Moral philosophy

Some of us were lucky enough to attend a conference yesterday at TES secondary campus led by writer, Science-Po lecturer and editor of Philosophie magazine,* Alexandre Lacroix. The conference was made possible by the French Office in Taipei, who organised Mr Lacroix and Ms Pastorini’s visit to Taiwan. Ms Pastorini was also at TES yesterday, leading a philosophy workshop with one of our CM1 classes.

Most of the conference at ESC dealt with the question of driverless cars and the ethical challenges they pose – challenges that we will all have to face in the relatively near future. In order to guarantee that your weekend is filled with lively conversation and debate, I am going to share some of the dilemmas presented yesterday with you here today. Our role for an hour and a half yesterday was to put ourselves in the place of the software programmer of an autonomous vehicle.

Imagine a driverless car which, on account of low visibility, is bound to hit a group of pedestrians crossing the road, leading to their death. The only option available is to change direction and cause a crash that will kill the occupants of the car. What should we do in such a scenario? Systematically programme the vehicle to kill the pedestrians or to kill the car’s occupants?

We can go further. Imagine a different self-driving car whose brakes have failed and has to “choose” between crashing into two children or two adults? The question becomes more disturbing still when we change the victims: two high-level managers or two homeless people? Two slim people or two fat? If you are interested in these types of moral dilemmas you can do some tests designed by MIT. The aim of the tests is to analyse trends in moral decisions (we discover for example that people universally choose to save children).

Admittedly, the cases outlined above may seem extreme and speculative. But Mr Lacroix reminded us that they are in fact quite similar to those taken every day in hospitals when they decide which patient should benefit from an organ transplant. They are sensitive questions that our society will have to solve and our parliaments will have to legislate on. It is therefore important that our students are conscious of the issues and understand what is at stake.
Philosophy offers a conceptual and theoretical framework that helps us answer these types of questions. Mr Lacroix’s conference highlighted the importance of the subject and showed our students why philosophy is necessary (at a moment when they are all giving a lot of thought to their future study/ career options – the timing was optimal). Now it is up to to the French Section Philosophy Teacher, Mr Boutet to pick up where Mr Lacroix left off. During moral philosophy class, he will discuss what was said at the conference – clarifying concepts, making them more explicit and going deeper than the introduction the students received yesterday. One of the strengths of philosophy is that it encourages us to never stop questioning what we hear and to remember that doubts and criticisms have their place if we want to make progress and understand concepts better.

*A magazine that means a lot to us, and one I mentioned in a previous letter.

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