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Brain-in-a-vat trolley question.

MouthWash
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2/2/2013 8:06:08 PM
Posted: 3 years ago
On Twin Earth, a brain in a vat is at the wheel of a runaway trolley. There are only two options that the brain can take: the right side of the fork in the track or the left side of the fork. There is no way in sight of derailing or stopping the trolley and the brain is aware of this, for the brain knows trolleys. The brain is causally hooked up to the trolley such that the brain can determine the course which the trolley will take.

On the right side of the track there is a single railroad worker, Jones, who will definitely be killed if the brain steers the trolley to the right. If the railman on the right lives, he will go on to kill five men for the sake of killing them, but in doing so will inadvertently save the lives of thirty orphans (one of the five men he will kill is planning to destroy a bridge that the orphans' bus will be crossing later that night). One of the orphans that will be killed would have grown up to become a tyrant who would make good utilitarian men do bad things. Another of the orphans would grow up to become G.E.M. Anscombe, while a third would invent the pop-top can.

If the brain in the vat chooses the left side of the track, the trolley will definitely hit and kill a railman on the left side of the track, "Leftie" and will hit and destroy ten beating hearts on the track that could (and would) have been transplanted into ten patients in the local hospital that will die without donor hearts. These are the only hearts available, and the brain is aware of this, for the brain knows hearts. If the railman on the left side of the track lives, he too will kill five men, in fact the same five that the railman on the right would kill. However, "Leftie" will kill the five as an unintended consequence of saving ten men: he will inadvertently kill the five men rushing the ten hearts to the local hospital for transplantation. A further result of "Leftie's" act would be that the busload of orphans will be spared. Among the five men killed by "Leftie" are both the man responsible for putting the brain at the controls of the trolley, and the author of this example. If the ten hearts and "Leftie" are killed by the trolley, the ten prospective heart-transplant patients will die and their kidneys will be used to save the lives of twenty kidney-transplant patients, one of whom will grow up to cure cancer, and one of whom will grow up to be Hitler. There are other kidneys and dialysis machines available, however the brain does not know kidneys, and this is not a factor.

Assume that the brain's choice, whatever it turns out to be, will serve as an example to other brains-in-vats and so the effects of his decision will be amplified. Also assume that if the brain chooses the right side of the fork, an unjust war free of war crimes will ensue, while if the brain chooses the left fork, a just war fraught with war crimes will result. Furthermore, there is an intermittently active Cartesian demon deceiving the brain in such a manner that the brain is never sure if it is being deceived.

QUESTION: What should the brain do?

[ALTERNATIVE EXAMPLE: Same as above, except the brain has had a commisurotomy, and the left half of the brain is a consequentialist and the right side is an absolutist.]
"Well, that gives whole new meaning to my assassination. If I was going to die anyway, perhaps I should leave the Bolsheviks' descendants some Christmas cookies instead of breaking their dishes and vodka bottles in their sleep." -Tsar Nicholas II (YYW)
Kinesis
Posts: 3,667
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2/2/2013 8:13:46 PM
Posted: 3 years ago
Aww, you totally copied this off the internet. I thought it was too awesome.
http://www.mindspring.com... Anyway, genuinely LOL'd, and I'm usually lying when I say that. Brilliant.
OMGJustinBieber
Posts: 3,484
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2/2/2013 8:18:54 PM
Posted: 3 years ago
The situation you described is complicated a little tl;dr, but I really want to see how that orphan becomes GEM Anscombe. I feel that would bring up some really interesting issues around supervenience.
sadolite
Posts: 8,838
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2/2/2013 8:37:16 PM
Posted: 3 years ago
I'd wake up from this weird dream and be back to good old reality.
It's not your views that divide us, it's what you think my views should be that divides us.

If you think I will give up my rights and forsake social etiquette to make you "FEEL" better you are sadly mistaken

If liberal democrats would just stop shooting people gun violence would drop by 90%
YYW
Posts: 36,322
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2/2/2013 8:46:57 PM
Posted: 3 years ago
At 2/2/2013 8:06:08 PM, MouthWash wrote:
many hilarious things.

