Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Timeless Morality

Time magazine has a "Morality Quiz" up on their website at the moment. Oddly, they take their approach to Morality from an odd source. Consider this quote which is at the top of the article:
The deepest foundation on which morality is built is the phenomenon of empathy, the understanding that what hurts me would feel the same way to you. And human ego notwithstanding, it's a quality other species share.
I'm confused. I have NEVER heard of morality having anything at all to do with empathy. The encyclopedia gives three principle meanings to morality
  1. morality means a code of conduct held to be authoritative in matters of right and wrong, whether by society, philosophy, religion, or individual conscience.
  2. an ideal code of conduct, one which would be espoused in preference to alternatives by all rational people, under specified conditions.
  3. synonymous with ethics, the systematic philosophical study of the moral domain.
The dictionary is simpler, it gives these as definitions:
  1. concern with the distinction between good and evil or right and wrong; right or good conduct
  2. The quality of being in accord with standards of right or good conduct.
  3. A system of ideas of right and wrong conduct: religious morality; Christian morality.
  4. Virtuous conduct.
  5. A rule or lesson in moral conduct.
Yeah, where exactly does empathy have anything to do with morality there? And just to be fair, let's look at the definition of empathy:
the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another
Let's say this again, empathy has nothing to do with morality. Whether I understand what hurts you would feel the same to me is quite irrelevant to the moral decision to do something. Of course, using the simplified morality quiz provided by Time, one has to wonder if morality is anything above and beyond life or death situations. These are some of the scenarios they provided:
  • Could you kill a baby to possibly save the life of a group of adults?
  • Could you kill an injured man to possibly save the life of a group of adults?
  • Could you save kill a man to definitely save a group of adults?
  • Standing close enough to push that man forward, could you kill him to save a group of adults?
Then all the possible answers are "Kill them!" or not. There are no options for sacrificing ones self in order to save all the others. Apparently that part of morality just doesn't exist for Time. Understandable, since they are liberals, and sacrifice is an abstract concept to them, which can only be imposed upon others, not something that wells up from within.
Truthfully, I'm uncertain why this quiz annoyed me so much, yet it did. Maybe it's just my ornery nature. Or maybe, I'm just getting older, and less willing to flow with the annoyances of socialistic policies and ideals which try to subvert tried and true methodology and ideology.

So, here's the scenario:
An out of control trolley is heading down a track toward five unsuspecting people and will surely kill them all. You could throw a switch diverting it to a siding, but an equally unsuspecting man is standing with you on a bridge. Could you push him onto the track into the path of the train? Could you do that, killing one to save the other five?
Pick one of these three options:
  1. Yes, I could push them onto the tracks (65% on the quiz)
  2. No, I could not push them onto the tracks (35% on the quiz)
  3. I would jump on the tracks myself (the answer I would have chosen, if it were available)
See? That's how such a question should have been worded. But, maybe that's just me....

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