A couple of moral dilemmas to get the ball rolling

To kick off this exciting foray into the philosophical domains, I thought we could start with a couple of jolly thought experiments. (Correction: As will soon become apparent there are few thought experiments in moral philosophy that can be described as “jolly”. This is not just because philososlothers are a miserable bunch, but because if everything were cushty, there wouldn’t be much reason for morality in the first place). Anyway, let’s get the ball rolling…

Imagine that you’re standing by a railway junction and there is an out-of-control train beetling down the track at breakneck speak. The track branches into two, one on which five people are tied and one on which one person is tied. You do not have time to rush over and untie any of them, but you’re standing by a leaver which can divert the train.

If you do nothing, the train will smash into the hapless group of five, whereas if you pull the leaver, the train will change tracks and hit the lone person.

What should you do? (I did warn you it wouldn’t be jolly)

This problem, thought up by Philippa Foot, is meant to test our ethical intuitions and as you might expect there are two schools of thought on this question; those who say “Pull the leaver!” and those that say “Don’t!”.

The first group thinks that it is obvious that you ought to pull the leaver and kill the one person in order to save five people. After all one person dying is better than five people dying.

However, the second group thinks it is equally obvious that it’s wrong to pull the leaver. By taking action and pulling the leaver, you are actively killing another person, while if you do nothing, you cannot be held responsible for your inaction, they say.

Philososloths have conducted surveys (never a very common or comfortable project for them) and it seems that most people think the right thing to do is to pull the leaver, even though it means actively killing a person.

It might seem that it’s acceptable to pull the leaver, killing one, but saving five. But, consider an alternative thought experiment in which five people need an organ transplant in order to survive. One needs a heart, another needs a kidney, a third needs lungs, and so on. Paul, a healthy person, has all these organs and is a perfect donor match for the ailing patients.

Should we kill Paul and harvest his organs in order to save five people. If killing one to save five was permissible in the train case, why is it not in this case?

Is this example comparable to the train example? If not, why not?

You’ll find that I ask a lot of questions in these philososlothical blogs. This is intended to get my brain cell going as much as anything else. Please do get in touch if you have a question relating to any of the issues I will be raising here.

Confessions of a repentant philososloth

The philososloth has had complaints that he’s breaking the Trades Description Act. Recently there have been a host of political articles on Norwegian affairs and Britain’s troubled relationship with the EU, but there has been a marked paucity of articles relating to philosophy.

Due partly to the fact that “the politicosloth” doesn’t even scan, but mainly for fear of undergoing an existentialist crisis, the philososloth has decided it’s high time that he does what it says on the tin… philososlothing!

So from now on I promise at least one philososlothical posting every week.

I Kant be more serious!

Oh come on, where’s your sense of Hume-our?

A New Case for Britain to Stay In the EU

If Cameron intends to make the product of his renegotiation the centre-point of the campaign to remain in the EU, the Brits could very well end up voting to leave. Even if he manages to get the concessions he’s asking for, the reaction of the British people is bound to vacillate between boredom, bemusement and indignation.

  • The sterling will be protected from being integrated with the Euro (yawn).
  • Welfare tourism will be combated (yawn- and it won’t satisfy anyone concerned about free movement within the EU)
  • Make Brussels pledge that the UK will not become part of a European super-state (Wait, what? Is that even a possibility? What are we doing in this crazy organisation?)

The fact is that the concessions Cameron gets will be meagre and they should play a very minor role in the campaign to keep Britain inside the EU. Centre-stage should be a positive account of the part the UK can play in the EU and the significant benefits for the UK of remaining in.

An important part of that strategy should be to combat the myth that the UK is powerless within the EU. This is seemingly a widespread perception. A recent poll showed that 61% of Brits think that the UK should take more leadership in the EU, while at the same time thinking that Britain is powerless within the current system.

The UK is not powerless within the current system. Britain is represented, and takes a leading role in, many of the EU’s programmes and initiatives. The narrative that France and Germany are conspiring to exclude the UK from influence and power in the EU is simply untrue. Germany and France realise that the UK is one of the most important members of the EU and there is genuine concern and frustration that the UK is choosing to take a back-seat.

