“A train is heading toward five workers standing on the tracks. They will die if the train is not diverted. Their only hope is for you to throw a switch that will divert the train. The only problem is, by diverting the train, one person will die on the alternate track.”
According to an interesting study on Moral/Ethical Dilemmas by Marc Hauser et al published this year, almost 90 percent of people will say, YES, throwing the switch in the above scenario and save the larger group of workers. However, note how the scenario has been modified below:
“A train is heading toward five workers on the tracks. They will die if the train is not diverted. Their only hope is for you to push a person off a bridge above the train tracks to block the train. The person you push on to the tracks will die, but will save the workers.”
In this second scenario, as in the first, one person will die. And yet, only 10 percent of people will throw the person off of a bridge to save the five men on the tracks!
The net result of both scenarios is saving five workers and the loss of one person, but the willingness to undertake the necessary action is dramatically different. The real bomb shell of this study is that, few (if any) of the respondents could explain WHY they would act differently in each scenario. When pressed, most respondents had no clear explanation. That is, they clearly knew how to act, but had no explanation as to why. The study concludes stating:
“our results challenge the view that moral judgments are solely the product of conscious reasoning on the basis of explicitly understood moral principles
What implication does a study like this have on student discipline at schools? Should we be asking students more often, WHY did they select a particular action?