There are many interpretation and arguments as to what is ethics and what is the origin of ethical reasoning. One common line of reasoning as taught in many professional and theological capacities is “the golden rule” or the ethic of reciprocity. Basically, one should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself. Another line of reasoning is known as the greater good; wherein the solution that benefits the most people is the most ethically sound. Those theories sound reasonable and rather agreeable. However, while those explanation should for the most part answer a significant portion of ethical dilemmas, there are many that do not fall within their domain or worse, some of these ethical conundrums question the validity of these premises. So here is one that I was always troubled by, a quintessential classic ethical dilemma.
Hypothetically, let us say one was standing in the middle of train-yard right next to a railway manual switch. Currently there is a runaway train fast approaching the juncture. (Such as in Runaway) In its current path there are three people on that segment of the track who will definitely be killed by this speeding train. However, if you flip the switch and send the train down the other track, those three people will live, but one person on that segment of the track will be killed because of your actions. The question is, do you flip the switch? Under the reasoning of the greater good, one would be obligated to flip the switch. However, under The Golden Rule things become a little murkier. Who's perspective are we supposed to protect? Personally, I always contended that I wouldn’t be able to flip the switch because I couldn’t in good conscience kill another human being in any capacity.
Fair enough, but now I have a new dilemma that has piqued my interest. It's easier when its abstract, so lets try something a little more practical. Let us say a group of coal miners gets trapped underground, which isn't all that uncommon. The rescue team informers the miners via cellphone or some form of radio communication establish that they will not be able to rescue them for 3 weeks due to the depth of the mine and the complexity involved in the rescue operation. It has been determined that they, the group stuck underground, does not have enough food to survive for this duration. Upon consideration and waiting till the last possible moment, the miners reach a consensus that they will make a lottery to determine who should die in order to become food for the others. Person B is chosen, killed, and eaten.
Upon their rescue, the miners are hospitalized where they are treated for shock, malnourishment, dehydration, Rickets, and decompression sickness. After their recuperation, they are summoned to court and tried for the murder of Person B. Do you believe they are culpable for murder? Did the surviving miners act ethically? Most importantly, what would you have done? (feel free to answer this question in the poll on the upper right-hand portion of the sidebar)