## How would you respond to the trolley problem?

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The trolley problem is a thought experiment where you’re asked to either watch five people be killed or pull a lever so that only one person gets killed.

In this hypothetical scenario which choice would you make?

For those who would let the five people die by not pulling the lever to kill one person is there a minimum number of people on the track that would make you choose to kill the one person?

50? 100? 1,000? 10,000?

• 2.4k
Here's a fun little game to play that might answer your question. https://trolleyproblem.io/

If of course its simply a matter of numbers, the answer is obvious. The one over the five people every time. The complications come in when you consider the value of the individuals on the tracks. Hope you enjoy the game. :)
• 8.9k
If of course its simply a matter of numbers, the answer is obvious.

And yet doctors are not permitted to sacrifice one person to save five lives with organ transplants.

The mathematics only works some of the time.
• 2.4k
And yet doctors are not permitted to sacrifice one person to save five lives with organ transplants.

That is a different scenario. What you have is one person on the tracks that can walk away vs five tied down. You're asking to switch the track and tell the person they need to stay there. We can't change the analogy as an argument.
• 8.9k
That is a different scenario.

The sameness in the scenario is that one acts to deliberately kill one person not in danger, in order to save 5 people who would otherwise die.

If your answer is different in different scenarios, you need to add moral principles to your analysis that makes the moral distinction clear, because it is not as obvious as the arithmetic.
• 2.4k
The sameness in the scenario is that one acts to deliberately kill one person not in danger, in order to save 5 people who would otherwise die.

Its not the same, its a variation with a similar theme. My answer is to the specific scenario they gave. Of course the answer is different with a different scenario. Changing the scenario is not an argument against the answer given for the specific scenario given. To be clear, you seem to think that from this specific scenario, I am declaring a global moral decision apart from all context. This is a contextual moral decision from a contextual context. Nothing more.
• 8.9k
My answer is to the specific scenario they gave. Of course the answer is different with a different scenario.

Then the arithmetic is not crucial, and your justification based on the arithmetic is not valid.
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Then the arithmetic is not crucial, and your justification based on the arithmetic is not valid.

That's a statement, not an argument. Please explain how the arithmetic is not crucial when the example only indicates the number of the people on the track. Again, this specific example. Not variations or additions from what the OP proposed.
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Well, I did not put the people on the track, nor am I responsible for their well-being.

So really it's none of my business. I would keep walking. Whatever weird game they're playing over there, I want none of it.
• 8.9k
Please explain how the arithmetic is not crucial

If there is a principle that it is right to act to kill 1 to save 5, the principle should apply to both scenarios. Since it doesn't apply to both scenarios, there must be another principle that overrides the numbers principle that makes the difference. This is the idea of doing thought experiments, that you test how you justify things.

Hence another variation, where you cannot switch the points, but you can push a fat man onto the track and save the 5 at the cost of his life. Again, switching the points and having someone die as "collateral damage" seems less repugnant than actively pushing some passer-by, like @Tzeentch, into harms way. But is it? I think the callous bastard deserves it. :wink:
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Callous? You're the one suggesting you'd like to actively participate.
• 8.9k
Hey, I just saved 5 people from certain death, and you're complaining just because I had to sacrifice you? It wasn't my fault you were wandering around the trolly tracks not trying to save anyone.
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That would make you a murderer, not a savior. And you're the one calling me callous? :chin:
• 7.3k
I think this problem is morally irrelevant. This is a game, where the game master has constrained your moral agency to a binary choice of bad outcomes. The lack of moral agency makes any choice morally acceptable.
• 2.4k
If there is a principle that it is right to act to kill 1 to save 5, the principle should apply to both scenarios.

I think our differences are that I'm not declaring a principle. I'm declaring, "In X scenario, this is the correct answer". You seem to think I'm extending some universal principal from this that extends to other scenarios. I'm not.

Now, if I were to declare, "From X example, this is a principle we can apply to all examples," you would be right. I'm not doing that however. You'll even notice I note that it changes if you consider the value of the people, or extend the scenario out from its basic intent.

