INTRODUCING ETHICS: SOME QUESTIONS AND SCENARIOS

INTRODUCING ETHICS: SOME QUESTIONS AND SCENARIOS

INTRODUCING ETHICS: SOME QUESTIONS AND SCENARIOS

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

fire?

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?

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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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