The Instigator
XimenBao
Pro (for)
Winning
15 Points
The Contender
mongeese
Con (against)
Losing
10 Points

Shove the Fatman, or, Huzzah for Sophisticated-expectablist-rule-consequentialism!

Do you like this debate?NoYes+1
Add this debate to Google Add this debate to Delicious Add this debate to FaceBook Add this debate to Digg  
Vote Here
Pro Tied Con
Who did you agree with before the debate?
Who did you agree with after the debate?
Who had better conduct?
Who had better spelling and grammar?
Who made more convincing arguments?
Who used the most reliable sources?
Reasons for your voting decision
1,000 Characters Remaining
The voting period for this debate does not end.
Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 1/13/2010 Category: Miscellaneous
Updated: 7 years ago Status: Voting Period
Viewed: 3,308 times Debate No: 10825
Debate Rounds (5)
Comments (48)
Votes (5)

 

XimenBao

Pro

Shove the Fatman

I am asserting that in the Train Problem (as described below), pushing the Fatman based on a Sophisticated-expectablist-rule-consequentialism (SERC) ethic is more justifiable than any other combination of action and justification the negative will propose. Please read the resolution carefully, because this specifies a debate of comparative advantages, not merely assertion and negation.

In the Train Problem one of two equivalent scenarios are given.

In the first case, you are standing at a railroad switch. To one side is a single person tied to the tracks. To the other side are five people tied to the tracks. The train is currently traveling towards the side with five people and will kill them. Is it morally justified to throw the switch and divert the train towards the single person, killing him/her and saving the others?

In the second case, you are standing at a train station with a train slowing down to arrive. All of a sudden, five people fall onto the tracks, immobilizing themselves. The train will kill them when it arrives. A Fatman stands at the edge of the platform. You know that if you push the Fatman, his body will stop the train, killing him, but saving the five others. Should you shove the Fatman?

My answer is yes.

I first contend that following an ethic of sophisticated-expectablist-rule-consequentialism (SERC), a variation on standard rule-consequentialism, would result in choosing to doom the single person to save the other five.
Sophisticated-expectablist-rule-consequentialism (SERC) can be summed up as:"An act is morally wrong if and only if it is forbidden either by the rules the acceptance of which would result in the greatest expected good, or, if two or more alternative codes of rules are equally best in terms of expected good, by the one of these codes closest to conventional morality. [1]"

I support this contention by assuming a rule that preserving life is desirable.
Within the constraints of the Train Problem, I am given the choice of preserving one life or five lives.
As saving five lives preserves more lives than preserving one life, it is more desirable.
Thus I should act to preserve more lives.
Thus I should shove the Fatman.

My second contention is that this is more justifiable as opposed to any other set of act and rationale that Con may present. While my method of support for this contention will obviously vary based on the tack Con chooses, I can argue a few merits of this proposal regardless:

1. It has a grounding in empiricism. SERC allows us to evaluate morality based on observable phenomena. Based on the circumstances, what information was available to the moral actor? What possible rules could be constructed or accessed from that information? Which of those rules could we expect, given our knowledge and logic, to have the most positive result? This is a benefit over other forms of ethics in which actions are good in and of themselves and must be accepted on faith with no justification being possible.

2. It possesses intuitive appeal and a resistance to dilemmas. I'd be happy to discuss the "Jews in the Attic" scenario if Con wishes.

3. SERC is demonstrably a positive element of our societal norms. This is why we have established a Mens Rea component of our justice system. We recognize that in order to be blameworthy, the accused must have acted according to a rule by which her/she could have expected a negative outcome. If a person gives to a charity, according to the rule that excess resources should be shared with the needy, it is not in society's interest to punish the person if the charity turns out to be fraudulent. Conversely, if it could reasonably be expected that the charity was fraudulent, society is not served by lauding the people who choose to place their charity there anyway.

Feel free to ask any questions in comments before accepting.

Thank you.

[1]http://plato.stanford.edu...
mongeese

Con

I would like to thank my opponent for starting this debate.

My opponent claims that pushing the fat man is the most justifiable action compared to ANY other combination of actions. I merely need to propose a more justifiable decision.

A. In the first case, my opponent claims that after discovering that either five people will die or one person will die, you should automatically try to kill one person to save five. However, I have a more justifiable solution:

1. Make some observations.

Why is it that these men are tied to the train tracks? Is it that all of them are the victims of one villain? Or is it because the Joker hired five thugs to tie one man to a train track, and then tied those five men in himself?

2. If the five men tied together are in no way guilty, pull the switch.

3. If the five men tied together are guilty of having tied the first man to the train tracks, don't pull the switch.

I believe that this is more justifiable because if this is all just a plot by the five to make you kill the one by your own hand, then the five win immorally. It's better to let the five die, and the innocent man who got tied to the train track to live.

B. In the first case, my opponent claims that after discovering that either five people will die or one person will die, you should automatically try to kill one person to save five. However, I have a more justifiable solution:

1. Make some observations.

Why is it that five people fell onto the tracks? Were they pushed? Did they trip? Or is this just an elaborate scheme by the five to get the fat man killed, knowing that you likely follow SERC?

Perhaps the five men are shareholders in a mining company, and the fat man got injured by one of their machines. The company then had to pay the fat man $1,000,000 over the next ten years. To avoid paying this money, the five men would have to get the fat man killed. The best solution is to get somebody to use morals to justify pushing the fat man in front of a train.

If you happen to recall seeing this story in a newspaper recently, and the five men are all wearing the same business suit, and the fat man looks exactly like the fat man in the newspaper, it's probably a good idea NOT to push the fat man into the train.

Or perhaps the five men jumped onto the train tracks yelling, "Suicide!" They obviously intend to kill themselves. Why save the lives of people who'd rather die over the life of a man who'd rather live?