Last week President Xi of China visited London. The red carpet and the Queen were rolled out, and he was given a slap up banquet. Two years ago, when President Hollande visited the UK all he got was a sarnie in a pub somewhere in the Midlands. We need to change the way we talk about the EU within the UK. We need to change the way we interact with the EU. Britain can take a leading role in Europe and influence its future direction in a way less influential players can only dream of. The choice at the referendum is between a Great Britain and Little England. The choice should not boil down to whether Cameron manages to wrap inadequate negotiations in an appetising package.

Norwegian Budget 2.0

Having chewed over the Norwegian budget for a little while now, there is no denying that it leaves a very nasty taste in the mouth. Previously I have bemoaned the irresponsible use of money; in this time of slowing down in the Norwegian economy, I can agree with the government that increasing spending is necessary to get the wheels moving again. But why on earth they choose to temper it with tax cuts is beyond me. Any econominx can tell you that, where possible, more welfare should be paid for with more taxes. However, this government has cut taxes and funded their spending spree with Norway’s oil kitty.

All this could be thought of as good old fashioned Populist incompetence, while the Conservatives hope the Liberals and Christians will insert some sanity in negotiation season. But the philososloth tastes something even worse than economic incompetence. This budget also smacks of cynicism. The irresponsible spending is made all the worse by the need to find extra cash in November to deal with the refugee crisis.

The government claims that they are dealing with reasonable estimates for how many Syrian refugees will enter Norway next year. But in the worst refugee crisis in Europe since the Second World War the government last week revised down how many people they think will come to Norway. The government has already spent too much and might be looking for an excuse not to be able to meet the targets on refugees which Parliament has agreed to. The Populist finance minister, who did not support the increased numbers of refugees in the first place, could plea that there is no more money for the increased number of refugees coming in. The Philososloth is left with a very nasty taste in the mouth.

Round-up of Norwegian Affairs

It’s that time again! It’s time for your sloth on the ground to report what’s going on in Norwegian political affairs. (Do try to contain yourselves, everyone)

Socialists (SV) 3.4%: Poor showing from the lefty academics. Unfortunately for them they’ve had to become used to results like these, so hopefully they won’t weep into their Chardonnay for too long.

Labour (AP) 40.2%: This is a fantastic result for Labour. Also inconvenient for them that it didn’t come a month earlier, during election time. But, oh well, it’s also probably an exaggeration of how well they’re really doing. They’ll be happy to have finalised negotiations with Socialists and Greens to take control of Oslo.

Farmers (SP) 5.6%: After a great local elections, the Farmers will be upset to slip. In all the excitement of the budget recently, coverage of their key topics of taking Norway back to the 1950s has had poor coverage.

Greens (MDG) 4.2%: For all their talk of being an independent party, it seems they have an awfully close relationship to the lefties. Makes sense, I suppose, seeing as many of them were members of lefty parties before the amount of credible policies to remember scared them away. Now they don’t have to remember much beyond wearing pistachio coloured shirts and shouting “Green shift!” at passers-by.

Christians (KrF) 5.6%: The Christians are looking increasingly uncomfortable in the company of the Populists and it will be interesting to see if they jump ship. Sources close to the party say their prayers are increasingly filled with the Labour leader whisking them up in his arms.

Liberals (V) 5.2%: This is a centre of the road result for the Liberals. They are more comfortable than the Christians in bed with the Conservative-Populist government; they seem to enjoy cutting taxes to the richies and being hypocritical when it comes to environmentally friendly policies.

Conservatives (H) 20.3%: This is a very poor showing for the Conservatives. The Conservatives, who have been the glue holding the Christians and Populists together, are noticing the strain.

Populist (FrP) 12.8%: The section of the population to which thinks it makes economic sense to raise welfare and lower taxes have helped the Populist have a small bounce back. Their leader is also doing a good job of pretending not to be in government by making a big fuss about having to be compassionate to Syrian refugees.

The EU Referendum: Are you In or Out?

