Elizabeth Scripturient (the delinquent, ecumenical (hermionesviolin) wrote,
Elizabeth Scripturient (the delinquent, ecumenical
hermionesviolin

utilitarianism

I flipped through the February/March 2008 issue of Scientific American Mind when it came for Prof.B. in the mail, and ended up photocopying a couple of the articles to read.

One section was on emotion and cognition and morality.  It included the classic "Do you push someone in front of a train if you know the resulting stoppage will save the lives of five workers down the track?" and (leaving aside questions of whether that scenario is actually in any way in feasible with the laws of physics) I felt like, "Why should I feel like a deficient human being for saying yes to that?"  I mean, I get that people feel squeamish (and it's not like I would unblinkingly do it), but you're saving more lives than you're losing.

In David Pizarro's article "The Virtue in Being Morally Wrong" (p. 33) he writes: "As one of my economist colleagues put it, if you know a man who is perfectly fine with throwing someone off a bridge (even if it is for the greater good), it is a pretty good bet that he is not the kind of person who is going to win father of the year, donate to charity or be loyal to his team."

The magazine posted excerpts from conversations on the Mind Matters blog responding to posts by the people whose articles were published in the issue.

Vivek Viswanathan wrote: "I think there may be a bit of a misunderstanding.  Utilitarians would be extremely likely to give to a charity that distributed bed nets in Africa, for example, because the good of saving lives far exceeds anything that person could spend money on (assuming he is relatively well off).  Recognizing the good to humanity of raising a good, functional child, he may well win father of the year.  Utilitarianism does not imply acting robotically.  It just means that one acts in a way that attempts to maximize the happiness of all sentient beings from now until infinity."

I have so much love for the final blog comment they printed:
David Boshell: "And the moral is: never stand between a utilitarian and a train."
Tags: self: about me, this is [your] brain on
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