Got ethics?

AuthorTopic: Got ethics?
Warrior
Member # 6401
Profile #0
I had an argument/discussion with a friend recently over I can't remember what, but we kept coming back to the same issue surrounding a moral point. I don't see it as an ethical problem as such, because it's not about making a decision to act one way or another. Instead it's about considering the moral reasons for already having acted one way. Best way to explain it is to give you the example:

You're walking along in a town, and ahead of you you see someone begin to cross the road. You look at the person and see that it is someone that you love – a friend, family member etc. You also see that a lorry is approaching behind them, which they have not seen. So you rush forward and pull them out of the way, risking your own life. (Or, if you prefer a more cinematic interpretation, you shout "Nooooooooooooooo!", miraculously cast aside your crutches and backflip towards them, launch yourself at them horizontally and land unhurt in the convenient hay by the side of the road. Characters gaze at each other and kiss. The End.)

After you've saved them, you see that the person is not someone you love, but just a random stranger who has some passing resemblance. Had you seen this to begin with, it might have affected your decision to risk your life saving them.

Here's where we disagreed. My friend maintained that, because the person was not a loved one who you perhaps wouldn't have saved had you known, you do not morally take credit for your actions. You were mistaken, and so any moral duty you performed is neutralised.

I saw it a different way. You thought the person was a loved one, and so you saved them. That is morally commendable, and in the end it does not matter whether the person actually was the loved one or not. You saved a loved one. You saved a person. In your head at the moment were you made the decision, you cared for this person, and this is not erased just because you were mistaken.

What do you think? Is one of us right? Is the example flawed? I realise ethics or whatever this is is a tricky issue, and I may have explained it clumsily. But you get the idea.

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I think this is really wonderful.
Posts: 147 | Registered: Tuesday, October 18 2005 07:00
Electric Sheep One
Member # 3431
Profile #1
I think the simple answer is that it is commendable to risk your life to save a friend, and more commendable to risk your life to save a stranger.

To complicate matters, I would suggest that it depends upon the degree of risk involved, and upon how many other people depend upon you or are attached to you. For the sole breadwinner of a large and loving family to get themselves killed with practically no chance of saving the other person would only add a lot of extra grief to the world. If they died hopelessly trying to save a family member, it might be understandable, and even in some other sense commendable, but it would still not be commendable as heroism.

Then again, a good person knows that self-preservation instincts can make any danger look hopeless in order to have an excuse not to risk death. So they should tend to err at least somewhat on the side of boldness.

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We're not doing cool. We're doing pretty.
Posts: 3335 | Registered: Thursday, September 4 2003 07:00
Law Bringer
Member # 335
Profile Homepage #2
I think the question here is much simpler and doesn't require the story. Should the moral value of an action be judged by the actor's beliefs at the time of action or by the reality of the situation?

In my opinion, the former has more weight. If saving a stranger has moral value A, saving a loved one has moral value B, and letting a stranger die has moral value C, you've just earned B for your karma because that's what you thought you were doing.

By the same token, I think that Milgram experiment test subjects are morally accountable for delivering shocks even though no such shocks were given and that attempted murder that results in wounding is a more serious crime than attempted wounding that results in murder.

—Alorael, who understands that this ethical view is difficult to align with criminal justice systems and often with practicality. In the original example, he thinks it might be best to say you meant to save a stranger. You get some undeserved accolades, but you make the saved party feel better and provide an example to future Hollywood-style saviors. It's a matter of ethical utility calculus.
Posts: 14579 | Registered: Saturday, December 1 2001 08:00
Electric Sheep One
Member # 3431
Profile #3
Hmm, yeah, that does seem to be the real point, which I was just taking for granted. Karma is based on intention, or at least it ought to be.

But lying about your intentions might later be discovered, and this would then tarnish heroism in general. Better to be honest.

There does seem to be something a bit intriguing here, though: we are mixing up utility, which is strictly about effects, with intentions. That seems quite right to me, but isn't it a bit unusual?

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We're not doing cool. We're doing pretty.
Posts: 3335 | Registered: Thursday, September 4 2003 07:00
Warrior
Member # 6401
Profile #4
quote:
Alorael:
If saving a stranger has moral value A, saving a loved one has moral value B, and letting a stranger die has moral value C, you've just earned B for your karma because that's what you thought you were doing.
I agree with this. But I'm not sure where my friend's perspective fits in. Of course I think she's wrong so that may be why I can't slot it in somewhere, but what she was suggesting would seem to be completely outside of this ABC scale, because she didn't even recognise that you saved a loved one.

SoT points to another issue. I would always like to believe that any two people are equal, but when you start utilitarianising and thinking about how much each of those people contributes to other people's happiness, their "value" as individuals quickly becomes different.

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I think this is really wonderful.
Posts: 147 | Registered: Tuesday, October 18 2005 07:00
Guardian
Member # 2080
Profile #5
So why tell the person you just saved why you saved them at all? There's no need to say to the person, "Oh, I thought you were someone else my mistake." And there's no reason to lie to them and pretend like you meant to save them.

