« Philosophize This!

Episode #059 ... Kant pt. 4 - Categorical Trolley Cars

2015-05-28 | 🔗

On this episode of the podcast, we analyze the infamous Trolley Car Problem and think about it in relation to Kant’s categorical imperative. First, we discuss the value of thought experiments and call into question the concept of “common sense”. Next, we look at the Trolley Car Problem from various perspectives and try to understand why we react to it in the ways we do. Finally, we discuss Kant’s categorical imperative and four other prerequisites he felt were necessary for arriving at moral principles. All this and more on the latest episode of Philosophize This!

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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
For more information about this or any episode of the podcast check out the website at philosophize the start work? We have additional content further reading transcripts of every show, all pre, of course, but if you value this shows an educational resource and you want to help keep it going. You can find out more about how to do that. At patriarch, dot com, slash philosophize this or alternatively you're buying something from Amazon this week, anyway, consider clicking through our banner it's at the bottom centre of the landing page philosophize, this dot, org small percentage goes back to the show. It may just be a click for you, but every little bit adds up. Thank you for wanting to know more today than you did yesterday, and I hope you ll ever show. So if you ve been listening to the show for at least a decent amount of time, you probably noticed something about philosophers and general. By this point, these people just love, there thought experiments, Dante, thought experiments are an important part of a loss.
We see. As you know, philosophy oftentimes tries to get us to think about ourselves in the world in a slightly different way than we typically what the goal being that. Hopefully, after doing these things, we can hack passed me the absolute jungle of social conventions and prejudices, and all these things at a meticulously programmed into us since birth doubtfully in a more honest depiction of reality, not just a depiction of reality that has our particular culture and time period stamp of approval branded into it. And whenever somebody asked us to consider ourselves in the middle of one of these thought, experiments its it so easy to be dismissive of the entire process. This isn't. It is so easy did not take a thought. Experiment seriously in the moment is wealth there not real. This is something I encountered quite a bit when it comes to ethical dilemmas in particular right, but the axe murder example from last episode, or the kind of things are gonna be talking about today. People will say things like. What's the point
like, what's the point of considering these things? What's the point of being Wist away into your little fantasy world, I'm a serious person. I have both my feet on the ground here right. Look. I don't need to understand the fundamental reasons behind why I make the moral judgments I do. I live my life. I I take all the information available to me in the moment, and I just use common sense simple as that, but in the words of the great Abraham, Lincoln, the great philosopher, Abraham, Lincoln, common sense is just a collection of prejudices that you ve, arrived at before the age of eighteen fact is people decisions for specific reasons, not because their appealing to this elusive thing that they call common sense. That's just somehow the right answer in every situation. Right now, when you cite thing like common sense or sound moral reasoning as the justification for why you made a decision that you did. You still are making them decision based on something you you still may be, making a decision based on deontology or consequential as a more anything for that matter. You're just use
this term common sense as a catch. All euphemism- and you know that's the others this last episode, I went on a bit of a a nerd. Tangent right talked about all the perks of arriving at a satisfying definition. For all this stuff, I talked about the potential. Oh fruits, of of laboring away in these ethical dilemmas and how you might overtime eventually arrive at some clarity about Are you personally deem certain things to be right or wrong, but just be warned from this point forward are at the exact opposite might happen as well, because if you're anything like me, I mean I started thinking about the stuff. I thought I had it all figured out me. I thought I had an ironclad understanding of what makes something right or wrong, but what is happening with me is the more when I read the more. I started thinking about all the content he's all the different individual circumstances. Instead of gaining clarity. I started questioning myself more. I started funding exceptions, doll my mice.
So called ironclad rules. I started to get confused. I started to realize that this thing that we call morality this process, that we call ethics, not as cotton dries. I once Sometimes things are not as simple as just this decision was right and this decision was wrong. It sometimes on a simple just this, guy was a saint for doing what he did This guy over here was a complete monster for doing what he did. In fact, it was a very unexpected byproduct of this whole process when it happened, I didn't realize it was gonna happen after thinking about these things, long enough. For some reason, I just I stopped thinking about people as saints. And monsters altogether like I just stopped, and it was weird it it felt like the same sort of mental graduation that a four year old might have when they start believing in monsters under their bed. I stop believing monsters. Maybe this is why I take issue with the peace.