2. Check to see if the fat man happens to be doing anything important, such as trying to stop a murderer who is running through the train station to get away from the police. Perhaps the fat man is keeping a mine from exploding by keeping his foot on it (it's triggered by RELEASING one's foot, you see [1]) until everybody evacuates the train station safely. In such a scenario, it would be tremendously unwise to push the fat man, as everybody in the train station would die.

3. If the five men are situationally innocent, and the fat man is not saving people's lives, push the fat man in front of the train.

4. Otherwise, do not push the fat man in front of the train.

In conclusion, one should not just push the fat man, but should instead check why the five men fell onto the train tracks, as there are numerous situations in which the five men are acting entirely immorally, and deserve to die.

I look forward to my opponent's response. Good luck.

1. http://vids.myspace.com...
Debate Round No. 1
XimenBao

Pro

I thank con for an amusing reply.

I would first ask for my two contentions to be extended into this round, as they were not directly challenged.

Having done that, I note that Con has tried to shift us into a different debate than the one began in the OP. I offer four objections to Con's arguments.

1. Con doesn't get to do that.

The hypothetical Con responded to was not the hypothetical I proposed. The Train Problem as I articulated it does not involve knowledge of guilt, the Joker, landmines, fleeing murderers, suicides, or any other elements beyond the description. It is not good argumentation to change the terms of a hypothetical in order to refute it, as if this was accepted as good practice, all hypothetical argumentation would be rendered invalid. All a person arguing against a hypothetical would have to do is add, subtract, or change elements of a hypothetical situation until it supported his or her side. The actual questions the hypothetical raises would never have to be addressed.

I argue this is bad, and that changing the terms of a hypothetical to defeat an argument based on the unchanged hypothetical should be rejected.

2. Even if Con did get to do that, it wouldn't work here.

In his scenario, Con plays detective and starts to determine why there are people on the train track. The train smooshes the five people before he can figure it out, meaning that he better hope they were Joker minions, because otherwise he's made the wrong choice by his own argument.

3. Con doesn't propose an alternative justification

Con has said that if the five people shout "suicide," or were responsible for the condition of the single person, they should die. Con has said that if the Fatman is standing on a mine, or chasing a murderer, then he should not be pushed. However, con has not made an argument for an ethical framework to place these actions in. Without an ethical justification for his proposed actions, Con cannot argue that his justification is better than SERC, and thus cannot win the debate.

4. Con's proposed actions are compatible with SERC.

Con has not proposed an ethical framework, but the way he worded his chosen actions, they seem to fit within the SERC ethic.

The rule I proposed was that preserving life is desirable. While I claimed claimed this was the ultimate rule, I don't believe any other rules need to be introduced to deal with Con's changes to the hypothetical.

The Joker is a mass-murderer. His minions assist him in this. If I allow the train to run over the minions, then I have preserved not only the single life of the unsmooshed person, but all the lives of the people the minions would have killed.

If the Fatman is standing on a mine, then by not pushing him I preserve many lives.

If the Fatman is chasing a murderer, or if the five people jumped onto the track shouting suicide, then the hypothetical would have to be changed even further to specify whether he would catch the murderer, if the murderer was a serial killer, if the people shouting suicide are trying to attempt suicide, and so on. As I argue that the changes to the hypothetical so far are illegitimate, I will obviously not participate in modifying it further.

So in the situations where the changes to the hypothetical result in arguable cases, they are compatible with the justifications in the OP, meaning Con has not actually presented a challenge to my position.
mongeese

Con

I would first like to thank my opponent for his quick response.

Now, to object to my opponent's four objections:

1. "Con doesn't get to do that."

My opponent claims my hypothetical situations are inconsistent with his own. However, this is false. In my situation, a person gathers all information possible within the time given. My opponent's hypothetical situation does not exclude the possibility of obvious guilty, the Joker, landmines, murderers, suiciders, etc. Therefore, these are potential aspects of the situation that must be addressed. Therefore, one should first check to see if anything against pushing the fat man is present BEFORE pushing the fat man.

2. "It wouldn't work here."

My opponent claims that it would take too long to ascertain where the guilt lies. However, my opponent's situation does not exclude ample time to discern what's going on. Plus, it can quite often be fairly obvious where the guilt lies, needing no additional time. For example, if you saw the five men tie down the one man, and then saw the Joker tie down the five men, this information must be recalled before deciding whether or not to throw the switch. If the people jumping in front of a train are yelling "Suicide!" one can immediately realize that they intend to die. Additionally, the commotion of the fat man discovering that he is on a mine would reveal the incident well before any people jump off roofs.

Basically, one must simply remember what they know about the situation from beforehand before making any decisions in which lives hang in the balance.

3. "Con doesn't propose an alternative justification."

Okay.

If the five men doomed to die are the same people who put the one person in the position of death, why should numbers matter? If there were just as many guilty people as innocent, who would you have killed? The guilty. Why reward the guilty for being greater in number? Why make the numbers even relevant, when the guilty will go to jail for the rest of their lives anyway, while the one man might actually accomplish something in life?

If the five men are yelling "Suicide!" they are trying to get themselves killed by their own choice. They quite seriously WANT to die.
The fat man standing on the edge of the train track obviously does not want to die; otherwise, he would have stepped in front of the train already.
By my opponent's proposal, those who'd rather die would live and he who'd rather live would die. Nobody would win.
By my proposal, those who'd rather die would die and he who would rather live would live. Everybody would win.
Obviously, my scenario is more ethically justifiable, because everybody winning is better than nobody winning.

If the fat man is standing on a mine with the power to blow up the entire station, along with the train and the five men on the track, pushing the fat man would result in more un-consented death than not pushing the fat man. Therefore, to preserve life, the fat man should not be pushed.

