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Thought Experiment Tuesday - The Harmless Torturers

Mercurial

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(It's still technically Tuesday in some parts of the world...)

Imagine the following cases (taken from Derek Parfit's book Reasons and Persons):

Scenario A:

A thousand victims are each strapped to a special electric chair. Each chair has a corresponding button, and in front of each of these buttons sits a torturer. Pressing the button delivers an extremely painful electric shock to the person sitting in the corresponding chair. Each torturer presses his or her button, and each of the thousand victims experiences agonising pain.

Scenario B:

As before, a thousand victims are each strapped to an electric chair. This time, however, the system has been set up differently: pushing just one of the thousand buttons will deliver a small electric shock to every one of the thousand chairs. However, if only one button is pushed, the level of pain will be so low as to be imperceptible by any one victim.

As before, each torturer presses his or her button, and each of the thousand victims experiences agonising pain.

Here is the puzzle:

In Scenario A, it is easy to explain why each button-pressing torturer is to blame - each person is responsible for inflicting severe pain on another person.

However, in Scenario B, any one individual button presser could (correctly) claim that his or her contribution has made no significant difference - if all 1000 torturers press their buttons, there is no perceptible difference in pain for their victims than if 999 of the torturers had pressed, and one had refrained.

How then, should we explain why individual torturers can be held morally responsible for their actions in the second case, and if they are responsible, should we think they are equally blameworthy as the torturers in the first case, even though each torturer in Scenario B is only responsible for a tiny amount of pain inflicted upon each victim?
 


stopdoingstuff

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(It's still technically Tuesday in some parts of the world...)

Imagine the following cases (taken from Derek Parfit's book Reasons and Persons):

Scenario A:

A thousand victims are each strapped to a special electric chair. Each chair has a corresponding button, and in front of each of these buttons sits a torturer. Pressing the button delivers an extremely painful electric shock to the person sitting in the corresponding chair. Each torturer presses his or her button, and each of the thousand victims experiences agonising pain.

Scenario B:

As before, a thousand victims are each strapped to an electric chair. This time, however, the system has been set up differently: pushing just one of the thousand buttons will deliver a small electric shock to every one of the thousand chairs. However, if only one button is pushed, the level of pain will be so low as to be imperceptible by any one victim.

As before, each torturer presses his or her button, and each of the thousand victims experiences agonising pain.

Here is the puzzle:

In Scenario A, it is easy to explain why each button-pressing torturer is to blame - each person is responsible for inflicting severe pain on another person.

However, in Scenario B, any one individual button presser could (correctly) claim that his or her contribution has made no significant difference - if all 1000 torturers press their buttons, there is no perceptible difference in pain for their victims than if 999 of the torturers had pressed, and one had refrained.

How then, should we explain why individual torturers can be held morally responsible for their actions in the second case, and if they are responsible, should we think they are equally blameworthy as the torturers in the first case, even though each torturer in Scenario B is only responsible for a tiny amount of pain inflicted upon each victim?
This is part of your continuing lurch to the right and has been introduced only as a sly prelude to arguing that Ireland's carbon emissions are too small to matter so we need not cut them.
 
Last edited:

Half Nelson

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(It's still technically Tuesday in some parts of the world...)

Imagine the following cases (taken from Derek Parfit's book Reasons and Persons):

Scenario A:

A thousand victims are each strapped to a special electric chair. Each chair has a corresponding button, and in front of each of these buttons sits a torturer. Pressing the button delivers an extremely painful electric shock to the person sitting in the corresponding chair. Each torturer presses his or her button, and each of the thousand victims experiences agonising pain.

Scenario B:

As before, a thousand victims are each strapped to an electric chair. This time, however, the system has been set up differently: pushing just one of the thousand buttons will deliver a small electric shock to every one of the thousand chairs. However, if only one button is pushed, the level of pain will be so low as to be imperceptible by any one victim.

As before, each torturer presses his or her button, and each of the thousand victims experiences agonising pain.

Here is the puzzle:

In Scenario A, it is easy to explain why each button-pressing torturer is to blame - each person is responsible for inflicting severe pain on another person.

However, in Scenario B, any one individual button presser could (correctly) claim that his or her contribution has made no significant difference - if all 1000 torturers press their buttons, there is no perceptible difference in pain for their victims than if 999 of the torturers had pressed, and one had refrained.

How then, should we explain why individual torturers can be held morally responsible for their actions in the second case, and if they are responsible, should we think they are equally blameworthy as the torturers in the first case, even though each torturer in Scenario B is only responsible for a tiny amount of pain inflicted upon each victim?
Before we get into this, and end up where we usually end up, you'll have to define 'morally', because your morality and mine may be very different, making the end result a nonsense.

