Introduction to Ethics

Would you walk away from OMELAS or stay???

We’ve already discussed various questions that the Human Sciences concern themselves with. We discussed that many of these questions are “Normative” in nature…meaning they concern themselves with what humans OUGHT to do.

Dilemmas of behavior that people face are referred to as MORAL DILEMMAS or ETHICAL DILEMMAS.

Read the following Short Story, Honors Track, on Cheating in High School written by one of America’s up and coming short story writers, Molly Paterson.

Honors Track Short Story

Additionally, consider the following:

Mad Bomber

A madman who has threatened to explode several bombs in crowded areas has been apprehended. Unfortunately, he has already planted the bombs and they are scheduled to go off in a short time. It is possible that hundreds of people may die. The authorities cannot make him divulge the location of the bombs by conventional methods. He refuses to say anything and requests a lawyer to protect his fifth amendment right against self-incrimination. In exasperation, some high level official suggests torture. This would be illegal, of course, but the official thinks that it is nevertheless the right thing to do in this desperate situation. Do you agree? If you do, would it also be morally justifiable to torture the mad bomber’s innocent wife if that is the only way to make him talk? Why?

Subway Problem

A trolley is running out of control down a track. In its path are five people who have been tied to the track by a mad philosopher. Fortunately, you could flip a switch, which will lead the trolley down a different track to safety. Unfortunately, there is a single person tied to that track. Should you flip the switch or do nothing?

Fat Man/Pregnant Woman Problem

A fat man leading a group of people out of a cave on a coast is stuck in the mouth of that cave. In a short time high tide will be upon them, and unless he is unstuck, they will all be drowned except the fat man, whose head is out of the cave. [But, fortunately, or unfortunately, someone has with him a stick of dynamite.] There seems no way to get the fat man loose without using [that] dynamite which will inevitably kill him; but if they do not use it everyone will drown. What should they do?

Dostoyevsky, who has in these pages come in for comment in relation to Existentialism and atheism, imagines a classic right vs. good dilemma:

“Tell me yourself — I challenge you: let’s assume that you were called upon to build the edifice of human destiny so that men would finally be happy and would find peace and tranquility. If you knew that, in order to attain this, you would have to torture just one single creature, let’s say the little girl who beat her chest so desperately in the outhouse, and that on her unavenged tears you could build that edifice, would you agree to do it? Tell me and don’t lie!”

This idea is carried out to awesome effect in, “those who walk away from omelas.”  Read it below: 

ones who walk away from omelas


Heidegger And the Question Concerning Technology

After you’ve read Hiedegger’s Question Concerning Technology,

Heidegger believes we must understand the essence of technology in order to head down the right path of progress

think carefully and react to the questions/quotes below:


1. Why talk about the silver chalice?  What does that have to do with technology?

2.  Heidegger states, “what has the essence of technology to do with revealing? The answer–Everything.” What does he mean by this?

3.  Heidegger writes, “we are questioning concerning technology in order to bring to light our relationship to its essence.”  What is our current relationship to the essence of technology? What is YOUR current relationship to the essence of technology? 

4.  Heidegger writes, “What is dangerous is not technology…but rather there is the mystery of its essence. The essence of technology, as a destining of revealing, is the danger.”  This is a KEY sentence to understanding his whole essay and approach. What does he mean by this?  What is the essence of technology as you understand it?

5.  Consider a piece of culture…Her for example, or Fight Club, or even another work of literature/philosophy…Thoreau’s Walden comes to mind…how does the creator of that cultural artifact view the essence of technology? What is their point of view?

Heidegger states that, “man is uprooted” by technology… and that if man fails to understand and grapple with the essence of technicity than man will be separated from man’s true essence due to technology enframing our future.

While reading for IB psych, i came across this statement on depression in the New York Times, Yet there is reason to believe that mental illness is indeed increasing around the world, if only because urbanization is increasing. By 2010, for the first time in history, more than half the world’s population lived in cities.” 

I couldn’t help but think of Heidegger.  It’s a very strange and intriguing correlation indeed…the author of the NY times article cited above, Stanford Professor Dr. T.M. Luhrmann, implies a correlation between urbanization and mental illness. Urbanization necessitates separation from the earth and in my estimation that separation is exactly what Heidegger is discussing in, A question concerning technology. The phenomenon and correlation described by Ms. Luhrmann is exactly what he predicted. 

In fact my TOK people, read this article and lets discuss the connections between the information contained within and Heidegger’s Question Concerning Technology.