Reply Tue 17 Feb, 2004 01:03 am
This is a famous hypothetical first posed by Judith Jarvis Thomson:

Edward is the driver of a trolley, whose brakes have just failed. On the track ahead of him are five people; the banks are so steep that they will not be able to get off the track in time. The track has a spur leading off to the right, and Edward can turn the trolley onto it. Unfortunately, there is one person on the right-hand track. Edward can turn the trolley, killing the one; or he can refrain from turning the trolley, killing the five.

In this situation, what should Edward do?

EDIT: corrected a typo.
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Ceili
 
  2  
Reply Tue 17 Feb, 2004 01:06 am
Swerve to the left really quick, if it's a bus, it will lose it poles and have no electricity to keep going.
If it's a train, honk, and pray!
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Terry
 
  2  
Reply Tue 17 Feb, 2004 04:23 am
Tell himself that anyone stupid enough to stand in the middle of a trolley track needs to be taken out of the gene pool anyway, jump off the back and try to save himself.

Oh, you probably meant that it is unethical to take an action that will result in death, but it is not unethical to refrain from an action that would save a life, even though in this situation the ethical choice is not the moral choice.
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joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Tue 17 Feb, 2004 07:25 am
Terry wrote:
Tell himself that anyone stupid enough to stand in the middle of a trolley track needs to be taken out of the gene pool anyway, jump off the back and try to save himself.

If that were the case, then it wouldn't matter what action the trolley driver took.

Terry wrote:
Oh, you probably meant that it is unethical to take an action that will result in death, but it is not unethical to refrain from an action that would save a life, even though in this situation the ethical choice is not the moral choice.

Not sure what you're trying to say here, Terry. Are you suggesting that it is always immoral to kill?
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joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Tue 17 Feb, 2004 09:21 am
Ceili wrote:
Swerve to the left really quick, if it's a bus, it will lose it poles and have no electricity to keep going.

I would guess that this is a trolley on tracks. But the hypothetical would work in either case, since it allows for only two possible outcomes: either one person is killed or five people are killed. The nature of the vehicle is immaterial.

Ceili wrote:
If it's a train, honk, and pray!

How is this an ethical choice?
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Letty
 
  1  
Reply Tue 17 Feb, 2004 12:30 pm
Hey, Joe. Better try and redeem myself after that President's Day thread. <smile>.

The choice is, kill one to save several, or kill several to save one, right? There is, however, another consideration that has not been figured in to the equation, and that is: the passengers on the trolley. Which choice would be the one that would protect the greatest number of people, and that would be the one that Joe should choose.
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drom et reve
 
  1  
Reply Tue 17 Feb, 2004 12:54 pm
If it were inevitable that all would die if he didn't act, he should act. Taking the idea of proportionality, killing one person is much less graver than killing five, and is the more moral thing to do (see the case of the English Siamese twins 2000, and the Zeebrugge incident.) Yet, as Letty said, what is the probability that more than five passengers would die? If this were higher than five, it would be better that he kill the five in front of him.

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McGentrix
 
  1  
Reply Tue 17 Feb, 2004 02:30 pm
It would depend. If I am the one rider on the trolley, he'd better be taking the other five out! If I am one of the five standing on the tracks he'd better swerve! Cool
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joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Tue 17 Feb, 2004 04:13 pm
Letty wrote:
The choice is, kill one to save several, or kill several to save one, right? There is, however, another consideration that has not been figured in to the equation, and that is: the passengers on the trolley.

The hypothetical doesn't mention any passengers, so we can assume either that the trolley is empty or that the passengers are in no danger (just as the trolley driver is in no danger of suffering any injury, regardless of the decision that he takes).

Letty wrote:
Which choice would be the one that would protect the greatest number of people, and that would be the one that Joe should choose.

I'm Joe. The trolley driver's name is Edward.

I'm not sure about the notion of "protecting" people in this situation. I suppose you could say that switching the trolley to the right-hand track would "protect" the five people on the left-hand track, but then that action would also endanger the person on the right-hand track. Indeed, that action would, in effect, kill that unfortunate individual.

The question, then, is: should the driver make that choice? In other words, is he morally obligated to switch to the right-hand track?
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Craven de Kere
 
  1  
Reply Tue 17 Feb, 2004 04:18 pm
IS there any way to kill all six?

Just kidding. Common sense would say to kill the one fella on the right. But, like Terry, I suspect Joe is trying to highlight the difference between choosing to kill and choosing to save life.

Personally, I'd opt for common sense.

These excercises are interesting. Toss in variables and it can become even more fun. Make the individual on the right a child and the five on the left terminally ill patients.....