Now, I would like to point out something here: the hypothetical situation only specifies that five people fall onto the track. It does NOT say why. It could have been suicide. It might have been the result of too much horseplay by five drunken people. If five drunk people walk onto the tracks, they should not be saved over the fat man, because it's completely their own fault that they're about to die. The fat man is not obligated to give his own life to save five drunks. That's his own decision to make.

4. "Con's proposed actions are compatible with SERC."

In preserving life, five suiciders would be saved as opposed to one man who'd rather live, and five stupid drunks would be saved as opposed to one sober, responsible man.

My opponent claims that the minions would continue to kill people if the train does not kill them. However, the police would obviously arrest the minions, as they are conveniently tied up. After the Joker tied his own minions to the train tracks, I doubt he'd come back for them. Therefore, they would kill nobody. However, they are still guilty, and I propose that guilt should be taken more into account than a life count.

My opponent claims that the people shouting suiciding might not be suiciding. I think that it's fairly obvious that people shouting "Suicide!" are trying to suicide, and any people who make themselves appear to be suiciding when they are not are stupid enough to deserve to be killed for the sake of natural selection anyway.

Now, my opponent ultimately claims that as long as SERC is followed, the resolution is affirmed. However, as clearly shown by his first paragraph in Round 1, he is asserting that pushing the fat man is more justifiable than any other combination of actions, such combinations including gathering as much information possible within the given time, then making a more responsible decision. I do believe that I have shown gathering relevant information to allow for the making of a more moral decision than my opponent's rash decision of pushing the fat man without considering the entire situation with his head.

To conclude the four points:

1. It cannot be assumed that what my opponent sets up with the explanation is the only relevant information available, and it cannot be assumed that the five soon killed are guilt-free, and not self-responsible for how they got into this mess.
2. There is obviously enough time to observe why the events that occurred as they did. It's kind of hard to miss "Suicide!" or drunk fools.
3. I have provided several justifications for my proposed actions based on various situations within my opponent's hypothetical description.
4. This is irrelevant, as my opponent's goal is not to affirm SERC, but to affirm pushing the fat man with no thought as to why the people are there to make you want to push the fat man.

I do believe that I have countered my opponent's objections.

Don't save the guilty over the innocent.

I look forward to my opponent's response. Good luck.
Debate Round No. 2
XimenBao

Pro

I was hoping to have a philosophical debate over an issue of ethics, but instead this round must focus on propriety in argumentation.

Please extend my initial two contentions, as they have not been directly challenged.

Grouping 1&2: Con still can't do that.

Con argues that his additions to the hypothetical are not inconsistent with the hypothetical. A premise is not a plan. You can't use a 'do-both' permutation on a hypothetical question that forms the premise of the debate. It illegitimately changes the subject of debate and nullifies any attempt to discuss the original topic: proper ethical behavior in a given situation.

One of the strengths of using hypotheticals is that a situation can be created that focuses attention on troublesome points[1]. In this instance, the troublesome question is whether a person is justified in diverting a force of death from killing five people at the cost of one life.

Con's approach robs the hypothetical of this power by adding extraneous elements which prevent the hypothetical from raising the issue.

If we make the five people monsters, then that radically shifts the meaning of the hypothetical.

If we make the single person vastly more important, that radically shifts the meaning of the hypothetical.

If we allow the actor as much time to gather information as he wishes, or allow him to have observed any given piece of information prior to the decision, that radically shifts the meaning of the hypothetical.

All the relevant details to the hypothetical were given in the OP. Con's approach to the question attempts to shift the debate from a question about what is the ethical action in a given situation to a question of what additional information we can imagine that would make the dilemma easier to resolve.

This approach has the effect of preventing the original question from being discussed, let alone answered. This is bad for debate.

I refer to the resolution: "I am asserting that in the Train Problem (as described below), pushing the Fatman based on a Sophisticated-expectablist-rule-consequentialism (SERC) ethic is more justifiable than any other combination of action and justification the negative will propose."

Con has not addressed the Train Problem as described, but has remade it to favor his position. Con is therefore off-topic in this debate. These revisions should be rejected and a vote given to Pro.

3: Con's justification problems

Con seems to be running multiple largely undefined ethical frameworks simultaneously. He argues both that guilty people should be punished, even if it results in a greater cost in human life and it isn't what they want. He then argues that suicide victims should be allowed to die because it is what they want. He then argues that causing an explosion would be bad because it would not preserve the most life, which I assume he considers a good. He then argues that one is not obligated to give one's life to save others if the others are in danger because it is their own fault.

Running through that list, I'm seeing bits of deontology, relativism, utilitarianism, and what I think is more deontology. However, none of it is defined, none of it is explained, none of it is argued for, and most of it is contradictory.

Con has not provides a clear alternative ethical justification for any of his actions.

Moreover, it is unclear if he intended to provide a single ethical system and did not or if he intended to use a scattershot approach and reel off as many ethical systems as possible in the hopes that the judges would feel at least one was superior.

At this time the action and ethics proposed by Pro are superior to those proposed by Con because Pro's choice of action and justification is clearly identifiable and clear attempts to support them were given. Currently Con has 4-5 possible action/justification sets, none of which he has committed to or attempted to defend in depth. This is apart from the fact that they are all dependent on an illegitimate reworking of the hypothetical.

It would be unfair to Pro for Con to throw out brief possible alternatives from every ethical framework available and expect Pro to defeat them all in-depth. It presents a moving target as Pro could successfully defeat 4/5, run out of space, and Con could claim victory on the fifth. Con needs to commit to one of his alternative justifications and defend it as superior to that proposed in the OP.

