Monday, March 27, 2017

Mohist Trolley `Problem'

Usually it's pretty light fare here, but I'm delighted to be able to announce that I recently rediscovered and translated a new ancient Mohist text! Read on, comrades, for some exiting new-old philosophy!

Master Mo Zi spoke, saying ``In ancient times, kings, dukes, and great men, if they genuinely desired success, designed roads and transportation systems, that the alters of grain and soil may be well tended to. One day, travelling down one of these roads, came a man with a heavy cart pulled by many tempestuous white horses. This man had failed to appease his ancestors' ghosts, and so when approaching a fork in the road his horses suddenly bolted, and would not slow down no matter what he said. If he failed to steer his horses they would surely bolt down the East road, but if he exerted great effort and pulled a special lever on his cart, he could direct his horses down the West road, for he could steer even as he could not halt the horses.

Mo Zi -- ``Liam once described me as a
`pedantic proto-fascist who just wanted us
all to love each other''. Have to say, this
picture probably helps his case.''
Now, as it happened there were workers on both paths -- five workers on the East, and one worker on the West road. Unfortunately, at the time this happened a wicked local prince was having music played at great volume in his nearby palace, so the workers would not hear his horses approach, nor would they heed his pleas for them to clear his path. Whatever he did, therefore, this man was to strike and surely kill some workers. The people of this age wonder, should the cart driver remain on the East road, or pull the lever and go down the West road?

Now, the way in which a benevolent man conducts affairs must be to promote the world's benefit and eliminate the world's harms. It is in this way he conducts affairs. How does he do this? I say it is by the following means. If the people of the world are poor, he works to make them rich; if the people of the world are few, he works to make them many; if the people of the world are in disorder, he works to bring them to order. Never has there been, from the ancient times to the present, someone who failed to bring order to the people and to the world by means of promoting the world's benefit and eliminating its harm, so this is what a benevolent man would surely do.

Yet, the people of this age are divided, and some say the cart driver should go East, others say he must pull the lever and go West, and each say of themselves `We are upholding and abiding by the Way of Yao, Shun, Yu, Tang, Wen, and Wu'. Nevertheless, their words are mutually contradictory and their actions are mutually opposed. And because of this, the gentlemen of our generation are all in doubt and confusion regarding the two positions.

In evaluating the cart driver's choice, therefore, let us see how they accord with the three benefits. Could a benevolent man hope to increase the world's riches by ensuring the cart driver remains on the East path? Surely it is not so! If the cart driver kills five workers rather than just one there will be less artisans to carry out the hundred tasks, which means the sage king's roads and transportation systems will be worse for wear, which means the alters of soil and grain will not be tended to by the farmers. To enrich the people in this way would be like preventing ploughing but seeking to reap! Therefore Mo Zi says: you must pull the lever!

If the wish is to increase the number of people, is this perhaps possible on the East road? Surely it is not so! If the cart driver kills five workers rather than just one there will be less workers by means of this very action! What is more, these five workers will not themselves go on to child more workers, who themselves will not go on to child more workers, and so on. When one considers the thousand generations, the losses will be as if one has declared offensive war on one's own people. Therefore Mo Zi says: you must pull the lever!
Philippa Foot -- ``I regret everything.''

Perhaps the benevolent man wishes to bring order to the world, could this be done on the East road? Surely it is not so! When one person dies, we all know it brings disorder into the lives of the families affected. But if the death of one person is the cause of great disorder, could the death of five people bring less disorder? This would be to pile weight on to the scales and yet find the balance grows lighter! Surely, five workers dead would be the source of great disorder in the world, much more so than one worker. Therefore Mo Zi says: you must pull the lever!

Plus, now we're getting closer and judging from his cap,  that `worker' on the West path might actually be some fucking Confucian. Pull the lever!''

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