This article on making moral judgments is a good example of the kind of false dilemma that drives me crazy.  It reminds me of those soul-tearing questions sometimes inflicted on schoolchildren—by each other, and even by teachers—such as "If your house were burning and you could only save one parent, which would you choose, your mom or your dad?" I remember teaching my own kids that "I don't answer ridiculous questions" is a perfectly acceptable response.

The dilemma posed in the experiment is this:  "Someone you know has AIDS and plans to infect others, some of whom will die. Your only options are to let it happen or to kill the person. Do you pull the trigger?"  The premise, "your only options are to let it happen or to kill the person" is spurious, since there are always other options.  They could at least have set up a more plausible scenario, such as a sniper shooting steadily into a crowded schoolyard and you having a gun trained on the sniper—do you shoot him?  But even in that case one can shoot to disable, even though there's a chance your shot will end up fatal.

What they discovered about the responses of people with a particular type of brain damage may be important in helping those people and their families, but it's hard to see any general application that can come from false premises.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, March 22, 2007 at 7:21 am | Edit
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