Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Mrs. Hutchful

In which situations do our emotions assist/inhibit moral decisions?


  1. Emotions mostly affect moral issues of life and death. From the audio podcast all the situations raised prove this point. Instinctively death is wrong and for humans, the most extreme. killing one man or five is all the same. The fact that death is involved plays on human conscience because intuitively we know murder is wrong and so it will be better not to get involved or as one child said;"pull the trolley to save the five men and tell the one man to leave there.”

  2. A very interesting idea was raised in the podcast by Josh Green. He suggested that our emotional responses were intuitive and developed by the experiences that mankind has undergone throughout its history or 'evolution'.( in his words) So, a person already has a pre-defined response to the trolley situation determined by evolutionary forces.

    Morals however, though somewhat pre-determined by by culture can be rethought more easily than emotional responses. I agree with his ideas and hence come to the conclusion that emotionally correct responses tend to be better for the individual than morally correct responses .

    If the emotional cost of allowing one person to die and of allowing five people to die are weighed up, the obvious response would be to save five lives and allow the one to perish.

    If the same issue was viewed from a wholly moral viewpoint, the arguments as to which cause of action would be right would be endless and it would be almost impossible to satisfactorily resolve the situation. So emotion help us to pick the safest routes out of moral conundrums.

    That said, an emotional response may not always be beneficial to society in the long term, because it is shortsighted and only addresses the immediate situation. Moreover, it can lead to responses that are morally dubious.

    So my short response to the question would be that emotions are useful when we want to make a decision that would offer the individual maximum benefit, but could be detrimental in situations where the individual is not looking for maximum personal benefit.

  3. I personally believe that emotions play a major role in situations where people have to make moral decisions. Some people may term these responses to our emotions or instincts sometimes as being irrational, however, we must ask once again who has the right to determine something as right or wrong, rational or irrational. In the podcast one man termed it as "head against heart", "emotions against rationality". He also argued that our intuition was nature and evolution's way of telling us that this is THE way we should react to a situation and that it was also a way of not getting us to think long/ hard enough about our moral decisions. I, however, would like to raise a point that perhaps these emotions that instinctively help us make decisions concerning ethics, may have been the cause of the common response of not killing the one man to save the 5 patients who needed organs. (which some may consider irrational). Could it be that if we all listened to our emotions/ intuition when making moral decisions we will all agree on some fundamental rules for ethics since these emotions are a core part of everyone's being? That maybe if we could all agree to one reaction in such scenarios then these actions will somewhat be justified.

    The brain has several parts for various purposes and maybe emotions and intuition were made for taking such decisions. Is it then okay to try and impose the principles of reasoning and rationality such as the utilitarian logic where it is right to "divert harm to cause less damage" or "to kill one to save five" in times like these?

    I would like to link this to the issue of the baby and the Nazis where the woman disagrees to kill her child in order to save more lives. This shows the extent to which emotions can affect our moral decisions. Because of this woman's love for her baby, she cannot bring herself to killing it just to save the others. In reality, majority of human beings take an action based on how they feel towards it which is exactly what this woman did. She placed her conscience over her own life. Even though she was aware that the baby would die regardless, she would rather let the baby die at the hands of the enemy instead of hers because she cannot live with her conscience. In this case so many emotions come into play; love, fear, guilt etc which all enabled her to make her decisions no matter the consequences. Also I believe in such cases that the person's relation to you, i.e. how you FEEL towards the person can really affect your decision. I am resolute that many of the people who said that they would push the fat man to save the 5 would change their minds if that man were their father, husband, friend etc. (except in very rare cases) why ? because of the emotions they feel towards that person and what they'll feel after they act "logically/ rationally". For some of us, the option of even pushing that close friend or father, won't even cross our minds. Why is it easier to kill a stranger than a family member/ friend? or is it any easier?

    All I'd like to point out is that emotions play a dominant role in most of the decisions we take concerning morals. Do these decisions HAVE to be rational? and if we all believed in and listened to our instincts would that make it acceptable? If not, who then judges that?

  4. I think in most cases our emotions will assist or inhibit moral decisions depending on our relationship with the things we so much care about or things we love. For instance , if its family then definately,our emotions have to assist... and vice versa.

  5. Eleazar, I am still reading your post, but I must disagree with something you say in your third paragraph. If you leave the truck uninterrupted, you are allowing 5 people to die. If you push the fat man, or divert the truck, you are killing one person, not allowing that person to die. Without your intervention, there is no indication that the person was about to die so causing him to die is not 'allowing' him to die. This is one reason why we cannot simply compare the number of lives that are lost in each situation. I think for most people, the emotional trauma of pushing the fat man would outweigh that of allowing the 5 to die. This is debatable though

    I however agree with you that in situations, where our moral values do not give a clear cut route of action for us to take, emotions provide a course of action, that we can take without having to stress our minds.

    I do not really see how there is any personal benefit in the life/death examples.

  6. Okay now for my own situations in which emotions affect moral decisions:

    I think that when we make decisions that are considered morally correct, our emotions do not play as much of a role. For example, if a thief wanted to kill someone, and could not because he knew it was wrong, he has made a moral decision not to kill the person. (I do concede that even in this scenario, the thief might refrain because he will feel too much guilt - which has to do with emotions again).

