of no fixed subtitle
May 03, 2006
Suppose you could save five lives by taking one - what would be the correct thing to do? Would you kill the violinist? Would you stuff a stick of dynamite up Fat Jack's ass? Fun and games in Hypothetical Land.
17 years ago
I'm not allowed to answer this post, as the Secret
Service gets a little nervous. But I wouldn't want five lives. One is bad enough.
Less thought experiments and more, say, rhetorical traps, especially that repugnant little first one ("violinist" indeed - adorable). Are these the very definition of straw men? But a worthy read, in that it shows very plainly the sorts of logical tricks, complexity reductions and pseudo-philosophical feints that professional arguers use to blacken and/or whiten a very gray world.
RalphTheDog: Captain, may I ask you a question? Captain Renault: What's on your mind, Ralph? RTD: The runaway trolley, sir. Capt. R.: Are you asking me if we're playing out that scenario now? RTD: On the test, sir. Will you tell me what you did? I would really like to know. PeteBest: Ralph, you are looking at the only monkey who ever beat the no-win scenario. RTD: How? Capt. R.: I reprogrammed the simulation so it was possible to rescue the trolley. RTD: What? Kitfisto: He cheated. Capt. R.: I changed the conditions of the test. I got a commendation for original thinking. I don't like to lose. RTD: Then you never faced that situation. Faced death. Capt. R.: I don't believe in the no-win scenario.
This has always bothered me as " reprgramming the simulation " is something " Capt. Renault " could never, ever do, not on his own. However, he might have been able to get his friend at the academy to do it for him or show him how. That's Capt. Renault. " I got my really smart friend to show me how to beat the simulator " and probably told him he wouldn't really do it, just asked him if it could be done. The Academy, also, would not give a commendaton for ' original thinking ' or anything like that ever. You'd get ' demerit for original thinking ' or you might get a demerit for interfering with a test, but then get a commendation for ' teamwork ' or something.
Okay, I'm not into Star Trek as much as you guys. So tell me: wouldn't the needs of the many outweigh Fat Jack?
If they were stupid enough to let Fat Jack try to squeeze his way out ahead of Bulimia Bill, they all deserve to drown.
Well, the last time they got stuck they let Diarrhea Dave wriggle out first, and it was later decided that drowning would have actually been preferable.
I don't quite see the violinist's illness related to the creation of a baby. Did the "you" in the first case take reasonable steps not to injure/infect the violinist?
Right, that's sort of Fes's point above. Arguments by analogy have only limited effectiveness -- they usually only really work well as rhetorical devices (or as a means of investigation and questioning, but not proof). Your relationship to a complete stranger != your relationship to the fetus growing inside of you.
What also bugged me about the wording of the first one - I wouldn't neccessarily feel I was
to help the violinist, but I
probably do it. It'd beat sitting at this desk for the next nine months, and I kinda like hospital food.
(I really hope I'm not starting a hopeless argument on abortion here, because that's
what I'm trying to do.)
Okay then, it seems pretty reasonable to point out the flaw in the violinist analogy is that being kidnapped is not under your control, while having sex is generally under your control. (We'll leave nonconcensual sexual situations out of this discussion for clarity.) But, to avoid getting kidnapped, you could lock yourself away in a fortress and avoid normal human contact. That would not generally be considered a reasonable solution though. However, what if you were having sex, but took all reasonable steps to avoid getting pregnant? The pill, a condom, and jelly, let's say. Would that not be comparable to the kidnap situation? If not, why not? This is an honest inquiry, not advocating either answer.
I guess I'm seeing that there is a difference between "Arguments by analogy" (which are fine by me), and mistating or missing key factors. The latter makes the straw man, not simply the former. I think the "experiment" should have added to it something that the "you" directly causes the illness (and then perhaps the kidnapping seems more justified). It becomes an viable analogy then.
Would that not be comparable to the kidnap situation? If not, why not?
I think you need to simply make the kidnapping chances about the same as the pregnancy with reasonable protection chances (which I'm guessing the originator is assuming).
Rather than torture the analogy any further than it already is, why not just ask: if you got pregnant, would you have the baby or get an abortion?
because the answer is almost always "it depends," is why. The whole violinist thing is a mental trick to displace the very personal moral and ethical decision of having or not having a baby into some construct so that we can pretend to be dispassionate about it and, somehow, come up with a proxy answer that purports to give insight into how we would answer the other question. Perhaps, instead of intellectual tricks, we ought to consider being just the teensiest bit honest with ourselves and having the psychological wherewithal to make hard decisions when they come and live with the consequences, good or bad.
sorry, wee bit grumpitational today. Been a hard week. I'll shut up.
sorry, wee bit grumpitational today. Been a hard week
Actually I thought that was a perfectly reasonable answer eludidating worthwhile points. Keeping those in mind though, I could argue that the flaw in the use of analogy is not the analogy itself, but peoples consideration of them. In the violinist analogy, no matter what the wording, I suspect that many would allow their feelings of personal violation at being kidnapped and forced into such a situation overwhelm any empathy for the violinist as a fellow living being, resulting in a 'false' dispassion. They should instead consider the very real cost of another human being's life in making what should be a hard decision.
What if I really fucking hate violin music?
Who is this violinist? Paganini? Perlman? Jack Benny? And why can't we at least have separate rooms, so I can watch my Stories uninterrupted?
