As a deep thinker, a gazillion things fly through my mind at any one time. Often, they’re just passing by with little thought give to them after but today it wasn’t so much the case. You see, I work as an outreach and referral student ambassador and I help to educate young minds in the prospect of going to university. I find it a lot of fun and always look forward to going to work which I guess sounds a little weird. But today, the Year 9’s were having a taster philosophy lecture and the topic was Utilitarianism. I’ll explain it’s definition a little later with first explaining the theoretical scenario.
Once upon a time, you were walking through a mine shaft. As one could normally do, of course. A heavy mine cart is fast on the rails with no intent on stopping but it’s heading towards a group of miners who would inevitably die if the cart wasn’t stopped. Luckily, you are standing right next to the lever that can cause it to go down the other path. However, there’s a catch. Down the other path is one lonely miner all on his lonesome who would also inevitably die if the mine shaft went down his path. But who do you save? Do you leave the cart on it’s course and let it kill the group or do you pull the leaver and kill just the one. We’ll put it in more cotton fluffy terms. Do you save the group or do you save the individuals? You are only allowed to say one or the other. Not cutting down trees and throwing it of course etc.
My group of year nine’s immediately said they would say the group because there was more of them. Being the stupid person I am, I made things more complicated and asked them, what if the one lonely individual had the cure to cancer in his hand? What would you do then? They again switched immediately after that. This concept is known as Utilitarianism – the course of action that leads to the lesser of two evils. Pretty straight forward.
One of my group brought it up in discussion (he had quite a character), I started laughing because I realized the extent of what I had said. I had no idea that it would lead to an even larger and more complicated debate. I think in a situation like that, I too would probably pick the same as everyone else but I’m left to ponder, what if, in that group who just died someone had a child who would eventually discover world peace through the words of his father. What if, the death of the group actually lead the child into a state of sorrowful insanity that lead them to blow up the world instead. How then can someone decide what to do?
For me, after the session, it was more how can someone decide so quickly what was right and what was wrong? How can a decision as bug as that change in such a rapid second and have so much impact on the world afterwards. Hopefully, we are all taught our morals and ethics properly but when something like this occurs. It’s not so easy to distinguish between them.