In the last post, we dwelled on the classical trolley problem as well as a new type of moral dilemma that may be termed as the Airplane dilemma.
In some versions of the Airplane (as well as the Trolley ) problem, the problem is framed so as to implore us into examining our notions of trusting or being suspicious of strangers (terrorists scenarios) and to take into account the past as well as future characteristics of these people (like high IQ and national celebrity status) to arrive at a moral decision, as to serving whom would be a more moral action for the doctor. The airplane problem mostly focuses on Trust Vs Suspiciousness dimension, is people-centered and focuses on assessing people and situations correctly in a limited amount of time. After the decision is made, then the action is more or less straight-forward.
The trolley problem is also similar, but of a somewhat different nature. Here, the focus is on actions and outcomes. The Morality of action is judged by its outcome as well as other factors like whether the (in) action was due to negligence, indirect, personalty motivated etc. The people centered focus is limited to using-as-means versus ends-in-themselves distinction and in the later problems (president-in-the-yard) that of guilty vs innocent. The innocent, careful child playing on unused track, while the careless , ignorant five idiots playing on the used track is another variation that plays on this careful action versus careless action distinction.
It is my contention that while the Trolley problem aptly makes clear the various distinction and subtleties involved in an Action predicate, viz whether the action is intentional, whether it is accidental- and if so how much negligence is involved; whether (in)action could be prevented/ executed differently for different outcomes etc; it does not offer much insight on how to evaluate Outcome Predicate or the Intention Predicates.
In the Trolley Problem, while the intentional vs accidental difference may guide our intuition regarding good and evil , in case of positive or negative outcomes; the careful versus careless (negligent) action guides our intuitions regarding the normal day-to-day good and bad acts. Here a distinction must be made between Evil (intentionally bad outcome) versus Bad acts(accidental or negligent bad outcome).One can even make a distinction between Good acts (performed with good intentions) versus Lucky acts (accidental good outcomes, maybe due to fortuitous care exhibited). Thus, a child playing on an unused track may juts be a ‘bad’ child; but five guilty men tied on tracks (even by a mad philosopher) are an ‘evil’ lot. Our intuitions, thus , would be different in the two cases and would not necessarily be determined by utilitarian concerns like number of lives.
Some formulations of the airplane problem, on the other hand , relate to quick assessment of people and situations and whether to trust or be suspicious. The problem is complicated by the fact that should the doctor invest time in gathering more data/ confirming/rejecting her suspicion versus acting quickly and potentially aggravating the situation/ long-term outcome. These formulations and our intuitive answers may tell us more about the intention predicates we normally use. Whether we intend to be trusting, innocent and trustworthy or suspicious, cautious and careful. If cautious and careful, how much assessment/ fact gathering we must first resort to to arrive at the correct decision, before committing to single-minded and careful action.
Should we juts look at the past for arriving at a decision, or should we also predict the future and take that into account? If we do predict the Outcomes, then the Consequence predicate is long-term or short-term? Is it an optimistic or a worst-case outcome scenario?
There are no easy answers. But neither is the grammar of any language supposed to be easy. Constructing valid and moral sentences as per a universal moral grammar should be an equally developmentally demanding task.