Speaker tells students how to better understand ethical issues

Chasca King
Staff Writer

A visiting professor said some actions are wrong regardless of consequences in a talk on issues involving ethics Friday, Sept. 24 in the Gentile Gallery.

Lawrence Masek, who has a doctorate in philosophy and teaches at Ohio Dominican University, discussed the different arguments for and against consequentialism.

“One basic disagreement of ethics is (between) non-consequentialism and consequentialism,” Masek said.

Masek brought up the issue of what is referred to in ethics as “the trolley problem,” which involves the question of whether it is ethical to sacrifice the life of one person to save many. In this example, the question is whether to push one man in front of the trolley to stop it from hitting five more.

Masek said the consequentialist view holds that “the right action is the action that has the best consequences.”

He said while this position does have its appeal, it falls short because it implies that the ends justify the means. This would mean that pushing the man in front of the trolley would be a good action, because it was done to save five other people.

“Some actions are wrong regardless of the consequences,” Masek said when explaining non-consequentialism. In this case, he said murder would always be a bad choice, regardless of any positive consequence of the murder.

Masek said consequentialists have a more emotional response, and that studies of brain scans showed that when giving more thought to the trolley problem, people choose to save five lives instead of one.

“Even if you’re right about how the brain works you’re still making bad assumptions about morality,” Masek said.

Masek is the author of the book “Intention, Character, and Double Effect,” which deals with the disputations over the principle of double effect.

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