16 January, 2011

A moral choice: Part 2, the Freedom

Last time I posed some moral questions about killing and such nasty stuff. And looked at them from lets say a practical point of view. Now let's switch to looking from the perspective of freedom. Basically this is something like the other side of Utilitarism vs Kantianism. You would be very well off reading Kant's (who is probably the greatest philosopher, IMHO) books. And you will see that he is highly practical too, just smart about it.

We will be revising the dilemmas from the first part in this new light.

So let's start off with the first question: would you kill the guy on the tracks? Remember the discussion about guilt? and conscience? Well, Kant thinks that listening to our conscience is the only means of being free. It is the most intimate part of ourselves giving us advice on how we should behave. How can we even begin to imagine that if we do anything else than listen to ourselves we are really free? Here's a quote from Heinlein that might help you in your struggles:

I am free, no matter what rules surround me. If I find them tolerable, I tolerate them; if I find them too obnoxious, I break them. I am free because I know that I alone am morally responsible for everything I do.

Then what about the uneasy part? Why do we usually associate conscience with a negative sentiment? With a preacher-like figure making reproaches instead of a helpful advisor? Well because we are not perfect and we are ashamed of it. But of course this implies we do have an image of our perfect self, and we should do everything we can to fulfill that image of ourselves. Whenever there is something to decide a good advice would be to ask yourself: What would Jesus the perfect me do?

Remember the other guy from last time? The fat guy you have to push? Of course it is immoral to push the guy. The moral problem with killing him being that the fat guy was not involved. He only gets involved if you push him, meaning you take away his freedom. People should not be used as means to an end. Did you see a flaw in this argument? I'll tell you my take on it anyway. How does this differ from the other guy? the one who is already on the tracks? He is not involved and I would guess he sure as hell doesn't want to die. The answer is: you are not in his shoes. Think about it for a moment, you cannot switch places with the guy on the tracks, but you could switch places with the fat guy. If it is moral for you to push the fat guy to save 5 people, it would be just as moral for the fat guy to push you. Frankly, your chances are pretty slim compared to the fat guy :P

And that is a highly condensed but pretty usable lesson on Kantian morality: A thing is moral if you would want it to become an universal law. Have fun with it, you just won the gold ticket of being a better person. Well unless you have inhuman views like killing all the Jews (and there you have what's wrong with the answer to the Hitler question).

But are we free to choose? or are we conditioned by our biology and surroundings?
We, generally, seem to be tricked. Here's Dan Ariely explaining it with a couple of amusing examples:

Did you like the metaphor about illusions? It looks like scientists like it a lot. I stumble upon it time and time again. Here are some more examples. Ok, so this guy likes illusions too, but he did something even more interesting. He made an experiment that tests people's willing. He measured brainwaves while instructing people to wiggle their fingers at any given time. You would expect first to see an impulse of willing to do the action and then see the waves that actually carry out the action. Actually this looks more like:

 To hear the interview about wiggling go to the last part (about min 15) of this:

Their results says that our conscious will is just a rationalization. Think that this takes away your free will? Maybe. But is it bad? Well, freedom implies making choices and if you need reminding about how terrified we are about decisions scroll a little bit up and watch Dan Ariely talking about doctors giving people a hip replacement. I'll elaborate about making decisions and if that's good or bad in some future installment I haven't planned out yet. If you are confident about making decisions, go back and read the books referenced in the previous post. Freedom is often an illusion, not always having freedom could be a blessing. And I leave you with another insightful Heinlein quote:

You can have peace. Or you can have freedom. Don't ever count on having both at once.

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