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. What if the one person happens to be your family member? 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 🧚🏻‍♀️

253 thoughts on “The Trolly Problem

  1. Great scenario and questions here Saania. We face many of such ethical situations one way or the other and sometimes we have no other options but to choose. By choosing, one may consider the lesser of two evils.Not taking action is also a choice we make. Perhaps there’s another solution rather than pulling the lever, or an action to involve more people to solve the problem than solving the problem all by oneself.

    Liked by 5 people

  2. I used to study Moral Philosophy in the 1970s. We used to familiarise ourselves with the concept of the over-ridingness of moral principles. Ethics was seen not as a rule of thumb directory which one could look up to detrmine how one should act, but a series of guiding principles. Even the Bible says ‘Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling’ There is no template.

    Liked by 7 people

  3. i believe there are times for both actions, as well as inaction, depends on other factors. i see there are over 160 comments and i did not read through them but i am guessing others have said as much.

    Liked by 5 people

  4. Sometimes situation triggers our instinct or reflexes. It depends on the quick calculation our mind will do depending on our imbibed values, morals, emotions and of course experience. Difficult to answer but you know we actually deal with such situations everyday in life… consciously or unconsciously

    Liked by 5 people

  5. Idk what I’m about to say is already discussed in the comments (I’m not reading them for they’re quite a few 😅), but what if that one person is someone whom we know, like a friend or someone. I think it’ll make things more complicated. And yeah, cases like such are a double edged sword. No matter what you do, your conscience gets cut anyways.

    Liked by 6 people

  6. This is a tragic situation. It could be even worse. The madman has tied your son to one track and your daughter to another. You stand You look at it, you have to make a decision. What do you do?

    Liked by 5 people

  7. Bonjour SANIA ce matin, Que le soleil soit rayonnant ou qu’il pleuve

    Le jour nous invite à sourire à s’émerveiller
    Prenons le temps respirer

    Prenons aussi du temps pour nous
    Arrêtons -nous quelques instants pour mieux repartir

    Je vous offre ces quelques mots de douceur avec gratitude
    De bonne humeur en éclats d’énergie , telles des pépites de vie

    Que leurs bienfaits rejaillissent sur vous
    Belle journée à tous et à votre famille

    Prenez soin de vous Bisous
    Bernard

    Liked by 4 people

  8. A dilemma indeed! I could pose another scenario: The person on the second track is related to you – what to do then? There is no definite answer to such questions and one’s only hope is to do the best that one can in that split second when one has to make a life-and-death decision.

    Liked by 4 people

  9. Very true,there is no right answer to this as you only have 5 seconds to make a decision at that time…. Very niceley written…. from Nani♥️♥️

    Liked by 8 people

  10. We make choices all the time though not as problematic as this one. This kind of scenario is one of those that no one wants to find themselves in because there is no right answer. It’s the kind of scenario where the unexpected superhero should suddenly appear to save everybody miraculously.

    Liked by 5 people

  11. Isn’t the question really: Do you decide to act by pulling the lever or decide not to act by not pulling the lever? In other words, are you not making a decision either way?

    I think it is impossible to make an unquestionably “right” choice here. But in theory, I would pull the lever. Not sure if I could in practice, though.

    Liked by 5 people

  12. Can we take the madman, push him in front of the trolley, and hope the trolley (already out of control) might go off the track? Or give us time to rescue the one and then move back to pull the lever for the five? If worse comes to worst, might we sacrifice ourselves in front of the trolley with some assurance that the trolley will go off the track? (And by the way is anyone onboard?) I realize it’s a hypothetical situation and not an action movie, but still I wonder. Either way, I’d suffer with the death of one or deaths of five for the rest of my days, even though the crisis was caused by someone who’s insane.

    And though we can think and move remarkably fast in only a few seconds (and in response to the situation without anything else to consider), I guess I’d save the five for utilitarian and for moral reasons.

    (Could the single person be an evil person and somehow we know this going in?)

    A good, troubling situation to have cited.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. I appreciate your blog. The posited question has no great answer and as you can see, has many thing to consider in a short period of time. Today, we have a myriad of moral decisions to make and the obvious answers include ” do unto others as you wish to be done unto you” and “Do no harm”. Good acts are the consequences of following the above rules. Oh yes, all persons are created equal, no matter their colors.

      Liked by 3 people

  13. ON MAKING OUR OWN LUCK

    ◇ – Diamond Hard – ◇

    ♧ SHE ~ Clubbing – “IT’S ALL YOUR FAULT!!!” – Clubbing
    ♡ HE ~ “Then Leave Me.”
    ♤ SHE ~ “Where would I Go 🤔 ?”

