Is there such a thing as non-action ?

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  • #26
Hurkyl
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I really don't think the analogy with quantum mechanics is useful, and may even be accurate. Just say what you want to say without the analogy.

P.S.
On a separate note, my decision would be to try and throw the switch at the exact point where it would be impossible to know which way the train would go. My thinking is that I may derail the train, and if I don't succeed, then at least I tried, and fate decided who would die. :smile:
Then you have chosen to risk the life of those on the train, as well as any who may be in the resulting path (which could even include our original victims!). :wink:


This solution seems... inherently suboptimal to me. I think for it to be the moral choice only happens in a very narrow range where a "higher power" needs help to affect the situation, and you are morally compelled to take action, but oddly not in a way that minimizes loss of life.
 
  • #27
Danger
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Stevenb, I love your post. Unfortunately, it is forcing me to think, which is counteracting the Scotch, which means that I have to drink more Scotch to compensate, which means that next week's grocery money is going to the liquor store instead. You're driving me to the poorhouse, you bastard!
Your reference to quantum mechanics seems to be a bit beside the point. (And once again my failure to obtain a high-school diploma minimizes the importance of my opinion.) Doesn't the train situation far exceed the scale wherein quantum mechanics "takes over" from Newtonian and Einsteinian physics? I might be wrong, but I honestly can't imagine a few absorbed stray photons having any influence upon the trajectory of a 200 tonne vehicle.
Still, the choice to not act is in itself an action. Perhaps no more than the suppressed action-potential of the neuromuscular system, but an action non-the-less.
Hurkly, I never even noticed any mention of a "higher power" in this thread. Had I done so, I wouldn't have responded to it at all (my perogative as an Atheist). Also, I possess no morals whatsoever, so that approach doesn't work for me. I do, however, consider my personal set of ethics to be paramount even though they don't always coincide with those of legal practitioners. (By my definition, "moral" implies some sort of organized religiously based set of standards, which aren't worth **** to me. My ethics govern how I treat fellow living beings, human or otherwise. If a tiger, for instance were to leap upon a Christian missionary in the jungle before my eyes, I'd be like "Don't look at me bro. Way to go, Fluffy! Now I don't have to feed you or sleep with one eye open for at least a week..."
Hang on a sec... I feel a copyright coming on... Urhhh. Okay, it's a... thing. I'm not even going to look to see whether it's a boy or a girl, because it would probably be hard enough to figure out what species it belongs to. Here it comes:
To be a true opportunistic omnivorous survivor, I would pull the e-brake, jump off when it slowed to a reasonable speed, then run like hell for the nearest exit.

edit: Hurkyl, where in the living name of **** did you come up with your signature? I recognize Uncle Art's contribution, of course, but the rest is just baffling.
 
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  • #28
Hurkyl
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Wait until you're sober; things will make more sense. (p.s. the "higher power" I mentioned was fate)
 
  • #29
Evo
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inaction = nonexistence

Unless you're capable of popping out of existence on command (or non-command, rather), you can never 'not do'. A choice to refrain is a choice made is an action.
Huh? I "not do" things all day.
 
  • #30
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Huh? I "not do" things all day.
Whoops! Replace 'not do' with 'do nothing'. I can 'not' go outside, but I still did something by choosing not to. Insofar as we attribute intentions to people (can of worms I won't open), I've still made a decision and affected the situation.
 
  • #31
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I really don't think the analogy with quantum mechanics is useful, and may even be accurate. Just say what you want to say without the analogy.
Too late. I already said it, but you can ignore it if it's silly. :smile:

Then you have chosen to risk the life of those on the train, as well as any who may be in the resulting path (which could even include our original victims!). :wink:
I didn't say there wasn't risk, but it would be the only action I could take that would not result in my own insanity, from guilt. Of course, knowledge that the train was full of people might change my mind, but without definite knowledge of such, the risk may be only to the train engineer, who is a professional that signed on to such risks, and should have stopped the train himself. A derailment is the only option which MIGHT result in no loss of life, and also my choice of action eliminates a definite fate based on my acts, or lack thereof.

What can one do when faced with a split second decision like this? If I'm driving and I notice a man in the road, should I swerve off the road and risk my family in the car, or should I run him over? My instinct would be to swerve, I'm sure. Right or wrong, it is the only choice I can make, unless you tell me he is Osama bin Laden, in which case I just step on the accelerator.
 
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  • #32
Hurkyl
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Part of the advantage to pondering questions of morality and ethics is that we can work through them without the pressure of having only a split-second to make a decision.

Another part is to fix errors in our guilt-reflex that would otherwise lead us to choose a wrong course of action.
 
  • #33
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Part of the advantage to pondering questions of morality and ethics is that we can work through them without the pressure of having only a split-second to make a decision.

Another part is to fix errors in our guilt-reflex that would otherwise lead us to choose a wrong course of action.
Very true, but my personal choices happen to be the same in both of these cases (with seconds or hours of contemplation). They are difficult questions to answer, and I don't know how we can really know the right and wrong courses of actions with tricky questions like this. To me, it's more a question of which choice you can live with, and hope that this instinct somehow leads to a "right" action, if such an objective thing exists.
 
  • #34
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If I'm driving and I notice a man in the road, should I swerve off the road and risk my family in the car, or should I run him over? My instinct would be to swerve, I'm sure. Right or wrong, it is the only choice I can make...
Well, I'd do the same, but this is also logical (not just instinct), since, if you drive ahead it's almost certain it would mean death to the man you run over, while it's way less certain to bring death to family by going off-road, except if you know otherwise.
 
