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Trolley Problem (Ethical Problem)

Trolley Problem (Ethical Problem)
gsingh_2011
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Posted Feb 5, 2011 - 9:50 PM:
Subject: Trolley Problem (Ethical Problem)
A man stands on a platform watching as 5 people are about to get run over by a train. He looks to his right and sees a lever. If he pulls the lever, the train will switch tracks. However, on those tracks there is a single man who will not have time to get out of the way. Should the man pull the lever? Would you pull the lever?

In a similar situation, a man stands on a platform watching as 5 people are about to get run over by a train, but now there is no lever and a man stands next to him. The first man has a choice. If he pushes the other man onto the tracks that man will die but the train will come to a stop (don't ask how, haha) and the five people will be saved. Should he do it? Would you do it?

I've asked this to alot of people I know and I get very similar answers, so I'm hoping for a few new one's this time!
Veritas Vincit
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Posted Feb 6, 2011 - 12:36 AM:

Ah, the good old trolley problem...again.
gsingh_2011 wrote:
A man stands on a platform watching as 5 people are about to get run over by a train. He looks to his right and sees a lever. If he pulls the lever, the train will switch tracks. However, on those tracks there is a single man who will not have time to get out of the way. Should the man pull the lever?
I'm not in the business of telling other people what to do. He should do whatever he thinks is best or right.
Would you pull the lever?
One of my main objectives in life is to stay as far away from levers as possible, especially ones that control things. I also happen to think that we can imagine what we might do in certain situations, but we don't know what we'll do until the time comes. My answer is that I don't know what I'd do.
In a similar situation, a man stands on a platform watching as 5 people are about to get run over by a train, but now there is no lever and a man stands next to him. The first man has a choice. If he pushes the other man onto the tracks that man will die but the train will come to a stop (don't ask how, haha) and the five people will be saved. Should he do it?
As above, he should do what he thinks is necessary, but if he were to ask me, I'd suggest that he give serious consideration to throwing himself on the tracks, instead of the poor bugger standing next to him, and don't tell me that it's not allowed. If you didn't state otherwise in your opening post, it's allowed.
Would you do it?
As above.
I've asked this to a lot of people I know and I get very similar answers, so I'm hoping for a few new one's this time!
I hope I didn't disappoint you.

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unenlightened
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Posted Feb 6, 2011 - 2:29 AM:

These things happen to me all the time, and I am never sure what to do for the best. Usually I dither, panic, and take no action, unless the situation is one that I have foreseen and considered. This is why codes are useful, especially to the emergency services.

The trouble is that in real life there is no certainty; one does not know for certain that one man's body will stop the trolley, or that the people cannot get out of the way. In dealing with persons and human bodies 'first do no harm' is a decent code. so I would not use a human as a substitute lever, and I think the law would consider it murder.

The first case is quite commonplace, in the sense that say, a fire chief will have to decide whether to risk several men to attempt the rescue of one. It is a judgement which philosopher's examples make unnaturally clear, but real people have to decide and live with the consequences in this uncertain world. One acts, and then finds out the consequences.

The examples predefine the 'best' options in terms of consequences - count the bodies. But that is what one cannot do in life, and so heuristics as procedures, policy and codes of conduct, have to guide us to what 'as a rule' will lead to the best outcomes. "Don't push people under trolleys" is a good general rule that can only by extreme contrivance be manipulated to have unfortunate consequences.
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Posted Feb 6, 2011 - 5:02 AM:

gsingh_2011 wrote:
A man stands on a platform watching as 5 people are about to get run over by a train. He looks to his right and sees a lever. If he pulls the lever, the train will switch tracks. However, on those tracks there is a single man who will not have time to get out of the way. Should the man pull the lever? Would you pull the lever?

In a similar situation, a man stands on a platform watching as 5 people are about to get run over by a train, but now there is no lever and a man stands next to him. The first man has a choice. If he pushes the other man onto the tracks that man will die but the train will come to a stop (don't ask how, haha) and the five people will be saved. Should he do it? Would you do it?

I've asked this to alot of people I know and I get very similar answers, so I'm hoping for a few new one's this time!