I see little value in exercises of this variety other the sheer entertainment value they offer. Indeed, I was laughing the entire way through -but I think my neighbor in the apartment next to me heard me laugh at the mention of the Cartesian demon.

Here's the problem: in order to come up with any kind of answer to this "problem" you have to apply abstract moral principles to impossible -in that they could never occur. Real moral questions -those which we can debate and discuss and come to some sort of an answer of- are not intangible in that way. The question(s), then, that this 'question' raises are non-questions, because no real answer could be given. The only answer or response to give is that there is no answer. If this were presented in a lecture hall, I would probably laugh openly at the professor for wasting valuable class time with such an exercise whose value began and ended with the fact that it (as well as its being presented) made me lol.
Tsar of DDO
YYW
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2/2/2013 8:48:24 PM
Posted: 3 years ago
At 2/2/2013 8:46:57 PM, YYW wrote:
At 2/2/2013 8:06:08 PM, MouthWash wrote:
many hilarious things.

I see little value in exercises of this variety other the sheer entertainment value they offer. Indeed, I was laughing the entire way through -but I think my neighbor in the apartment next to me heard me laugh at the mention of the Cartesian demon.
EDIT

Here's the problem: in order to come up with any kind of answer to this "problem" you have to apply abstract moral principles to impossible scenarios, scenarios which are impossible because they could never occur. Real moral questions -those which we can debate and discuss and come to some sort of an answer of- are not intangible in that way.

The question(s), then, that this 'question' raises are non-questions, because no real answer could be given. The only answer or response to give is that there is no answer. If this were presented in a lecture hall, I would probably laugh openly at the professor for wasting valuable class time with such an exercise whose value began and ended with the fact that it (as well as its being presented) made me lol.
Tsar of DDO
OMGJustinBieber
Posts: 3,484
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2/3/2013 12:01:41 AM
Posted: 3 years ago
I'm re-reading this and it's hilarious. At first I didn't get it because I didn't read it carefully, but I was really impressed that mouthwash dropped Anscombe's name. That was the best laugh I've had in a while.
Stephen_Hawkins
Posts: 5,316
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2/3/2013 5:01:58 AM
Posted: 3 years ago
Ironically, it's a great objection to utilitarianism and the problem of remoteness, and the reason why I reject remoteness as a value in utilitarianism. Bearing in mind how confusing and maddening the consequences are, how do we evaluate what is good and what is bad?

The solution is simply the brain acting will not be able to comprehend these future actions. This is, simply put, a logical argument from ignorance: the actions in the future become so much more uncertain and unknown that we lose moral obligations to act.

Another solution is just claiming false dichotomy. Save the one, let the five die, save the thirty as a result, kill the one that becomes a tyrant, save the ten with the transplant, kill the one that becomes hitler.

Or simply the fact that the five die twice is quite a contradiction there.
Give a man a fish, he'll eat for a day. Teach him how to be Gay, he'll positively influence the GDP.

Social Contract Theory debate: http://www.debate.org...
YYW
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2/3/2013 5:07:18 AM
Posted: 3 years ago
At 2/3/2013 5:01:58 AM, Stephen_Hawkins wrote:
Ironically, it's a great objection to utilitarianism and the problem of remoteness, and the reason why I reject remoteness as a value in utilitarianism. Bearing in mind how confusing and maddening the consequences are, how do we evaluate what is good and what is bad?

That is one of the laughable features of utilitarianism, in that it presupposes that good and bad are objectively measurable in "utiles."
Tsar of DDO
Stephen_Hawkins
Posts: 5,316
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2/3/2013 5:07:58 AM
Posted: 3 years ago
At 2/3/2013 5:07:18 AM, YYW wrote:
At 2/3/2013 5:01:58 AM, Stephen_Hawkins wrote:
Ironically, it's a great objection to utilitarianism and the problem of remoteness, and the reason why I reject remoteness as a value in utilitarianism. Bearing in mind how confusing and maddening the consequences are, how do we evaluate what is good and what is bad?

