The Trolly Problem

Let’s imagine that a madman has tied five innocent people to a trolley track, and they are unable to move. A trolley car that is out of control is hurtling towards them, and is only a few seconds away from running them over. Luckily, we can pull a lever that will divert the trolley to another track. The only problem with doing this is that the madman has tied a single person to this other track too. Considering these circumstances, should we pull the lever? This is the Trolley Problem, created by philosopher Philippa Foot, which is one of the most famous thought experiments in the field of ethics. The question is, should we:

1. Simply stand there and allow the trolley to kill these five people tied on the main track?

2. Pull the lever, diverting the trolley onto the side track where it will kill one person? Should we kill one person to save five?

What is the right thing to do?

From a utilitarian point of view, the obvious decision is for us to pull the lever, saving the five people and only killing one. But there is another view that would state that in pulling the lever we become complicit in what is clearly an immoral act, as we will still be responsible for the death of that one person. Other people argue that just our mere presence in the situation is a reason good enough for us to act, and that to do absolutely nothing about the situation would be equally immoral.

I think there is no wholly moral action at this point. Many philosophers have used the trolley problem as an example of the ways that real world situations often force individuals to compromise their own moral codes, and that there are times when there is no totally moral course of action. What do you think?

– SaaniaSparkle πŸ§šπŸ»β€β™€οΈ

235 thoughts on “The Trolly Problem

  1. True. Most times our morals have to be compromised. Like in a two bad situation, we pick the one that seems less worse than the other. We can’t always have a win win so in bad situations, we trust our conscience and intuition to help us pick the better option.

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  2. I’ve read several of your posts and enjoyed them. Your intro says you’re 15. I’m 81. You have been very gracious in reading so many of the ramblings of this old guy and indicated that you have liked them. Keep on producing.

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  3. Take responsibility for doing the greatest good for the greatest number. Standing idly by is no responsibility. Assessing the situation and then deciding to let one die and save the others would be taking responsibility for the greatest number of lives. I don’t know how I’d feel if I were in that situation. Everyone is different in their response and responsibility level. Those two words are connected in meaning.

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  4. Oooh this is such a good one! Before, I would’ve said I would pull the lever, but now that I have a child my answer is different… If that one person is my husband or my baby, I’d kill a million to save them! *hides face*

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  5. Here’s what i think:
    1. whether its 5 people or just one person, either way, YOU wouldn’t be able to physically be there in time to move or rescue any of them.
    2. Therefore, someone will die, either way.
    3. You can’t prevent the death, but you can minimize it. By pulling the lever.
    4. If you pull the lever, it may be said that you murdered one person. Through action you took.
    5. However, to be ABLE to pull the lever and minimize damage, yet to not do it…i.e..through Inaction, when you could have prevented it, it could be said you allowed Five people to be killed when you could have stopped it. This seems worse.
    It is awful either way, but i feel this comes down to the lesser of 2 evils. Which would you rather live with: A) I caused one person to die, or B) I let five people die when i could have saved them. ? Neither way is pleasant.

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    1. Pt. 2—-and yet, perhaps ironically, I can see that there may be people who would simply do nothing and let it happen. It may be said they let five people die, but emotionally, there may find it easier to feel less guilt, as they “weren’t involved” (by taking direct action). But is it Moral? To put it another, it is a conflict between: Do you do your Duty, and feel directly responsible for a persons death, or remain “uninvolved” and rationalize that you didnt cause it? But you could have prevented it. Which is harder to live with? But we can even

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      1. ack! keyboard trouble)…can even question *that*. Should our own feelings be the standard we judge by? or is this really just plainly and simply a “number’s game” where less death is preferable to more people dying and its that simple?

        Philosophy is an interesting topic. A good book to start with is: “Philosophy Made Simple” by Popkin & Stoll. Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble should have it, or be able to get it.

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  6. In theology we have the idea of ‘discernment.’ This means trying to understand and enact the will of God. Assuming the one discerning is not mad, he or she hopefully would choose in accord with God’s will. That arguably solves the moral problem (to some degree) and elevates the issue above mere convention, PC, or worldly thinking.

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