This does not unfairly limit Con. Con had the exact same range of responses as Pro. Both Pro and Con are limited to pushing the switch/Fatman or not pushing the switch/Fatman, but both have the entirety of ethics to draw from in justifying their position. The only limitation Con had that Pro did not was that Con couldn't argue to push the Switch/Fatman based on a sophisticated-expectablist-rule-consequentialism rule that life should be preserved.

Despite it being the third round of the debate, if Con is willing to stick to one of his already proposed combinations of action/justification and drop the off-topic revised hypo/scattershot portion of the debate, I won't argue for a Pro vote based on those dropped sections.

4. Con's actions fitting SERC

Given Con's elaboration on his position I am no longer certain his proposed actions are best interpretable through SERC, largely because some of the actions seem to conflict and/or have conflicting justifications. I would be especially interested to see Con justify his universal statement that people appearing to be committing suicide are stupid and deserve to die.

Summary:

Current Pro's proposed action is the only action based on the hypothetical. Pro's ethical justification is the only one explored in any depth.

1&2: Con has not addressed the Train Problem as written, but has instead added to it and changed its meaning and focus. This is not only grounds for rejection as harmful to debate, but the resolution specifies that the topic is only concerned with the Train Problem as written, and so Con is off topic in this debate.

3. Con has not argued in any depth for an ethical justification for any of his action choices. To the extent he has justified them, they are scattershot and contradictory in addition to being based on off-topic revisions to the hypothesis. Pro has the advantage of clarity, depth, and topicality.

4. Likely irrelevant pending further rounds.

[1] http://www.aclweb.org... (page 2)
mongeese

Con

1,2. "Con still can't do that."

My opponent claims that we are only talking about "proper ethical behavior in a given situation." However, a large part of my argument deals with the idea that in a given situation, one must observe and recall as many relevant details as possible within the available time to make the most proper ethical decision.

My opponent claims that I am adding extraneous elements. However, it is not so much that I am adding elements, as my opponent is hiding them.

Question: Is the fat man wearing a bow tie?
Apparently, the Train Problem does not say.
Therefore, we must conclude that the fat man might be wearing a bow tie, and if the presence of a bow tie happens to be relevant to the situation, it must be factored in.

My opponent claims that there are many possible details (monsters, importance, extended time, etc.) that would radically shift the meaning of the hypothetical. Therefore, my plan involves identifying these details, and making a decision accordingly. My opponent's plan is throwing caution into the wind and pushing the fat guy, even if the fat guy is an ambassador from China (as China would be extremely upset to learn that their ambassador was pushed by an American into a train, likely leading to war), and the five men are part of a suicidal cult. Such a decision would be highly unwise.

My opponent then claims that "all the relevant details to the hypothetical were given in the OP," despite admitting that the above details would "radically shift the meaning of the hypothetical." This is an obvious contradiction. Many relevant details were omitted from the hypothetical, and I seek to uncover these details to make an ethically justifiable decision.

My opponent claims that I have not addressed the Train Problem. However, I have. I have a solution for each case.

My solution, taking in information through observation BEFORE making a decision, is a valid response to the train problem. The problem does not specify the importance or motivation of any of the people described; as this is relevant, one must identify each man's importance before pushing the fat man or NOT pushing the fat man.

Ultimately, my opponent is trying to simplify his hypothetical beyond what it can be simplified to.

3. "Con's justification problems"

First, to defend the notion that guilty people should be punished over the innocent:
If the five tie up the one onto the train tracks with the intent of murder, they already consent to the current situation. If the Joker then ties them to the train tracks, it's their own fault for following the Joker. If the five men are saved, they will simply be thrown into jail for life, making no contribution to society and ultimately taking up jail space. If the one man is saved, he can continue to contribute to society with whatever job he has. I had already pointed this out in Round 2, but my opponent ignored it.
The most logical and most beneficial decision, in this case, would be to save the innocent over the guilty.

Next, to defend the notion that those who desire death should be granted death over those who do not desire death:
This should be rather obvious. The suiciders want death. The fat man does not. The fat man wants life. The suiciders do not. You have the option of either making all six unhappy, or making all six happy. As happiness is valued in pretty much all moral guides, it is fairly obvious to promote happiness in all.

Next, to defend the notion that five men's death is better than five men's death in addition to the death of everybody in the train station:
This is obvious. The five men are going to die in either scenario, so it's basically a decision of whether or not you want to save yourself and everybody else. Unless you happen to be abiding by the devil's advocacy of wjmelements, you'd rather live, making pushing the fat man both murderous and immoral.

Next, to defend the notion that the smart should not be sacrificed for the stupid:
The dumb people are getting themselves killed. If they live through this accident, they'll probably put themselves in harm's way again anyway.
The fat man, however, was smart enough not to step in the way of a train.
Why punish the fat man for the mistakes of the stupid? That is what requires justification.

XimenBao, here is a question for you:
If you were the fat man, and you saw five stupid drunks walk onto a train track by their own stupid will, would you step in front of the train to save them?
What if you saw five men jump onto the train tracks in a suicide attempt? Would you give up your own right to life to deprive them of the liberty to give away their own right to life?
Please answer this question honestly.
I would like the audience to ask themselves whether or not they would step into a train's path to save five drunks, or five suiciders.
I would like to know if you would even be willing to give your own life for five completely random people, just as innocent as you are but slightly more clumsy.
If the answer is "no," why force the fat man to give his life in a situation where you would not? That's hardly fair, and hardly moral.

Finally, to justify any of the latter scenarios:
The people hitting the tracks are immobilized. They are quite likely afflicted with paralysis [1] or some other medical condition due to the fall. Life with paralysis is very painful, and people with complete paralysis cannot contribute much of anything to society, instead leeching off of the successful in some way or another. A quick death by train would put them out of their misery. Why save them from liberation from pain?

Many of these arguments already occurred in Round 2. My opponent simply ignored them.

