He chose the latter, partly because he didn’t like to travel but mostly because he couldn’t believe that people would really poison him just for showing them their errors. Turns out he was wrong, which led Epicurus to remark, “I always told Socrates he should drink more and think less, but this isn’t exactly what I meant.” As for Plato, rightness in his view consisted of adherence to Ideal Forms, which was why he started the Miss Athens beauty contest.
Nearly all the ideas these ancient philosophers came up with were prescriptive – ie they would tell people how to act morally, the people would agree, then go off to slaughter their enemies. It wasn’t until the late 20th century that moral problems became descriptive — ie philosophers posed problems which tested how people actually make moral decisions. Some of these thought experiments — or, as philosophers like to call them, Gedankenexperiment, because in German it sounds like real work–consisted of trolley problems, and helped decide whether supermarkets had a moral obligation to fix that one wheel which always wobbles or if the grocery shopper should just get another cart. However, this didn’t really help people figure out if the 20 percent mark-down on baked beans was a good bargain.
The first challenging trolley problems were invented in the 1960s by the philosopher Phillipa Foot who, having been so christened by her parents, really had no choice but to enter a field where Schopenhauer and Wittgenstein were considered cool names. So suppose you’re a passenger on an out-of-control train trolley (the cast-iron kind you see in Indiana Jones movies). Walking on the track in front of you are five hikers, oblivious to the danger. You can pull a lever to switch tracks but, if you do, you will kill the hikers’ friend who is standing on the side-track passing water. Should you kill the five hikers for being stupid, or their friend for urinating in public?
Most people say it’s morally permissible to switch tracks. But then Foot presented Trolley Problem 2: you’re standing on the side of the track, next to a fat man, watching the trolley careen down to five oblivious hikers. If you push the fat man on to the track, however, he’ll stop the trolley. Is this action permissible?
Most people say No, even though the arithmetic is the same: kill one to save five. And they don’t change their minds even when told that the fat man is really, really fat.
This moral intuition appears to be the same in all societies. On other hand, I’m not aware that anyone has ever done this Gedankenexperiment in Trinidad and Tobago.
In Trolley Problem 1, I suspect, some people would assume that the five hikers are UNC (get it?) and the urinating man PNM (get it now?). Thus, their decision on whether it’s right or wrong to pull the lever would depend on whether they’re UNC fanatics or PNM-till-ah-deads. This is proven by the reactions to Finance Minister Karen Nunez-Tesheira’s failure to disclose that she had shares in CL Financial. For most citizens, the ethical principle is clear: the conflict of interest means that Nunez-Tesheira has to resign. But one PNM pastor Afro radio talkshow host — four traits which, when combined, prevent brain activity — has argued, “She ent tief nobody money.”
Such persons will never understand that, when you flout an ethical principle, you must pay. Instead, they follow the political principle which says that, when you flout principle, you get paid more.
So Duprey shouldn’t have used depositors’ dollars to build the CL Financial empire but, if he hadn’t, would commentators have praised him even after the collapse as a “black entrepreneur”? If he was white or Chinese or Indian, these same persons would be calling for jail and, if Duprey was Syrian-Lebanese, a public flogging. In Trini ethics, you see, being black is more ethical than being ethical.
In closing, let me pose my own Trolley Problem. Patrick Manning is the passenger. On the track in front of him are Calder Hart, Mariano Browne, Emily Dick-Forde, and Karen Nunez-Teshiera. On the side-track are the people of TT, including Keith Rowley. How quickly will Manning pull the lever?