A wonderful intro to the subject, with fantastic diagrams, is here


Faust said...

Great link!


"If it is indeed right to kill the spur man but wrong to kill the fat man, we need to untangle the principles at stake."

I really just wish sentences like "if it is indeed right" could just be jetisoned from these conversations. I think we can definitely untangle these problems (Green's work is as facinating as it is disturbing, i.e. brain damaged people are better utilitarians! Perhaps Harris can fold this fact into his BNW, by engineering brain damage to key areas of the brain we can improve total well being!).

But we will not discover if it is INDEED right. Just if it is right relative the principles so untangled.

Jean Kazez said...

Practitioners of Trolleyology all assume that there's a fact of the matter about which acts are right, which wrong, so they're looking for an explanation, not just looking for the "de facto" principles that underlie our intuitions. So it makes sense for the author to talk that way. Indeed.

Yes, Sam might have to be in favor of a bit of mandatory brain damage to get us to be better utilitarians. Then again, maybe the kids could be trained up from an early age not to attach any significance to spur vs. fat many type differences. No doubt that would be cheaper and much less messy!

Actually, we shouldn't make fun of simple act utilitarianism. It's a terrible theory, but unfortunately all the alternatives are terrible too.

Jean Kazez said...

Man, not many.

Faust said...

Hey I get it. They really think they are discovering the right way to think about these things. The "proof" is:

There is a cross cultural, statstically overwhelming convergence of intuitions about certain scenarios.

How one gets from that to "we have discovered the right way to think about these things" is mystifying. It seems to me that all one could possible discover is what/why people are reacting to this or that scenario.

For example: Greene had discovered that people are likely reacting to non-cognitive emotional responses ("Emotional responses are like the automatic responses on your camera.") that are affecting the way they evaluate the scenarios.

I've read some interviews with Greene and he clearly thinks that utilitarianism is correct and that in fact these non-cognitive reactions are leading us down the wrong path. So for HIM the trolley experients are unearthing NOT the correct way to think about these things, but WHY we think about these things incorrectly, or should I rather say why we are not thinking at all (i.e. non-cognitively reacting).

For Greene the correctness of utillitarianism is an assumed prior, not unearthed by the trolley experiment.

Someday someone will impress me by thowing down some argument that demonstrates how moral facts work in a way that doesn't just make me scratch my head. Maybe I've got some brain damage or something.

Jean Kazez said...

Morality is like math--I think that's the idea in a nutshell! There's a domain of facts, and we're trying to find them out, and some people are better at it than others, and various psychological tendencies interfere/help. There's no proof that this is true, so no circle of hell for people who disagree (you'll be glad to know).

Aeolus said...

Thanks for the link to this piece. I was unfamiliar with the Prospect website. I see from it that Philippa Foot, of trolleys and natural goodness, has died just recently.

Wayne said...

Foot passed away recently too. A real loss for the philosophical community.