To flip or not to flip?

Discussion in 'Ethics, Morality, & Justice' started by James R, Feb 26, 2021.


Read the opening post first. Do you flip the switch, or not?

  1. I believe in a god or gods and I would flip the switch.

  2. I believe in a god or gods and I would not flip the switch.

  3. I do not believe in any gods and I would flip the switch.

  4. I do not believe in any gods and I would not flip the switch.

  5. I don't want to answer the poll. Just show me what other people have said.

Results are only viewable after voting.
  1. Vociferous Valued Senior Member

    Flip the switch as a theist. The lack of action is still a choice. Knowing you had that choice makes you just as culpable of killing the 3 as you would be of killing the 1. All else being equal, or equally unknown, it's a numbers game. The only difference in culpability would be civil/criminal liability, where acting could be construed as manslaughter and not acting construed as negligent/involuntary manslaughter. Neither of which weigh on the purely ethical/moral question.

    If we were talking about one child versus three adults, I could justify not flipping the switch. The child might not be aware of the dangers of railroad tracks, but all adults should be, making their position on the tracks their own culpability. If the one person thought they were safe, they'd either have to be aware of the switch or making an unfounded presumption of safety. If aware, they'd know I'd switched the train to their track and move. If unaware, they are equal to the three in taking the risk of hanging out on railroad tracks.

    Now, if this were the scenario where throwing one fat man off a bridge would save 3 on the tracks, I would not act. Since the man on the bridge has not placed himself in danger and thus not equal to the 3, I would be committing murder.

    I wouldn't expect this question to show significant differences between theists and atheists. A theist could be just as likely to believe that God's will doesn't include their own actions as an atheist is to believe that determinism means they have no real choice, and thus take no action. But the theist could also believe that free will makes their inaction just as culpable as their action, and the atheist could believe that they are deterministically conditioned to make the utilitarian choice.
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  3. Sarkus Hippomonstrosesquippedalo phobe Valued Senior Member

    One could argue that simply being in that position gives you the responsibility to act, rather than it being an explicit part of any job-description. You are in the position of the doctor, you have the knowledge to save just 1 of the 4, or 3 of the four. Being in that position, at least in my view, gives you the responsibility to make a call, whether you want to or not. So I don't see having an explicit responsibility or not is an issue.

    Further, in my view the person flipping the switch is not doing any killing. The flipping of the switch is saving. The situation as a whole is that there are 4 people in danger, at least one of which will die. The default is that 3 people will die. Anything less than that (given just the information available) and it is surely nothing but a benefit. To me it's a no-brainer: flip the switch, save the cheerleader!

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    As said by others, with the info provided it's simply a numbers game.
    foghorn likes this.
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  5. foghorn Registered Senior Member

    I would flip the switch. One instead of three deaths. No-brainer.
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  7. Dennis Tate Registered Senior Member


    I would flip the switch and pray.....
    because I have seen some pretty unusual things in my sixty one years and even if I could not warn the one person.....
    I believe in life forms that are invisible to the human eye who have saved many lives of many humans from great danger.

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