Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Trolley Problem

The trolley problem is a thought experiment in ethics. It looks to explore the concept of human morality and a philosophical view of consequentialism. It was first introduced by Philippa Foot in 1967, but also extensively analysed by Judith Jarvis Thomson,Peter Unger,and Frances Kamm.
Person A can take an action which would benefit many people, but in doing so, person B would be unfairly harmed. Under what circumstances would it be morally just for Person A to violate Person B's rights in order to benefit the group?

Original problem involved an out of control trolley car which is going to cause the death of five people on the track but this can be averted by switching the trolley to another track in which case it will only kill one person. Is it morally permissible or indeed is there a moral obligation to take an action which will kill one person but will save five? Or do nothing and let five die?
Different formulations are:
- A judge or magistrate is faced with rioters demanding that a culprit be found for a certain crime and threatening otherwise to take their own bloody revenge on a particular section of the community, perhaps kill five people. The real culprit being unknown, the judge sees himself as able to prevent the bloodshed only by framing some innocent person and having him executed.
- A pilot whose aeroplane is about to crash is deciding whether to steer from a more to a less inhabited area.

Related Variations
The Fat Man on the Bridge
This variation does not allow the trolley to be switched to another track but instead the trolley can be stopped by pushing a fat man off a bridge into the path of the trolley. Is there any difference between this action and the switching of the track?

The Fat Villain on the Bridge
A variation on the fat man scenario involves the man on the bridge being the individual who is responsible for sabotaging the trolley which is going to lead to the deaths of the five people. Does this change the morality of pushing him off the bridge to prevent the accident?
Transplant Variation
Five people are in hospital each needing a different organ or they will die. A healthy traveler comes to the hospital for a checkup and the doctor discovers his organs are compatible with the five patients who are going to die. This is the only chance those patients will have of getting a transplant. If the traveler disappeared or died nobody would suspect the doctor. What should the doctor do?
Mother Variation
As before, a trolley is hurtling down a track towards five people. You can flip a switch and divert the train to run one person over instead of five, but that person is your mother. Would you flip the switch?

Key Themes
- The irrationality of human ethics
- Utilitarianism (the greater good) (also act utilitarianism & rule utilitarianism)
- The incommensurability of human lives
- Moral obligation (e.g. if you are present it is your moral obligation to act and to do nothing would be immoral)
- Ticking time bomb scenario (which demands a choice between two morally questionable acts).

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Si vis pacem, para bellum

Si vis pacem, para bellum
(if wish peace, prepare war)

Literally: "when you hope for peace prepare for war"
(or more generally - when you hope for peace be ready for war)

Peace though Strength
appears to have been derived from the published quote -

Igitur qui desiderat pacem, praeparet bellum

Literally: "Then, anyone who longs/wishes for peace should ready war plans" and it is taken from "Epitoma rei militari" (also known as "De Rei Militari","Of the art of war") by Publius Flavius Vegetius, a writer of the 4th century a.D.
The idea also possibly exists in Plato amongst others (e.g. He who makes war his object instead of peace, or who pursues war except for the sake of peace, is not a true statesman. Plato Laws).

Also some variations on the theme:

Si vis bellum para pacem

If you want war, prepare for peace.

Applied to Bonaparte as an example of planning for a war by making other nations think you are wanting peace.

Could also mean that if you prepare for peace you are inviting another party to start a war with you.

Si vis pacem para pacem

If you want peace, prepare for peace.

If nations really want peace it is difficult to see this while they build up their armaments (e.g. Andrew Carnegie 1907 National Arbitration and Peace Congress).

Si vis pacem fac bellum

If you want peace, make war.

The only way to liberate the world from military domination can in the extreme case be through war, an extension of the original: Si vis pacem, fac bellum (e.g. Richard Grelling 1918 on what is needed to make the world safe for democracy (comment on Woodrow Wilson speech before congress)).


Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Gregor Effect - (from Kafka's The Metamorphis)

From Gregor Samsa - protagonist in The Metamorphosis - referring to how people respond to those with serious illness.
Refers to the relationships of patients with those around them, the ''Gregor Effect'' (first postulated by Preston (1979) more recently popularised by Howard Brody (2002)) is a reference to German author Franz Kafka's 1915 short story The Metamorphosis. In the story, the protagonist Gregor Samsa turns into an insect. His family and friends, although at times empathetic and still loving, find ways to avoid him, to distance themselves from his ''illness''. Psychologists ascribe this ''Gregor effect'' to how some view the terminally ill. The ''Gregor effect'' can make people uncomfortable, scared, and at times present a challenge to their own mortality.
The Gregor effect implies that the diagnosis of disease becomes a stigma, a mark that impinges on all other social roles and affects all other relationships and interactions.