We'll talk about morality is no it's, this definitive collection of adjectives that you can hang on the wall somewhere. Those people have not been through. The baptism by fire is so obvious when he talked when these people have never run their beliefs through the rigours of these ethical dilemmas. These people are not confused enough and I guess a tie this altogether. What I will say is that, if there's one thing philosophy has taught me over the years, it said confusion on a given subject is not always a step backwards. The point is even if you're one of these people, even if your super confident about why you make the moral judgments you do often times learn a lot about yourself when putting yourself through these ethical dilemmas. Oftentimes. You quickly realized that, just by asking a few very Simple questions at whatever this thing is that you use to make your moral judgments
However, this thing is that you're super confident and it can be very difficult to define. Now. That's it. If you consider yourself a fan of philosophy, there are certain infamous thought, experiments that you have just heard before you know. These are thought. Experiments in everybody's heard about even if you're at some sort of hoity toity philosophy party and you walk up to some guy with a modicum of our time, known about it that guy's gonna know what you're talking about, and let's continue to learn more about ourselves and more about where we stand ethically when talking about you know this period in time, but putting ourselves through one the most famous of all the famous thought experiment of philosophy, its known as the trolley car problem, and it goes like this I want you to imagine you're the conductor of a trolley car now before you get no excited about your new prestigious careers at sea. Are car conductor? I want you to imagine you're the conductor of a broken trolley car. That's right back down a couple pecks
we are conducting this thing down the tracks one day in the break: stop working right, It's now we run away trolley car runaway trolley car, so that was british to make matters worse when you're in this broken break, loose, trolley car, you look ahead of you a few hundred feet and your whore. You see five people standing on the tracks completely unaware that this runaway trolley car is hurling towards them at sixty miles an hour. In the moment it seemed like there's nothing you can do you can't stop the trolley car and has no breaks. It seems like. No matter what you do, it's gonna run into the five people. It will kill them all most, certainly what a horrible tragedy it will be, but then you realized something You realize that you can switch the trolley car onto a different track and adjacent track now the little junctions that they have the lever that you can pull in its, which is the trolley onto a different track. One of those but just as soon as you realize that you can switch tracks and save these five people you real.
Sit on that new track. That you're about to switch to is just one person who is also completely aware of what's going on and they will inevitably get turned into a trolley pancake if you so decide to switch the tracks. What do you do? What do you do? Do you allow the trolley to kill the five people? Where do you switch the tracks pole however, an optical just one person, what decision would you make in that moment and look just for the record I given the audience of the show just given whose listening to this right now I have full confidence. You guys came up with some sort of diabolical plan where you don't gotta, kill anyone here, but if we just talking statistically the layman, statistically speaking, most people say that in this moment, what they would do as they would pull the lever switch the tracks in favour killing the one person over the five- and this is totally understandable. Right in fact come to think of it. I think I can get on board with that. In fact, I would
Well. That lever you guys, I am not confused about morality, anymore, I'm not afraid anymore may. After all, one person dying is a much better outcome. Then five people die right. I mean to me this seems really straightforward. If you have the opportunity to why, wouldn't you say the five, I'm sure you remember from last episode. What I'm doing here is I'm looking at the situation through the eyes of a consequential list, and if you want to go a step further than that, I might be looking at this through the eyes of a utilitarian utilitarian This is a specific type of consequential ism developed by a guy named Jeremy Bentham, refined,
by a guy named John Stuart Mill, but the fundamental idea at its core, something we ve talked about on this podcast, going all the way back to the hellenistic period, with the epicurean right, the idea being that what is right or what is good, is always the action for the consequences of that action. Maximizes utility, hence the name utilitarianism. What is utility you may ask: well utility can be a lot of different things. It can be in emotional. Well, being could be economic well being could be the limitation of suffering. But most of the time, people just to find it s pleasure. This is a very simple idea that, on the surface sounds absolutely incredible: Emmy Jeremy Bentham looked at nature around too much like the epicurean stead and realize that nature placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure. That's the air that,
