Barry Arrington published a piece here on unthinkable calculations, on the slaughter of tens of millions of Chinese people, apparently accepted in a “nuancey” way by Henry Kissinger.
One possibly useful thought: Train-tracks switch dilemmas (should one throw the switch and doom a fat man or else two other people, etc.?), such as raised in Barry’s reflection, are almost always false.
Indeed, they should be a good reason to drop “ethics” courses, unless one needs the courses to graduate, and then the question should be what is my degree really worth?
Yes, the train tracks dilemma has really happened. One Belgian workman (I cannot just now find the reference) threw himself onto the tracks to hold two junction lines together and prevent near-certain fatalities.
But that guy didn’t know it was going to happen. He was not sitting in an ethics class at the time. He responded out of an instinct to prevent disaster.
A clever ethics prof was probably schmoozing on the cocktail circuit somewhere while that guy’s buddies were cleaning the tracks and breaking the news to the widow and orphans.
That said, the main reason the train tracks dilemma is almost always false is that most of us are already embedded in the situations in which we make ethical decisions. We have already made a number of earlier decisions that help provide a context for the one we will make now.
It’s not a tic tac toe game.
If a man was attracted to the exercise of power over millions (Kissinger?), he might feel more nuanced about those millions’ deaths than say, an American doctor like Bob Pierce, World Vision founder, who discovered that it would cost only about $5 a month to save the life of a Korean child. And then spent the rest of his life raising money from people who might spend that much on one restaurant meal.
So one person is in situation A and the other is in situation B. And that is not an accident.
Its origins are mysterious, perhaps, but not an accident.