Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Doctrinal Quiz Show! Moral Reasoning 101: A Crazy New Scenario!

Remember the first Moral Reasoning 101 Quiz Show? You all did a great job! I would trust you with a room full of hostages any day.

Well, now it's time to challenge you with yet another extreme scenario which would never actually happen in real life, but which will serve to illustrate a point.

Okay, here ya go:

You are driving up a narrow two-lane road which winds steeply around a tall mountain. There are no other cars on the road, and you are going the speed limit on a clear day. As you come around yet another tight bend, you notice a young woman standing in the middle of the road. You are horrified! You cannot brake quickly enough to avoid hitting her, but you do have time to make a decision. You can choose to swerve to your right and face severe injury or death as you fly off the cliff; you can choose to swerve to the left and face severe injury or death by slamming into the side of the mountain; or, you can choose to go forward, which will mean certain death for the innocent young woman. 

Morally, what option(s) may you choose, and why?

Remember, Bubble Awards are at stake here, people, so think carefully!

And, no cheating!! Try not to look at others' answers before you write your own. Yes, I know it's tempting. But we Christians must fight temptation!



  1. Hmmm, this is interesting. And as I'm sure my answer will have no helpful information in it for anyone else, I don't feel guilty going first.

    So, here goes:

    Suicide is a no-no (unless you would be sacrificing yourself, right?)

    And murder is also a no-no (except in self-defense, right?).

    Which means each option could be OK.

    But clearly that's not the answer you are looking for so I'm going to go with swerve into the mountain because surely you are driving a car with air bags that might save your life and running into the woman would for sure take her life.

    OR, you could also use your auto-eject seat and parachute. What? Not everyone has those?

    So, I'm sure the rest of the answers will be much clearer, appropriate, and better than mine, but it was fun being first!

  2. My very first thought is swerve and hit the mountain and hope and pray I don't get hurt too badly...

  3. Morally none of the options are wrong.To save our own lives is a valid and reasonable choice and one which is clearly defensible. However, to sacrafice your own life for that of the young woman would demonstate heroic virtue which is to be much admired and something for which we all strive.

  4. I would say that morally you can do any of the three options. From the start of the statement you have set up the subject (me) to have no culpability, given that I was following the rules of driving. The only part that might be objectionable is how long the response time is that you decide "Ok, I'm going straight ahead which will result in her death, yada yada." However, if you don't have enough time to brake, then you also probably don't have enough time to consciously think about what you're doing and intentionally do it, so that's still a morally OK action.


  5. Morally, I would say that you could brake and still hit the woman, because it would not have been intentioned, or you could swerve into the mountain, because again, you wouldn't be intending to harm yourself. I think as long as you weren't trying to hurt yourself, you could also "morally" drive off the cliff, but I certainly don't think it would be a smart or viable option. Can't wait to learn the answer!

  6. Ok, I didn't read any answers! My guess is that all three options are morally permissible, but I have no way to justify that aside from a gut feeling. :-) My reasoning would be that I was driving with due diligence towards safety, and the woman, by standing int he middle of the road, was not acting safely (whatever the circumstances may have been). If I hit her, I would have been partially responsible for her death. If I swerve off the road, she would be partially responsible for my death (assuming she was standing in the middle of the road of her own free will). Christ or St. Kolbe would have most certainly swerved, but I don't think it is required of us.

    Can't wait to see what the correct answer is!

  7. First reactions: I'd swerve into the mountain and make a fervent confession as I did so.

    Unless my kids are in the car. Then I'd protect them as much as possible.

    If it was my husband and me, I don't know. Our kids are still little and losing both of us would be devastating, so I'd probably try to skim the mountainside and hope the young woman manages to get out of the way.


  8. Ah phooey. As I read other comments I realized I misread your question. But must agree with others: morally I think all options are fine, although the plummeting over the cliff is probably the most questionable because you are guaranteed death. Although if it was a panicked decision you still would not be culpable.

  9. To be honest I'm not sure that I would have the time to think it out and even make a moral decision. I think that I would probably just react, my reflexes would make the decision. I guess that's probably not the best answer or the right thing to do because when Peter took out his sword and cut off the soldier's ear, Jesus was not too pleased. Anyway, I would probably swerve to avoid hitting the woman but couldn't really tell you which way. Let's hope we never have to face that!

  10. Since I brake and swerve around squirrels and other small animals now, I know I am certain to instinctively swerve around the woman. As for what direction, I'd probably go left. I'd rather hit an object such as a tree or mountain than fall off a cliff, so in my split section reaction, I think that's what I'd probably do.

    However, your question is a moral one and my guess would be that even if you hit her, you wouldn't be held responsible. The woman shouldn't have been walking on such a dangerous road. We can't be held responsible for other's bad decisions.

    I was a "pretend juror" during my hub's trial advocacy class and we had a case similar to this. The person was walking across a street, but wasn't within in the crosswalk. She was hit and the driver was not held responsible because she was walking where she couldn't be seen.

    This is my guess, off to read what other's wrote!

  11. I would slam into the mountain and be hail mary it! It's not necessarily a proven fact that I would die....It's only a chance. Off to see what others wrote...

