The Trolley Problem Discussion
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The Trolley Problem Discussion
Watch the below video version of the trolley problem, a well-known moral dilemma analyzed from a utilitarian perspective.
The first version of the problem is sometimes called the “switch dilemma.” This is based upon the idea of a runaway trolley which is moving down the tracks toward five people who will be killed if it the trolley continues on its present course. You are a bystander and can save these five people by pulling a switch and diverting the trolley onto a different set of tracks. The added problem is that this switch will place the trolley on a different track that has only one person on it; however, if you pull the switch that person will be killed. Is it morally permissible to divert the trolley and prevent five deaths at the cost of one? Most people say it is, regardless of culture, gender, ethnicity, religion, or nationality.
Next we have what is sometimes called the “footbridge dilemma.” In this case, the trolley is again headed for five people.
However, you are now standing on a footbridge over the tracks. Leaning over the side of the bridge is a very fat man (fat enough to stop the trolley). You are standing next to him on the footbridge and realize that the only way to stop the trolley and save the five people is to push this man off the footbridge and onto the tracks. Is that morally permissible? Most people say it is not, regardless of culture, gender, ethnicity, religion, or nationality.
Before getting to the thread requirements, a note here about philosophical thought experiments. The conditions of a hypothetical/thought experiment cannot be tweaked/modified/etc. (if we tweak or modify, then it becomes a DIFFERENT thought experiment). So I have a few things to say so that hopefully you will not respond in ways some people have in the past:
Answer the following: What is your own moral analysis of these two cases? Provide reasons to justify your position(s). If you agree with the majority of people regarding these two cases, then what makes it acceptable to sacrifice one person to save five others in the switch dilemma but not in the footbridge case? If you disagree with the majority of people regarding these cases, what explanation do you offer?
NB: In this thread, students often say what they would or wouldn’t do, could or couldn’t do, and then explain their feelings related to their choice (e.g. ‘I would pull the lever in the first scenario, but I could never push the man off the bridge because I would feel too guilty.’ Or ‘I would push the lever because I wouldn’t have to touch anybody, but I couldn’t push the man off the bridge because I wouldn’t want to directly murder someone.’) But a moral analysis is an analysis about why an action might be moral or immoral, with reasons. While we of course have emotional responses in considering what to do, such responses do not reason about the morality of an action. So, in your response, do not answer the question ‘how would you feel about each scenario?’ but rather ‘what would be the morally right action in each scenario?’
To avoid simply saying what you would or wouldn’t do, could or couldn’t do, perhaps begin with something along the lines of
‘the morally right action in the first scenario is to do x because’….(give your justification for what you claim is the morally right action), and ‘the morally right action in the second scenario is to do x because’…(and again give your justification for what you claim is the morally right action).
Make sure to follow the instructions given in Unit 1 in the Discussion Forums: Protocol and Grading Criteria folder for making specific references to texts, videos, and podcasts; posts that do not make references according to these instructions will not receive full credit. Many of the threads ask for specific references to the text, videos, or podcasts, and sometimes students seem not to understand what is meant by ‘specific reference.’ A specific reference to the text should give the name of the reading and the author, if applicable, and the page number (for example, if you refer to a reading within our text not by the author of the text but by another writer included in our text, give the name of the author, the title of the reading, and the page number; if you refer to part of the text written by the textbook author, give the page number). When providing a specific reference, you may quote or paraphrase, but your reference should be thorough (a complete idea) and specific. A specific reference to a video should give the timestamp; to see the timestamp, simply look at the progress bar for the video and give the time during the video at which the point you want to reference occurs, e.g., 1:34. You should make podcast references with the time stamp also.
Here are some examples:
In the reading “On the Pragmatic Theory” by William James, James says blah blah blah on p. 264.
In the video, the narrator says that Plato’s idea of the soul is blah blah blah [2:56].
In the podcast, Sam Harris says blah blah blah [4:34].
Sometimes, students do not answer all the questions in a forum thread, but for full credit, you should thoroughly answer all questions.