The Rational Choice?

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Burning ghost
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The Rational Choice?

Post by Burning ghost » October 13th, 2017, 3:25 am

Here is the situation (one you may be somewhat familiar with) ...

You are on a train track and can pull a lever to change tracks. No matter what you do you have to choose either track A or track B.

On track A there is a man who is 70% likely to murder several people.
On track B there are two men who are both 50% likely to murder several people.

Which track do you take?
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Steve3007
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Re: The Rational Choice?

Post by Steve3007 » October 13th, 2017, 6:55 am

I guess it would depend how good I am at doing mental arithmetic quickly and under stress.
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Maxcady10001
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Re: The Rational Choice?

Post by Maxcady10001 » October 13th, 2017, 7:07 am

There are two cases of murder definitely happening. The first one being, I pull the lever, and the second one being, I don't pull the lever on track B, since the chance of them committing murder is one hundred percent. So I would not pull the lever, choosing whichever track the train is already on. I do not believe in murder by omission, so if the train leaves someone alive who is a murderer I am not responsible, since I did not take action.

Burning ghost
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Re: The Rational Choice?

Post by Burning ghost » October 13th, 2017, 10:56 am

Steve3007 wrote:I guess it would depend how good I am at doing mental arithmetic quickly and under stress.
How about if I changed the percentage chance to say they would murder one person?
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RJG
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Re: The Rational Choice?

Post by RJG » October 13th, 2017, 11:03 am

B. As there is 75% chance that of 'one' of these two 50 percenter's will murder several people. 75 is greater than 70.

Steve3007
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Re: The Rational Choice?

Post by Steve3007 » October 13th, 2017, 11:09 am

OK.

Choose B / avoid A: 70% chance of 1 innocent person dieing. 30% chance of no innocent people dieing.

Choose A / avoid B: 25% chance of 2 innocent people dieing. 50% chance of just 1 innocent person dieing. 25% chance of no innocent people dieing.

I'll choose B and avoid A because, on average, slightly fewer innocent people die with that option.

So it's the trolley problem with some maths thrown in.

-- Updated Fri Oct 13, 2017 4:09 pm to add the following --

RJG beat me to it.

-- Updated Fri Oct 13, 2017 4:18 pm to add the following --

Although, thinking about it, more bad guys die with that option. And since I oppose the death penalty (especially for people who haven't yet committed a crime but are just deemed likely to do so) I should take that into consideration.

OK. I accept that it is actually more than simply the trolley problem with some added maths. It's a good one.

-- Updated Fri Oct 13, 2017 4:25 pm to add the following --

And I shouldn't have said "innocent people" and "bad guys" because those "bad guys" haven't yet committed any crime.

Yes. Very good one.

Although if it took my rusty mental cogs this long to come to this conclusion here, I still think I would have hit them long before I'd made my decision.
"Even men with steel hearts love to see a dog on the pitch."

Burning ghost
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Re: The Rational Choice?

Post by Burning ghost » October 13th, 2017, 11:40 am

Hopefully when you look back at your decisions and regard these people as people you'll see it's not simply a case of arithmetic.

If you choose B then that is two innocents die instantly.
If you choose A then that is one innocent dies instantly.

-- Updated October 13th, 2017, 11:41 am to add the following --

Ah! You spotted it ;)
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Steve3007
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Re: The Rational Choice?

Post by Steve3007 » October 13th, 2017, 11:49 am

Yes. It's a very good puzzle. I misjudged it at first.

Also, the two innocents who I kill with my choice were actually, individually, less likely to kill than the other guy. So, on the face of it, that makes them better? No, because we're still only talking about our perception of their likelihood to kill, that shouldn't make a difference.
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Burning ghost
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Re: The Rational Choice?

Post by Burning ghost » October 13th, 2017, 11:50 am

Maxcady10001 wrote:There are two cases of murder definitely happening. The first one being, I pull the lever, and the second one being, I don't pull the lever on track B, since the chance of them committing murder is one hundred percent. So I would not pull the lever, choosing whichever track the train is already on. I do not believe in murder by omission, so if the train leaves someone alive who is a murderer I am not responsible, since I did not take action.
I have to ask would what if you knew you were on the track that was going to hit two innocent people and that you'd have to pull the lever to change tracks and instead hit one innocent person. Would you still choose to deny any responsibility and let two innocents die instead of one?

note: You are not the murder in this situation, merely a person faced with a tough decision.
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Steve3007
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Re: The Rational Choice?