  12. Signing up...If i live I'm going to beat the crap out of the woman... ;)

  13. I honestly think any of the options would be ok. Not fun-but morally acceptable.

  14. In this worst case scenario: I am assuming I have time to pick up my cell phone and speed dail 911 ..then..I would choose the left swerve.

  15. I think both are morally acceptable....I would probably swerve and pray. Hopefully she's a fairly smallish woman who doesn't take up much of the road, and I'd be able to swerve around her and somehow not fall off the mountain. :)

  16. Okay, first of all, if we did swerve and go off the cliff, it would be a morally licit option because you are attempting to save the life of another.

    I really don't think it would be morally correct to plow straight ahead into the woman.

    So the best option is to try and slow down as much as possible and swerve into the side of the mountain. In this case, the airbags would probably deploy, and even though I would probably have some injuries, both my life and woman's life would not be harmed.

  17. okay after reading the other answers, I can see how maybe hitting the woman because of not having enough time to make anything other than a self destructive choice could be morally acceptable. The image in my head originally, for some reason was just plowing straight ahead without regard...

    GIMH, I swerve for small animals too! About 5 years ago, I was driving at night on a rural highway, and a cat ran out into the road. I swerved to avoid hitting it, lost control of my car, spun around and around until my car finally stopped in a ditch about 10 feet away from a telephone pole. And to top it all off, I clipped the cat's back end anyway... :(
    I have also cried due to running over a squirrel...

  18. I think we have morals built in to our instincts as humans. Morally, I think we can rule out hitting the woman. Then I have to turn to our other instincts we've learned while driving. We know that in taking a turn you would want to stay to the inside, and with my '91 bronco I'm sure I'd be safe hitting the wall. I once rear-ended a vehicle with an Obama sticker on the trunk. There was nothing left of the trunk after I hit it, and it didn't do a bit of damage to my Bronco. =)

  19. Are my kids in the car? If so that woman is on her own!

  20. The answer I imagine you want is the principle of double effect. I choose to go straight, not to run over the woman, but to preserve my own life and (this is not clear from the story) the lives of the other people riding in the car.

    Running over the woman is the unintended consequence of my act of self-preservation.

    Though it's morally permissible to swerve out of the way (to take heroic measures to save the woman's life), it's not morally required.

    This seems to be standard modern Catholic morality.

  21. Can I kick the car into neutral and slide backwards down the mountain, away from the woman and my own certain death? I like that option, even if it lacks plausibility.

  22. Ok, TOTALLY not my real answer, but...

    I'd floor it and lay on the horn, because I've got to get to the top of the mountain in 5 more minutes for my mountaintop yoga class. MOVE IT, LADY!


  23. If you are consciously making a choice: Swerve toward the mountain, and do a quick prayer for absolution. You have to try avoid the woman since she is an innocent person. You can legitimately choose to (possibly) sacrifice yourself to save her. If you don't have time for a conscious decision, you aren't morally culpable for choosing any of the three since you aren't responsible for the fact the woman made the situation a no win by standing in the middle of the road and you can't avoid her without high risk of injury or death.

  24. Great, Leila, now I'll be even more terrified on those windy 2-lane mountain roads! ;) haha! I already cry going over big bridges! (no joke. Bad experience)

    Ummm I have to say that I would probably not even be able to make a clear decision bc my instinct would kick in guess is that would mean I'd slam on the brakes and swerve away from the lady and end up in a very bad spot myself!

    And I would never be able to drive on a mountain road again.


  25. PS - I really didn't answer that the way I was supposed to, did I? :-/

    If I'm trying to think of it in the way I'm sure you meant me to ;) I would say I think you should swerve away from the woman one way or another and say a prayer!

  26. OK I'm being long-winded and taking up lots of comment space but I read the other comments and -SEW YOU ARE HILARIOUS!!! HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!

    I don't have kids but if I did I'm sure my instinct would be different.

    And I don't know why Paul said what he did, I'm confused - Paul do you think Catholics are more concerned with "Self preservation"? (Remember all those convos we had about "why is my life any more precious than someone elses"?)

    And finally...I would have such a hard time getting over it if I ever hit a person with my car! yikes! ...I am the same way about animals, Megan and GIMH! I have (knock on wood) only run over a little gopher or something but it was sad...and it was 10 years ago and I still remember...:-/ So I can't imagine if I ran over a human being!...

    OK I'm done :) for now ;)

    "loooong winded..."

  27. Paul-I like your answer and suspect you might be dead on! I'm wondering if you actually believe your answer-or if you are just stating what you think is the position of the Church.

    Just curious :)

  28. Wow, don't like to think of this. I didn't read any other answers first, promise. I would probably *react* by swerving without any time to think about morality. If I do think about morality, it would depend on whether my children were in the car, or anyone else, but also if the woman is capable of judgment she really isn't innocent for standing in the middle of a dangerous road either. FTR, I grew up in TX and for a whole bunch of reasons have a phobia of driving next to a cliff, period. I hope I'd be going slow enough to just stop and yell at her to get out the road before she kills herself or someone else. read what others wrote!