Ronald Preston (1979) used Kafka's analogy (he referred to the impact on others of serious illness or bodily deformity as the "Gregor effect") to study the reactions of nurses caring for the chronically ill and aged. He was interested specifically in reactions to people whom he labelled "acutely ambigious" in that they are like us and yet not like us (Preston 1979:37-46).
Preston observed a range of reactions in hospital wards to people in these catagories:
  • impulsive reactions (startle, flight)
  • prejudiced reactions (based on preconceived social values rather than emotion)
  • obscenity reactions (attempt to resolve ambiguity through identification with deformed or disabled)
  • ritual separation (banishment or sequestration of the sick as a prelude to the separation of death)
  • humanitarian (observor broadens perspective and expands what it is to be human to resolve the ambiguity the condition causes, embracing the patient as fully human - often can become superficial attempt to do good rather than sincere)
  • spiritual transcendence (often tied to religion has a firmer basis than humanitarian to resolve ambiguity)
  • normalisation (conceptualises the the sick and disabled as just like us thereby deflecting any threat)
  • diversionary tactics (such as using black humour)
  • induration (may develop gradually and result in diminished perception of the ambiguity (Preston 1979:47-84))
Howard Brody (2002) Stories of Sickness. Oxford University Press.

Ronald Preston (1979). The dilemmas of care: social and nursing adaptations to the deformed, the disabled, and the aged.

Rational Choice Theory

Rational Choice Theory also also known as choice theory or rational action theory is a framework for understanding and often formally modeling social and economic behavior

General Definition: Individuals will make the best possible (optimized) decision from their point of view (the view of the decision maker).
A principle that assumes that individuals always make prudent and logical decisions that provide them with the greatest benefit or satisfaction and that are in their highest self-interest. Most mainstream economic assumptions and theories are based on rational choice theory.

The Individual as Representative

Rational Choice Theory generally begins with consideration of the choice behavior of one or more individual decision-making units – which in basic economics are most often consumers and/or firms. The rational choice theorist often presumes that the individual decision-making unit in question is “typical” or “representative” of some larger group such as buyers or sellers in a particular market. Once individual behavior is established, the analysis generally moves on to examine how individual choices interact to produce outcomes.

Rational Choices of Consumer Behaviour
The rational choice theory of consumer behavior is based on the following axioms regarding consumer preferences:

  1. The consumer faces a known set of alternative choices.
  2. For any pair of alternatives (A and B, say), the consumer either prefers A to B, prefers B to A, or is indifferent between A and B. This is the axiom of completeness.
  3. These preferences are transitive. That is, if a consumer prefers A to B and B to C, then she necessarily prefers A to C. If she is indifferent between A and B, and indifferent between B and C, then she is necessarily indifferent between A and C.
  4. The consumer will choose the most preferred alternative. If the consumer is indifferent between two or more alternatives that are preferred to all others, he or she will choose one of those alternatives -- with the specific choice from among them remaining indeterminate.

When economists speak of “rational” behavior, they usually mean only behavior that is in accord with the above axioms.

Criminology and Rational Choice Theory

Law Definition: Concept that criminals consciously weigh the risks and rewards of a crime and proceed accordingly.
In criminology, the rational choice theory adopts a utilitarian belief that man is a reasoning actor who weighs means and ends, costs and benefits, and makes a rational choice.

In general, the criminology theory of rational choice theory is that would-be offenders consider the potential costs and benefits before deciding whether to engage in crime.

The rational choice perspective in criminology has evolved largely from two previous and complementary explanations of human behavior. One of these is the classical school of thought characterized by the Enlightenment scholars Cesare Beccaria (1764) and Jeremy Bentham (1789) . These early philosophers proposed that individuals would refrain from offending out of fear of the potential punishment that would result from such behavior (this is also the conceptual basis for the deterrence perspective in criminology).


Rational Choice Theory is based on the assumption that individual behaviour is guided by free will.

Individuals do not always seem to make rational, utility-maximizing decisions:

- The field of behavioral economics is based on the idea that individuals often make irrational decisions and explores why they do so.

- Nobel laureate Herbert Simon proposed the theory of bounded rationality, which says that people are not always able to obtain all the information they would need to make the best possible decision.

-Economist Richard Thaler’s idea of mental accounting shows how people behave irrationally by placing greater value on some dollars than others even though all dollars have the same value. They might drive to another store to save $10 on a $20 purchase, but they would not drive to another store to save $10 on a $1,000 purchase.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Noble Cause Corruption - Climate Change Science

Noble Cause Corruption also referred to as 'Virtuous Corruption' is a concept originally applied to police who do whatever they think is necessary to get a conviction of someone they think is guilty (the ends justifies the means). It has recently been applied to the deceptions and fraud regarding climate change science but the connection might not be so sound. With climate change it might not necessarily be a 'noble cause' as much as a scam involving the pursuit of personal enrichment, for many involved anyway.