Post by Steve3007 » October 13th, 2017, 11:54 am

Funnily enough, in another thread, in a different context, I recently said "being good at maths doesn't necessarily make you a good person.". I guess this puzzle demonstrates that!
"Even men with steel hearts love to see a dog on the pitch."

Burning ghost
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Re: The Rational Choice?

Post by Burning ghost » October 13th, 2017, 12:02 pm

Steve3007 wrote:Funnily enough, in another thread, in a different context, I recently said "being good at maths doesn't necessarily make you a good person.". I guess this puzzle demonstrates that!
Reasoning can blind you from the moral problem. The other post where someone said emotions do more hindrance than a help to reason made me think of the reversing the roles a little.

If I had posted this in "ethics" I imagine the responses would've been quite different.

-- Updated October 13th, 2017, 12:06 pm to add the following --

What always puzzles me is setting up scenarios where the stakes are much higher. If there was a 50-50 chance that person stood before you would destroy all life on Earth ... at some point we all find a very, very grey area that really makes us shudder at ourselves and our own thoughts.
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Steve3007
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Re: The Rational Choice?

Post by Steve3007 » October 13th, 2017, 1:03 pm

Ghost:
What always puzzles me is setting up scenarios where the stakes are much higher. If there was a 50-50 chance that person stood before you would destroy all life on Earth ... at some point we all find a very, very grey area that really makes us shudder at ourselves and our own thoughts.
Yes, I think that's where these kinds of mental exercises are thought provoking - when you do a "reductio ad absurdum" - i.e. follow the logic until you reach a point where everyone can see the absurdities that it's possible to reach.

Another extreme that sprang to my mind as soon as I "got" this one: One of the tracks could have a very large number of people on it each with a very small chance of killing someone. The same reasoning that led me to throw away my common sense morality when faced with what looked like a mathematical challenge would lead to me ploughing my train through a whole army of people who are no more likely to commit murder than you or me! Reasoning leads to mass murder!
"Even men with steel hearts love to see a dog on the pitch."

Maxcady10001
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Re: The Rational Choice?

Post by Maxcady10001 » October 13th, 2017, 1:08 pm

You have changed the question, asking me if I would choose, if I knew both tracks had people who would not commit murder. Would I rather kill one or two innocent people? I'm not sure, but is this question one of utilitarianism? But honestly I still would not act, as I don't believe in murder by omission. I also would not feel responsible, because I had no hand in any of the circumstances leading up to this. I also don't believe in moral responsibility. If I did I would have to spend my entire life in servitude. Have you ever heard of the drowning girl thought experiment, where a girl is drowning and if you are willing to spend the energy saving her, logically you should donate to charity? It was devised by Peter Singer. You can easily expand on that and say you should also be willing to do a lot more. Also, do you believe the people in that situation would advocate for their own lives if they could interact with you? Would the one person on track A say kill me and save them?

Chili
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Re: The Rational Choice?

Post by Chili » October 13th, 2017, 1:54 pm

Burning ghost wrote:Here is the situation (one you may be somewhat familiar with) ...

You are on a train track and can pull a lever to change tracks. No matter what you do you have to choose either track A or track B.

On track A there is a man who is 70% likely to murder several people.
On track B there are two men who are both 50% likely to murder several people.

Which track do you take?
How do we know these percentages? Are we perhaps exhibiting the "soft bigotry of low expectations"? I could expect the best from all of these men and then run down only one. Also, what people would be "murdered" by the men ? Perhaps some or all of these 3 are law-enforcement officers sent by Janet Reno, and the "murders" are only in the eyes of anti-government right -wingers?

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Greta
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Re: The Rational Choice?

Post by Greta » October 13th, 2017, 4:59 pm

Generally speaking, if I find two options difficult to choose from I stop worrying because that means they are probably close enough that my decision doesn't much matter.

It's more realistic to imagine that the percentages aren't known, so all one would see is three people tied to the tracks. Thus the option would be to kill one person or two.

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