Talk Ethics to Me

There are famous examples of dilemmas that can be used to help stimulate exploration of the ethical challenges people face and how we grapple with them.  These are often somewhat extreme, the better to provoke a robust conversation.  One of these is the case of the runaway train….  You are in charge of the mechanism that guides a train onto one track or another.  The train has had a brake failure, and on its current path it will slam into the station at high speed.  There is time to warn the people in the station, but it’s quite possible that there will be injuries or even fatalities.  There is another track that you can switch the runaway train onto, but there are two railroad employees repairing a section of the alternate track, which runs through a tunnel.  If you throw the switch, the two employees will surely be killed, but if you don’t throw the switch there could be a much higher price when the train crashes into the station.  What do you do, and why?

Sometimes CGO members discuss these sorts of hypotheticals, but often we talk about stories that are in the headlines, or things that are occurring in our community or in our lives right now.  Frequently we involve our guests in these conversations during class, and as a group we’re always at it, whether on our Facebook page, or in the classes and organizations that we are part of, or just as we consider the news of the day.  Often the subjects are pretty stark:  to continue or end life support for a critically ill patient when balancing against the needs of a broader patient group, to embrace or investigate a soldier who was held captive in questionable circumstances, to locate a camp for people without homes in one of Eugene’s neighborhoods; but our subjects  can be fairly commonplace too – like whether to take action when we have concerns about the conduct of members of our campus community, or how much hot water we use, or whether to be a vegetarian, things like that.

Sometimes these conversations are about others, near or far, but often they come back to who we are, and how we are, in the world.  As a community dedicated to the promotion of ethics, and as an elite group at the University of Oregon, we are committed to self-reflection and the pursuit of a more ethical world.  And there’s no end to the interesting things that we think and talk about.  It’s no surprise that our motto, created by Patrick16, Tim17, and Lili17, is “Talk ethics to me!”  Their take on one of our ethical puzzles deals with a real question, but is also a lot of fun…