Make the five escaped criminals and the individual the pope...
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dlowan
 
  1  
Reply Tue 17 Feb, 2004 04:21 pm
Easy one, that.....
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Craven de Kere
 
  1  
Reply Tue 17 Feb, 2004 04:23 pm
Depends, some poeple have different criteria.

For example, some disagree with the "women and children first" rule.

Some think it a natural validation of biology.

Some think the young deserve preference...

This is similar to that one I did about choosing which patients to treat.
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joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Tue 17 Feb, 2004 04:28 pm
dròm_et_rêve wrote:
Taking the idea of proportionality, killing one person is much less graver than killing five, and is the more moral thing to do

This is where I have some problems with Thomson's approach to the Trolley Problem. I'm not so sure that killing five persons is necessarily worse than killing one person, at least not in this situation.

After all, by switching to the right-hand track, the driver consciously makes the choice to sacrifice one person for the benefit of five persons. Yet we recoil at that kind of calculus of death in other situations, where we would rather see one live than five die. For instance (to take another Thomson hypothetical), if five people needed life-saving organ transplants -- two needed a lung each, one needed a heart, one needed a liver, one needed a pancreas -- and a healthy person was found to be a perfect donor for these five people, would a doctor be justified in killing the healthy person, harvesting his organs, and implanting them in the five needy patients?

In the same way, the trolley driver makes a choice to sacrifice one for the benefit of five. Yet is that choice necessarily an ethical obligation? In other words, if the trolley driver decided not to switch the trolley, would we be justified in saying that he did wrong?
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Letty
 
  1  
Reply Tue 17 Feb, 2004 04:37 pm
OK, Edward, I mean, Joe. I like to think that I would do it right. Let's make Edward, Edwina. That would also put another variable into the mix.
Personally, I would like to turn this hypothesis into The Trolley Song, but I know that's not allowed.
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Heeven
 
  1  
Reply Tue 17 Feb, 2004 04:47 pm
Presumably Edward is going to shout out a warning. Would it perhaps be better to shout a clear warning to the one person than to shout a warning to five people and have them scramble this way and that. If he were to take the right turn, he can direct a specific warning to the one person (Hey, guy-in-the-red-jacket, jump to your left NOW!!). Chances are that the guy will do exactly as instructed - no confusion. However if Edward were to continue on his current path, yelling at 5 people can create confusion and there is no control on which direction they will run - will one perhaps run into another, knock each other down? One person might have a higher degree of reacting quickly and precisely rather than five ... of course that is assuming that the guy on his own is not deaf!
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Adrian
 
  1  
Reply Tue 17 Feb, 2004 04:53 pm
I agree with Joe, as soon as the driver makes a CHOICE to switch tracks he is doing the wrong thing. The death of the five will not be his fault, the death of the one would be.

Whatever will be, will be.
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Heeven
 
  1  
Reply Tue 17 Feb, 2004 04:54 pm
Besides, the first instinct in situations of danger is to swerve to avoid what is directly in your line of sight. If this is like any other traffic accident I presume that there is not enough time to make such specific decisions in ascertaining how many people are in each track and which way to go. If you throw a rock at someones head, they will automatically duck. If time is of the essence the decision may be made purely instinctually and not with regard to which is the best decision. The first danger may be avoided only to find (after switching) there is danger also on the other track. If any more time is available for Edward to really think on the situation, then presumably ALL of the parties have enough time to get themselves off the tracks and out of the way.
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Craven de Kere
 
  1  
Reply Tue 17 Feb, 2004 04:55 pm
Adrian wrote:
I agree with Joe, as soon as the driver makes a CHOICE to switch tracks he is doing the wrong thing. The death of the five will not be his fault, the death of the one would be.

Whatever will be, will be.


Just to complicate things, either way a "choice" can be said to have been made.
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Adrian
 
  1  
Reply Tue 17 Feb, 2004 05:41 pm
True Craven, but people die everyday because of my inaction. That's something I've learnt to just accept. Having someone die due to an action of mine is something I couldn't accept. When faced with two bad options, it is better to do nothing.
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Craven de Kere
 
  1  
Reply Tue 17 Feb, 2004 05:49 pm
Ok, describing it as action vs inaction is certainly more accurate.

I disagree with the axiom you propose ("When faced with two bad options, it is better to do nothing.") but find it interesting.

Joe said "if the trolley driver decided not to switch the trolley, would we be justified in saying that he did wrong?"

I don't think so. But I would say he did the wrong thing.

It all depends on what the criteria of morality and ethics is to the individual.

Mine is: "Least suffering for the most people".
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