INTRODUCING ETHICS: SOME QUESTIONS AND SCENARIOS
Questions to Consider:
1. Why is something considered wrong? For example, why do you think it is wrong to set puppies on
2. Is something wrong merely because it is illegal? Or because society tells us that it is wrong? Are
there some things that are illegal and not immoral, and things that are immoral and not illegal?
3. What do you mean when you say something like “it is wrong to set puppies on fire?”
4. Do moral principles apply all the time, in all cases? Or do you think that there are certain
exceptions? For instance, might it be acceptable to lie at certain times, even if lying is wrong?
5. Why should we be moral? (If you were invisible and could never be held accountable for your
actions by the rest of society would you still try to do the right thing and act morally?)
Some Scenarios to Think About:
1. Pretend you are a surgeon at a local hospital. You currently have five patients, all of which have
large and loving families, and are in need of organ transplants. Each one of these individuals happens
to have the same blood type, etc., and each individual is in need of a different organ. One day, a
healthy hermit comes in to the hospital in need of a fix for a broken finger. In the course of his
treatment you discover through a routine blood test that he happens to be a perfect match for all of
your patients in need of organ transplants. You have the option to humanely put the hermit out with
a strong sedative, wheel him to the operating room, and remove the organs that you need to save
your five patients. This would lead to the death of the hermit, as you will be taking out his vital
organs, but the five people with large families you are caring for would live. Do you involuntarily
euthanize the hermit, remove his organs, and save your five other patients?
2. Pretend that you are a sheriff in a small town back in the 19th century. Recently, a terrible crime
has been committed and an individual from the community has been arrested and is currently being
held in prison. You have recently learned though, that this individual, however is not responsible for
the crime—he/she is innocent. The evidence of the person’s innocence just recently came to light
right before the individual was scheduled to be executed. For the execution, a large, and increasingly
violent crowd has gathered outside. They are demanding that the individual be executed for the
crime immediately or they will riot (they are not yet aware of the person’s innocence). You are almost
certain that in the course of the rioting some innocent bystanders will be severely, or even fatally
injured. Do you, in order to prevent the violent crowd from rioting, execute the innocent individual?
3. You are at an isolated location near some train tracks. All of a sudden you notice there is a trolley
approaching very quickly. The trolley is hurtling down the tracks toward a group of five workmen.
You are standing in a position where you can watch the trolley, but you are not close enough to call
you and warn the men in time of the approaching trolley. You notice, however, that you are standing
very close to the switch that will divert the trolley down another track. If the trolley is diverted down
the other track it will miss the five workmen, but it will be speeding down a track toward a single
man. Again, you are too far to warn the single man, or the group of men of the trolley fast
approaching. Do you pull the lever to divert the trolley down the other track toward the single man?
4. Pretend you are in the above scenario, but that rather than there being a single man on the
alternate track, there is a box full of abandoned puppies. Do you pull the lever in this case?
5. Suppose now that rather than standing near the tracks and the lever you are on a bridge where you
can witness the trolley fast approaching a group of men working on the track. You happen to know a
little something about trolleys, and are aware that if you drop a very heavy object in the path of a
trolley, even one that is hurtling down the tracks at high speeds, the trolley will come to a stop. It just
so happens that right near you, already teetering over the edge of the bridge is a large man on a large
horse. The man and the horse are large enough that dropping them into the path of the trolley will
very likely stop it. Since they are positioned very close to the railing of the bridge and already
teetering over, you would only have to nudge the man on the horse to get them over the edge, and in
to the path of the trolley. Do you nudge the man on the horse so he falls in to the path of the trolley,
thereby stopping it before it reaches the five men?
6. You and a group of close friends are lost deep in the jungles of New Guinea. A local tribe
suddenly approaches you. They tell you that you and your friends are trespassing on their sacred
burial grounds, and that the punishment for trespassing is death. They tell you though that you can
survive as a larger group if you sacrifice one individual to them for the error. In other words, you can
hand over one of the individuals in the group so the rest of you can go free. If you refuse to hand
over one individual however, all of you are taken as sacrifice. Do you hand over one individual from
the group, which includes yourself, in order to save the rest of the group?
7. One day you happen to come upon a lake on your drive from the city to a remote town. You stop
at the lake and notice that no one else is around. You hear screaming, and turn to discover that there
are two people drawing in the middle of the lake. You further realize that you recognize one of the
individuals—it happens to be your best friend from childhood. The other individual you do not
recognize, and appears to be a stranger. You are equidistant from the two individuals, and because
they are a decent distance from one another, it is cold, and you have limited strength and time, you
are only able to save one of the two from drowning. If you can only save one of them, which one do
you save? Further, do you think you have any good reasons to save the friend from childhood as
opposed to the stranger?
8. You are living in 1940’s Poland, in a rural town that is being occupied by SS officers. The officers
are coming door-to-door looking for residents that are hiding Jewish persons in their homes. You
happen to be hiding a family in your basement. There is very little probability that the SS officers will
find the Jewish individuals that are hiding in your basement, but if they do, the penalty is death.
When the officers come to your door to ask if you are housing Jewish persons, do you lie to them,
even though lying is wrong?
9. Say that you are a local mayor, and in order to have enough housing in order to keep up with the
demand from tourists you need to destroy a square mile of wild forest. Do you destroy the square
mile of wild forest in order to build an additional housing unit for the tourist season.
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