week 2 Discussion - The
Dreaded Trolley Problem
Should You Pull the Lever and Push Your Neighbor?
Okay everyone, here it is, the infamous
Trolley Problem. Many of you will have heard of this moral dilemma; it was
invented by philosopher Phillipa Foot about fifty years ago and has become very
widely known in the last few years. Here's my version:
Imagine that you are walking through a
railroad yard and you happen to see a runaway train. The train car is hurtling
down the track at tremendous speed, and no one is driving it. It's clear to you
that if nothing is done, the train will will collide with a group of five
people working on the tracks, killing all of them. Fortunately (or
unfortunately), you are standing next to the rail switch. If you pull the rail
switch, it will divert the train onto a different track, thereby sparing the
five people a grisly death. However, there is one person working on the second
track. If you pull the lever, it will divert the train toward this person, and
he or she will be killed by the oncoming calamity. So, should you pull the
lever? You can save five people, but doing so will ensure the death of one
person. How should you decide the best course of action?
Don't worry, it gets worse. Now imagine a
similar scenario. This time, you are standing on a bridge overlooking the rail
yard. As before, you see a runaway train hurtling down the track toward a group
of five people. You can see that if you were able to drop a heavy weight on to
the track in front of the train, it would slow down the train enough for the
five people to escape unharmed. Fortunately (or unfortunately), you are
standing next to a very large person. If you push this large person off of the
bridge, it will stop the train, but the large person will die. What should you
do? As before, you can save five people, but only by ensuring the death of one.
For the sake of this ridiculous puzzle, assume that there is no third option that
will spare all the people involved. For instance, you can't just yell,
"Hey, get out of the way!" Maybe you have laryngitis, who knows? I
know it's not realistic, but, hey, it's philosophy. For each scenario you need
to choose to either pull the lever/push the person or do nothing.
Here's what I want you to tell me: In each scenario, what should a
person do? I want you to convince me of the morally best course of
action - not necessarily what you would do.
Make an argument to defend your decision.
Here are some philosophical questions that I'll be thinking about: Are
the two scenarios the same or different? If they are morally different, why would they
be different? Is it a problem if you respond differently in each case? For
instance, would it be a problem to respond in an inconsistent way? As you think
about this problem, consider Consequentialism and Deontology, both of which
I've talked about in this week's lectures. Also, consider how your choice of
action can be universalized - this means you should consider your choice of
action as analogous with morality generally. For instance, if you think you
should walk away and do nothing, does this mean you are making the argument
that we're always morally
permitted to just walk away when we're able to help people?
A couple final points. Don't just say that you'll "let fate
decide". That's tantamount to not deciding. If you decide to walk away,
make an argument for why this is the best course of action. I want you to
respond as if there is morally
correct answer to these puzzles, and I want you to convince me that you have
identified that answer. And finally: this moral puzzle is pretty ridiculous, so
don't be afraid to have some fun with your answer.
Your response should be between 250 &
500 words. You can start your own thread, or reply to another person's thread.
As always, I expect standard college level writing. Good luck!