the famous line by him anyway, human action can be distilled down into two things and avoidance of pain and the pursuit of pleasure to a utilitarian, The right decision in any situation is just the one where the consequent to ensure the greatest amount of utility to the greatest number of people. The right thing to do is the thing that maximizes happiness for the greatest number of people go back to the trolley car example sounds like I'm a utilitarian. After all, it seems very straightforward what the right decision is here. I would pull the lever, kill the one person in favour of killing the fight. People, if we're judging the right or wrong decision in terms of bringing the greatest utility to the greatest number of people? killing one to save five minutes as easy as it gets. That's a no brainer! I gotta be honest with the guy. It feels good to me
confident and like why you're making moral decisions. I can see why this is addictive, feels great artist, ai, something it feels great to just be able to pull levers and kill people with impunity. But as great as this feels my cruel mistress philosophy, it always manages to throw a monkey rent in the equation right. That's not where the trolley car problems. At that point. The trolley car takes a turn, no pun intended. It asks you to consider a slightly different scenario than the first one right this time. Imagine your when the general vicinity of the trolley tracks, but now you're up on a bridge, a bridge that overlooks the tracks rights now you're, an observer. Now we're looking down in observing the train track area? You notice it very similar situation to the first one unfolding accept this time. There's only one track, there's five, a blue Yes, people standing on the train tracks not paying attention couple hundred
away from a runaway trolley hurling towards them, and it seems like in the moment, there's nothing. You can do to save these people from certain death when all of a sudden, you look over to your right, and you noticed something: there's a fat guy, standing next to you, leaning over the side of the bridge, trying to get a look at what's going on below. Much like you are Now I realize this may seem slightly ridiculous, but in the thought experiment we're supposed to imagine that this It is not just your run of the mill garden, variety, fat, guy, disguised, grotesquely fact so fat. You could push him over the side of the bridge and when he hit the ground and died, it would create some sort of shockwave situation where the five people would be alerted to his presence. I would see the train coming. They
jump off the tracks. His sheer girth would slow down the train long enough to make sure that all of them got out of the way either way you kill one person to save five. What do you do? Do you push the guy over the bridge to save the five innocent people? We're gonna be honest with the guys like right now, I'm having too much fun going to the whole process of this thought. Experiment I mean I'm not sure how aware of my situation you guys are, but I just converted utilitarianism recently, and I am having little bit of a crisis of faith right now, see as a good utilitarian. If I'm just looking at the consequences of my actions and whether they bring the greatest amount of utility to the greatest number of people, the answers to be very cuttin dry. Here I need to push my new sizeable friend over the bridge, kill him inevitably but save the five, but it just feels wrong to me. For some reason,
no, statistically speaking, most people after being advocates of pulling the lever in the first scenario, would never even think about pushing the fat guy over the bridge and I seem to fall into the same category here. Why do I feel different about This scenario than the first one. What really is the difference between the two situations, Obviously there are differences between the two women you and well to ask: what's the difference between these two things, if there weren't actually differences between those two things tat a confusing whenever people say, what's the difference between these two anyway both cases, your behavior remains remarkably similar. You are active, Sentencing one innocent person to death. In the name of saving five innocent people. Now here it's very tempting to give all sorts rebuttals right, yeah. I was down for pulling the lever before before, when my actions only involve people who are already on the tracks. To begin with, I that's what's different. Now these people were in harm's way. The push
guy over the bridge is to bring an innocent bystanders into harm's way. How can I ever do, that is to say five people, that's not fair to him, but is that true In the original example, was the one person that you're opted killed by pulling the lever in harm's way. Before you pulled the lever. They had no right and assume the train would take some unexpected diversion at the last second onto their track. That was otherwise completely safe. They were completely out of hand. Wait until you decided to pull the lever and put them into harm's way if it worked your decision to pull the lever that track was. Will he is benign, is standing on a bridge overlooking the tracks now another bottle might be well pushing someone over the side of a bridge is much much different than merely
pulling a lever in one case, you're just pulling a lever in something happens after you pull that lever. In the other case law now you're physically putting your hands on the guy you're, forcing him over the side of a bridge that is murder that physical contact makes it much different. But is it really the physical contact that makes it different? I would argue that it's not mean what, if, instead of pushing the guy over the side, you could do something else where, like what have you got in Poland, and I, the fat man, would be launched out of some sort of medieval tribute Shea and he would land on the tracks in the same exacting would happen. Would you feel morally Justin tried to do that. Personally, I Wouldn'T- and I think if this illustrates anything in the point of this- is that there must be something else at work here.
