Consider the following scenario and then answer our discussion questions:
You always walk to work, and your regular route takes you past a shallow pond. One morning you put on your very best clothes (you paid $200 for them just last week) and are in rush for a very important business meeting with your boss. When you pass by the pond, you notice that a toddler has fallen in and is about to drown. The child is crying for help! You are tall, strong, and a master swimmer. You could save the child without any problems, but if you do, you’ll ruin your expensive clothes (you’ll lose $200!), and you’ll be late to your important business meeting.
In this situation, do you have a moral obligation to rescue the child? (In other words, if you decided not to save the child, would this be a morally wrong decision?) DON'T tell us what you would do personally. Rather, focus on this precise question: what is morally right to do in this situation and why. Make sure to refer to at least one ethical theory discussed last week.
Of course, most of us drive to work, and don’t pass by a pond. But at this very moment, when you are reading your discussion questions, a child is about to die – a child in Africa, in Syria, or a child somewhere close by in the US… If you donate a certain amount of money (maybe $200, but maybe only $20) to the right charity (we assume that the charity is genuine!), you could save this child’s life. (If you don't like the idea of a charity, think of the various GoFundMe cases where your money could save a person's life.)
Do you have a moral obligation to save this child assuming that you can do it without any serious threat to your own wellbeing and also assuming that the money that you donate will indeed help save the child? (In other words, if in this situation you choose not to donate, would this be a morally wrong decision?)
Once again: DON'T say what you do or would do, focus on assessing the moral character of the situation: What is morally right and why?
Now, before you answer our discussion questions, pause for a while…. Think about all you have learned in our class. Remember that now you are a critical thinker… How will the answer given by a critical thinker differ from an answer given by a regular person? How will your answers be different from what you’d reply without studying critical thinking? In your post, make sure to concretely refer to concepts that you studied this quarter in our class.
The Drowning Child thought experiment was created by philosopher Peter Singer in his article "Famine, Affluence, and Morality" (1972).
Lawrence Kohlberg, developed a theory to understand the moral reasoning of individuals. Every individual goes through different stages of moral reasoning. Each stage has a different phase. Kohlberg introduced the theory to understand the rationale behind an individual's reasoning, when put in a moral dilemma. In his experiment, he constructed a hypothetical situation where an individual was asked how would have they made a moral decision if they were in place of the character in the story narrated to them. One such dilemma posed by Kohlberg was:
A man had a sick wife who was suffering from a rare kind of cancer. However, it was curable, but the drug that would have saved her was extremely expensive. The pharmacist insisted on selling it for $ 2,000 but the man had only $1,000 with him. The man told the pharmacist that he would pay him the money that he has now, and would pay the remaining amount in a few days. The pharmacist refused to budge into the man's plea. The man was so desperate to save his wife that he chose to steal the drug instead.
Individuals who were a part of the experiment were asked what should have the man done and why?
A child at the Preconventional stage of moral development, basis his moral decision or judgment on the repercussions that would follow. At this stage, a child says that the man should have not stolen the drug because it would lead to punishment. The rationale behind concluding the above is, a child feels that actions that lead to positive reinforcements are good and the ones that lead to punishments are bad. The intention is not considered, it is about bad behaviour being unacceptable.
A child's ability to make judgments increases at the Coventional stage of moral development. At this stage they arrive to an understanding that the society runs according to some set norms, social orders and law. The child rationalised the doings of the man and concludes that 'it's alright for the man to steal because he would not be seen bad in the eyes of people, but if he does not save his wife, then he will never be able to look into anybody's eye again'.
In the last stage of moral development at the Postconventional level, Kohlberg suggested that most individuals enter adolescence and adulthood and it is at this stage an individual's ability to rationalise without any preconceived thoughts attached to society or law, increases. An individual arrives at a judgment that there wasn't anything wrong with the man stealing the drug for his wife as there is nothing above humanity.
A law is not morally wrong, but it is how we perceive it. A law is not necessarily to be abided by if it goes against your morality. Laws and norms are set by the society so that the world could function in a more organised way instead of it being haphazard. A morally matured person obeys to moral norms by the society to stay in alignment with society. However, not always. Their moral judgment comes into the picture and they are likely to avoid abiding by norms set by the society which are not rational.
In the above scenario, the morally right thing to do is, to jump in the pool and save the child even if I may not want to jump in and spoil my new suit and miss my business meeting. But it is the morally right thing to do.
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