Ben Hawkins

The Government is Gambling with People’s Lives

By Ben Hawkins Imagine you are walking across a bridge over a rail line. Suddenly you hear screams coming from under the bridge. You look down and see that four people are tied to the tracks. What’s worse, you look up and see what looks like a runaway train carriage hurtling towards them. The carriage doesn’t look that big – if you could push a large object over the bridge in front of the carriage, you figure that it would be enough to stop the carriage and save the four people tied to the line. Looking around for such an object, you see an incredibly fat man stood at the edge of the bridge. He looks big enough to stop the carriage. Do you push him, knowing that falling from such a height and being hit by the carriage will almost certainly kill him? Do you sacrifice one life, to save four others? This is an example of a trolley problem, a hypothetical scenario designed by ethicists to examine how we should behave in different situations. The above example is tricky, because whilst we would usually agree that four lives are more important than one life, the positive act of killing someone goes against many of our moral intuitions. Most people, when asked what they would do in this scenario,...

Why we Shouldn’t Moralise Means to Moral Ends

by Ben Hawkins Ludwig Wittgenstein There’s an excellent Mitchell and Webb sketch in which a pair of ministerial aides are reporting back to their minister on potential solutions for dealing with a recession… “raising VAT, cutting VAT, raising interest rates, raising interest rates and VAT, lowering income tax and raising VAT”. But despite their efforts, they haven’t been able to land on anything – when their proposed measures are put through their computer models, none of them seems to work. Suddenly the minister interrupts. "Have you tried 'kill all the poor'?" When the shocked aides protest the minister replies, “I’m not saying do it, I’m just saying run it through the computer ­– see if it would work.” Whilst undoubtedly a broadside aimed at the austerity policies of the time, the sketch works as it highlights a feature of our moral reflexes that is often overlooked: for most moral agents with genuinely held moral beliefs, it is not enough to avoid doing wrong; to merely consider doing that wrong action feels like a moral transgression in and of itself. A serious moral agent, believing that killing people is wrong, would never consider running “kill all the poor” through the computer, as doing so would seemingly violate the principle of the sanctity of life which the belief in not killing people...

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