How Morality Changes in a Foreign Language. Studies show that the way we think about moral questions is subtly influenced by the language we're using at the time. People using a non-native language tend to be more cerebral and less emotional. What does this say about the concept of the moral center, or "just knowing" what's right and what's wrong?
Spock the Impaler: A Belated Retrospective on Vulcan Ethics - Peter Watts As you know, Bob, Nimoy’s defining role was that of Star Trek‘s Mr. Spock, the logical Vulcan who would never let emotion interfere with the making of hard choices. This tended to get him into trouble with Leonard McCoy, Trek‘s resident humanist. “If killing five saves ten it’s a bargain,” the doctor sneered once, in the face of Spock’s dispassionate suggestion that hundreds of colonists might have to be sacrificed to prevent the spread of a galaxy-threatening neuroparasite. “Is that your simple logic?” The logic was simple, and unassailable, but we were obviously supposed to reject it anyway. [more inside]
Lesser-Known Trolley Problem Variations There’s an out of control trolley speeding towards Immanuel Kant. You have the ability to pull a lever and change the trolley’s path so it hits Jeremy Bentham instead. Jeremy Bentham clutches the only existing copy of Kant’s Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals. Kant holds the only existing copy of Bentham’s The Principles of Morals and Legislation. Both of them are shouting at you that they have recently started to reconsider their ethical stances. [more inside]
Our Inconsistent Ethical Instincts
We like to believe that the principled side of the equation is rooted in deep, reasoned conviction. But a growing wealth of research shows that those values often prove to be finicky, inconsistent intuitions, swayed by ethically irrelevant factors. What you say now you might disagree with in five minutes. And such wavering has implications for both public policy and our personal lives.[more inside]
Intrigued by the trolley problem? Here is a link to the full text of Michael Moorcock's 1971 SF novel Breakfast in the Ruins. Moral conundrums at the end of every chapter for you. [more inside]