That is one of the laughable features of utilitarianism, in that it presupposes that good and bad are objectively measurable in "utiles."

why are they not?
Give a man a fish, he'll eat for a day. Teach him how to be Gay, he'll positively influence the GDP.

Social Contract Theory debate: http://www.debate.org...
Stephen_Hawkins
Posts: 5,316
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2/3/2013 5:08:18 AM
Posted: 3 years ago
Assuming we're not taking the mick out of the word "utile".
Give a man a fish, he'll eat for a day. Teach him how to be Gay, he'll positively influence the GDP.

Social Contract Theory debate: http://www.debate.org...
YYW
Posts: 36,322
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2/3/2013 5:13:50 AM
Posted: 3 years ago
At 2/3/2013 5:08:18 AM, Stephen_Hawkins wrote:
Assuming we're not taking the mick out of the word "utile".

Well, even if we agreed on the meaning, who is to say we agree on the projected pleasure or pain, good or evil, help or hurt, etc.? Bok (I don't remember the first name) makes the salient point that if we put five utilitarians in a room, each would come up with a different answer with a different calculus.
Tsar of DDO
Kinesis
Posts: 3,667
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2/3/2013 5:57:47 AM
Posted: 3 years ago
At 2/3/2013 5:07:18 AM, YYW wrote:
At 2/3/2013 5:01:58 AM, Stephen_Hawkins wrote:
Ironically, it's a great objection to utilitarianism and the problem of remoteness, and the reason why I reject remoteness as a value in utilitarianism. Bearing in mind how confusing and maddening the consequences are, how do we evaluate what is good and what is bad?

That is one of the laughable features of utilitarianism, in that it presupposes that good and bad are objectively measurable in "utiles."

"The practical question of whether calculating the utility of every action would be possible in practice is not relevant to the theoretical issue of what defines a perfect ethical ideal. Criticizing a normative theory because it leads to practical difficulties is like losing your car keys in a dark room, and then looking for them in a different room because the light is better there"

http://www.lri.fr...

The particular numbers don't matter, but the ratio between the numbers do. I can't put any particular number on my enjoyment of chocolate cake, but I can say I enjoy eating a slice of chocolate cake about a fifth as much as I enjoy sex. So, for me sex is worth eating about 5 chocolate cake slices (for the first time, not taking into account diminishing marginal utility). I know that's inaccurate a most of the time you wouldn't bother trying to work it out, but some rough version of that is going on when you make decisions for yourself.

Plus, you can measure utility indirectly by seeing how much they would be willing to pay for the particular thing, although then you have to take into account their total incomes. You can ask people to rank certain experiences in order of utility (benefit, happiness, well being). You can see how much utility a certain action gives yourself, and then assume that humans are pretty similar and (inaccurately but not completely so) assume that other people get roughly the same.
Mutineer
Posts: 13
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2/3/2013 6:28:14 AM
Posted: 3 years ago
An unjust war whereby there are no war crimes and the overall outlook of the right man dying is far less dire than the justified war whereby many war crimes occur.

The left man living saves lives and Hitler helped to motivate his enemies to then go on to invent computers.

So to be really honest I'd kill the right guy most definitely.
Want to make a good man to evil things? Give him religion.

Want to make an evil man do good things? Give him religion.

There's always a catch isn't there ;)
Mutineer
Posts: 13
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2/3/2013 6:29:05 AM
Posted: 3 years ago
At 2/3/2013 6:28:14 AM, Mutineer wrote:
An unjust war whereby there are no war crimes and the overall outlook of the right man dying is far less dire than the justified war whereby many war crimes occur.

The left man living saves lives and Hitler helped to motivate his enemies to then go on to invent computers.

So to be really honest I'd kill the right guy most definitely.

Oh I see the hitler would occur if I killed the left guy.

I'd still kill the right.
Want to make a good man to evil things? Give him religion.

Want to make an evil man do good things? Give him religion.

There's always a catch isn't there ;)
Kinesis
Posts: 3,667
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2/3/2013 6:31:11 AM
Posted: 3 years ago
At 2/3/2013 6:28:14 AM, Mutineer wrote:
An unjust war whereby there are no war crimes and the overall outlook of the right man dying is far less dire than the justified war whereby many war crimes occur.