The phrase 'noble cause corruption' is believed to have first been used in the UK by Sir John Woodcock in 1992 when, as Chief Inspector of Constabulary, he was attempting to explain how miscarriages of justice occur.

Noble cause corruption is a mindset or sub-culture which fosters a belief that the ends justify the means. Noble cause corruption is a police crime in which police officers violate legal or ethical standards in pursuit of what they perceive to be the benefit of society at large.

An example of this is when police might justify fitting up people they "know" to be guilty, but for whom they can't muster forensic evidence that would satisfy a jury.

This mindset has expanded into many areas of contention including climate change science.

"The Climategate revelations opened the door to a frighteningly careless segment of the scientific world in which top climate researchers lose their raw data, "homogenize" data using non-validated computer programs, and resist FOI requests. Some of these scientists accept the precepts of "post-normal science". The late Steven Schneider expressed the basic philosophy of "post-normal science" when he said, "we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have. . . . Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest."

The book written by Ansley Kellow - Science and Public Policy: The Virtuous Corruption of Virtual Environmental Science.

This book argues that the virtual nature of much environmental science and the application of non-science principles such as the precautionary principle facilitate the virtuous corruption of environmental science. Drawing upon examples from conservation biology and diversity Aynsley Kellow illustrates that the problem is more widespread than this area alone would suggest and is common in the important field of climate science. He argues the importance of reliable science as the basis for environmental policy and management also proposing that a purely scientific basis for public policy is a chimera - there is rarely a linear relationship between science and public policy, with scientific understanding leading to only one policy option.

'Crusading environmentalists won't like this book. Nor will George W. Bush. Its potential market lies between these extremes. It explores the hijacking of science by people grinding axes on behalf of noble causes. "Noble cause corruption" is a term invented by the police to justify fitting up people they "know" to be guilty, but for whom they can't muster forensic evidence that would satisfy a jury. Kellow demonstrates convincingly, and entertainingly, that this form of corruption can be found at the centre of most environmental debates. Highly recommended reading for everyone who doesn't already know who is guilty.' - John Adams, University College London, UK

(also read reviews and comments for author discussion)

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Who moved my cheese? overview

Don't expect everything to always stay the same. Don't be afraid of change. Expect and prepare for the possibility of change.
Two mice (sniff & scurry) and two humans (hem & haw) live in a maze (the environment) and have found an abundant source of cheese (success, happiness) at one location within the maze.

The mice and the humans settle down to a life of eating the cheese.

One day the cheese is all gone.

The mice had noticed the amount of cheese was declining and had started looking for more cheese elsewhere which they soon found. The humans discovered the cheese they relied on was no longer there and became angry asking 'who moved my cheese?'.

The humans played the role of victims complaining about how they once had all the cheese they needed but now it was gone. The mice didn't complain, didn't play the role of victims, they just found some more cheese somewhere else.

The humans were very fearful of moving away from their old source of cheese but realised it is something which they must do. One of the humans overcomes his fear and goes looking for other sources of cheese, which he finds.

Quote: What would you do if you weren't afraid?

Broad Outline (as written on a wall by human character Haw who goes out and finds the new cheese)-
  • Change Happens (They Keep Moving The Cheese)
  • Anticipate Change (Get Ready For The Cheese To Move)
  • Monitor Change (Smell The Cheese Often So You Know When It Is Getting Old)
  • Adapt To Change Quickly (The Quicker You Let Go Of Old Cheese, The Sooner You Can Enjoy New Cheese)
  • Change (Move With The Cheese)
  • Enjoy Change! (Savor The Adventure And Enjoy The Taste Of New Cheese!)
  • Be Ready To Change Quickly And Enjoy It Again (They Keep Moving The Cheese)

The book is popular in management and is sometimes used to deflect criticism during the introduction of unfavourable or unfair changes in a workplace such as cost-cutting or structural re-organisation. Any dissent or complaining can be countered by telling the employee they are not moving with the cheese. An example of a 'patronising parable' often ridiculed by Dilbert creator Scott Adams.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Occultation - (Shia Islam)

The Occultation (Arabic: غيبة‎ Ghaybah) in Shia Islam refers to a belief that the messianic figure, or Mahdi, who in Shi'i thought is an infallible male descendant of the founder of Islam, Muhammad, was born but disappeared, and will one day return and fill the world with justice. Some Shi'is, such as the Zaidi and Nizari Ismaili, do not believe in the idea of the Occultation. The groups that do believe in it differ on the succession of the Imamate, and therefore which individual is in Occultation. The Hidden Imam is still considered to be the Imam of the Time, to hold authority over the community, and to guide and protect individuals and the Shi'i community.
Poster inside the Muslim American Youth Academy, a private elementary school attached to the Islamic Center of America, the largest mosque in the United States (and a Twelver Shi'i one) located in Dearborn, Michigan.


