Intuitive reactions to the two versions of the trolley problem


Most people have opposite intuitive reactions to the two versions of the Trolley Problem (turning to a side track and pushing the fat pedestrian to block the trolley). Should we think about both cases the same way? Why or why not?



Suggested paper topics

PHIL 112 ETHICS  – L. Shanner

DUE:  FRIDAY DECEMBER 11, 2020 (last day of semester)

USE YOUR TEXTBOOK as your primary resource, supplemented by lecture notes.  You are welcome to add additional directly relevant materials, but please focus on course work first.  Talk with me if you have any questions about sources and/or redirecting your topic.


· Length:  700-1000 words (about 3-5 pages).

· Please no cover pages – I’m using my own printer and paper

· Be sure your name is on the first page or header!

· Double spaced, standard font and margins.

o  Single-space and indent lengthy quotes or bullet-point lists. 

· References can immediately follow the end of your essay (to save my paper and printing), or you may have a separate bibliography page.

· Save as Word or PDF document

Turning it in:  Either upload to VIULearn > Assignments or email to me with a subject line indicating your paper is attached.  Do NOT send it by reply to an email I send the class – it gets lost in the inbox that way.  Do NOT send me to Google docs or other dropboxes.

Goals:  Focus on a specific, limited aspect of course material covered so far, and work with it until you can decide whether you agree with it (partly or strongly), or perhaps how it would apply to a certain type of case.   Why are some ideas or authors making more sense to you than others?  What good reasons can you offer for me (or others) to agree with your assessment? (It does not matter whether I actually do agree with you or not!  I’m looking for clarity in your reasoning).  You will not solve these difficult, venerable questions.  Making progress on understanding them and fitting pieces together is excellent work. 

Citations:  Any standard citation format is acceptable (APA, MLA, Chicago Manual, etc).  My personal preference is footnotes or endnotes rather than in-text parenthetical (like this) references for readability, but APA style is fine.

· Acceptable Bibliography format: 

o Daniel DeNicola Moral Philosophy:  A Contemporary Introduction (Peterborough ON: Broadview 2019) p. 87.

o Laura Shanner “Ethical Theories in Bioethics and Health Law” in M.J. Dykeman (ed) Canadian Health Law Practice Manual (Toronto: Butterworths 2000). Chapter 1, s. 1.11.

o Laura Shanner, lecture slides “Utilitarianism 1” October 5, 2020, #8.

· PAGE NUMBERS ARE ESSENTIAL.  Each citation for a quote or paraphrase should give the specific page number where the quote is found.  For parenthetical citations: “…but can they suffer?” (107).

· Be very clear about whether you are quoting an original author quoted in our text, or the editor of our textbook.  Credit the person who said it, then give the citation to the edited or 2nd-hand source.

· Page numbers refer to the textbook, not the original publication date of the original work. 

· Note that APA simplified a few things last fall:  No need for “Running Head:” headers.  First author’s name only, instead of a list of names, even in first parenthetical reference. 

Essay Topics:  Choose ONE of the following topics.  If you want to write on a topic other than one of these, you need to discuss it with me first.

1. Most people have opposite intuitive reactions to the two versions of the Trolley Problem (turning to a side track and pushing the fat pedestrian to block the trolley).  Should we think about both cases the same way? Why or why not?

2. A principle of non-interference (such as Star Trek’s “Prime Directive”) is a common feature of science fiction stories involving contact with alien cultures.   However, it is very hard to follow a principle of non-interference, especially when one (human or alien) group is clearly damaging the interests of others.  Do you think that a principle of non-interference should be absolute, without any exceptions? If not, what kinds of criteria or considerations should guide when to interfere?  How would you respond to a challenge that your criteria are merely your own cultural biases?

3. Imagine that you have discovered a Ring of Gyges, or Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak. Now apply either Existentialism or Virtue theory.  If nobody would know that you were the person who did something, what sorts of things would you likely choose to do? What do you think you SHOULD do? Why?

4. Consider the distinction between intrinsic and instrumental goods.  What (if anything) do you think is intrinsically valuable?  Explain why.

5. Existentialism declares that we have radical freedom; evolutionary theory claims that various behaviors are wired into our DNA, and other theories note how we are shaped by cultural norms.  Using what we have read and discussed so far – and NOT getting into the complicated metaphysics of free will and determinism (whew!) – how much freedom of choice do you think we humans actually have?  Put another way, which of the theoretical accounts of freedom/choosing that we have studied makes the most sense to you? Why?

6. Some ethical theories involve a vision of persons or selves as isolated, distinct and non-overlapping.  Other theories depict us as inherently interconnected, so that our “self” is partly formed by our relationships, community, environment, or other features in which we are embedded.  Which version of “self” makes more sense to you? Why?  What are the implications of this conclusion for you when you do ethics?

7. Hobbes and Locke give different accounts of the state of nature, which lead to different ethical conclusions.  Which author do you think offers the better account? Explain why.

8. Assess the list of rights granted in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights (in our slide set).  Is this list reasonable and/or realistic? How does the distinction between positive and negative rights affect your assessment?  Is there anything you would add? Are there any identified rights that you think are not justified?

9. Do you think that (at least some) non-humans should be granted rights like those in the UN Declaration of Human Rights? If so, what kinds of rights might apply to what kinds of creatures?  If not, why not? Focus on ETHICAL rights claims, not legal rights.

10. Compare the notion of ethical detachment as described in Buddhism &/or Hinduism with Existentialism’s insistence on authenticity and actively embracing our freedom.  Do you think these ideas are completely incompatible, or are there some overlapping insights?

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