The left man living saves lives and Hitler helped to motivate his enemies to then go on to invent computers.

So to be really honest I'd kill the right guy most definitely.

lol you're actually trying to work this out.
YYW
Posts: 36,322
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2/3/2013 6:38:18 AM
Posted: 3 years ago
At 2/3/2013 5:57:47 AM, Kinesis wrote:
At 2/3/2013 5:07:18 AM, YYW wrote:
At 2/3/2013 5:01:58 AM, Stephen_Hawkins wrote:
Ironically, it's a great objection to utilitarianism and the problem of remoteness, and the reason why I reject remoteness as a value in utilitarianism. Bearing in mind how confusing and maddening the consequences are, how do we evaluate what is good and what is bad?

That is one of the laughable features of utilitarianism, in that it presupposes that good and bad are objectively measurable in "utiles."

"The practical question of whether calculating the utility of every action would be possible in practice is not relevant to the theoretical issue of what defines a perfect ethical ideal. Criticizing a normative theory because it leads to practical difficulties is like losing your car keys in a dark room, and then looking for them in a different room because the light is better there"

http://www.lri.fr...

Not to be insensitive, but that is one of the most absurd propositions I have ever heard. Indeed, whereas what defines the validity of a positive theory is its applicability to the real world, it does stand to reason that a normative theory would not be weighed by that same metric. The problem, however, is the very fact that the normative theory of moral utilitarianism presupposes the existence of a calculus by which intangibles could be measured -positively. The strongest criticism, then, of utilitarianism is not only that it claims to do this, but the very notion that pleasure/pain, good/evil, hurt/harm could be measured in a way that pretends to be positive. The criticism offered, thusly, does not seek to undercut utilitarianism on the basis that it leads to practical difficulties, but that it cannot do what it purports to do on the basis that the means it offers to do that which it claims to do (that is, delineate right and wrong) are incapable of doing precisely that. The criticism, then, is on a much higher level than that of "practical difficulties" but rather calls utilitarianism out for selling systematic snake oil.

The particular numbers don't matter, but the ratio between the numbers do. I can't put any particular number on my enjoyment of chocolate cake, but I can say I enjoy eating a slice of chocolate cake about a fifth as much as I enjoy sex. So, for me sex is worth eating about 5 chocolate cake slices (for the first time, not taking into account diminishing marginal utility). I know that's inaccurate a most of the time you wouldn't bother trying to work it out, but some rough version of that is going on when you make decisions for yourself.

Plus, you can measure utility indirectly by seeing how much they would be willing to pay for the particular thing, although then you have to take into account their total incomes. You can ask people to rank certain experiences in order of utility (benefit, happiness, well being). You can see how much utility a certain action gives yourself, and then assume that humans are pretty similar and (inaccurately but not completely so) assume that other people get roughly the same.

What you can do is chart and rank preferences relative to one another and from that basis move to a decision of which option is most likely to posit the best (or least worst) result. That move, however, renders utilitarianism obsolete for rather than weighing the net good and bad which are produced, casuistic reasoning is incorporated to evaluate good or bad whether one calls that discussion one of utility or not.
Tsar of DDO
Stephen_Hawkins
Posts: 5,316
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2/3/2013 3:19:38 PM
Posted: 3 years ago
At 2/3/2013 5:13:50 AM, YYW wrote:
At 2/3/2013 5:08:18 AM, Stephen_Hawkins wrote:
Assuming we're not taking the mick out of the word "utile".

Well, even if we agreed on the meaning, who is to say we agree on the projected pleasure or pain, good or evil, help or hurt, etc.? Bok (I don't remember the first name) makes the salient point that if we put five utilitarians in a room, each would come up with a different answer with a different calculus.

See my recent debate with SPinko (with a new account) on principle of utility.
Give a man a fish, he'll eat for a day. Teach him how to be Gay, he'll positively influence the GDP.

Social Contract Theory debate: http://www.debate.org...