|3 years ago :: Mar 05, 2010 - 5:10PM #21|
I just noticed this thread. Are you referring to the Moral Sense Test by Marc Hauser? Hauser's theory, which I find appealing in my own unprofessional opinion, is that we possess a universal moral grammer which acts as the source of our moral calculations. And deciding what's right and what's wrong occurs at an unconscious level, before we have a chance to deliberate and rationalize our choice, which is what usually occurs afterward. Some people aren't as good at explaining their decisions afterward, and I suspect that's why so many people are pissed off about Hauser's trolley car examples.
The theory of a universal moral grammer is based on Hauser's acceptance of Noam Chomsky's theory of universal grammer, for forming the basic rules and structure of language. The validity of his theory on moral grammer is predicated on Chomsky's and Stephen Pinker's theory of language.
Anyway, I like the way Hauser's theory works because it takes the source of morality and ethics out of religion and philosophy, and puts it in the realm of biology and the mind sciences, where the process can actually be studied.
In the basic trolley car example -- a runaway trolley car is speeding down the track, and will kill 5 people in it's path, unless you flip a switch to divert the train onto a sidetrack......where it will kill one person. Your results may vary, but when subjects force themselves to answer the problem quickly, impulsively, before having a chance to think through the options (which would not occur in the real life situation anyway), an overwhelming majority of people decide that diverting the train is the best action. This question on its own, would indicate that most people are utilitarians, except that the answers change when the terms of the question are altered a little.
In the alternative question: whether it's permissible to throw someone in front of the train to stop it from hitting the five, or thrown from a bridge, for the same purpose, all of a sudden the results swing to the other extreme -- the majority say that it is not proper to cause one death in order to save five under those terms. But why should it make a difference? A strict utilitarian like Peter Singer, might even say throw him in front of the train! People seem to change their opinions involuntarily when they have to directly act to cause the death of another, rather than to allow the death through inaction.
In another, more ghoulish example, a doctor has five critical patients in need of organ transplants, and there is one patient who would qualify as a healthy donor for the five. Is it okay to sacrifice him to save the other five? Not many takers for that one; but why the difference? You're still saving five lives for one life.
According to the test results, people of all ages, races, religions and economic backgrounds believe that it is not permissible to sacrifice someone else even if the five will die. Hauser believes the moral calculation that determines deliberately causing death of another, rather than indirectly causing another's death, are consistent enough to not be based on emotions, but the inability most people experience trying to explain them, indicate that they are occuring at an unconscious level before conscious deliberation interferes with final decisions.
Just as languages develop differently, Hauser's theory would indicate that moral decision-making comes from a central source, but the final outcomes are altered by rules learned through religion and culture.