My opponent claims that I must dedicate myself to one proposal because he cannot counter them all in-depth. He need not counter them in-depth. He need only counter them with as much depth as I use to justify them. Additionally, all of my propositions are necessary, because my plan is to analyze the situation, and then act accordingly. Different justifications are required for the different hypothetical scenarios within my opponent's vague hypothetical scenario.

4. "Con's actions fitting SERC"

My opponent has dropped this point.

He asks why people who suicide are stupid. I never said that they are stupid. I merely said that they want death, and can be granted death, and should therefore be granted death. This is a fairly obvious tautology, suiciders wanting death, so it is obviously universal.
A stupid man who puts himself in death's way should not expect to be saved by some incredibly altruistic saint.

My opponent claims that I have conflicting justifications. I would like these conflicting justifications to be pointed out.

1&2. I have addressed the Train Problem, by pointing out that not enough is written to make an ethical conclusion.

3. I do believe that I have cleared up any misunderstanding surrounding my justifications. My opponent has not justified calling them contradictory. He calls them scattershot, but I have justified their scattershot-ness as necessary versatility to match numerous potential scenarios hiding in the Train Problem, that are neither specified nor ruled out.
Since this round, I have clarity. I have enough depth to justify the proposed actions. My proposals are more topical than my opponent's, being much more versatile to match a horribly vague problem.

I do believe that I have the upper hand. I look forward to my opponent's response.

1. http://en.wikipedia.org...
Debate Round No. 3
XimenBao

Pro

First, please continue to extend my initial two contentions regarding my own act/justification.

Con has conceded that he has radically shifted the meaning of the hypothetical by adding details such as "monsters, importance, extended time, etc" and chose decision/justification pairings based on that modified hypothetical.

Con has not directly addressed my argumentation as to why this is bad for debate: that it stifles discussion of the original question under debate and shifts the debate to an entirely different, new, and off-topic question.

Con has also not addressed topicality except for one sentence at the end of the round where he argues that versatility translates into topicality, which doesn't make any sense. This alone should secure a vote for pro, as I made a clear argument that ignoring the "as described" portion of the resolution in favor of making up new descriptions results in a topicality violation, and Con's only response was a one-line plea to versatility.

Con's argumentation in support of his radical shifts to the hypothetical consists of claims that I deny him fair ground due to "hiding" relevant details of the scenario, without which no case could be made.

My first response is that Con has almost exactly the same amount of ground to make a case as Pro. As I mentioned previously, Con has the entire field of ethics to draw argumentation from, just as I did. The fact that he does not choose to do so and instead creates new details to hang single paragraph or shorter justifications on should be Con's problem, not Pro's.

My second response is that the Train Problem is a classic problem in ethics. Originally proposed by Philippa Foot in 1967[1] as the "Trolley Problem" and the "Footbridge Problem," the Train Problem has become one of the basic tools in philosophy and ethics to compare how various ethical frameworks handle decisions that involve weighing harms and the morality of killing - to the extent that some academics use the term "trolley-ology" to describe the study of this problem [2 & 5].

If you google "Trolley Problem" or "'Footbridge Problem' ethics" you will find hundreds of ongoing arguments, from academics writing journal articles[3] to arguments on forums, video sites, and blogs (including one that used the Joker to illustrate it [4]), all using no more details than found in the description in the OP.

This is because the simplicity of the situation is ideal to see if the ethics of a framework we intuitively agree with can handle a difficult situation[5]. The uncertainty is there for a reason. You have to apply your ethics to a situation based on the scenario as it stands, accepting that uncertainty means all things may not be equal but that you can't access that information[6].

Con's attempt to make an end run around the problem by introducing new elements which make the situation less difficult misses the point of the exercise. Instead of justifying a framework of ethics in the context of the scenario, Con has modified the scenario to fit his framework of (largely undefined) ethics.

With this in mind, Con's action "taking in information through observation BEFORE making a decision" is not a response to the topic but a refusal to debate the topic and an attempt to create a new topic of his own. The action/decision pairs which Con presents after this divergence are not only off-topic, but not comparable.

The resolution calls for the comparison of actions and their justification in the train problem. Pro is the only side that presented such an action and justification. Con has presented various actions and justifications, but they have all been in response to a radically different problem, as Con has conceded.

In considering the most ethical action in situation X, we cannot compare an action A in situation X to an action B in situation Y. It's impossible to say that Action B is more or less ethical than Action A in situation X, as only one actually applies to situation X. However, when we consider all the solutions that apply to situation X we have to choose action A, as there are no alternatives offered.

As I requested potential contenders to read carefully, this is to be a debate about comparative advantages; whether push/SERC is the most ethically justifiable solution to the Train Problem as described. Currently it is the only solution to the Train Problem as described, and is thus winning by default.

While I offered to let Con present his own solution in Round 3, I do not extend the invitation to Round 4. At this point, having forced me to spend my time dealing with a series of off-topic arguments, it would be unfair for Con to spend 2 rounds on a brand new argument, leaving me only 1 round to reply to it.

Con has not offered an on-topic alternative to push/SERC, thus Pro wins the vote.

[1]http://www.blackwellreference.com...

[2]http://www.open2.net...

[3]http://philpapers.org...

[4]http://religionblog.dallasnews.com...

[5]http://www.nytimes.com...

[6]http://books.google.com... (p. 97)
mongeese

Con

My opponent claims that my practice is bad for debate. If we are to debate a hypothetical situation, we must not just assume that everybody is equal in guilt and importance, unless the situation specifically specifies this to be the case. My opponent's stubborn insistence to view a hypothetical through the lens of simplicity rather than observing the entire scenario is what is bad for debate.

My opponent criticizes the topicality of my arguments. However, my central idea (gaining information before making a decision) is highly topical. Why should one not gather as much relevant information as one can before making a decision? This is highly relevant to the resolution, as I propose that under certain situations, it would not be ethical to push the fat man. As this negates the resolution, it is very topical [1].

