficult. You know he's going to be killed in the end but you might save the others, quite a dilemma!

  17. Sextant - I'm going to have to figure out a way to retire soon just so I can have the time to read all the links you refer us to. This is all so fascinating and I wish I had more time to contemplate it all. We will have to collaborate on another post equally as exciting and thought provoking someday. This really has been fun!

  18. "I am all that I do and all that I choose not to do." Wow! That is such a profound statement. I love it and it really helps me with some ideas and theories I have been kicking around with a friend regarding religion, God and faith.

    Mary, I am so glad you enjoyed this post and I'm honored you commented. I've been a fan of your blog for a long time, especially that beautiful header!

  19. Karen - Well thank you for sharing your insight as well. Everyone has given me so much to ponder and as you can tell Sextants brain is just spinning with ideas as well.

  20. butter is the answer to both problems. butter up the fat man, and make some delicious sugar cookies for the prison guard. sweet talk him into saving your son!

  21. Sextant claims I cheated. Cheating is immoral. Ergo, I flunked the moral dilemma test by asserting that these are not stories of moral dilemmas. Or shouldn't be. I still think blowing up fat man would be a stupid decision and agonizing over whether or not to pull the chair as if caught in a dilemma just wouldn't happen. To cheat or not to cheat, now there's a dilemma with moral overtones.

  22. Nanook due to the fact that you are immoral for cheating on the moral dilemma test, I guess we will have to take you to court on morals charges.

    Guilty as charged!

    But your honor I saved the fat man!

    Inadmissible, evidence. Guilty of cheating on the moral dilemma test.

    Nanook never volunteer to be a subject in a functional Magnetic Resonance scan of people taking moral dilemma tests...you will break the machine.

  23. Wow. These questions made my head hurt a little. This is why I don't watch scary movies...or why I'll change the channel if a show gets too intense.

    I will say this: For me, doing the right thing is a conscious choice...and it's the only way I can live with myself. There's so much in this world that we can't control...but I can control my own actions.

    I believe that you get what you give!

  24. Me too, Kathryn. I am not the tiniest bit religious but I am ethical!


Please leave a comment.I would love to know your thoughts!