In the end, reason doesn't matter. What matters is the outcome. Sure, you might not have saved that person if you knew they weren't a loved one, but you still saved them. Consider that your good deed for the year and call it a day.

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"I don't understand a word you just said. Try speaking American. It's the only language I understand."
Posts: 1918 | Registered: Sunday, October 13 2002 07:00
Lifecrafter
Member # 6700
Profile Homepage #6
The way I see it: I see a person about to get hit by a car, I'm going to push them out of the way, regardless of who it is.

What is the value in question here?
Is it human life?
Is it relationships?
Is it kindness? Compassion? Karma?

I value human life and the ability for people to cherish said life. Therefore, I don't stop to think about whether it's Aunt Sue or some random hunchbacked dude who I'll never meet again. I just do.

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The Silent Assassin is still off touring. I haven't heard a word from him for hours...
Well, that goes without saying,I suppose.
But the quiet is nice.

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-Lenar Labs
What's Your Destiny?

Ushmushmeifa: Lenar's power is almighty and ineffable.

All hail lord Noric, god of... well, something important, I'm sure.
Posts: 735 | Registered: Monday, January 16 2006 08:00
Law Bringer
Member # 335
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Thin Air: I think your friend's view is that saving the stranger gets you karma A because that's what you did regardless of what you thought you were doing. But what if you push someone who's about to step into oncoming traffic in the hopes that they'll fall over and be killed and they fall backwards and don't get hit? Your intention was murderous and the result was saving a stranger. Under her system, you've just done a good deed. That seems perverse to me.

—Alorael, who wouldn't want to have to quantify the value of human life. He'll admit, though, that his willingness to risk his life for a total stranger is much more limited than his willigness to risk his life for someone he knows. He could claim cynically that most people don't deserve to be saved, but instead he'll blame evolution.
Posts: 14579 | Registered: Saturday, December 1 2001 08:00
Agent
Member # 8030
Profile Homepage #8
Regardless of your motives to rescue someone, I still believe it's commendable. However, if your actions were done in hopes of glory, attention, or money, your morals were bad, but you still deserve gratitude.

The last sentence before this post; by Alorael
quote:
He could claim cynically that most people don't deserve to be saved, but instead he'll blame evolution.
Sounds like social Darwinism to me.

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WWJD?
Posts: 1384 | Registered: Tuesday, February 6 2007 08:00
Too Sexy for my Title
Member # 5654
Profile #9
quote:
Originally written by Thin Air:

but when you start utilitarianising and thinking about how much each of those people contributes to other people's happiness, their "value" as individuals quickly becomes different.
God, do not even start with Utilitarianism. I guess it'll depend on what you mean when you say 'commendable'. I don't think you should be praised for doing a great thing when you did it solely out of an error/disbelieve, which is what I believe your friend was saying. It's a good thing that you saved a life in the end, and you should feel good about it but it's not something to be praised for since you didn't mean to save that person's life.

"In the end, reason doesn't matter. What matters is the outcome." Yes and no. In cases as this, I don't think you should beat yourself up. Be happy that a life is saved and just think of the outcome. I can see many other different scenarios where that statement would be false though. I'm with Lenar here, "The way I see it: I see a person about to get hit by a car, I'm going to push them out of the way, regardless of who it is." I'm not sure how I would react in said situation, but I'd like to think I wouldn't panic and would manage to push them out of the way.

Edit: funny how I noticed that the quote needed fixing like two days later :P

[ Sunday, May 06, 2007 16:23: Message edited by: M. ]
Posts: 1035 | Registered: Friday, April 1 2005 08:00
By Committee
Member # 4233
Profile #10
I think that the action itself is one that society would find commendable, and as such, the rescuer would deserve any credit awarded for it, regardless of his personal feelings or motivations. I think that the only way one wouldn't get the "moral points" for the rescue would be if, in retrospect, the rescuer totally regrets making the rescue. Who would do that?
Posts: 2242 | Registered: Saturday, April 10 2004 07:00
Law Bringer
Member # 335
Profile Homepage #11
I think society is obligated to show appreciation for the rescuer even if he or she claims to have done it unintentionally. That's a socially important thing to do because inspiring like actions is a good thing. The problem of Utilitarianism isn't really a problem. Everyone deserves to be saved. (Yes, I do really mean everyone!) Some might be better to save than others, but that's a personal choice on how much risk you're willing to accept for whatever good you think you'll do.

Excalibur, my cynicism isn't social Darwinism. I just tend to dislike people, so I can humorously (but not seriously!) say that letting them die is just fine. Evolution comes in as an explanation for why we feel a moral obligation to save others in the first place. A society that looks after its own does better than one full of selfishness, so we've all come out more or less interested in the good of our fellow man.