Can we assume the morality that underlies or system of justice, i.e. Christian morality?




3...2...1..
 

Mercurial

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This is part of your continuing lurch to the right and has been introduced only as a sly prelude to arguing that Ireland's carbon emissions are too small to matter so we need not them.
Tempted as I am to ask for elaboration on the first part of your comment, I would point out that the thought experiment is not supposed to make us think that the torturers in Scenario B are not responsible. It seems to me (and Parfit) that they are every bit as responsible as those in the first case. The tricky part is explaining why this is.
 

Mercurial

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Before we get into this, and end up where we usually end up, you'll have to define 'morally', because your morality and mine may be very different, making the end result a nonsense.

Can we assume the morality that underlies or system of justice, i.e. Christian morality?




3...2...1..
Feel free to apply whatever moral framework you think is most appropriate.
 

Half Nelson

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Feel free to apply whatever moral framework you think is most appropriate.
Ok. I won't be wasting my time re-discovering the sociopaths on this site.

It's your experiment but it's already a nonsense.
 

maxflinn

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All torture is morally wrong, regardless of the levels of pain it induces.
 

farnaby

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Clarifications needed:
- Why are the torturers pressing the button at the same time?
- Do they know every other torturer is pressing the button at the same time?

Obviously if this is a concerted effort they are well aware that as a group and with individual intent they are creating unbearable pain.
 

Iarmuid

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(It's still technically Tuesday in some parts of the world...)

Imagine the following cases (taken from Derek Parfit's book Reasons and Persons):

Scenario A:

A thousand victims are each strapped to a special electric chair. Each chair has a corresponding button, and in front of each of these buttons sits a torturer. Pressing the button delivers an extremely painful electric shock to the person sitting in the corresponding chair. Each torturer presses his or her button, and each of the thousand victims experiences agonising pain.

Scenario B:

As before, a thousand victims are each strapped to an electric chair. This time, however, the system has been set up differently: pushing just one of the thousand buttons will deliver a small electric shock to every one of the thousand chairs. However, if only one button is pushed, the level of pain will be so low as to be imperceptible by any one victim.

As before, each torturer presses his or her button, and each of the thousand victims experiences agonising pain.

Here is the puzzle:

In Scenario A, it is easy to explain why each button-pressing torturer is to blame - each person is responsible for inflicting severe pain on another person.

However, in Scenario B, any one individual button presser could (correctly) claim that his or her contribution has made no significant difference - if all 1000 torturers press their buttons, there is no perceptible difference in pain for their victims than if 999 of the torturers had pressed, and one had refrained.

How then, should we explain why individual torturers can be held morally responsible for their actions in the second case, and if they are responsible, should we think they are equally blameworthy as the torturers in the first case, even though each torturer in Scenario B is only responsible for a tiny amount of pain inflicted upon each victim?
The scenario has been setup to show each situation is the same. this is done by equating the outcomes of each scenario to each other. But the question is are they really the same?

Certainly the scenario's are the same in respect to outcome for the victims but maybe they are actually different. Consider each one and compare but include, say, intention?

So for instance in Scenario A if the torturers are aware and cognizant of the fact they will be delivering excruciating pain to their victims, I suppose it is reasonable to suggest we would generally hold the torturers responsible and morally accountable for the suffering of the victims.

In Scenario B if the torturers are aware of the setup of the device and the full implication of pressing the button will result in excruciating pain to the victim then again we would hold them fully morally accountable for their actions.

However were the "torturers" unaware of the setup and thought they were delivering no pain or an imperceptible amount of pain to their victims , I think, it is unlikely society would hold them morally accountable for the full implications of the torture.

I am not sure one can divorce intention from morality and it still remain cogent.
 
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Mercurial

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The scenario has been setup to show each situation is the same. this is done by equating the outcomes of each scenario to each other. But the question is are they really the same?

Certainly the scenario's are the same in respect to outcome for the victims but maybe they are actually different. Consider each one and compare but include, say, intention?

So for instance in Scenario A if the torturers are aware and cognizant of the fact they will be delivering excruciating pain to their victims, I suppose it is reasonable to suggest we would generally hold the torturers responsible for the suffering of the victims. However iF they are unaware of the outcome of their actions do we hold them morally accountable for the outcome of the action?

In Scenario B if the torturers are aware of the setup of the device and the full implication of pressing the button will result in excruciating pain to the victim then again we would hold them fully morally accountable for their actions.

