paying your philoso-fees

School bells are once again ringing (or buzzing) in their belfries, so this week I found myself back at work, sitting through another Continuing Education Unit. Generally it is the uncomfortable chairs that keep me alert, but this time I found the speaker quite engaging, challenging, and somewhat philosophical.

At one point, he raised this ethical question, "A man is driving along in a two-seater car and he sees three people stranded by the side of the road: an old lady who is dying, a friend who had once saved his life, and the woman of his dreams - his absolute soul mate. He can only pick up one of them and the hospital is too far away to go and come back."

The speaker then asked what the man should do. For several seconds, the room was dead silent. He looked around the room and asked again, "does anyone know how to solve this man's conundrum?"

And I, being stupid, raised my hand.

"Josh knows," one of my co-workers yelped.

The speaker turned to me and nodded, so I said:

"I tend to feel that these sorts of ethical questions are pretty much all false dilemmas. They are really just word games thrown out there to make us feel as though we are being forced to choose between a number of evils: letting a woman die, neglecting a moral debt, or ignoring an important relationship. The truth, though, is that it's all hypothetical. There is no way the man could actually know that the woman was his soul mate just by looking at her. Neither could he know if taking the old lady or the man to whom he owed his life would actually be doing either of them any good. He could pick them up, drive fifty feet down the road and get hit by a rolling boulder - with his decision essentially killing the person he was trying to help. I know that it's supposed to raise questions about moral intent, but it seems to me that you can't separate questions of intent from questions of causality, and that ethical dilemmas always presuppose perfect knowledge of an inevitable causality - which is, of course, ludicrous."

 (Or at least, that's how I would have said it, if I had been a lotta bit more eloquent; but you get the gist).

The speaker chuckled and said, "Looks like we've got a real philosopher on our hands," and all my co-workers laughed and grunted their agreement.

"Well, there is a solution," the speaker said, after a moment's pause. "The man handed the keys of his car over to the guy who'd saved his life so he could drive the old lady to the hospital, then he stayed there by the road and started a relationship with the woman of his dreams."


I guess it goes to show ya that philosophy, while an interesting way to pass time, is just another type of word game. Either that, or that the sages are right and "it is better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt."


  1. Did the speaker say, "Gotcha!" or words to that effect? Bless you my son, for trying. I thought you were 'quite engaging, challenging, and somewhat philosophical.' No, really, you gave a spectacular response.


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