Tuesday, March 25, 2014

[PHI 2200] Survey Results

Here are the results of the surveys we conducted in Ethics class today using Socrative:

The Borrowed Gun Case

The Riots Case

The Firing Squad Case

I think there are two interesting points to make about these results:
  • Even though in all three cases an innocent person would be harmed if you return the borrowed gun, bear false witness, and shoot one, judgments about what you should do vary significantly from 90% against returning the borrowed gun to 77% against bearing false witness to only 58% against shooting one. Why is that so?
  • Even though you have to take direct action and shoot one person, as opposed to returning a borrowed gun or bearing false witness, 42% of you judged that you should shoot one, which is a significant difference from 23% in favor of bearing false witness in the riots case, and an even more significant difference from 10% in favor of returning the borrowed gun in the borrowed gun case. Why is that so?


  1. It is very interesting to see how the results vary given a certain situation. While all the scenarios force one to question different aspects of morals, I think that the judgments on what to vary according to the outcomes of the situations. In the gun situation, the moral dilemma is between saving a life and not keeping your word. When one thinks of the outcomes, it is very clear that the majority would choose to save a life. The bearing false witness situation produced less discrepancy between the choices because both outcomes held greater significance. The moral dilemma is between honesty and potentially stopping the riots. The last situation was the closet between the two choices because both outcomes had severe results. I think it was more difficult for people to concretely choose a side due to the fact that in this situation they would directly be involved in taking the life of another person. While you would be saving four lives, I think people struggled with the fact that they would actually be killing. Whereas, in the other situations, although they could be saving or taking lives, their actions were more indirect to the consequences.

    I think the percentage was higher to shoot one person than in the other situation because of the consequence that the other side of the situation. In this situation only one person would be dying to save four other people, which just by numbers would be seen as a favorable outcome. In the other situations, the results of a person’s actions are not so defined. By returning the gun, one would indirectly be killing a person and by bearing false witness one would be ruining a life. Although there are positives and negatives to all three situations, I believe purely looking at the consequences and numbers of lives saved led people to choose the way they did.

  2. I believe the reason for the discrepancies in those numbers are due to the fact that in some situations you are more directly involved in the harming of an innocent person than in other situations, for example the gun situation. Also, you are more likely to find yourself in a situation like that as compared to the others, and more likely to have more power to prevent the harm of an innocent person.

  3. I think that in all of these situations, it can be looked at from a different perspective. Given the situation of giving a borrowed gun back if the owner of the gun were to use it to harm an innocent person, it would be morally wrong to not return a borrowed item, but returning the item knowing that it would be used to kill someone would definitely be more morally wrong. In the situation of bearing false witness in the riots case, it would still be considered morally wrong to send an innocent person to jail, but saving the lives of many in a riot outweigh the life of one individual, as seen in a utilitarian point of view. In the situation of shooting one person of four to save the other three, it is again due to a utilitarian way of thinking, which is that one life is at risk as opposed to all four of them.

    However, in my opinion, there would be a very different outcome if the person who died was "your mother, father, sister, etc." Everyone's answers would be more biased because it would involve a personal connection, whereas, the three situations above are general, and involve no personal connection whatsoever.

  4. Yes, all three involve harming an innocent person and being an active agent, but in different ways. I think that all three of these situations together involve a certain hierarchy of needs and which needs different people value to be higher than the others. In defining these needs, "letting" signifies a passive consequence, which is usually preferable to an active consequence.
    In each example there are two options, or two different needs. In the first situation, the two needs are giving something back when you promised you would and letting an innocent person be harmed. While "letting" signifies a passive action, a large majority of people would agree that a person being harmed, regardless, is much higher on the hierarchy than having to give something back.
    In the second example, the two needs are causing an innocent person to be harmed and letting riots continue in a city. These are both on a similar level, so there is more likely to be a division on this, since one is passive and one is active, but most said that you shouldn't bear false witness. This goes back to how it affects you. Not only would you feel guilty, but you may also be caught in the act of lying, whereas you cannot be blamed for city riots.
    In the third example, there is the most controversy. The two options are directly choosing and killing someone or letting four people get killed. The reason there is so much controversy is because while one person dead is seemingly a better option on the hierarchy than four people dead, it directly affects you in that you must be the chooser and the direct cause of that person's death.
    I believe that two things are heavily involved in this as well: an innocent person being harmed and being the active agent. All decisions, however, are very much affected by how you will be affected by its outcome, since we have an instinct to survive.


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