The UK is holding a referendum on the membership of the EU. It has to happen before the end of 2017. PM Cameron is busy negotiating a better membership deal for the UK. Not content with waiting for the results of Cameron’s negotiation, groups are forming on either side to argue their case for Britain to stay in or leave the EU. Here’s a quick guide to these groupings.

Stay in:

‘Britain Stronger in Europe’

‘Britain Stronger in Europe’ needs to go back to the drawing board, not only on their name, but on pretty much everything else as well. The campaign, for want of a better word, has had a stuttering start. It seems strange to people that their message so far is: “We think regardless of what the PM brings back we should stay in the EU.” Arguing for the status quo (let alone a status quo which Cameron hopes to change) is challenging.

Amid concerns that they would sound patronising by highlighting the dire consequences for British business of leaving the EU, ‘Britain Stronger in Europe’ opted for sounding patronising by highlighting the dire consequences for British business of leaving the EU. Rather than talking about the many positives of the EU, such as preserving freedoms of race and religion, workers’ and women’s rights and rebuilding Europe after two devastating world wars, they are dealing in fear.

Leave:

‘Leave.EU’

It’s not just the stay-in campaign that deals in fear. The imaginatively named ‘Leave.EU’ are trying their hardest to highlight all the scary things about the EU; imagine all those continentals coming over to Britain. Imagine all that money which they soak up by visiting the NHS. Oh, think of all those people coming over here and working hard for our economy. The horror of it all!

‘Leave.EU’ is an eclectic bunch of anti-immigration fanatics and xenophobes. Luckily for the UK they are poorly organised and incompetent. Not surprising seeing as most mainstream, “sensible” euro-sceptics joined the other anti-EU group (yes, there are two!)

‘Vote Leave’

What ‘Leave.EU’ lack in credibility and competency, ‘Vote Leave’ makes up for in a stodgy lack of charisma. This pale, male and stale brigade consists mainly in those who hark back to an imperial hay-day, when the voice of Britain meant something on the world stage.

The tired battle cry goes something like this: “Outside of the EU Britain will be a major player!” It seems they learned nothing from the Suez Crisis, which is a shame seeing as most of them probably remember it.

Norwegian Budget

Compared to the mess of last year’s budget, the government has actually managed to do relatively ok-ish this time around. Granted, it would be hard to do worse than the budget last year, which managed to estrange the two parties propping the government up, and has made this past year a bumpy ride for Messrs Conservatives and Populists. As soon as last year’s budget had been presented it was denounced by the Liberals as lacking any green credentials and the Christians howled indignantly at the reductions in foreign aid.

This time however, the government has decided not to aggravate the two parties precariously and half-heartedly offering them support. Instead the finance minister took her check-book out and went on a huge spending spree. More for education, more for infrastructure, more for research. More on pretty much anything. In fact, so much more that the finance minister couldn’t think of a single place she’d cut when questioned after the budget was announced. She later confirmed that her office would be spending less on staplers in the coming financial year.

Rather than tempering increased spending with increased taxes, she decided to make history as the first finance minister to take more money out of the oil fund than she put money back into it. She also decreased taxes for good measure. It’s hard to see the economic soundness of spending more, while reducing tax-income and raiding the rainy-day kitty. But then again, Norway is in a luxurious position compared to most other countries and the oil-fund is there to be spent at some point, I suppose (just rather a pity it has to start so soon).

It might all be an ingenious trick on the part of the government, as it’s difficult to criticise more spending and less taxes without sounding like a wet-blanket (albeit an economically sound wet-blanket). But the government is probably calculating that this will put the heirs apparent in an awkward position; will Labour fight to increase taxes again or will they decide to leave them as they are in the 2017 election campaign?

An interesting tension to keep an eye on is the need for more money to pay for the integration of 8000 Syrian refugees arriving in Norway over the next three years. The finance minister’s party opposes compassion on principled grounds, yet still needs to find the extra money because parliament has voted for taking in more refugees. It’s good fun listening to the finance minister trying to keep the swivel eyed loons in her party satisfied, while being in charge finding cash for the policy. This will certainly be one to watch, and your sloth on the ground will keep you updated.