However were the "tortures" unaware of the setup and thought they were delivering no pain or an imperceptible amount of pain to their victims , it is unlikely society would hold them morally accountable for the full implications of the torture.

I am not sure one can divorce intention from morality, as is done above.
For the purposes of this thought experiment, you should assume that the torturers know everything that you do.

It isn't obvious to me what the torturers in the second case intend, in terms of their victims. They may intend to cause an imperceptible amount of pain, though they know that the combined effect of what they do together will be the same for the victims as in the first case.
 

Mercurial

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All torture is morally wrong, regardless of the levels of pain it induces.
Presumably the sort that causes more pain is worse than the sort that causes less?

In which case the individuals in the second case can argue that none of them inflicted significant pain.
 

Mercurial

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Clarifications needed:
- Why are the torturers pressing the button at the same time?
- Do they know every other torturer is pressing the button at the same time?
They know about the actions of the others. I guess can assume that they are pressing the buttons because they want to inflict pain on the victims. In the second case, however, no one individual is individually responsible for inflicting significant pain on any particular victim.
 

Iarmuid

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For the purposes of this thought experiment, you should assume that the torturers know everything that you do.

It isn't obvious to me what the torturers in the second case intend, in terms of their victims. They may intend to cause an imperceptible amount of pain, though they know that the combined effect of what they do together will be the same for the victims as in the first case.
You seem to be excluding intention then, either they are fully aware of the consequences of their actions, partially aware, or not at all aware; does the morality of their actions not depend on which one applies or do we have a way of making a moral judgement without this knowledge?.
 
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Polly Ticks

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(It's still technically Tuesday in some parts of the world...)

Imagine the following cases (taken from Derek Parfit's book Reasons and Persons):

Scenario A:

A thousand victims are each strapped to a special electric chair. Each chair has a corresponding button, and in front of each of these buttons sits a torturer. Pressing the button delivers an extremely painful electric shock to the person sitting in the corresponding chair. Each torturer presses his or her button, and each of the thousand victims experiences agonising pain.

Scenario B:

As before, a thousand victims are each strapped to an electric chair. This time, however, the system has been set up differently: pushing just one of the thousand buttons will deliver a small electric shock to every one of the thousand chairs. However, if only one button is pushed, the level of pain will be so low as to be imperceptible by any one victim.

As before, each torturer presses his or her button, and each of the thousand victims experiences agonising pain.

Here is the puzzle:

In Scenario A, it is easy to explain why each button-pressing torturer is to blame - each person is responsible for inflicting severe pain on another person.

However, in Scenario B, any one individual button presser could (correctly) claim that his or her contribution has made no significant difference - if all 1000 torturers press their buttons, there is no perceptible difference in pain for their victims than if 999 of the torturers had pressed, and one had refrained.

How then, should we explain why individual torturers can be held morally responsible for their actions in the second case, and if they are responsible, should we think they are equally blameworthy as the torturers in the first case, even though each torturer in Scenario B is only responsible for a tiny amount of pain inflicted upon each victim?
sub-legal discussion trying to pass itself off as philosophy...
 

farnaby

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In the second case, however, no one individual is individually responsible for inflicting significant pain on any particular victim.
The torturer can only claim this if the button-pressing is not co-ordinated. The scenario suggests it is.
 

maxflinn

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Presumably the sort that causes more pain is worse than the sort that causes less?

In which case the individuals in the second case can argue that none of them inflicted significant pain.
I don't think I'm able for this. I'll just check back later for the answer :)
 

Toland

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They know about the actions of the others. I guess can assume that they are pressing the buttons because they want to inflict pain on the victims. In the second case, however, no one individual is individually responsible for inflicting significant pain on any particular victim.
Their intentions are relevant. If they don't wish to contribute to inflicting pain, why are they pressing the button?

They remain characterised as "torturers" in the second scenario. That's revealing, isn't it? It appears to suggest an intention to torture.
 

farnaby

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Ok. I won't be wasting my time re-discovering the sociopaths on this site.

It's your experiment but it's already a nonsense.
We get this every week. Some of us see some value in thought experiments, others don't. If you don't, stay away.

Mercurial raises thought experiments that eminent philosophers are happy to debate and are generally better fare than most threads on the site.
 

Mercurial

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You seem to be excluding intention then, either they are fully aware of the consequences of there actions, partially aware, or not at all aware; does the morality of their actions not depend on which one applies or do we have a way of making a moral judgement without this knowledge?.
Intention does affect blameworthiness. My difficulty in the second case is that I'm not sure how to talk about the intentions of the torturers in cases where a collective harm is produced.
 

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