The question I'm more interested in, is if giving the exact scenario, five nameless and unvalued humans (we don't know what they have done or will do) are on a set of tracks vs one nameless and unvalued human, is it moral to pull the lever to ensure only the one person dies, or leave it for the five to die?

So to be clear, there's a lever for you to pull or not to pull. Five nameless vs 1 nameless, the track is currently set to kill five nameless humans. What do you find moral in this specific and unaltered situation and why?
• 3.5k
I think it's morally relevant, but not in the way it's usually portrayed.

The dilemma doesn't state the person has to get involved. The person has a third choice: do not get involved. So why would they choose to get involved in business that only has bad outcomes?

It's a dimension of morality that isn't explored often, but which in my opinion is a critical part of any coherent moral system: when is it morally acceptable to choose non-interference?
• 1.9k
Here's... as close as possible... to a real world test. Just to check how people would actually react rather than believe they would.

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when is it morally acceptable to choose non-interference?

When there's insufficient knowledge of the outcome, or of the moving parts of a situation. Or if there's significant risk to your own health. It's not selfish to not risk your life and people who scold someone for opting out of action when there's a significant risk to their own health and life are usually not very good at understanding the pressure of such a situation.

Other than that, if there's no risk to your own health and the situation is clear and obvious, then I would say it's immoral not to act.
• 2.4k
Here's... as close as possible... to a real world test. Just to check how people would actually react rather than believe they would.

Unfortunately this isn't a good example. The situation adds an extra variable of expertise involved. The participants didn't fully understand the situation, and thought hitting the lever might make things worse. Makes sense. If I'm in a strange room with equipment that I'm unfamiliar with, and I know there are people who normally operate this equipment and are possibly nearby, I'm not going to switch the switch.

A better example would have been to have the people be familiar with what the switch does first and have several switch tests with the train at a particular speed so that way they knew switching the tracks would not cause the train to derail, give them agency over it, and understand the power they have. This is like the example. Only then should they put the situation in front of them and see what they do.

when is it morally acceptable to choose non-interference?
— Tzeentch

When there's insufficient knowledge of the outcome, or of the moving parts of a situation.

I think you cover that here, I'm just adding to your note.
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The situation adds an extra variable of expertise involved. The participants didn't fully understand the situation, and thought hitting the lever might make things worse. Makes sense. If I'm in a strange room with equipment that I'm unfamiliar with, and I know there are people who normally operate this equipment and are possibly nearby, I'm not going to switch the switch.

Isn't this the point of what I meant by it being a real world test? As in, taking into account all the complexities that piles on top of each other when faced with a real world scenario.

It's very common to hear philosophical analogies that try to simulate a moral question, but we rarely meet such problems in real life because real life is messier. In real life, if you have a gun and need to choose who to shoot to save whoever, or something along those lines, that scenario would incorporate a lot more moving parts that affect how you morally act. Aspects that aren't as black and white as many philosophical analogies tend to incorporate.

In the end, most philosophical thought experiments in morality ends up being rather useless for evaluating morality.
• 2.6k
This is a game, where the game master has constrained your moral agency to a binary choice of bad outcomes.

You mean like life?
• 8.9k
Aye, there's the rub. My action killed one, but your inaction killed five.

So here is your principle: If I do nothing, I do nothing wrong. So now you are one of the five tied on the track; do you want to persuade me to act at all?

I think this problem is morally irrelevant. This is a game, where the game master has constrained your moral agency to a binary choice of bad outcomes.

As is usually the case, in for instance an election, will you vote for the Dispicables or the Incompetents?

I'm not declaring a principle. I'm declaring, "In X scenario, this is the correct answer"

The one over the five people every time.

This is what I mean by a principle. but it turns out that you don't think it's every time, but only this specific time. And the only lesson I can learn, in that case, is to ask Philosophim whenever there's a moral dilemma, because he will know the correct answer, but will not know why it is correct. That is more of a cult than a philosophy.

So to be clear, there's a lever for you to pull or not to pull. Five nameless vs 1 nameless, the track is currently set to kill five nameless humans. What do you find moral in this specific and unaltered situation and why?

