Harvard University’s Justice with Michael Sandel: Episode 1

My friend, Clarence, introduced me to ‘Harvard Justice’ – an “Online Harvard Course Exploring Justice, Equality, Democracy, and Citizenship”.

Justice with Michael Sandel

You can watch all videos at http://www.justiceharvard.org and start imagining you are a Harvard student! ‘Cos that’s what I did! ๐Ÿ˜€

Here’s my take on Episode 1: The Moral Side Of Murder

Case Study presented: You are the driver of a trolley car. You see 5 workers working on the track at the end of the road, but your brakes fail and you know that if you crash into these 5 workers, they will all die. You notice that off to the right is a side track, and there is one worker working on the track. You can turn the steering wheel and kill that one, while sparing the five. What will you do?

My take: If it is such a straightforward case, then I will move the trolley car onto the side track and unfortunately, kill that one worker while sparing the five. If it had been a bit more complicated, e.g. if that was not one worker, but a cute little kid playing on the tracks, I would think twice. Similarly, if it were 5 elderly folks sitting on the tracks, instead of 5 workers toiling on the track, I may just let the trolley car hurtle towards the 5 old people and spare the 1 worker on the side track, since he’s on the ‘right’ track, minding his own business, and has many more ‘productive’ years ahead. What do YOU think? Leave a comment below if you have an opinion!

Another trolley car case: You are an onlooker, instead of being the driver. You are standing on a bridge. You notice that standing next to you, leaning over the bridge is a very fat man. You can give him a shove, he will fall over and ‘stop’ the runaway trolley car, sparing the 5 workers. Would you push him over the bridge?

My take: No, I won’t push him over the bridge, as he and I are not directly involved in this ‘accident’ in the first place. We are both simply onlookers.

IF I have a vested interest in the outcome, though, such as if the five people who are soon to be killed are my family members or friends, then it’s likely goodbye to Mr Fat Guy. ๐Ÿ˜€ Will you do the same?

The third case: You are a doctor in an emergency room. 6 injured people come in – 5 have moderate injuries, and 1 is severely injured. If you spend all day caring for that 1, the 5 will die. And if you spend all day caring for the 5, that 1 will die. Who will you save?

My take:ย I will save the 5, since there is no guarantee that the 1 who is severely injured will live a long and meaningful life after I tend to him this one day and keep him alive.

4th Case: You are a transplant surgeon. Five patients need an organ each and there are no organ donors. You are about to see them die. In the next room, there is a healthy guy who came in for a check-up. He’s taking a nap. You can yank out the 5 organs required to save the 5 patients, and this originally healthy guy will die. Will you do it?

My take: No. As a doctor, it is morally and ethically WRONG to “yank” organs out from healthy people who haven’t given their consent at all.

IF the 5 people are my closest and dearest, and that 1 healthy dude is unrelated to me in any way… hmm…this is a tough one… I think the guy may have to surrender his organs. (@_@) Ha! What would YOU do? Come on, let’s be honest here! ๐Ÿ˜›

~ The Case For Cannibalism ~

Up for discussion next is the Mignonette case. 4 were shipwrecked at sea and the decision was made to kill one of them (a cabin boy who seemed ill but had not given any consent to be “sacrificed”) so the other 3 may survive till rescued.ย The 3 thus fed on the body and blood of the boy.

Food for thought: If the boy had given consent for the others to kill him, would it then be morally permissible? And what if it was a lottery and his name was picked, as the one to be sacrificed?ย Why is murder categorically wrong?ย If the cabin boy had agreed himself, and not under duress, it’d be ok to take his life? Why does an act of consent make this morally permissible?

My take: You have to do what you have to do to survive! It’s easy to stand on moral high ground when you’re not actually ‘in’ a particular situation, but I believe that Man’s will to survive is ultimately what will prevail. Even if the consumption of human flesh seems really repulsive.

~ An Additional Note ~

If the spotlight is now on the by-now-infamous riot that took place in Little India on Sunday, what would “justice” be like?

I think that firstly, those who caused damage to the vehicles and/or injured the officers who rushed to the scene should be prosecuted. The bus driver also has to take responsibility for running over and killing the man, whether intentionally or not.

Then, we should look into the issues plaguing the foreign worker community – unpaid wages, poor housing conditions, poor work conditions, etc – and address them adequately. I don’t think we can promise that the workers will be SUPER PLEASED with the outcome, but we can at least provide them with a decent work environment and living quarters, so they can write home and honestly tell their families that they are well here in Singapore.

It’s easy to try and put two and two together and say that alcohol and foreign workers should not go together. Yes, I have seen many of them with bloodshot eyes. And unfortunately, I do often look at them with eyes filled with criticism – why drink so much when you’d likely have to work the next day?!

I guess it’s time us Singaporeans start looking at the foreigners and recognizing that they are human beings just like us. If we can “walk a mile in their shoes”, perhaps we’d also do like they have done. I’m not the most fond of foreigners – I guess I feel ‘threatened’ and like I don’t really belong, when in a packed train full of people, I hear a babble of different languages, most of which I don’t understand, and I begin to wonder if us Singaporeans are seriously outnumbered. But I guess it HAS become part of our national identity. People in other countries think of Singapore as that nation in which many races coexist and live in harmony. Now we just have to live up to their expectations! ๐Ÿ˜€

Let us not give anyone a “Guilty” verdict in our hearts. Let the courts decide on the verdict. Let justice run its course.

And in due time, we can (hopefully) then say “Justice is served”.

So, what’s ‘justice’ to you? ๐Ÿ™‚