Something other than just the physical contact. That makes us think that this action is wrong in the other. One is right. I think most people would say that, regardless of the consequences, there's something unique about pushing the fat guy over the bridge, that's just wrong, something that is present in the lever. Pulling example now they're really fascinating thing here that we should all take from this is not that we make different decisions given different individual situations. That's obvious! The interesting thing is that at the beginning of this thought experiment, I started out pretty darn com Didn't I pretty confident in my decision making about pulling that lever. I cited very clear reasons for why, when I did was perfectly ok in that situation, and we're just a few minor tweaks to the circumstances? All of a sudden, I started to revive I used my entire moral foundation? I started giving different reasons which either makes me ignorant a liar. I hypocrite or more
equally, it implies that the reason I gave for why I made the first decision to pull the lever was not the real reason. Why did it there's something more complicated at work here? What is that thing? There have been many attempts to answer this question over the years, as we talked about last time at the intelligence but say that, regardless of what the consequences of our actions will be- or in this case inaction, although the consequences are bad, some things are just wrong like, for instance, pushing an innocent fat guy over the side of a bridge, but what get one thing clear in both scenarios: if we do nothing, five people die. There's no getting around that and just you knowing the certain outcome in either situation instantly implicates you. It leaves you in a place where you need to make a choice. Doing nothing in these cases does not absolve you from any guilt consequential us,
say that the end justifies the means, but it deontology. Just someone like a manual caught would say that you should never use people as a means to some end when you push the innocent fat man over the side of it. To save the five people you are using. That guy is a means to some end that you aim to achieve, and that is wrong. Money can't talks about the ideal society that we could live in as what he calls a kingdom of ends. Where every person is viewed not as a means to some end hurry up on in someone else's game that they're playing where they can say. Oh, this guy's just a means to an end. Every person is an end in themselves as caught says. No talk of a second more fully about why this point, the cons making here is important, but first, let's talk about how can't may have responded here right? How would he have responded to the apparent contradiction between me thinking? It's ok to pull the lever to kill the person, but it's wrong to push the guy off the bridge to kill them.
She caught with smart, what to say the least he was smart. He recognized it would be very easy for us to mistake. Whatever cultural norms we were born into for a good, solid moral foundation, you know not many people would think that chopping. The hands off of somebody that just stole Snickers bar would be a fair punishment, but Snickers bars existed back in Babylonia. Well, you might find quite a few people that disagreed with the at the time so to circumvent this transient subjective moral trap that we might otherwise fall into. As we talk about last episode, can't thinks it just like our objective conception of reality itself is start a priori concepts of reason or morals too, can be based on a priori concepts of reason. Now it slow down and think about what this means for a second, I write this: doesn't it
mean that these moral principles that we're going to arrive at need to be appropriate for every human and every time period and in every circumstance, but for these things to be truly valid, they need to be done purely from a place of being moral, for example, from the last episode. The kid that only cleans is room. Does his mom says he's gonna get an ice cream count if he does it, that's not good enough for can't. So, given these criteria, these criteria, the council, laid out for what a moral action can be. Let's try to come up with a few. What are some moral principles that fit all these criteria that we just talked about Can you think of any cuz? I can't, amid this is a pretty intense set of restrictions to put on the process. Cons, obviously taken these moral principles very seriously. See con argues that, if you're ever doing anything in this world, any action you take is going to be done with certain things in mind, it's gonna be done at a particular place and time it's gonna be yielding to a particular set of-
circumstances, it's gonna be considering a particular history, given your own particular personality. Think about this point is making these elements of. Any action that we ever take or in inescapable their escape, All aspects of our existence, the reason why he looks to things that are prior to experience you no prior to tradition prior to circumstances prior to your personality, it's for this reason that concept that the only things that whatever fit into this rigorous set of criteria are a priori the moral, principles that I should adhere to when determining whether due pushed the fat guy over the bridge or not, they have to be a priori in nature. Remember moral action. Is determined by reason for caught region
is the same in all rational beings, regardless of time period or culture, so because reason, this universal morality, too, should be universal. So once you arrive here, if your can't, you still have a pretty difficult task ahead of you right, we'll work it goes from here. His solution to the problem is what he calls his categorical imperative. Categorical imperative. I know to really cool sounding words that if you break them down individually, they actually do a pretty good job at explaining what counts talking about with it's gotta. Oracle, imperative, categorical, meaning, explicit or applying across all categories and imperative, meaning essential, or sorry and essential rule of morality. That applies across every situation. Culture time period set of experiences you name it now count It was multiple formulations of his categorical imperative by far the most famous one is this quote There is only a single categorical imperative, and it is this act only on that,
some through which you can at the same time, will that it should become a universal law. End quote now what caught saying here said before you do anything anything consider something for a second consider for a second one. The world would look like if literally every other person in the entire world acted just as you did in that situation, really imagine it If that world you imagine, is not something that you're willing to deal with, if it's a direct contradiction for that world to exist or if that were to be filled with chaos, then you shouldn't do whatever it is. You were considering doing, let's think of a few examples of what he's talking about someone cuts you off in traffic. What do you do if you decide to chase the guy down and kill him would want you to ask How would the world look if every time someone got cut off in traffic? Just as I did, the person that got cut
chase the other person down and killed them. That world would be absolute chaos. Wouldn't people would be terrified of driving, that's for sure productivity would go way down in Heaven forbid. You just lose focus on a road for one second, excellently cut someone off, you would be dead. You don't want to live in the world. But I want something less extreme but say: you're standing outside of a supermarket and you're drinking a coke right waiting for a ride or something you finish your bottle and you decide instead of walking all the way to the trash can you're, just gonna leave it on the ground by where you were standing, some we'll get it eventually right, which we apply, cons, categorical imperative to this example. The world would be an ocean of Coke bottles F, right think if seven billion people just whenever they got done what their trash they just left it wherever they were when they got than using it. Just think of how that world would look.
