Posted by Wordsmith on 25 January, 2009 at 2:34 pm. 82 comments already!

VOICE: Probably? Well, that’s a very cavalier answer. You don’t seem to care about the implications here. Well, Mr. Bauer?

BAUER: I’m sorry, Senator. I didn’t hear a question.

VOICE: All right then. Did you torture Mr. Haddad?

BAUER: According to the definitions set forth by the Geneva Convention, yes, I did. Senator, why don’t I save you some time. It’s obvious that your agenda is to discredit and generate a series of —

VOICE: My only agenda is to get to the truth.

BAUER: I don’t think it is, sir.

VOICE: Excuse me.

BAUER: Abraham Haddad had targeted a bus train of 45 people, 10 of which were children. The truth, Senator, is I stopped that attack from happening.

VOICE: By torturing Mr. Haddad.

BAUER: By doing what I deemed necessary to protect innocent lives.

VOICE: So basically what you’re saying, Mr. Bauer, is that the ends justify the means and that you are above the law.

BAUER: When I am activated, when I am brought into a situation, there is a reason and that reason is to complete the objectives of my mission at all costs.

VOICE: Even if it means breaking the law?

BAUER: For a combat soldier the difference between success and failure is your ability to adapt to your enemy. The people that I deal with, they don’t care about your rules. All they care about is a result. My job is to stop them from accomplishing their objectives. I simply adapt it. In answer to your question, am I above the law? No, sir. I am more than willing to be judged by the people you claim to represent. I will let them decide what price I should pay. Now please do not sit there with that smug look on your face and expect me to regret the decisions that I have made because, sir, the truth is I don’t.

-From the season opener of “24”

It seems to be a slow weekend at FA; so, I thought I’d put this up as an exercise for readers.

One of the most interesting classes I took in college, was an upper division course on Morals and Ethics.

Here are some interesting moral dilemmas. Pick a situation and please explain, how you would deal with it, if you were the one put in the hot seat to make the tough decision. And please explain your line of reasoning. There aren’t really supposed to be any right or wrong answers.

Do the variables and stakes matter, in how you decide? Are you consistent? Do you deal in absolutes? Or are there gray areas and situational nuances, where two seemingly similar problems causes you to respond differently to each.

If you answer some of the problems, I may tweak the situation around, to see if the specific variables may cause you to change your answer (readers are welcomed to offer similar challenges).

(a few of these comes from Moral Reasoning, by Victor Grassian).

1. The Overcrowded Lifeboat

In 1842, a ship struck an iceberg and more than 30 survivors were crowded into a lifeboat intended to hold 7. As a storm threatened, it became obvious that the lifeboat would have to be lightened if anyone were to survive. The captain reasoned that the right thing to do in this situation was to force some individuals to go over the side and drown. Such an action, he reasoned, was not unjust to those thrown overboard, for they would have drowned anyway. If he did nothing, however, he would be responsible for the deaths of those whom he could have saved. Some people opposed the captain’s decision. They claimed that if nothing were done and everyone died as a result, no one would be responsible for these deaths. On the other hand, if the captain attempted to save some, he could do so only by killing others and their deaths would be his responsibility; this would be worse than doing nothing and letting all die. The captain rejected this reasoning. Since the only possibility for rescue required great efforts of rowing, the captain decided that the weakest would have to be sacrificed. In this situation it would be absurd, he thought, to decide by drawing lots who should be thrown overboard. As it turned out, after days of hard rowing, the survivors were rescued and the captain was tried for his action. If you had been on the jury, how would you have decided?

2. A Father’s Agonizing Choice

You are an inmate in a concentration camp. A sadistic guard is about to hang your son who tried to escape and wants you to pull the chair from underneath him. He says that if you don’t he will not only kill your son but some other innocent inmate as well. You don’t have any doubt that he means what he says. What should you do?