I don't know what i would do, quite possibly freeze like most of the people in the video. But if I didn't freeze, I would pull the lever. But I would feel guilty about it, because I do not believe it is moral to do so. I believe it is the comfortable thing to do.
• 2.6k
The one over the five people every time.

Yes, but what about one over two. I pull the switch if it's five to one, but I'm not sure what I would do if there are only two people on the car. Or what about saving ten people at the cost of nine? Is that obvious?
• 13.1k
I think this problem is morally irrelevant.

Yes, I hate the trolley problem. It's one of those things that gives philosophy a bad name. It's nothing like any person will ever have to face in the real world. I wasn't going to say anything and sidetrack the discussion, but you gave me an opening.
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It's nothing like any person will ever have to face in the real world.

What about triage situations and organ shortages? If you have ten people who need an organ and only one organ, who gets it? Who lives and who dies? Do you save Mickey Mantle or a kid?
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As is usually the case, in for instance an election, will you vote for the Dispicables or the Incompetents?

I vote revolution. Off with their heads.
• 7.3k
What about triage situations and organ shortages? If you have ten people who need an organ and only one organ, who gets it? Who lives and who dies? Do you save Mickey Mantle or a kid?

Nothing like triage either. Triage is merely concerned with who has the highest chance of survival.
• 2.4k
I'm not declaring a principle. I'm declaring, "In X scenario, this is the correct answer"
— Philosophim

The one over the five people every time.
— Philosophim

This is what I mean by a principle. but it turns out that you don't think it's every time, but only this specific time.

Yes, in the context of his example. You mistakenly assumed I meant for all examples, which is normal mistake. If you reread my entire passage however, you'll note that I added, "The complications come in when you consider the value of the individuals on the tracks." So you can tell that it was your misunderstanding of what I was intending, not me changing anything after the fact.

And the only lesson I can learn, in that case, is to ask Philosophim whenever there's a moral dilemma, because he will know the correct answer, but will not know why it is correct. That is more of a cult than a philosophy.

I thought you understood it was by basic arithmetic as you critiqued me on earlier. If there is no value comparison between the people, then saving five people over one is a no brainer to me. If you disagree, feel free to explain why. You have not been addressing the problem, but a straw man up until now by changing the example, or inserting intentions that I did not make.

I don't know what i would do, quite possibly freeze like most of the people in the video. But if I didn't freeze, I would pull the lever. But I would feel guilty about it, because I do not believe it is moral to do so. I believe it is the comfortable thing to do.

This is a counter answer to the problem which we can discuss! So lets assume you would know what to do, as we've thought about this before. You state you would pull the lever, but not believe it is moral to do so. Why? Morality is often thought of as, "What ought to be/happen." If you think the moral actions is that the lever should be pressed, then you think its moral to do so. Your guilt or emotions over the issue don't change whether something is moral or not.
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It's one of those things that gives philosophy a bad name. It's nothing like any person will ever have to face in the real world. I wasn't going to say anything and disrupt the discussion, but you gave me an opening.

In the light of the video above, where folks were placed in a situation that they really believed that was almost exactly the trolley problem, it is clearly a possible scenario, and one has to suspect that you have other reasons to hate it.

I vote revolution. Off with their heads.

Not on the ballot paper. Personally, I found it bad enough beheading a chicken. I do not believe either of us would even behead Putin or Trump.
• 2.4k
The one over the five people every time.
— Philosophim

Yes, but what about one over two. I pull the switch if it's five to one, but I'm not sure what I would do if there are only two people on the car. Or what about saving ten people at the cost of nine? Is that obvious?

To me, yes. Because the problem as presented is a math problem, and nothing more. We don't know the value of the people on the tracks. So at that point we save the greatest number of lives.
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To me, yes. Because the problem as presented is a math problem, and nothing more. We don't know the value of the people on the tracks. So at that point we save the greatest number of lives.

OK, but let's make Trolley Car even more ridiculous by having 999 people tied on the track and 1000 in the car. If a person decides not to pull the switch, do you think they did something wrong? Would you condemn them?
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