In Twelver Shia Islam, the largest branch of the Shia faith, the twelfth imam, Muhammad al-Mahdi, went into Occultation in 873. The Occultation is split into the Minor Occultation and the Major Occultation.

Minor Occultation

The Minor Occultation (Ghaybat al-Sughra) refers to the period when the Twelver Shia believe the Imam still maintained contact with his followers via deputies (Arab. an-nuwāb al-arbaʻa). During this period, from 874-941, the deputies represented him and acted as agents between him and his followers.

Major Occultation

The Major Occultation denotes the second, longer portion of the Occultation, which continues to the present day. Shia believe, based on the last Saf’ir's deathbed message, that the Twelfth Imam had decided not to appoint another deputy. Thus, al-Samarri's death marked the beginning of the second or Major Occultation. According to the last letter of Muhammad al-Mahdi to Ali ibn Muhammad al-Samarri:
Rest assured, no one has a special relationship with God. Whoever denies me is not from my (community) [there is no deputy after him]. The appearance of the Relief depends solely upon God. Therefore, those who propose a certain time for it are liars. As to the benefit of my existence in occultation, it is like the benefit of the sun behind the clouds where the eyes do not see it.

Background Information

YaleCourses: The Early Middle Ages, 284--1000 (HIST 210)
15. Islamic Conquests and Civil War

Birth of the Clinic - Michel Foucault

The Birth of the Clinic: An Archaeology of Medical Perception (French: Naissance de la clinique: une archéologie du regard médical) is the second major work of twentieth-century French philosopher Michel Foucault. First published in French in 1963, the work was published in English translation in 1973. Developing the themes explored in his previous work, Madness and Civilization, Foucault traces the development of the medical profession, and specifically the institution of the clinique (translated as "clinic", but here largely referring to teaching hospitals). Its central points are the concept of the medical regard ("medical gaze") and the sudden re-organisation of knowledge at the end of the 18th century, which would be expanded in his next major work, The Order of Things.

Key Points:

Medical Gaze

The term medical gaze was coined by French philosopher and critic, Michel Foucault in his book, The Birth of the Clinic (1963) (trans. 1973), to denote the dehumanizing medical separation of the patient's body from the patient's person (identity); (see mind-body dualism).

In modern medicine, the detached and value-free approach taken by medical specialists in viewing and treating a sick patient.

Episteme (implicit in this book, not explicit)

The historical a priori that grounds knowledge and its discourses and thus represents the condition of their possibility within a particular epoch.


"The years preceding and immediately following the Revolution saw the birth of two great myths with opposing themes and polarities: the myth of a nationalized medical profession, organized like the clergy, and invested, at the level of man's bodily health, with powers similar to those exercised by the clergy over men's souls; and the myth of a total disappearance of disease in an untroubled, / dispassionate society restored to its original state of health."

“Death left its old tragic heaven and became the lyrical core of man: his invisible truth, his visible secret.”

“The first task of the doctor is ... political: the struggle against disease must begin with a war against bad government." Man will be totally and definitively cured only if he is first liberated...”

"How can the free gaze that medicine, and, through it, the government, must turn upon the citizens be equipped and competent without being embroiled in the esotericism of knowledge and the rigidity of social privilege?"

"What was fundamentally invisible is suddenly offered to the brightness of the gaze, in a movement of appearance so simple, so immediate that it seems to be the natural consequence of a more highly developed experience. It is as if for the first time for thousands of years, doctors, free at last of theories and chimeras, agreed to approach the object of their experience with the purity of an unprejudiced gaze."

"There's a famous book by Michel Foucault called 'The Birth of the Clinic' and I will wish you luck with that particular work. Its one of the classic studies which everyone refers to with regard to the Paris School [of Medicine] and its importance but let me just tell you anecdotally that I've read it I think four times. The first time I read it in French and thought there was something wrong with my French so I read it in English and decided there was also something wrong with my English, and then my third and fourth times I decided there was maybe something wrong with Foucault but I will leave that for you to judge and make your own decisions." - Professor Frank Snowden, Yale University, Epidemics in Western Society Since 1600 (HIST 234),