My opponent criticizes my practice of observing specific hypotheticals within the blanket hypothetical. However, if my opponent admits that in such scenarios, it would be wise not to push the fat man, isn't it important to observe the scenarios in more detail? The details are so relevant that a decision cannot be made ethically without them. My contention is that gathering information is more ethical than making a snap decision.

My opponent discusses how often the trolley problem is used in ethics, with a rather irrelevant history as well. However, the ultimate problem with this is that everybody assumes the trolley problem to be simple. However, it is highly complicated once we realize that the fat man might be very important, the five men might simply be suiciding, or the fat man could be standing on a land mine. If my opponent intended for us to be debating with the assumptions that the five people fell accidentally, all six men are of equal importance, and there are no land mines, this should have been clarified in the first round. Or, my opponent could have said that I do not have access to the relevant details. However, he did not, so I have access to details, and therefore, it is more ethical to take these details into consideration than to not.

My opponent claims that I have modified the scenario. I have done no such thing. I simply pointed out that within this scenario, there is a chance that the fat man is standing on a mine, and therefore, one should check that the fat man is not standing on a mine before pushing the fat man. I have never said that the fat man is most definitely standing on a mine. My opponent's accusations are unfounded.

My opponent claims that making observations is irrelevant to the topic. However, my goal in this debate is to propose a combination of actions that would be more ethical than my opponent's. Making observations was never excluded from the pool of actions from which I could draw.

My opponent claims that all of my justifications involve rare scenarios that probably would not occur. This is false. Three of my proposed justifications for not pushing the fat man involve no rare circumstances.

1. The five people are quite likely paralyzed. Therefore, a train wreck would put them out of their misery, and they would not spend the rest of their lives miserably in bed, doing nothing.
2. If it's the five people's own fault that they fell off (reasonably likely), they deserve to die more than the fat man.
3. My opponent ignored my questioning whether or not he would voluntarily give his life to stop the train if he were the fat man. If the answer would have been "no," then there's no justification in forcing a person to make a decision that you would not have made yourself.

My opponent claims that my hypotheticals are different from his hypothetical. However, Situation Y is a sub-situation of Situation X. Therefore, given Situation X, one must first check to see whether or not Situation X is also Situation Y. Additionally, I have justifications that require no Situation Y. My opponent has ignored them.

My opponent repeatedly claims that I offer no alternative justifications. However, I have three listed above, summarized from Round 3,

I have offered three justifications for why NOT to push the fat man in Situation X, and numerous more justifications in the numerous sub-Situation Ys, situations in which my opponent's course of action would clearly be morally wrong. My opponent completely ignores what I say. The vote should be CON.

1. http://en.wikipedia.org...(policy_debate)
Debate Round No. 4
XimenBao

Pro

I thank Con for an engaging debate.

First, please continue to extend my two initial contentions regarding the action/combination of push/SERC.

The debate has come down to this argument:

Debating what to do in a hypothetical scenario is a practice of justifying the best course of action for the given parameters.

If one adds additional parameters to the scenario, that person has changed the hypothetical.

Thus, no matter how correct his/her arguments may be within the changed hypothetical, the debater is not justifying the best course of action within the *given* scenario.

Thus when contrasted with an argument that actually is debating the given scenario, the answer to the changed scenario should lose.

In Round 3, Con agreed that there were many possible details he could add that could radically shift the meaning of the hypothetical, and attempted to justify adding them. In Round 4, he denies modifying the scenario. Adding details to the scenario is modifying it. No matter what ethical framework one chooses, one could justify it by radically shifting the hypothetical until it matches that framework, which is what Con has done for all his possible action/justification pairs.

The hypothetical as stated didn't provide a way for Con to argue an ethic based on guilt, so Con just added guilty parties in and "Presto!", the hypothetical changed from a challenging ethical dilemma to a case of the obvious.

The hypothetical as stated didn't provide a way for Con to argue an action that would prevent more than five deaths, so Con added in a threat to the whole train station, and suddenly the ethical calculus that we're supposed to be debating doesn't apply anymore.

The hypothetical as stated didn't provide a way for Con to argue an ethic based on suicide, so Con added in suicidal behavior.

This goes on for all Con's arguments.

This isn't how hypotheticals work. When I say "in this hypothetical (as written) I assert X, prove Y is better," I do not have to explicitly add, "and don't add any extraneous facts which radically shift the meaning of the hypothetical so as to obscure the questions it poses."

It's just basic good debating behavior that I shouldn't have to mention, any more than I should have to add specific disclaimers about misrepresenting sources, illegitimately shifting the burden of proof, going off topic, strawmanning, or any other bad techniques.

Just because I don't specifically say, "Don't do this particular bad debating technique" does not give Con a license to use that technique. Radically shifting the meaning of a hypothetical is one of those techniques. As discussed earlier, shifting the meaning of the hypothetical stifles debate on the question it poses and attempts to wrench the discussion to an off-topic debate on the new question.

This hypothetical:

"In the first case, you are standing at a railroad switch. To one side is a single person tied to the tracks. To the other side are five people tied to the tracks.

Is vastly different from this hypothetical:

"In the first case, you are standing at a railroad switch. To one side is a single innocent person tied to the tracks. To the other side are five murderers who have tied the innocent to the tracks and then allowed themselves to be tied up in order to promote their insane cult leader's serial killing plans."

It not only sends the debate spinning off topic, but does so in a way that unfairly reframes the debate to minimize ground for the other side. Con has changed the hypothetical so that Pro would no longer be advocating saving five lives at the cost of one, but saving five monsters at the cost of an innocent. Nothing in the hypothetical as written supports that, Con has added all those details, and it forces Pro to defend an untenable position which neither Pro nor the hypothetical support. It's an unfair usurpation of ground and should be rejected.

