John Quincy Adams left behind perhaps our most compelling presidential memoirs.
July 11, 2012
Would you push a button for a million dollars if it killed a stranger?
A certain movie basically has the same premise, as do a number of books that raise these types of questions, which help stimulate conversation, since we presumably can't do it on our own.
So what is the moral thing to do?
For one thing, don’t read any of these books.
In fact, it is probably a moral imperative not to do so.
Moral imperative, also known as the categorical imperative, depending on how intellectual you want to sound, has been in the news lately:
“Providing Americans with affordable health insurance,” the President said, is “an economic imperative, but it's also a moral imperative.”
Spike Lee had another way of saying it in, “Do the Right Thing.”
Which leads us again to ask, in the best Socratic manner, how does one determine the right thing?
Hemingway said, “About morals, I know only that what is moral is what you feel good after and what is immoral is what you feel bad after.”
Well, we can certainly shoot some holes in that.
Which leads us to our main culprit, Immanuel Kant, whose working habits we discussed just last week.
Much easier than discussing his work.
He’s the one who identified a new faculty in man for synthetic judgments, or a priori, which means we're supposed to know what to do in any situation.
Sort of takes the guesswork out of it.
Kant believed that moral requirements are categorical. They're definite.
Non-Kantians would say Kant's refusal to allow exceptions is incompatible with today. In war, one might argue, the sacrifice of the few for the many is necessary. Kant wouldn't hear of it.
Victor Grassian, author of “Moral Reasoning” believes psychology is essential in any moral philosophy, which leads to moral reasoning.
And he posed classic moral dilemmas, like this one:
You are standing at a railroad switch which starts at position A. There is a train barreling towards 20 victims on a track, but if you choose, you can throw the switch to B and direct the train down a track where there are five victims.
With no time to decide, would you choose to save 20 lives by sacrificing five?
But by doing so, you, and you alone, have aggressively caused the death of five individuals.
We know what Kant would do. What is the right thing to do?
Once we figure this one out, we can get around to healthcare.