    On the other hand, if the thief does go ahead and kill a person, he has allowed his desire for money to override his moral code, and so I think that in decisions where we go against the 'right' moral action, we are mostly driven by our emotions.

  7. Thanks for your comments Nana Ama and Kojo. With regard to your statement Kojo '...if the emotional cost...are weighed up...' Would this imply some rationalization of our actions? Nana Ama you stated that '...intuitively we know murder is wrong...' What about situations in which we don't know 'intuitively' would our emotions play a useful role in making moral decisions. What about the others, let's hear your comments!

  8. Okay Kwame K I somehow want to disagree with you because in the podcast it was said that another option would be to divert the truck. In that case I would say that you are somewhat allowing the person to die because I would describe it as a foreseen "side effect of an action" as said in the podcast.

    I understand why you say it was killing because you knew the man was going to die. But remember that most of the times its your intention that matters as mentioned in the podcast. You don't have to agree with me but if we look at it from that point of view then it wasn't "killing" him as compared to pushing him (if you heard the whole muscles versus using technology part if the podcast)

    This is why the child said that she would pull the lever and tell the man to move because clearly "killing" him was not the intention and hence it was more of "allowing" him to die. It wasn't anyone's fault he was in the way...lol
    That doesn't make it right though

  9. This 'agreement' Dionne talked about might be problematic, are our feelings universal? What then are the implications of relying on emotions in making moral decisions. A good point about the relation of the'fat' man to the person who has to push him, but do positive emotions always make us take the 'right' moral decisions?

  10. ok so um... Dionne i kinda disagree with you wen you said "You don't have to agree with me but if we look at it from that point of view then it wasn't "killing" him as compared to pushing him" because you know that pushing him is going to kill him its like saying a murderer didn't kill his victim he just cut his throat or he just pushed him in front of a truck...u get me.

  11. Okay, Kwame K, I agree that "allow" is not the most appropriate verb. Changing the previous order (i.e by pushing the lever or pushing the man) of events is to actively cause the death of one of the parties involved.

    I disagree with Ritah that if we say love or feel favorably towards a person or thing, that our emotions "definitely" assist in making the right decisions about the person or thing. Sometimes our emotions blind us to taking the best cause of actions because maybe we don't want to cause that person pain or anguish.

  12. OK Mrs Hutchful i think our emotions control the kind of moral decisions we make so whether or not we are aware of the right and wrong, our decisions will always be based on what we would want to be done to us. our interests and happiness always come face, though not in all cases. so intuitions do have effects but our emotions have more control on our everyday decisions.

  13. I think Emotions do play a major role in our everyday decisions but they play a greater part when we are making decisions that will greatly affects things that have 'feeling' negatively. this is because we already know that whatever we are deciding is not morally right but most of the time we are being forced to make those hard decision by the circumstances that we find ourselves in.

    From the podcast, it was easier to shift the lever to divert the train to kill one person instead of the other five workers because the one shifting the lever didnt have the intentions of killing the other one man.

    In cases such the one someone had to literally push the fat man from the top of the foot bridge so as to stop the train from killing the five workers, such decisions are so hard to make because your conscience after the act will haunt you. But provided that a lever was put, so that you just push it and the fat man would fall, a lot of people would be able to do it because they are doing so not to kill the man but to stop the train from killing the five workers.

  14. The class is very quiet, what is happening? Only 5 of you have contributed to the conversation!!!

  15. Re Mrs Hutchful:

    I think that even emotional decisions involve some kind of rationalization. If we agree that emotional responses are pre-programed by evolution, then these pre-planned emotional responses are chosen because nature has somehow identifed them to be the "best" course of action to take in so and so situation

  16. Primrose Marcah Narcah MupondiwaAugust 20, 2010 at 2:58 PM

    Well,i basically think that emotions do inhibit moral decisions....take a look at this simple example: when you are making a decision on who to save or who to let die being personally involved with these people makes making the decision harder because emotions cloud your judgement. Thus, even though not making a decision might kill someone, not making one will kill everyone, and that will not be one's exact intention.

  17. Mrs. Hutchful i have a slight problem about the use of positive emotions......who decides what a positive emotion is....cos i feel like depending on the situation an emotion can play a role of both a positive and negative emotion... so who defines what a positive or negative emotion is ....
    emotions are definitely not universal... i would happily not pull the lever because i would feel like 'i was playing God' as was said in the podcast... im sure that someone else will greatly disagree...
    i however feel like fear is a determining factor in making these decisions... fear of playing God, fear of killing someone, fear of guilt... etc... what do you guys think??? the woman who would rather allow nazis to kill her and all the people.. including the baby rather than kill the baby herself... is afraid of the guilt she would experience after she killed the baby...

  18. Skiski you are right, positive emotions do depend on situations. Primrose also has a point about 'not making a decision'. Does it imply that we are responsible for our actions (or inactions) once we have knowledge about a situation? I hope to hear from the others as we reflect on the role emotion plays in making moral decisions. For now move to the second podcast and listen to 'Trolleyology 2". Enjoy!

  19. in response to responsibility and knowledge, i definately agree with Mrs Hutchful. We tend to do "wrong things" when we claim ignorance. In this case, so long as you know that pulling the lever will kill another person, you will be reluctant.Similarly, if you know that pulling the lever wont do anything "bad", you will definately pull the lever. So long as you are ignorant of the consequence of the action, it becomes a risk to you if you take that action.


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