  • #35
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Part of the advantage to pondering questions of morality and ethics is that we can work through them without the pressure of having only a split-second to make a decision.
I agree, decisions being made in such tight time frame might be different than the one being made after careful consideration and having more information at hand.

Another part is to fix errors in our guilt-reflex that would otherwise lead us to choose a wrong course of action.
Even with no time restrictions I don't think there is a "right" choice in given example, since we don't know who those people are. If we knew, decisions might be easier. (Say, the two are old and very sick, or they want to die, or perhaps they are very important couple to society etc.)

If no time, and no information on those people, I'd probably also chose the path which brings less death. (And I'd do so because I think it's better, or say "less bad", and wouldn't even consider what might public think as to be better choice and so I do that instead.) I agree with stevenb: "it's more a question of which choice you can live with".
 
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  • #36
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I'm sure you've all heard this hypothetical scenario:

A train is barreling towards a junction where (unless you intervene) it will go down one path and kill two people who are tied down. However, there is a switch you can toggle that will send the train instead down another path. Unfortunately, a small child is tied up on this second path! Do you leave the switch alone, allowing the train to kill the two people, or do you purposefully direct the train towards the other path (putting responsibility for the death of the small child solely in your hands)?​

This scenario is meant to bring up the question of whether non-action can render you morally liable.

My question to you all, however, is slightly different: Is there such a thing as "non-action" to begin with?

In other words, regardless of whether not it is practical, plausible, or even possible to do some action, shouldn't we consider the choice to not do it to be an action in itself?

I don't see any valid reason to distinguish between "doing" and "not doing". Thoughts?
And the third possibility would be to instead of pondering the moral dilemna of who should die, the more immediate issue is to get your keester in gear and free as many as possible and save as many as possible..... Standing around and pondering the moral dilemna would cost three lives....and regardless of moral strictures...could you actually face yourself and excuse your inaction, and do you really think God will just say "Hey, his inaction cost three lives of innocents, but he didn't do anything evil...???

What about "derailing the train before it arrives at the switch"?
 
  • #37
DaveC426913
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And the third possibility would be to instead of pondering the moral dilemna of who should die, the more immediate issue is to get your keester in gear and free as many as possible and save as many as possible..... Standing around and pondering the moral dilemna would cost three lives....and regardless of moral strictures...could you actually face yourself and excuse your inaction, and do you really think God will just say "Hey, his inaction cost three lives of innocents, but he didn't do anything evil...???

What about "derailing the train before it arrives at the switch"?
You miss the point of the thought experiment.

It is deliberately contrived to create a binary choice (and if a third option is found, then it was not contrived enough).

Not because a binary choice is realistic but because we are trying to examine polar opposites of a single dilemma. Trying to find a third option is doing nothing but evading the question under discussion.
 
  • #38
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You miss the point of the thought experiment.

It is deliberately contrived to create a binary choice (and if a third option is found, then it was not contrived enough).

Not because a binary choice is realistic but because we are trying to examine polar opposites of a single dilemma. Trying to find a third option is doing nothing but evading the question under discussion.
OK, choosing to perform an action which either kills; or puts another in danger of death is grossly immoral and disordered. Any justification for such deeds is itself relativism of the highest level.

In a situation like this we must abstain from action. We must never commit an evil action; for whatever purpose.
 
  • #39
DaveC426913
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OK, choosing to perform an action which either kills; or puts another in danger of death is grossly immoral and disordered. Any justification for such deeds is itself relativism of the highest level.

In a situation like this we must abstain from action. We must never commit an evil action; for whatever purpose.
Well, if you've been reading the thread, then you know the question being raised is:

Is there such a thing as "inaction"?

"Choosing not to act" is an action. By your black & white logic, it is evil to choose to not act.

Or so the argument goes.
 
  • #40
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Is there such a thing as "inaction"?
Could be yes or no.

Yes - "Choosing not to act" is an action.
No - One can not choose to do evil.
 
  • #41
DaveC426913
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Could be yes or no.

Yes - "Choosing not to act" is an action.
No - One can not choose to do evil.
Right. So all you've done is (re)define the OP question.
 
  • #42
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You miss the point of the thought experiment.

It is deliberately contrived to create a binary choice (and if a third option is found, then it was not contrived enough).

Not because a binary choice is realistic but because we are trying to examine polar opposites of a single dilemma. Trying to find a third option is doing nothing but evading the question under discussion.
Life doesn't operate in binary mode. When it comes to life and death, all options need to be addressed. In the case of the train, the operator should stop the train.
 
  • #43
Hurkyl
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Life doesn't operate in binary mode. When it comes to life and death, all options need to be addressed. In the case of the train, the operator should stop the train.
The hypothesis of the problem is that all other options have been addressed, and the conclusion was that the stated two options were the only ones that might be reasonable.




Even in "real life", you have to address all options. You seem to be doing your best to avoid addressing the original two options provided to you, so you aren't really living up to your own standard!

I find it interesting that you won't even consider whether or not pulling the switch is right, but you are willing to go off and tell the operator to undertake an action that might not help and endangers all the people on the train.

But in your attempt to evade the original question, you haven't evaded it at all -- you still have to choose between "don't pull the switch and inform the train operator" and "pull the switch and inform the train operator".



(P.S. "take your time and try to think of another option" is an option that must be evaluated against the others you have. Sometimes, especially when time is a precious resource, it's the worst option of all)
 
  • #44
DaveC426913
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Also, I possess no morals whatsoever, so that approach doesn't work for me.
Then your choice is easy! Choose the option that saves the cute chick.
 

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