Friday, 6 May 2016

The Trolley Problem

The Fat Man

Trolley Problem 

I have had some time on my hands lately and so I have been studying things that I find interesting; among which are Thought Experiments. Thought Experiments are experiments that are carried out in thought only. They tend to give you a moral perspective and tend to allow you see things through a separate point of view from which you would normally see them.  I intend to write some about one particular thought experiment called ‘The Trolley Problem’ I heard about it for the first time while reading John Green’s The Fault in our Stars in 2013, it was touched on a little bit.
The trolley problem is a thought experiment in the field of ethics.  It is basically explained as follows:
There is a runaway trolley speeding down a train track. There are five people tied up and unable to move on the same track and if the trolley is unaltered, it kills the five people; you are standing at some point away from the track, next to a lever which, when you pull, changes the course of the trolley to another lane where you notice that there is only one person at risk.
You have two options: a) Do nothing and watch the trolley kill the five people stuck on the tracks or b) Pull the lever, kill the one person on the other track and by so doing save the life of the other five.
What is the right action to take?
Most people would choose option b which is to pull the lever and kill only one person instead But since there is already wrongness in place as at least someone is bound to die whatever the situation, moving the lever would mean participating in the wrongness and indirectly killing someone instead of the first situation where no one is killing anyone and things are just happening by nature’s cruel hands.
Now, here’s another angle to the same problem: The Fat Man.
Now say the trolley is speeding down a train track just as before and there are still five people unable to move, just as before. In this situation however, you know that the only way to stop the trolley is by creating a wedge with something heavy in front of the trolley before it gets to the five people. You notice a fat man standing just next to you, he is heavy enough. Do you a) Do nothing and watch the five people die or b) Push the fat man unto the track thereby killing him and saving the lives of the other five?
Most people who would pull the lever and kill just the one person in the first example, would shudder at the thought of pushing the fat man unto the tracks, they do not approve of this course of action even though it is very similar to pulling the lever in the first example.
There is a difference though and that difference is your intentions. In the second example, your intention is to harm someone to save five people; however in the first example, you are not intent on killing anyone per se; the death is a kind side effect of you pulling the lever. But the principle still remains the same: by pulling the lever or pushing the fat man, you are directly participating in an event that would lead to the death of someone. By doing nothing, you are not participating; you are just watching a very, very horrific incident take place.
 I do not know what I would do.

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