    …start by STOPPING BLAMING ME!!! then I Stick Around for YOU!!! ForEver; if YOU!!! Punish Me YOU WILL NEVER!!! Hear from Me Again until YOU!!! Express Remorse and Regret…

    nisi mortuus nec neque nolite vicit

    ◇ – Diamond Hard – ◇

    …◇◇◇…

    ON CHANCE, RANDOMNESS AND COINCIDENCE

    ◇ – Diamond Hard – ◇

    ◇ There is Only Ever Our CHOICES!!! and Our DECISIONS!!! so I Suggest EveryOne CHOOSE!!! or Be Controlled; it’s Crystal Clear Clarity that that it is YOUR!!! CHOICE!!!

    nisi mortuus nec neque nolite vicit

    ◇ – Diamond Hard – ◇

    …◇◇◇…

    ON OUR TRUTHS AND LIES

    ◇ – Diamond Hard – ◇

    ◇ So there is Our Good Luck and Our Bad Luck; it’s Crystal Clear Clarity that We Blame Others for Our Bad Luck and Praise Others for Our Good Luck…is AnyOne Else Able to SEE (Soulful Emotional Energy) The Problem with This Picture; is there Absolutely AnyOne, regardless of Age and Experience, who Gets This Simple Truth 🤔 ?

    nisi mortuus nec neque nolite vicit

    ◇ – Diamond Hard – ◇

    …◇◇◇…

    Liked by 4 people

  14. I would in a normal circumstance save 5 and kill one. However, if the one happened to be someone of consequence to me, I would kill the 5 to save the one.
    Selfish, but this is what I would do. Every time.

    Liked by 8 people

  15. I always see this as being a bit of a Strawman thing. People attach their ideas of morality based on things not present in the model.

    If the Model were your kitten, the whole universe OR the whole problem evaporates with no consequences: then either of the death options is immoral. Otherwise, you play the hand dealt or you are not playing at all.

    Within the confines of the experiment with only that info, you can rationally only choose one way the needs of the many and all that. If you feel bad about it, that’s silly – understandable maybe but silly and therefore immoral seeing you deny the logic and are adding layers of your own straw (ask any Vulcan).

    Liked by 6 people

  16. Thankfully, this problem is theoretical. Unfortunately, we are often confronted by situations in the real world that require us to choose between bad or worse. The pressures on us can be enormous. They profoundly test our ethics and our character.

    We may be able to overthrow the system. That is what whistleblowers do. However, it requires both courage and sacrifice. Success is not guaranteed. Sometimes, all we can do is walk away — leaving the situation in place, and the decision to someone else.

    Liked by 7 people

  17. Immanuel Kant would have said that pulling the lever makes us guilty of the death of the one but that not pulling the lever leaves the guilt for the death of the five on the madman. Like most people, I disagree. But, given what little time is left to respond, I might seek a way to stop or derail the trolley and save all six lives. J.

    Liked by 5 people

  18. Lord! It’s very complicated. The fact that a person would be responsible for the death of people on the track whether he pulls the lever or not makes me think that maybe this is the point where the line between correct and wrong is blurred. Its amazing👌🏼☺️

    Liked by 2 people

  19. Bonjour mon Ami Amie SAANIA

    Même si ce n’est que du virtuel

    Prenons un café ensemble et discutons d’un monde meilleur
    Où règne le bonheur

    Discutons de nos souhaits
    Qu’ils se réalisent

    Discutons d’avoir une grande maison
    ou tous ensemble , amis du monde , on se rassemblera chaque saison

    Rêvons d’une nouvelle société de paix
    Où chacun de nous aura son nid

    Rêvons d’un monde paisible
    Où l’on oubliera les soucis les plus pénibles

    Rêvons ensemble de ce futur
    Où l’on effacera le passé le plus dur

    Partageons d’un sourire éternel
    en survolant l’immense ciel ou la joie sera pure

    Tu vois mon ami , amies du monde
    je dépose un petit peu de bonheur dans le creux de ton cœur, te souhaiter ce qu’il y a de meilleur

    bonne fin de journée bisous Bernard

    Liked by 2 people

  20. Difficult choice, but then life choices are not easy for most of us. It helps if we have a drop or two of intelligence. I think that you are great at providing such a thought to consider.

    Joanna

    Liked by 4 people

  21. I love reading Trolley problems. Because they make you question everything you’ve learned so far.

    I think majority of philosophers in ethics and justice theory have come up with their own version of the trolley problem.

    The answer is gold mean. But the problem is that ’the golden mean’ is personal to everyone. Just like my idea of happiness is different from yours. Your and my idea of what will be just and ethical here is not going to be same.

    So it is just an individual dilemma put into philosophy for us to retrospect, give us that challenge. And, go through that essential phase of having an existenti crisis.

    Liked by 5 people

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