3. Sophie’s Choice, not in Grassian.

In the novel Sophie’s Choice, by William Styron (Vintage Books, 1976 — the 1982 movie starred Meryl Streep & Kevin Kline), a Polish woman, Sophie Zawistowska, is arrested by the Nazis and sent to the Auschwitz death camp. On arrival, she is “honored” for not being a Jew by being allowed a choice: One of her children will be spared the gas chamber if she chooses which one. In an agony of indecision, as both children are being taken away, she suddenly does choose. They can take her daughter, who is younger and smaller. Sophie hopes that her older and stronger son will be better able to survive, but she loses track of him and never does learn of his fate. Did she do the right thing? Years later, haunted by the guilt of having chosen between her children, Sophie commits suicide. Should she have felt guilty?

4. The Fat Man and the Impending Doom, with parts cut out in the 2nd edition; they seem to have gotten removed to avoid unintentionally humorous overtones.

A fat man leading a group of people out of a cave on a coast is stuck in the mouth of that cave. In a short time high tide will be upon them, and unless he is unstuck, they will all be drowned except the fat man, whose head is out of the cave. [But, fortunately, or unfortunately, someone has with him a stick of dynamite.] There seems no way to get the fat man loose without using [that] dynamite which will inevitably kill him; but if they do not use it everyone will drown. What should they do?

5. A Callous Passerby

Roger Smith, a quite competent swimmer, is out for a leisurely stroll. During the course of his walk he passes by a deserted pier from which a teenage boy who apparently cannot swim has fallen into the water. The boy is screaming for help. Smith recognizes that there is absolutely no danger to himself if he jumps in to save the boy; he could easily succeed if he tried. Nevertheless, he chooses to ignore the boy’s cries. The water is cold and he is afraid of catching a cold — he doesn’t want to get his good clothes wet either. “Why should I inconvenience myself for this kid,” Smith says to himself, and passes on. Does Smith have a moral obligation to save the boy? If so, should he have a legal obligation [“Good Samaritan” laws] as well?

6. A train is barrelling down the tracks, and if it continues on its natural course, all 3 passengers aboard will die, as the bridge up ahead has given out. You have the ability to save the 3 passengers by pulling a lever that will switch the tracks. If you do this, however, the train will end up hitting a person sitting on the tracks and who will not be able to move out of the way in time. This person’s life is in no danger, unless YOU take action and change the tracks, to save the 3.

7. A madman who has threatened to explode several bombs in crowded areas has been apprehended. Unfortunately, he has already planted the bombs and they are scheduled to go off in a short time. It is possible that hundreds of people may die. The authorities cannot make him divulge the location of the bombs by conventional methods. He refuses to say anything and requests a lawyer to protect his fifth amendment right against self-incrimination. In exasperation, some high level official suggests torture. This would be illegal, of course, but the official thinks that it is nevertheless the right thing to do in this desperate situation. Do you agree? If you do, would it also be morally justifiable to torture the mad bomber’s innocent wife if that is the only way to make him talk? Why?

8. The Principle of Psychiatric Confidentiality, cf. the 1997 movie, Devil’s Advocate, and the 1993 movie, The Firm, on confidentiality between lawyers and clients.

You are a psychiatrist and your patient has just confided to you that he intends to kill a woman. You’re inclined to dismiss the threat as idle, but you aren’t sure. Should you report the threat to the police and the woman or should you remain silent as the principle of confidentiality between psychiatrist and patient demands? Should there be a law that compels you to report such threats?

9. The Partiality of Friendship

Jim has the responsibility of filling a position in his firm. His friend Paul has applied and is qualified, but someone else seems even more qualified. Jim wants to give the job to Paul, but he feels guilty, believing that he ought to be impartial. That’s the essence of morality, he initially tells himself. This belief is, however, rejected, as Jim resolves that friendship has a moral importance that permits, and perhaps even requires, partiality in some circumstances. So he gives the job to Paul. Was he right?

10. The Value of a Promise, Compare with the role of David Cash in the murder of Sherrice Iverson by Jeremy Strohmeyer.

A friend confides to you that he has committed a particular crime and you promise never to tell. Discovering that an innocent person has been accused of the crime, you plead with your friend to give himself up. He refuses and reminds you of your promise. What should you do? In general, under what conditions should promises be broken?