It should be rejected for being off-topic. It should be rejected as bad debate practice as regards stifling discussion. It should be rejected as bad debate practice for trying to restructure unfair ground for debate.

Con argues that he is justified in doing this because in the resolution "The details are so relevant that a decision cannot be made ethically without them."

However this justification falls flat. While Con asserts that the history of the problem as used in ethics is irrelevant, it actually undercuts his justification. Ethicists have been using the scenario as written to argue for ethical decisions for more than 50 years. My links in the last round demonstrate that not only is it possible to make an ethical decision based on the limited information in the problem, but it has already been done.

I specifically pointed out in my Thomson & Parent link[1] that the hypothetical is meant to force you to make a decision knowing that you don't have all the details but having to make the best decision you can in the circumstances. Yes, obviously there are details left unsaid that could affect one's decision. That is true in any hypothetical. That doesn't mean it's ok to add whatever details you want into the hypothetical, radically shifting its meaning to avoid addressing the elements of uncertainty inherent to the problem.

Con argues that "making observations" was never excluded from the pool of actions from which he could draw. This is true. Con can choose to observe the scenario. What Con cannot do is use that as an excuse to make up new details that he observes.

Imagine this in another context. Consider a resolution that the US should increase funding for AIDS treatment in Zaire. Con arguing to decline funding and put that money in research would be an unobjectionable counterplan case, but stating that one "chooses to observe the research towards a cure and, finding one, cures AIDS entirely without increasing funding" would be unfair. Just because the Pro didn't state "and no adding in a cure for AIDS that bypasses the point of debate" doesn't mean that Con gets free reign to add whatever details makes the case easier to argue. That would certainly be a relevant, meaningful, and game changing detail to add, but Con doesn't get to "observe" it and add it to the debate just because it would be an important fact.

That's what Con has done in this debate. The hypothetical offers a limited number of facts which are widely accepted as being sufficient to make an ethical argument with. Con has added facts to the hypothetical, radically changing the problem and possible solutions, just as adding a cure for AIDS would radically change the problem and solutions in the above example. Just because the facts Con wishes to observe are important, doesn't mean he gets to add them in, just as a cure for AIDS if it existed being an important part of the above example doesn't mean he would get to add it in that situation.

Even in the 3-point argument Con claims is solely based on the hypothetical with no additions, he has added in paralysis, fault, and my hypothetical behavior. In addition he doesn't claim how it is BETTER than the action/justification in my original two contentions. My justification is better because it is part of a consistent detailed ethical framework rather than one-line unsupported assertions mixing justifications based on relieving misery, guilt, and reciprocal behavior, all of which are asserted as if self-evident rather than supported by argumentation or even links to supporting ethicists.

Summary-
Conduct: Tie, unless you think the debate techniques cross from argumentation
S&G: Tie
Arguments: Pro - the only side that provided supported, legitimate argumentation in the context of the hypothetical.
Sources: Pro - Pro used relevant links to valid sources which defined terms, established context, and provided expert support for claims. Con's Wiki and video links were either tangential or didn't support the case (topicality).

Cite in comment
mongeese

Con

I would like to thank XimenBao for this debate.

My opponent continues to claim that I have added details. However, I have only discovered details. Upon observation of the scenario (my opponent concedes that I may use observation), if the full scenario actually involves one of the many sub-scenarios that I have discussed, then the fat man should not be pushed. This is more ethical, as it prevents pushing the fat man in those scenarios in which pushing the fat man would be unethical.

I have never said that the people are guilty; I have said that if, upon observation, you discover that the five are guilty, you should not throw the switch.

This can be applied to all sub-scenarios that I have brought up.

My opponent claims that it was implied that no details could be added. However, I am not adding details, but discovering them? What time of day is it in the scenario? It could be high noon, late evening, or midnight. I would not say, "It is high noon, so..." I would say, "If it is high noon, then..."

My opponent claims that details are not necessary to make an ethically justifiable decision. True; however, a more ethical decision can be made upon knowing ALL of the facts. My plan is to know all of the facts, then make a superior decision accordingly, if necessary.

My opponent's link does not present anything about details at all on the pages that my opponent cited; they merely go over the trolley problem in general.

As for my opponent's new context, I think that I can use this to show where I am coming from. If I were CON, I would say, "No, you should not just add more funding. First, you should check whether or not more funding is needed. If a cure for AIDS has already been discovered, then you should not add more funding. If a cure has not been discovered yet, then go ahead. This would be more ethically justifiable, because in the case that a cure has already been discovered, additional money would not be wasted in an attempt to rediscover it."
I have not declared that a cure has been found; I have declared that IF a cure has been found, THEN funding should stop.

My opponent then comes to my three points.

To counter his proposition that the preservation of life is most important, I have pointed out numerous things:

1. The people on the train tracks are quite likely paralyzed by the fall. If they live, they will live painfully, spending the rest of their lives in bed doing nothing. They'd likely rather be dead. What's the point in preserving the life of those who would rather be dead? The fat man, on the other hand, could continue to contribute to society. My proposal would mean less pain and more contribution to society.

2. My opponent has apparently admitted that if he were the fat man, he would not stop the train. I have attacked this to show that if you would not be willing to die for a cause, why is it ethical to force somebody else to die for that cause? I do believe that this trumps any desire to preserve life.

My opponent has not responded to the above two points throughout the debate.

As for the summary, I obviously disagree with giving Arguments to PRO, as I have been arguing CON the entire debate. However, I disagree with my opponent's command that you give sources to PRO. According to the article "How to Vote" [1], you should vote in the following way:
"Which debater, on balance, proved their argument with sufficient quantity and appropriate interpretation of evidence? Was the evidence easy to read? Did it support the correct argument or was it just a link tossed in to try and fool the unsuspecting?"
I have a sufficient quantity of evidence.
Sufficient: enough to meet the needs of a situation or a proposed end [2]
My opponent has never criticized my arguments for not having enough sources. I have obviously had sources in the few times in which they were necessary.

