Monday, February 11, 2008

Singer, Peter. "Putting Practice Into Ethics [Review of Appiah's EXPERIMENTS IN ETHICS]." NEW YORK SUN January 16, 2008.

Appiah, Anthony Kwame. Experiments in Ethics. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2007. You are standing by a railroad track when you notice that a trolley, with no one aboard, is rolling down the track, heading for a group of five people. If the trolley continues on its present track, they will all be killed. The only thing you can do to prevent this tragedy is throw a switch that will divert the trolley onto a sidetrack. But there is one person on this sidetrack, and he will be killed. Should you throw the switch? In another version of this dilemma, the trolley is again rolling down the track, heading for a group of five people. This time, however, there is no switch or sidetrack. Instead, you are on a footbridge above the track. You consider jumping off the bridge, in front of the trolley, thus sacrificing yourself to save the five people in danger, but you realize that you are far too light to stop the trolley. Standing next to you, however, is a very large stranger. The only way you can stop the trolley killing five people is by pushing this large stranger in front of the trolley. He will be killed, but you will save the other five. Should you push the stranger? Philosophers have been pondering these dilemmas since the 1960s. Many — notably Judith Jarvis Thomson and Frances Kamm — have agreed that you may throw the switch, but must not push the large stranger. But why? In each case, we face a choice between bringing about the death of one person or allowing five to die. Where does the moral difference lie? The discussion has embraced a variety of moral theories, but it has not produced a truly satisfying answer. What philosophers did not do, until recently, is take an interest in empirical research about our responses to these or other dilemmas. Now, as philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah describes in his concise yet erudite and engagingly written new book, Experiments in Ethics (Harvard University Press, 288 pages, $22.95), this is changing. . . . Read the rest here:

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