Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Justice - Harvard Prof Michael Sandel #1


  1. Boruch elokeinu sheboronu lichvodo vhivdilunu min hatoim venosan lonu toras emes.

    We are privileged to benefit from the light of truth of the Torah in all these issues.

    What he is basically bringing up is the difference between saving someone and murdering someone. There is no heter to save even many by murdering one except where marauding nochrim demand an individual of a city or they will kill the whole city according to the Rambam.

    There also is a difference between murdering directly and by koach.

    Any morality not based on the Torah can be twisted in many directions by differing points of view.

  2. Even morality based on Torah can, and has been twisted in many directions and by differing points of view.

    Personally I find this captivating. His examples are well thought. If you take the trolly car incident that he spoke of. When dealing with driver needeing to chose which way he steers to the car, thus killing one or five, you are dealing with a case of mekable achrayut. The trolly car driver, by taking his position has accepted upon himself a certain responsibilty for the the trolly car and what it does. Thus it is a severe moral question as to whether he steers it straight and thus kills five people, or if he turns it thereby killing one, and sparing five.

    Under law of the sea(at least the way it used to be) the captain of a vessel took moral responsibility for the lives of all those aboard his ship. Thus the killing of one(or even allowing one to die) was morally reprehensible.

    He does not speak of these issues in Torah terms, but there is wisdom to be had in what he says. As our sages tell us, we may learn wisdom from the nations, but we may not learn Torah from them.

  3. The trolley case in halacha is clear. The driver has not heter to intervene by actively doing something to kill someone in a situation that he entered b'ones. His chiyuv hatzala does not permit retzicha.

  4. Personally I don't see that the halacha is so resoundingly clear. Many Rabbis were faced with such descisions during the holocaust, and made their decisions for the better good. The Rambam is of the opinion that we may moser a single Jew if it will spare an entire community. So no the halacha is not so absolutely clear.

    What Michael Sandel does is deal in the logic of morality, not the principles which govern it. That logic of morality is the same thing our sages have built their arguments upon, based on the words of Torah. It quite behooves us to learn it.

  5. Tzoorba, thank you for your posts. Regarding the Rambam's din on delivering life, however, is it Yesodei haTorah you have in mind?

    If so, I need to point out a correction. You said,

    "There is no heter to save even many by murdering one except where marauding nochrim demand an individual of a city or they will kill the whole city according to the Rambam."

    But H' Yesodei haT' 5:5 states quite explicitly that there is no such heter. Check the text there, and you'll see that the Rambam does NOT permit deliverance except on the narrowest of conditions: that the victim is already chaiv misa independently, that he was requested specifically (and is not being chosen by his deliverers to satisfy a more general demand on the marauders' part), that the demand is on very credible pain of death to those very ones delivering him, & that it was in no way disclosed by them to the marauders that such a demand would be halakhically acceptable (in accordance with the aforesaid conditions). So Rambam prohibits almost across the board delivering one life to save another.

    In any case, even if there were such a heter there (delivering life to save life), it wouldn't speak to Sandel's example here (taking life to save life): the case Rambam deals with is of delivering a Jewish nefesh into murderous hands, and no such heter there would exempt the taking of a life by one's own hand as is the case here with the trolley driver, so the Rambam's din is altogether irrelevant.

  6. Observer what you seem to be saying is that in the trolley example the one worker might be viewed as a rodef against the lives of the five. Thus even though there is no murderous intent - consideration for that one life is destroying theirs. Another such case is that of siamese twins where one is sacrificed to save the other.

  7. What does the trolley case have to do with rodef?

    The worker on the other track poses no danger to anyone, either actively or passively.

    The classic rodef poses an active threat, while the Siamese twin case is one of passive threat.

    Other distinctions are that at present, both twins are set to die. In the trolley case, the worker is presently in no danger whatsoever.

  8. The Trolley Dilemma was first proposed by Philippa Foot in a book written in 1978 entitled, "The Problem of Abortion and the Doctrine of the Double Effect in Virtues and Vices"

    Fillipa Foot was a founder of contemporary virtue ethics, which is an approach to ethics which emphasizes the character of the moral agent, rather than rules or consequences, as the key element of ethical thinking. She was a critic of consequentialism and the related utilitarianism. The trolley dilemma doesn't as much propose a solution as demonstrate that consequentialism and utilitarianism are deficient (or at least insufficient) in providing a complete ethical system.

    See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trolley_problem

    The Doctrine of Double Effect is also interesting. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Principle_of_double_effect

  9. @Observer,

    What I meant to say is they demand a named or particular individual.

    You are correct in that he states that he is already chayav misa.

    However, the Rambam's case is a case of saving the Jewish lives of the city by giving up the life of a single named Jew.

    I believe the principle is the same in the case of nochrim in relation to the murder as opposed to not saving issue. I believe it is fully applicable by kav v'chomer since it involves direct action to kill the individual.

  10. I just ran across Sandel's vidoes and found this blog when looking for how other Jews commented. Sandel is Jewish, by the way.

    I'm surprised no one brought up the case in Bava Metzia:

    "Two people were traveling, and [only] one of them had a canteen of water. [There was only enough water so that] if both of them drank they would both die, but if one of them drank [only] he would make it back to an inhabited area [and live]. Ben Petura publicly taught: 'Better both should drink and die than that one see his friend's death,' until Rabbi Akiva came and taught: 'Your brother should live with you' (Vayikra 25:36) - your life takes precedence over the life of your friend's.'" (Bava Metzia 62a)

    I also found this article on lifeboat ethics, which Sandel brings up in his second lecture: http://www.vbm-torah.org/halakha/lifeboatethics.htm


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