Yesterday I attended an event through the Marin Philosophical Society, a lecture on ethics. The speaker, Bonnie Howe, teaches ethics at Domenican University, a Catholic university in Marin. She was shocked when she presented this case of the burned-down house to her students who are sophomores. 75% of them felt it was right to let the house burn. 75%. They were quite dogmatic about it. She is trying to find ways to reach these students, to present the complexity of decisions and to introduce empathy and compassion into the "rules."
We had quite a discussion as you might imagine.
Another piece of this is that the meeting began with asking us to introduce ourselves and say what female philosopher we most admire. Most were unable to come up with a name. I recognize that those of us who took philosophy many years ago were introduced to a canon of men, but certainly now, there are women one could name, especially if one expanded out the definition of philosophy.
I thought of Sappho, Hildegard of Bingen, Emily Dickinson, Eleanor Roosevelt, Annie Dillard, Amelia Earhart, my mother, my grandmothers.
Howe spoke of Iris Murdoch, Philippa Foot, and Martha Nussbaum. I see I have some reading to do. Murdoch wrote The Sovereignty of Good and Nussbaum has an impressive array of writing.
The conclusion seemed to be that ethics are something we practice, something we are schooled in. They need to become a habit. The house below me caught on fire. It seems the natural inclination, no matter what, is to grab a hose.
There is a huge ethical study called "Trolleology."
One thing we all agreed on is that in Quaker and Amish communities, these discussions might be irrelevant. You help your neighbor. You put out fires. You help rebuild.