  29. And I'm guilty of not really answering the question. Haha.

    Assuming it's just you and her, and using the part of the Catechism that addresses abortion, I would say that it is immoral to directly hit her knowing it will cause her death and it is immoral to go over the cliff knowing it would cause your own death since a third option is available which may not cause anyone's death, though it does still carry risks.

    That's all assuming, as the question says, that one does have the time to choose.

  30. Mary,

    I'd strongly encourage you to read more about the principle of double effect, or about Philippa Foot's Trolley Problem. I don't think it's unfair to mention this, because I could be wrong about Leila's thought on the matter, and because people who haven't answered yet shouldn't be reading through the comments.

    But it's not about "my life is worth more than her's". That would be some sort of ethical or psychological egoism. It's that my life is worth infinitely much, so I should try to preserve it, and I act in that manner. That someone else dies is an unintended consequence to my action. There is a proportionality to this. I can't do something that means 50 people die in order to save myself. But it's definitely not a utilitarian thing.

    Another analogous scenario, Mary, if you still don't like my "Catholic answer", is using bombs and missiles in war. These always risk killing innocent citizens. But the action is justified under the argument that the weapons are not being used for that reason, but for the sake of self defense or defense of another (national defense and the like), and an unintended consequence is the death of innocents.

    If the death of innocents in war is never acceptable, then there is no such thing as a just war.


    My action in this case would be almost identical, but the reasons why would be different. I reject the principle of double effect. But I also reject negative consequence.

    If it's just me in the car, then I can choose to (potentially) sacrifice myself for her, or I can choose to do nothing (to drive as I normally would), and her death would be her own fault, or the fault of the person who put her there. This is assuming she isn't standing in a place I shouldn't be driving, because then I am at fault, because of an action I took, and need to correct the fault, even at my own peril.

    If other people are in the car, then my action to preserve her would risk their lives, and that's unacceptable. Inaction (driving as I normally would, and running her over) would be the only acceptable response.

  31. I didn't peek - and boy was THAT hard with 31 comments ahead of me. My first instinct would be to lay on the horn and hope that her movement would give me some indication of which way to swerve. Failing that - I choose the mountain and hope I'm driving one of those cars with the fancy all-around airbags.

  32. Thanks, Paul!!!! I agreed with everything you said initially (double effect, unintended consequence, etc)... except I was leery of the words "self preservation" ;)

  33. I would choose to serve to the left and hoped my airbags worked. However, I would think and hope that the women would also be able to react fast enough and get out to the way. If I was driving up a winding mountain road, I probably wouldn't be going that fast.

  34. You MAY choose to swerve either left or right, because, given the situation, there really isn't time to think about the consequences to YOU and YOUR PERSON if you swerve only to fly off the cliff. It wouldn't be a deliberate act of suicide, of course, given the timing factor.
    However, the best case scenario would be (if you have fast reflexes) to swerve LEFT into the side of the cliff, rather than to swerve right off the cliff, because almost certainly no good can come to your person if you fly off the cliff.

    Obviously you cannot choose to hit the person, if you have time to react and swerve (and obviously we all have that ability to react because we all swerve for squirrels, which has often lead many of us to certain bodily harm and injury!!)

  35. Beth,

    What if it's a poor barren woman such as myself, with no children to leave behind?? Would you still hit me? :( :(

  36. I must be missing something (which wouldn't surprise me), as the cradle Catholic not really "up" on all of this... I didn't think it would be permissible to choose to hit the woman IF there were alternate options which MAY cause only you harm but MAY ALSO save you both. You don't have time to hit the brakes... which means almost certain death for her... and who really is going to have the time to, in that situation, ponder the principle of double effect?? Wouldn't ALL of us swerve into the cliff as a reaction?? Even with a billion starving children in our backseats??

  37. I did not read anyone's answers, but I think it would be a jerk reflex to avoid the woman in the middle of the road. I'm not sure how you could see someone and NOT swerve to avoid them. I also don't know that you could compute in that split second of reaction time, that you could die by trying to avoid her.

  38. I think there's something looking at the wording of Leila's scenario... Swerving (either direction) would mean "severe injury or death", so basically the possibility of death. Hitting the woman would mean "certain death" for her. So, by swerving (supposedly either way, but I'd vote for hitting the cliff as opposed to flying off of it) there is the possibility of no one dying. Hitting her, even for the sake of saving yourself, would mean her certain death. So I'd say swerving would be the best option since there is the chance that everyone will come out alive.

    I think I would instinctively swerve. Key word being instinctively. I would question the moral culpability of anyone in this situation. There is no time to think, only time to act, and certainly no intention of harm for anyone.

    So those are my thoughts, for whatever they are worth.

  39. I just saw the ANSWERS are posted! How did I miss the question? I didn't read the answers OR the above comments. I know it's too late to be official, but still want to play along!

    Good luck reasoning THAT one in a split second! I say the driver is under no moral obligation in that split second of decision time- either choice would be acceptable and the driver would not be guilty of sin. We are not obligated to give up our life for another, and the driver is not attempting to kill another human. I'm assuming the driver is alone in the car.


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