Aside from us all existing in just a perpetual revolving trash can think of the bird into the average taxpayer, including you, but We'd have to spend millions and millions of your hard earned dollars on teams of people constantly patrolling around just picking up people's garbage. It would be madness, gender somebody I see this as a sort of thinking behind. Why can't thinks it's a bad idea to lie? Is downright illogical, because if we stood in a world where all anyone ever did was lie? Then everyone would always know that they were being lied to so they could never be deceived, but that's kind of the point of a lie right to deceive people, the logically, it would be point they contrasted with the world when everybody always told the truth, and there's no logical contradiction so right now I want Try, this all together into a neat package, is kind of been spread across to episodes spring it altogether. Here,
two can't when considering whether to push the innocent fat guy off the bridge in order to save the five people or when considering any sort of ethical dilemma for that matter, you would I must reconsider these five things. Never one reason: our actions need to be guided by our own reason. Not our senses, not our experiences, not our cultural norms or anything like that number two. It needs to be autonomous right. We need to be acting freely in order for us to be acting freely. We can't be enslaved something right, we can't be enslaved to some overseer, that is, to create a moral code for us to follow. We can't be enslaved to an ice cream cone that are moms this will get. If we do something more three, we need for ourselves and others as ends in themselves, not as me to some end that we want to achieve. In other words, we can't manipulate people. We can't lie to people, because when we do that we are by I definition withholding valuable information from them. We're doing it
so that they will make a decision that they might otherwise not make if they had all the facts right in this way, can't thinks it your robbing them of something you're, robbing them of their ability to make a fully rational choice and, if you're robbing them of their ability to reason your robbing them of a piece of their humanity. Four, we should act. Only in accordance with moral principles were we'd, be satisfied if they were made into a universal maxim. I E. Never. When did this thing? How would the world look at what we just talked about number five? We should strive to live in the kingdom of ends, which now that I think about it, is too complicated for this five bullet point format that I just created on the fly, but it has to do with the political implications of all this stuff that we've been talking about so to wrap it up. It's very easy to be dismissive of thought experiments. It's very easy to be dismissive of asking ourselves questions about why we,
make the moral judgments we do, but the advantages of putting yourself through these start experiments are more than just understanding yourself, better living a more fulfilling life. These things inevitably extend to practical every decision we make as a society about what's right or wrong, see it's so tempting to say things like murder is just wrong. Case. Closed stealing is just wrong. I'm just gonna pull the lever, kill the one percent instead of the five. That's just common sense right, no need to consider, and Other alternatives no need to understand why I make the moral judgments. I do well- maybe that's good enough, for you are right, but The reality is that the world at large is is not always that black and white see things. Click murder trials and economic policy in and whether to become involved in a war or what Just war is at all or foreign policy or civil rights, the ethical decisions at the root of these massive issues that we face as a society. These are things that you can just.
Here too, to moral commandments about this things aren't a simple is just a guy. Stolen ox from his neighbor. We to punish him. What's, let's consult our rules that we have. The world is filled with millions of these These new wants grey areas that need to be accounted for Sometimes the only thing that's at stake is your time. Yes, sometimes it's just a dumb podcast asking you to be wished away into a fantasy world, but in other cases, it's only by considering these details that we can get a more accurate understanding of what we really value as a species to understand why we really pulled that lever. It's for the times when literally millions of lives might hangs in the balance, including yours. Thank you for listening I'll talk to you next time.
Transcript generated on 2020-03-23.