Teatime Philosophy

From the BBC.

1. Should we kill healthy people for their organs?

At first the situations presented seem to build a clear set of dilemmas. If we're willing to run over the one person over the five, why would we hestitate to gun down one of our to save the others. If we're willing to do that, why hestitate to kill a person for their organs? The questions are disturbing not because the situations are analogous, but because it isn't immediately obvious why they are not.

The key attribute of the train situation is the powerlessness of the driver. Their only ability is to change which track the train travels, anything else is impossible. Nothing short of a miracle can change the fact that someone will be run over. In such a situation there is no recourse but to accept that someone must die, and the obvious choice that the fewer dead the better.

The kidnapper situation is starkly different. Despite being simply explained, the same hopelessness is not present. You, tasked to shoot one of the other hostages, have far greater command over the situation than in the case of the train. The gun you are given, and your own innate abilities, afford far more power than the hopeless driver of the train. It's dishonest to limit the question to the dichotomy of choosing one of the hostages or all of them, because there are more choices than two, however limited or ill-advised those options may be.

So when thinking about the situation with the patients, neither of the other hypotheticals are particularly helpful as they only serve to oversimplify the situation. It overlooks the potential for organ donors, the existence of other people outside of Bill, and the desires of the patients themselves. In short, the proper answer is that while Bill may have the right to sacrifice himself so that others may live, we do not have the right to sacrifice him. Rather, we should ask "Should all capable individuals be organ donors?"

2. Are you the same person who started started reading this article?

The answer is, simply put, yes. I am the same person, but I am not the same.

The question seeks to dive into the muddy and ever confusing realm of the self. Is a car taken apart and put back together the same car? What if you take two cars apart, and put them back together mixing the parts perfectly evenly, do you have the old cars or two new cars? These kinds of questions always arise, and for someone such as I must be dealt with on a case by case basis.

Starting backwards, the situation incorrectly assumes an absolute uniqueness of the self. It isn't just that one person cannot be in two places at once, but that two identical minds can not exist at the same time without being the same person. It's the second, implicit assumption that is at fault. One person can not be in two places at once, therefore two identical minds in two different places can not be one person.

What's important is to realize that while the two minds are theoretically identical, the instant either person awakes that is no longer the case. They see a different room through different eyes, and interact with different people creating different memories. While everything before a certain point is shared, they cease to be identical.

So we have two different people originating from one. This creates something of a conundrum, which of the two people is now "you"? Does it make a difference whether the original "source" was destroyed? It is undeniable that both people will wake up from the operation remembering what happened before it, their mother's gentle smile, and that they forgot an important meeting. Which leads us to the following puzzling conclusion.

Both people are the same person as the "you" before the operation, but are not the same person as each other. If we are unable to accept the importance of this kind of continuity of the self, then we much accept the article conclusion that the you from moment to moment is a completely separate entity bound to the others only by circumstance. I can not accept that conclusion simply because the circumstances themselves are continuity, and treating them as anything else is dishonest.

3. Is that really a computer screen in front of you?

Tongue in cheek: No! I printed out the article. HAH SUCKERS!

More seriously, my senses tell me that it is so. I can see the monitor, feel the monitor, hear the monitor, taste the monitor and even smell the monitor.

Note immediately that there are five senses corroborating the existence of the monitor. It is dishonest of the article to so haphazardly compare five senses working in harmony to one barometer. It acts as though the only method of verification we have is sight, which is somewhat discriminatory to a certain blind Republican I know who wrote lengthy (and hard to read) emails and browsed web pages.

One could attempt to argue it's irrelevant how many senses we have because they are all processed by the same brain and thus independant verification remains impossible. This is true, except that I can ask other people if the computer monitor is in front of me. They can verify its existance. At which point you question whether there are actually other people, and so it goes on until all of reality is untangled into a mess on the floor.

This question is a carefully disguised version of the age old quest for proof of reality. As I believe no one has yet found adequate proof of reality's existance, I'll ask the person who is posing the question to first prove reality exists. Until they have, I won't waste my time on people who don't exist.

4. Did you really choose to read this article?

I've actually answered this many times before, and the answer is yes. Being able to predict or know beforehand that someone will do something doesn't mean that the person had no choice, or was unable to choose. This isn't necessarily intuitive to Western thinking, but it's my viewpoint on the subject (and one that I'm not inclined to rehash again for the sake of this question).

Yay Philosphy.

No comments: