Today's title is brought to you by my feeling that I've already made enough puns using Kant's last name. It is also the last post focusing on running people over with trains for the near future, I think. I have written about Kant a number of times, and you are welcome to search my blog for his name if you want to read more of my thoughts regarding his ethical philosophies, but I think this post will be self-contained in that respect. However, I hope you are current on our conversations on Trains, Organs, and Liberals.
When last we spoke, we ran into the odd problem that taking someone's organs to save the lives of many other people seemed immoral, while directing a train to run over someone if it meant saving the lives of many other people seemed quite moral. I feel we can tie the difference back to Kant's categorical imperitive, which has been explained as an obligation to recognize other humans as moral agents, rather than simply tools to accomplish our own goals. When we harvest someone's organs to save the lives of others, we are using that person as a means to help those other people, if we divert a train into someone to avoid it hitting other people, the first person getting hit isn't a means, it is a consequence.
This highlights the interesting difference between intended and foreseeable consequences. If we do something in order for a certain result to happen, it is an intended consequence. For example, if we knock someone out and steal all their organs then taking their organs was an intended consequence, it is the reason that we did something. On the other hand, if we recognize that something must occur should we take a given action, but its occurrence does not lead to a desired result, it is a foreseeable consequence. Suppose we divert the train into the lone worker to save the lives of five workers. Although we know that the lone worker will die, their death does not lead to the desired result, saving the other five workers. If that worker had not been there we still could have saved the five workers by diverting the train. On a related note, this highlights the difference between the scenario where we divert the train into a single person to save five and that where we push a single person in front of the train to save five.
Thus we have a fairly reasonable explanation why the Trolley Problem and the organ donation scenario seem to evoke different moral responses despite the fact that in both cases the outcomes, who lives and dies, remains the same. This is possible because Kantian ethics, like liberal ethics, examines the ethics of actions in themselves, not just of consequences as Utilitarianism does.
So, to recap, initially we introduced the Trolley Problem and discussed the relationship between moral intuition and our critique of ethical philosophy. The second post examined the moral implications of inaction and the alternate organ donation scenario. The third post discussed liberal ethics, which came up as an ethical system in which looting people for their organs would not be the apparently moral thing to do. And finally we discussed why our moral intuition might see this distinction between hitting a person with a train and looting their organs.
While this entire discussion may seem totally tongue-in-cheek and not at all applicable to the "real world," I believe otherwise. Of course it is somewhat irreverent, I am writing it, however, it addresses issues that we as a society should consider, given that we do have the amazing ability to move organs from one person to another. I hope you found the serious amusing, interesting, or, at the very least, thought provoking!