People generally try to solve the trolley problem by (a) appealing to some arbitrary intuition, and/or (b) appealing to some general moral rule. In the case of the former, intuitions are insufficient to ground normative decision procedures. This is because we have no unassailable criteria that we can appeal to in order to adjudicate between two competing intuitions. In the case of the latter, it is a mistake to think that ethical decision making can be summarily expressed through curious blanket imperatives that do not adequately take into consideration particular circumstances. That we can come up with a number of cases in which the application of the rule would be highly unintuitive shows that these principles are unrealistic and only work in highly manipulated/concocted contexts. Contemporary philosophers have, over the years, tried to build exception clauses into their rules, but never seem to be able to formulate a rule that (a) takes into account all exceptions before hand, in which case the rule would be infinitely long, or (b) generalizes well enough to be applied to particular scenarios.

The answer, in short, is that the trolley problem is irresolvable, and it would be a mistake to think that it is anything but.
ciceronianus
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Posted Feb 6, 2011 - 5:59 AM:

I would simply stop the trolley, or train, or whatever it may be that's threatening, in some implausible manner. It's a "thought experiment" after all--I'd just think it away.
Bobard
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Posted Feb 6, 2011 - 6:50 AM:

gsingh_2011 wrote:
A man stands on a platform watching as 5 people are about to get run over by a train. He looks to his right and sees a lever. If he pulls the lever, the train will switch tracks. However, on those tracks there is a single man who will not have time to get out of the way. Should the man pull the lever? Would you pull the lever?

In a similar situation, a man stands on a platform watching as 5 people are about to get run over by a train, but now there is no lever and a man stands next to him. The first man has a choice. If he pushes the other man onto the tracks that man will die but the train will come to a stop (don't ask how, haha) and the five people will be saved. Should he do it? Would you do it?

I've asked this to alot of people I know and I get very similar answers, so I'm hoping for a few new one's this time!


But both scenarios are identical - they are both murder by an act of commission.
unenlightened
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Posted Feb 6, 2011 - 7:25 AM:

Bobard wrote:


But both scenarios are identical - they are both murder by an act of commission.


But not identical acts, only identical consequences. The scenarios show how consequences are not the only factor in at least my own moral intuitions. By what action one minimises the deaths is also an important factor. Kant's rule about not treating agents as a means scores a point here, as in moving the lever one is not using the death of the one to save five, it is merely an unhappily unavoidable consequence.

Such considerations allow one to rule out some behaviours completely even if one believes that a greater good will ensue - torture, terrorism, pushing folks under trolleys, and so on.
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Posted Feb 6, 2011 - 8:50 AM:

unenlightened wrote:
But not identical acts, only identical consequences. The scenarios show how consequences are not the only factor in at least my own moral intuitions.
Ah, but "in at least my own moral intuitions" is the key phrase, here, isn't it? My own moral intuitions tell me that if you fail to pull the lever or push the man, you are responsible for the five deaths that occur. Because I will go beyond what Bobard has said and submit that there is no relevant difference between acts of commission and acts of omission. And as far as the Kantian point goes, my intuitions suggest that those who do nothing are using using the deaths of those on the trolley for a rather selfish end. By simply walking away and dusting their hands of the situation, they are attempting to avoid the personal discomfort that arises from making difficult decisions in ambiguous situations. It is a refusal to engage in moral decision making for the sake of not feeling bad afterward.

Still, intuitions do not strike me as enough. As Alastair MacIntyre says in After Virtue, "one of the things we ought to have learned from the history of moral philosophy is that the introduction of the word 'intuition' by a moral philosopher is always a sign that something has gone badly wrong with the argument."
gsingh_2011
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Posted Feb 6, 2011 - 9:11 AM:

@Veritas Vincit: Hi there. I know that people shouldn't push their own sense of ethics on to others, but I wanted an insight into what you believed would be ethical. That was the "Should the man do it" part. The "Would you do it" part was to judge whether at this particular moment you would overcome your desire to not kill anyone to make the ethical decision. I understand that it's dificult to tell what you would do in that situation, but give it your best shot.

@Wolfman: I understand that the problem has many restrictions and is not applicable to real life. But most experiments in science also isolate the experiment and minimize external factors in order to get more clear observations. So while their may be many other options in real life if this situation happened to you, but this specific situation gives an insight into your sense of ethics.

And personally, my sense of ethics dictates that one should kill the one man to save the five in both cases. However, at this moment I believe that I would not be able to push the man over the platform but I would be able to pull the lever. Of course, like many of you have been saying, you never know.
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Posted Feb 6, 2011 - 9:17 AM:

The perfect man would jump onto the track himself but whose looking for perfection?

When you exaggerate the numbers Kant becomes simple and ignorant of reality.
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