Philosopher Ram Neta presents a funny new take on an old example from Aristotle in this new experimental philosophy video. Hope you enjoy it!
In considering the two presented scenarios; I didn't see the issue as one of 'rightness or wrongness' of action being behind what to throw overboard.
The issue for me in scenario 1 was 'value of human life over inanimate objects' as well as the practicalities of 'better for captain to return home empty-handed and alive than for neither the ship, the captain or the cargo to return at all!
In scenario 2 the issue and question is entirely different.
In considering scenario 1 I doubt people were considering cargo (no matter how valuable in terms of $) as equal to the 'value' of a human life.
I scenario 2 where there are 2 lives at stake, and one kills another, they are asked in effect to judge
a. was it right for the captain to kill someone? (most people judge that a person shouldn't kill another)
b. if someone had to die, was it right for the captain to choose who that would be? (most people expect a captain to sacrafice himself based on movies and folklore; so we could expect people to judge as wrong that the captain wouldn't just instruct his wife on what to do to survive, tell her he loves her, and then jump into the water!)
c. It was his wife! (Most people would expect a loyalty to her, a sacrafice for her safety and life)
So, there are at least this many processes of evaluation really going on behind or under the question.
He wasn't forced in any circumstance. It was a matter of what was sensible in scenario 1 and, in scenario 2 was a matter of what was right according to
it gives something to begin to respond to
A "forced move" in Chess is when there are no alternative moves that can be made under the rules of the game. I think it is this sense in which people might say that the mariner was forced to throw his wife's cargo overboard in the first case (because they accept that he has no viable alternative under the rules of the "game" he was playing) whereas he was not forced to throw his wife overboard in the second case (because killing your wife to save yourself is against the rules. Wives and cargoes belonging to wives play a different role in the game).
I like to think of human choices in game terms because it reminds me that we may withdraw our consent to play certain games, and that the rules of the games of life may be plastic, and that payoffs and penalties maybe multidimensional (losing a game of golf to your boss might help you win a different game at work), and that the whole framework is artificial and culture-bound.
Even in the soft cultural sense of "force" the mariner was not forced to throw the cargo overboard. He could have cut the rigging and masts. He could have thrown supplies. He could have set the cargo adrift in a little boat. He could have done nothing and hoped for the best. He was only forced with respect to his limited imagination and pessimistic judgment. He saw only one viable solution. But he could also have chosen a non-viable solution that could have miraculously worked out for the best.
In the case of throwing his wife overboard, he could have thrown himself instead, obviously. He could have died in her arms and said in the afterlife that the storm forced him to die.
Any time there is only one possible course of action within the game we're playing we can call that being forced, but we also have the ability to change or challenge the game. (Unless it's the game of physics itself.)
The Captain wasn't "forced" to do anything in either case. He CHOSE to take the actions he took.
In the first example, he could have chosen to quickly empty the chest and dump the cargo into the boat and just throw the heavy chest overboard, for example. OR he could have chosen to ride the storm out with everything in the boat. He may have made the best choice by just tossing the material goods, but nothing "forced" him to make that choice.
In the second example, he could have been gallant and loving and chosen to throw himself into the drink instead of his wife, but nothing "forced" him to make any choice in that case either.
The idea of being forced to make a certain decision, places the responsibility for any decision outside of the decision-maker, when in fact, the choice is always inside the decision-maker.
Why is it this reminds me of GWB being the "decider" and also Star Trek's Captain Kirk and the "kobayashi-maru?" *L*
... personally I'd like to see candid camera experimental philosophy, now I'd WATCH something like that.
I mean if you really want to be serious you have to see how people REALLY act when they don't know they are being observed.
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David Pizarro is an assistant professor at Cornell University, where he conducts research on moral judgment and emotion in the department of psychology.
Edouard Machery is a philosopher of psychology and an experimental philosopher in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Pittsburgh.
Jesse Prinz is a Distinguished Professor at the City University of New York, Graduate Center and the author of several books on the nature of thought, emotion, and morality.
Joshua Knobe is a professor in the philosophy department at UNC-Chapel Hill.
Tamler Sommers is a professor of philosophy at the University of Houston.
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