In conclusion, I have provided the action of observation to allow for more versatility, and the ability to make an even more ethical decision if Situation X happens to also be a sub-Situation X-Y. I have also given two good reasons not to push the fat man anyway (pain, hypocritical). The fat man should not be pushed without more observation. Vote CON!

1. http://www.debate.org...
2. http://www.merriam-webster.com...
Debate Round No. 5
48 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by daniel_t 7 years ago
daniel_t
mongeese: I'm under the impression that the debate was supposed to be about ethical systems, but you didn't talk about ethical systems at all AFAICT.
Posted by mongeese 7 years ago
mongeese
I proposed first making observations as to why the people ended up in front of the train, and then, based on what you see, perhaps push the fatman, and perhaps don't push the fat man.
Posted by daniel_t 7 years ago
daniel_t
Mongeese: What action did you propose (push the fat man or not?) and what ethical system were you using to justify that action?
Posted by mongeese 7 years ago
mongeese
The first round explained it pretty well, I thought.

"I am asserting that in the Train Problem (as described below), pushing the Fatman based on a Sophisticated-expectablist-rule-consequentialism (SERC) ethic is more justifiable than any other combination of action and justification the negative will propose. Please read the resolution carefully, because this specifies a debate of comparative advantages, not merely assertion and negation."
Posted by daniel_t 7 years ago
daniel_t
I decided not to vote because I'm not entirely sure what the debate was supposed to be about. :-/
Posted by XimenBao 7 years ago
XimenBao
Apparently we just provided too much excitement for most people to handle.
Posted by mongeese 7 years ago
mongeese
Only five votes total? Really?
Posted by Maikuru 7 years ago
Maikuru
Arguments and sources to Pro. My reasons mirror those provided in Ximen's final round summation.
Posted by XimenBao 7 years ago
XimenBao
@mongeese: Well, that's the first time I saw that debate. I don't like the approach of either debater.

Pro tried to control too much through the hypothetical, to the point that if Con accepted the hypo as is, I'd see a fair ground problem. Pro also didn't try to justify the action chosen in relation to the hypo. Instead, he set up the hypothetical so the solution was supposed to be obvious and exclusive. In addition, Pro never set a clear target for debate, leaving it ambiguous whether it was a question about a the existence of a no-win situation or about justifying an action to be taken.

I voted Con in that debate because the argument about probability and violence, which Pro didn't counter due to the forfeit. I think it *could* have been countered, but it wasn't. I don't think he should have created new scenarios which radically changed the context of the hypothetical, especially because his were just silly (A vagina bomb? What is this, South Park?). Still, he had a better argument for it because the hypothetical was less fair. Even if I was to give him that, I'm not sure he was justified in making a second hypothetical shift after Pro countered the first. That's arguably a shifting ground/moving target issue.

If I was Con I probably would have used the same probability argument but then argued that Pro had not justified his case at all and provided some ethical theory to support my side.
Posted by Koopin 7 years ago
Koopin
This particular scenario isn't that bad. But I hate when teachers force you to participate in the save a retarded person or a normal person. It's like teachers want you to be robots. I just say the retarded person should live to mess with the teachers mind.
5 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 5 records.
Vote Placed by Maikuru 7 years ago
Maikuru
XimenBaomongeeseTied
Agreed with before the debate:--Vote Checkmark0 points
Agreed with after the debate:--Vote Checkmark0 points
Who had better conduct:--Vote Checkmark1 point
Had better spelling and grammar:--Vote Checkmark1 point
Made more convincing arguments:Vote Checkmark--3 points
Used the most reliable sources:Vote Checkmark--2 points
Total points awarded:50 
Vote Placed by Koopin 7 years ago
Koopin
XimenBaomongeeseTied
Agreed with before the debate:--Vote Checkmark0 points
Agreed with after the debate:-Vote Checkmark-0 points
Who had better conduct:-Vote Checkmark-1 point
Had better spelling and grammar:-Vote Checkmark-1 point
Made more convincing arguments:-Vote Checkmark-3 points
Used the most reliable sources:-Vote Checkmark-2 points
Total points awarded:07 
Vote Placed by Nails 7 years ago
Nails
XimenBaomongeeseTied
Agreed with before the debate:--Vote Checkmark0 points
Agreed with after the debate:--Vote Checkmark0 points
Who had better conduct:--Vote Checkmark1 point
Had better spelling and grammar:--Vote Checkmark1 point
Made more convincing arguments:Vote Checkmark--3 points
Used the most reliable sources:Vote Checkmark--2 points
Total points awarded:50 
Vote Placed by XimenBao 7 years ago
XimenBao
XimenBaomongeeseTied
Agreed with before the debate:--Vote Checkmark0 points
Agreed with after the debate:--Vote Checkmark0 points
Who had better conduct:--Vote Checkmark1 point
Had better spelling and grammar:--Vote Checkmark1 point
Made more convincing arguments:Vote Checkmark--3 points
Used the most reliable sources:Vote Checkmark--2 points
Total points awarded:50 
Vote Placed by mongeese 7 years ago
mongeese
XimenBaomongeeseTied
Agreed with before the debate:-Vote Checkmark-0 points
Agreed with after the debate:-Vote Checkmark-0 points
Who had better conduct:--Vote Checkmark1 point
Had better spelling and grammar:--Vote Checkmark1 point
Made more convincing arguments:-Vote Checkmark-3 points
Used the most reliable sources:--Vote Checkmark2 points
Total points awarded:03