Utilitarian Ethics or Diabolical Ethics

There is a rash of articles regarding Utilitarian ethics, specifically the Trolley Switch Dilemma versus the Trolley Bridge Dilemma. These contrived situations actually say more regarding the contrivers than those who respond to their questions, but let it go for now.

The Trolley Switch Dilemma is that a trolley carrying five people is headed for something which will kill them, and a person stands where he can throw a switch and send the trolley onto a siding and be safe, unfortunately, doing so will certainly kill a man trapped on the siding. (This is reminiscent of the guilttripping story some preachers have used about the man running a drawbridge who must choose between sacrificing his only son of a boatload of tourists.)

In the Bridge Dilemma, the protagonist is standing on a bridge, and sees the trolley heading for disaster (perhaps on the way to Mr. Rogers Land of Make Believe), and must decide whether to throw a fat man down from a bridge to stop the trolley, saving five and sacrificing one. (And, why do you not have the option of jumping down yourself?)

Both are ludicrously contrived, with the intent of salvaging conscience from real world concerns. Or to engender guilt, no matter what the result.  Which is despicable.

Let us have a real-world dilemma. You are a good German in 1943. You have been propagandized for ten years how the survival of Jews means the destruction of your own people. You were also raised a good Catholic, who was taught Christian ethics, but also that the Jews rejected Christ. You are ordered to drive a trail load of Jews in cattle cars to Auschwitz, and the grapevine has let you know what Auschwitz is, and what will happen. If you object, you will be shot by the SS. What do you do, seeing as how your protest will make little difference?

Here’s another. You are a bomber pilot who is told of the gas chambers and crematoria at Auschwitz. You are told to bomb those vile excrescences on the soul of humanity. But you know that bombing them will result in the deaths of many in the Camp. What do you do? After the war, how do you justify your actions to yourself, no matter what you do?

The unfortunate Elephant In The Room is that Utilitarian logic is also the logic of dictators and racists… given the appropriate set of premises. Judgments of what constitutes the Greater Good are always biased.

Ethics are not a matter of mathematics, contrary to Utilitarian thinking.

In the contrived dilemmas, how does the equation (?) change if the one to be sacrificed is a brilliant brain surgeon and the five are janitors? Does quality of people enter in? If so, why? And who judges the “quality” of one person (or five) over another? And, just how the hell do you make an equation out of ethics, without damaging the subject? (Because you can NEVER factor in all the variables.)

Utilitarian ethics are a malleable medium which can be twisted to justify almost anything one wants to do, and claim virtue for their dastardly deeds.

Utilitarian Ethics are not ethical, and they suck.