Tuesday, May 1, 2012

“We have all the time in the world.”

Is it ‘more right’ to obey the reasonable transaction rule or should one avoid responsibility at any cost?

In other words, let’s take a popular experiment. There is a train charging down the rails with no brakes. Let’s say you know that the train is unable to decelerate because, say, it is using jet propulsion and all the people on the train have jumped ship and you know for a fact that the jet engine can only be turned off manually from inside the train. Then let’s say you are located at an intersection of railroads, and it is up to you, whether the train is going to continue down its current path, or turn onto an another track. Then let’s push it a little further and say that on the current path of the train are 5 workers, unable to get off the track because of a force field or something, and on the alternative track is a baby, left there for no reason you know. There is nobody else around. Do you switch the junction so that the train would turn and kill the baby (assume that the baby is not simply between the rails, but on top of one rail), or leave it be and let 5 people be slain instead?

The ‘reasonable transaction’ would mean you would rather let one die so that 5 would life (thus preserving more life). The ‘avoiding responsibility’ would mean you would not interfere, as otherwise your action would cause the death of a human being.

Sure, one might argue that by inaction, you would cause the death of five, but it is your preset responsibility to avoid such loss of life. Basically meaning that every single person has a moral responsibility to preserve human life as much as possible (which would comply with categorical imperative, the Golden Rule, utilitarianism and many other moral laws). This, I believe, is called death by negligence.

Then again, one might argue in return that the life of a small child is worth more than five lives of people that have already grown up. Basically meaning that the existence of unreached potential is worth more than potential reached. Besides, the five guys have already had their chance at life, they simply got unlucky that they got pitted against a baby. In this case, where to draw the line? Is 5 lives less worth than a life of a small child? Or is 6 the limit? How about 10, 15, a hundred? Or does it take merely two? In the end we would face the question “How much is the life of one man worth? Millions more?” (The Hire).

This problem is at present time even more current that one might think. This is because one of the strongest arguments for inaction is actually ‘to benefit the world’. Let’s not forget, overpopulation is a growing problem. In fact, perhaps it would be morally correct to let more people die to create more room for the few. It would be wrong to let everyone in the world die but practically every rule of morality, but just a few. Life blooms most after chaos.

And let’s not forget, nobody can actually dictate morality. We do not own a monopoly of truth, we do not know what is right and true, and what is not. It is up to the person, whether it is better to let five die due to inaction, hence saving a single life, or it is better to let one die, hence saving five. Suicide is not an option and both tracks lead to a ravine, so that the train will most certainly not cause any more human deaths than just the ones you know about. What would you do?

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