It's the one-eyed pickpocket fiddler who usually plays on the local corner, and last week threw garbage at you for dropping less than a $20 in his case. His daughter though, is hot hot hot, and she thinks IVs are sexy.
Absolutely not to be
You'll like it, Fes.
I think the examples in the article are of two different kinds. The violinist one tries to make a point (unsuccessfully, if you ask me): the others are designed to illustrate the distinctions between certain ethical positions. Taking the fat man case, for example:
five people will generate, on average, five times as much happiness as one, and your actions should maximise happiness. So push Fatty.
(old-fashioned): the Ten Commandments proscribe murder, so you may not push Fatty, regardless of the consequences.
would you feel OK if this sort of behaviour became the rule? If you were Fatty, would you consent to being pushed? If so, push.
contemplating this act with my innate moral sense, I find it bad. So don't push.
you can go on being a cipher, but why not carve out a new identity and destiny for yourself as the Man Who Pushed Fatty?
seek the golden mean between killing too many people and er, not killing enough. Push, magnanimously.
Let us sit down with Fatty, and enquire into these matters. Now are you ready to answer my questions? Very well then. Now is it a good thing to fall off a bridge, or a bad, in your estimation? Bad, you say? Is it always bad? If I were an old man, say, would that ma... Oh fuck. Too late. But, er, you know nothing truly bad can happen to a good man, so probably dying was the best thing that could have happened to them. Anyway, where were we?
All this talk of trolleys makes me hungry for some Rice-a-Roni.
I fail to see how this will help me get my hog serviced.
I believe that when #2 and I were reading this last night, our consensus on the Fat Jack one was that any idiots who let the big guy go first deserved to die. Also, there's a big difference between flipping a switch to divert the trolley to hit someone and pushing someone under the wheels; maybe that's the point. I'd prefer to kill someone indirectly than directly, but I'd feel equally guilty afterward.
Perhaps it's your delivery: Next time, ask your prospective hog-servicer: "Imagine that I'm a terminally ill violinist who desperately needs a hog servicing or I'll die. You are kidnapped, plied with Goldschlager, and then presented with the violinist and his hog. Now, even though the violinist will tell all his online 'friends' and probably everyone in a ten-block radius except the friggin postman, knowing about the death and all, would you service the violinists hog?" If answer remains "no," try "What if he was a sousaphonist and it was his jesus-lizard?" If it still remains no, have the kidnappers slip her some of that "spanish fly" you keep seeing those ads for, because that shit works, homeslice, no lie! If that doesn't work, have her stand just for a sec in the trolley tracks.
Geez, Everybody knows that babies can't play the violin. And Fat Jack likes things shoved up his ass!
"I believe that when #2 and I were reading this last night, our consensus on the Fat Jack one was that any idiots who let the big guy go first deserved to die."
I didn't get that either. And also that I would supposedly be one of those idiots who let him go first. That, and the fact that if the water would continue to rise, that must mean that there's an air source somewhere, otherwise, the sea level would stop once the air pocket has been isolated. According to my walnut-sized brain, anyway.
Maybe we could all hold our breath long enough for the water pressure to force Pudgy John through the hole.
Monkeyfilteresque: "Maybe we could hold our breath long enough to force Pudgy John through the hole."
how many times have I said THAT...
Maybe if we offered all pregnant women free food (even hospital food) and housing for nine months, then it would be a better example. But more seriously, I did not feel at all obliged to help the violinist. I felt like I would like to help him (I too like hospital food), but I felt like that would be my choice, and
be my choice. So I guess that makes me pro violinist choice.
I would also demand entertainment, in addition to lots of free hospital food. I'm doing them a favour, after all.
Why can't all the people trapped behind Big Jack get together and tug on him until they pull him back out of the hole? Did they even try? Becuase it seems that it would be really hard for him to get so wedged that five people couldn't pull him out. Also, could they cut off one of his limbs or something instead of blowing him up?
I think the "experiment" should have added to it something that the "you" directly causes the illness...
So then a woman is responsible for being raped? The straw man fallacies deriving from the first analogy on this page and here in the comments seem to forget real life situations such as violent rape leading to hospitalization, adoption and immaculate conception. I think the violinist analogy poses even more of a quandary when you realize that it is analogizing impregnation through rape. Another can of worms, anyone?
"(I really hope I'm not starting a hopeless argument on abortion here, because that's not what I'm trying to do.)"
Too late. Anyhow. I'm pro-choice, but I would sit there for the violinist...
a lot of shitty movies get based on these questions.
Hold switch to insure that 5 people die. Push fat guy off AFTER the trolley passes. Blow up fat jack in a New York minute. Then, evade the hypothetical police who allowed such stupid people near train tracks and are obviously incompetent.
But what if the violinist is PREGNANT! And prenatal screening has determined that the baby is enough of a genius to either cure cancer OR enslave humanity?
So then a woman is responsible for being raped?
One person has a better chance of jumping out of the way than five do. Flip the switch, and yell at the lone person.
What we need here is a decider. Someone who decides things. Gotta decide. Fat Jack, weapon of mass destruction right up the butt. Violin boy, outta the way. Get some Rice-a-roni. Getcher hog serviced. Go to Disney World. Gotta decide.
SquirrelService gets a little nervous. But I wouldn't want five lives. One is bad enough.