The Greater Good: Shades of Grey

I recently had an interesting discussion regarding the lesser of two evils. The notion there is a greater good.

This discussion came from a thought experiment called the “Trolly Problem”. The idea of making a decision based on the greater good has a variety of implications.

I’ll illustrate a few of these gray matter decisions now.

Creme De La Creme

First, an experiment. It goes like this.

There are a set of train tracks that split into two separate routes. On one set of tracks is a single person and on the other a group of people.

For some unknown reason all the people on the tracks are unaware of an approaching train and unable to hear any warning.

The train will hit the large group unless you push a button. However, if you activate the button, the train switches to the opposite route and will hit the single person.

Do you hit the switch? Knowingly killing an innocent person so you can save a larger group?

There was a great episode on the science series Mind Field. They showed this experiment put into real world practice on un-expecting participants.

A psychologists creme de la creme case study some would say.

There were a variety of ethical and moral considerations that needed attention due to the nature of the experiment. However, what they found is people will react differently and some not at all.

No shit.

So do you? Hit the switch?

Again a reminder, we’re talking about the shades of gray with this decision as it pertains to ethics and morals.

Do you knowingly switch the train to hit the lone individual? In doing so saving a larger number of people?

Or do you allow it to hit those already in its path?

What if you knew the larger group of people were prison inmates, convicted of serious crimes. Would that make a difference in your decision between the two options?

Part of me begs the question why are all these people hanging out on train tracks. I’m also curious why cant any of them hear the train whistle?

It’s a bad situation regardless their ambitions of playing on train tracks. Or their decision to wear hearing protection that’s too good for their own safety.

All jokes aside, do you hit the switch?

Real World Application

Another example of this would have been on the heels of the September 11th attacks in the US. The decision of how to handle the planes that were hijacked to potentially mitigate a larger catastrophe.

Should they be shot down with innocent civilians onboard to save a potentially larger catastrophe? After the first plane hit the World Trade Center it’s safe to believe the other planes would meet the same fate.

So where is this decision in the multitude of grays. There are many shades you need to swim through when considering this decision.

Trading innocent lives for more innocent lives.

What if you’re one of the people onboard. Would you willingly volunteer to that fate? Would you willingly accept your timely demise based on an assumption of the fate of your flight?

Let’s take this even further. Would you sign a waiver to get on a plane that afforded the authorities the right to shoot down your plane in the event of a hijacking?

This again is in respect to the Trolley Problem. An ethical thought experiment on the notion of the greater good.

Is it ethical to do this and if so who has the final say?

Closing Thoughts

Todays blog was more of a curiosity than me trying to suggest one option is better than the other.

However, I can’t help but think I’d let the train run its route without interference. I tend to think in logical terms.

People who are ambitious enough to pursue the famed Darwin Awards should be awarded them in all their glory.

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