Ethics in Computer Games and Cinema

Ethics in Comp Games & Cinema

Prof. Jay Margalus


What is morality?


Question: Is it possible to define the word “ethics”?


What is morality?

Principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behavior.


… but what the heck does that mean?



What is morality?

Socrates’ answer: “How we ought to live”

Is simple, but not prescriptive

Rachels suggests a minimum conception of morality. A baseline.



But first! A note!


Reason & Impartiality



An argument is a collection of statements or propositions intended to persuade others that an idea is, or is not, true.




The premises of an argument are the statements that are intended to provide the support or evidence. The conclusion of an argument is that statement or proposition for which the premises are intended to provide support. (In short, it is the point the argument is trying to make.)

(Important note: premises are always intended to provide support or evidence for the conclusion, but they don’t always succeed! It’s still an argument, and there are still premises and a conclusion, even if the premises don’t really provide any support at all.)




An argument is valid if it actually is impossible for the premises to be true and the conclusion false, or if the conclusion follows necessarily from the premises.

Otherwise, the argument is invalid.




Moral Reasoning

We cannot rely on our feelings, no matter how powerful they might be.

Our feelings may be irrational and may be nothing but products of prejudice, selfishness, or cultural conditioning.

Our decisions must be guided as much as possible by reason.

The morally right thing to do is always the thing best supported by the arguments.




Each individual’s interests are equally important, and no one should get special treatment.

If there is no good reason for treating people differently, then discrimination is unacceptably arbitrary.



Minimum Conception of Morality


Minimum Conception of Morality

“it is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong”



Example One: Baby Theresa

Anencephalic infants: ‘babies without brains’

Cerebrum, cerebellum, and top of skull are missing

Have a brain stem, thus autonomic functions (breathing, heartbeat, etc.) are possible

Usually aborted in the US; otherwise, half are stillborn and usually die within days



Parents volunteered her organs…

Florida law forbids the removal of organs until the donor is dead.

Baby Theresa died after nine days. Her organs were too deteriorated to be harvested or transplanted.

Should she have been killed so that her organs could have been used to save other children?

(Thousands of infants need transplants each year.)




“It just seems too horrifying to use people as means to other people’s ends.”

“It’s unethical to kill person A to save person B.”

“What the parents are really asking for is, ‘Kill this dying baby so that its organs may be used for someone else.’ Well, that’s really a horrendous proposition.”





Is it ethical to kill one person to save another?


Trolley Problem

There is a runaway trolley barreling down the railway tracks. Ahead, on the tracks, there are five people tied up and unable to move. The trolley is headed straight for them. You are standing some distance off in the train yard, next to a lever. If you pull this lever, the trolley will switch to a different set of tracks. However, you notice that there is one person on the side track. You have two options: (1) Do nothing, and the trolley kills the five people on the main track. (2) Pull the lever, diverting the trolley onto the side track where it will kill one person. Which is the correct choice?



Trolley Problem

As before, a trolley is hurtling down a track towards five people. You are on a bridge under which it will pass, and you can stop it by putting something very heavy in front of it. As it happens, there is a very fat man next to you – your only way to stop the trolley is to push him over the bridge and onto the track, killing him to save five. Should you proceed?



Trolley Problem

Villain variant



Getting back to it…


The Benefits Argument

If we can benefit someone without harming anyone else, we ought to do so.

Transplanting the organs would benefit the other children without harming Baby Theresa.

Therefore, we ought to transplant the organs.



What about her life?

Isn’t being alive better than being dead?

Only if being alive allows one to ‘have a life’: to carry on activities and have thoughts, feelings, and relations with other people.

In the absence of such things, ‘mere biological life’ is worthless.



We shouldn’t use people as a means

It is wrong to use people as means to other people’s ends.

Taking Theresa’s organs would be using her to benefit other children.

Therefore, it should not be done.



How is she being used?

Vague sense of ‘use.’ What does it mean? Violating Baby Theresa’s autonomy?

Baby Theresa has no autonomy to violate. She has no preferences about anything, nor has she ever had any.



The Wrongness of Killing Argument

It is wrong to kill one person to save another.

Taking Theresa’s organs would be killing her to save others.

So, taking the organs would be wrong.




Shouldn’t there be an exception to the rule?

Baby Theresa is not conscious; she will never ‘have a life’; she is going to die soon anyway; and taking her organs would help other babies.

Should we regard Baby Theresa as already ‘dead’?

Perhaps we should revise our definitions of ‘death.’



Example Two: Jodie and Mary

Conjoined twins, joined at the lower abdomen; spines fused; one heart and one pair of lungs between them.

Without an operation to separate them, both twins would die within six months.

This would save Jodie, but Mary would die.

The parents refused permission for the operation, but courts okayed it.

Jodie lived, and Mary died.



Save as Many as We Can Argument

There is a choice: save one or let both die.

Isn’t it plainly better to save one?

Not from the parents’ perspective.


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