—Alorael, who finds both Utilitarianism and evolutionary anthropology fascinating. The former is an ethical system that is both eminently pragmatic and sometimes deeply disquieting, and the latter explains a great deal about humanity, but often with barely disguised elitism. Both are way off topic.
Posts: 14579 | Registered: Saturday, December 1 2001 08:00
...b10010b...
Member # 869
Profile Homepage #12
quote:
Originally written by Student of Trinity:

There does seem to be something a bit intriguing here, though: we are mixing up utility, which is strictly about effects, with intentions. That seems quite right to me, but isn't it a bit unusual?
I'd say this happens for the same reason that act utilitarianism is famously difficult to put into practice in general: individuals aren't in a position to assess all the effects of every action they take, so often the best that a society can do is make sure people try their best to do good. Punishing a well-intentioned but harmful act only serves a purpose if whoever did it should have known it was harmful. Conversely, rewarding an act performed from selfish motives that happens to benefit others is generally unnecessary, since the act would presumably be performed even without the extra reward.

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The Empire Always Loses: This Time For Sure!
Posts: 9973 | Registered: Saturday, March 30 2002 08:00
Warrior
Member # 6401
Profile #13
quote:
Originally written by M.:

I don't think you should be praised for doing a great thing when you did it solely out of an error/disbelieve, which is what I believe your friend was saying. It's a good thing that you saved a life in the end, and you should feel good about it but it's not something to be praised for since you didn't mean to save that person's life.

Re. what my friend thinks, I think Marlenny hit it on the head. My friend was saying that you thought you were saving a loved one, but you were mistaken and so in the end you don't deserve credit. You did what you did with false information.

I think that you more or less did save a loved one, whether or not it actually was that person. You believed it to be, and you saved them. So you deserve credit for that.

I can't honestly say I would dive in front of a lorry for just anyone. It might be commendable if I did, but I think that kick feeling of "I have to do something" won't always be inspired if I don't know the person. Then comes the more rational period of considering the situation, which I hope would result in "yes I should help them", but by that time it's too late.

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I think this is really wonderful.
Posts: 147 | Registered: Tuesday, October 18 2005 07:00
Guardian
Member # 5360
Profile #14
For some reason, Nalyd is reminded of George Orwell's "1984" by this topic. "It doesn't matter what really happens, what matters is what you think happens."

If you saved a stranger that you thought was a loved one, then you will publicly get credit for saving a stranger. But what you experience privately depends on what you think.

[ Sunday, May 06, 2007 13:30: Message edited by: Necromancing Wolfowitz ]

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May the fires of Undeath burn in your soul, and consume it.
Posts: 1636 | Registered: Wednesday, January 5 2005 08:00
By Committee
Member # 4233
Profile #15
quote:
Originally written by Thin Air:

I think that you more or less did save a loved one, whether or not it actually was that person. You believed it to be, and you saved them. So you deserve credit for that.
Why would the credit, whether the rescuee is a loved one or no, not be deserved? The point is that the rescuer would get credit for rescuing a person, period.
Posts: 2242 | Registered: Saturday, April 10 2004 07:00
Too Sexy for my Title
Member # 5654
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"Why would the credit, whether the rescuee is a loved one or no, not be deserved? The point is that the rescuer would get credit for rescuing a person, period."

I'm not really going into whether or not you should get credit. A life has been saved, why worried about the rest? I get the point. I'm referring to the person's own moral and ethics. If it were me, I'd be glad that I made that mistake and ended up saving a life. But I wouldn't be really praising myself when I know that if I had known that person weren't a loved one I would've just stood there and watched him/her died.
Posts: 1035 | Registered: Friday, April 1 2005 08:00
By Committee
Member # 4233
Profile #17
So it's guilt in knowing that you wouldn't perform a rescue for just anyone. This isn't anything to feel guilty about though.

I forget who said it, but I think there's something true to the sentiment that if we were held accountable for our thoughts, everyone would be locked away. Fortunately for all of us, it's only our acts that count.

As for knowing that you wouldn't resuce someone you don't know, where's the shame in that? Society praises heroes, but it does not require heroism. More often than not, such acts simply result in increasing the number of victims in a tragedy. If you perceive a legitimate risk to your own life in attempting to save another and choose not to act, I don't think anyone could fault you for making that choice.
Posts: 2242 | Registered: Saturday, April 10 2004 07:00
Warrior
Member # 7638
Profile #18
I don't think it matters who it was but that you saved the person. It's good that you saved someone regardless what you thought. What goes inside our heads doesn't really matter, but the fact that we do it does. Some people are more heroic than others.

[ Friday, May 11, 2007 13:39: Message edited by: Leftover Sauerkraut ]

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"640K ought to be enough for anybody."
-- Bill Gates, 1981

"But what ... is it good for?"
--Engineer at the Advanced Computing Systems Division of IBM, 1968, commenting on the microchip.
Posts: 152 | Registered: Monday, November 6 2006 08:00
Shock Trooper
Member # 1829
Profile #19
Obviously the correct way to go about things is, upon finding out that the person you just rescued is a complete stranger, is to wait until the next lorry comes by and restore the balance. And of course wish the stranger luck in that this time he or she really is someone who someone else walking by knows.
Posts: 206 | Registered: Tuesday, September 3 2002 07:00