Test Time: Do you have to be lucky to be good?

Check out the Moral Sense Test, courtesy of Harvard U. and a boom in Experimental Philosophy — that is, Philosophy grounded in real life research, or at least more concerned with real life happenings than say“the thing in itself.

I took it. I don’t know what to say other than the situations are a bit of a bitch — but then, it is designed to probe one’s morality. It’s the same sort of questioning one would expect to see in an introductory ethics textbook– the “should I kill one person to save 5” type scenario.

And it’s not hard to see the reasoning and complex questions they try to catch you on.  Is one situation more or less morally good than another, even if the actions taken are the same? The best example is a construction worker who has to move heavy cement bags from the top of a building to the bottom. Rules state that he must be lowered on the crane, a safer, but more time consuming method. Joe the Construction Worker decides to throw the bags off instead. The stated odds of hitting someone below are just 1-in-1000. In situation A he (accidentally?) kills someone below. In situation B he gets lucky and no one is injured.

This is where the test tries to yell “gotcha”. Although it never really tells you how you did. The instinctual reaction to Situation A being some sort of moral outrage; situation B, just a mopping of the brow and a quick “whew!” Which all leads you to the further question: Is the same act of throwing them off morally different in those two situations? Or, do you have to be lucky to be good? Or if you are lucky is that enough? What I like is that, I am willing to admit, in some sense, that there is an element of “getting away with it” to moral activity in certain situations. Both situations are what you could call irresponsible or reckless, which is not a good thing, but not exactly on par with murder. But is something really reprehensible if it is just a matter of who is walking by? Situation B killed no one, produced no bad actions. But still you have to stop short of calling those throws morally good.

Interesting questions. Get out of your armchair and check it out.

EDIT: Fixed link to test.


One Response

  1. Ok, so I took the test. Question: what had that video to do with it?? Can’t we even have surveys without advertisement?

    I don’t like these kind of tests. It’s much more common to find cases where there isn’t a certainty someone will die, and there’s almost always a third option. By asking us to disregard this the test fail to represent real life.

    I could accept the loose train as a 100% example, but the case with the burning house is just odd. What’s the likelyhood someone knows pushing someone into the house will be followed by a beam falling on them. Who think of using someone as a battering ram in the first place??

    Simply put, these are not reliable tests.

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