A Look at the Trolley Problem

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Reply Wed 13 Jan, 2010 12:45 am
w/ a twist

1st scenario
-------------
A trolley is running out of control down a track. In its path are 5 people who have been tied to the track. Fortunately, you can flip a switch, which will lead the trolley down a different track to safety. Unfortunately, there is a single person tied to that track. Should you flip the switch?

2nd scenario
--------------
Same as the 1st only the single person is either your son/daughter, your spouse, or your mother/father



in the first case I think I would have to flip the switch whereas in the 2nd case I don't think that I could

it would seem that the only morally praiseworthy thing one could do would be to throw ones self in front of the train in an attempt to stop it whereas I guess I would consider my actions in scenario 1 only morally permissible given that I must view each person as equal. I really don't know what to think about my response to the 2nd scenario though other than I suppose someone I love would outweigh all else. But then the question becomes just how many people would need to be on the other track for me to sacrifice someone I loved?
 
Krumple
 
Reply Wed 13 Jan, 2010 01:24 am
@Amperage,
To be honest I really don't see what the question is suppose to do exactly.

It places you into this hypothetical situation without any realistic options. What is preventing you from sabotaging the track? Or doing any one of the other thousands of options you have at saving all of the people in question?

I understand that the context is necessary for if it to work but my point is, the question isn't very realistic. You can't seriously make this choice because it is so lacking in options.

But to prevent the objection for my reasoning. I would probably go with the death of the single person, even if they were someone I loved beyond anything else. Why? Because I know myself and I believe the person that I loved would be one of self sacrifice in the face of others surviving. So I could make the choice because I would believe it would be the choice they themselves would make. How do I know, because if I were that single person, I would rather them chose my death to save the other five.

Think about it? The death of those five would mean the suffering of many more people were as my own death would still cause some to suffer but not as many.

You could toss in other absurdities if you want to. Like making these other five people rapists, molesters or any number of undesirable characteristics but my answer would still be the same. Even a mother loves her serial killer son.
 
Jebediah
 
Reply Wed 13 Jan, 2010 10:07 am
@Krumple,
Krumple;119587 wrote:
To be honest I really don't see what the question is suppose to do exactly.

It places you into this hypothetical situation without any realistic options. What is preventing you from sabotaging the track? Or doing any one of the other thousands of options you have at saving all of the people in question?

I understand that the context is necessary for if it to work but my point is, the question isn't very realistic. You can't seriously make this choice because it is so lacking in options.


It's a thought experiment. It's just asking for your priorities, not looking for solutions that save everyone.


Quote:
But to prevent the objection for my reasoning. I would probably go with the death of the single person, even if they were someone I loved beyond anything else. Why? Because I know myself and I believe the person that I loved would be one of self sacrifice in the face of others surviving. So I could make the choice because I would believe it would be the choice they themselves would make. How do I know, because if I were that single person, I would rather them chose my death to save the other five.

Think about it? The death of those five would mean the suffering of many more people were as my own death would still cause some to suffer but not as many.
I would definitely choose to kill the five. You're kidding yourself if you don't think people value the life of their spouse over five strangers, that's like saying love doesn't exist.

Quote:
You could toss in other absurdities if you want to. Like making these other five people rapists, molesters or any number of undesirable characteristics but my answer would still be the same. Even a mother loves her serial killer son.
What on earth makes you think that? Family bonds are not iron clad.
 
3k1yp2
 
Reply Wed 13 Jan, 2010 11:46 am
@Jebediah,
that depends. if it was a random person, i would kill them to save the five, but if it was a romantic lover of mine, no way in hell i would let them die. Maybe she would want me to kill her to save the five, but im a selfish a-hole, when it comes to someone i love. I would die to save the five if i could. truly, it is kinda hard to say what you would do, because pressure changes stuff...
 
Pyrrho
 
Reply Wed 13 Jan, 2010 12:44 pm
@Amperage,
Amperage;119579 wrote:
w/ a twist

1st scenario
-------------
A trolley is running out of control down a track. In its path are 5 people who have been tied to the track. Fortunately, you can flip a switch, which will lead the trolley down a different track to safety. Unfortunately, there is a single person tied to that track. Should you flip the switch?

2nd scenario
--------------
Same as the 1st only the single person is either your son/daughter, your spouse, or your mother/father



in the first case I think I would have to flip the switch whereas in the 2nd case I don't think that I could

it would seem that the only morally praiseworthy thing one could do would be to throw ones self in front of the train in an attempt to stop it whereas I guess I would consider my actions in scenario 1 only morally permissible given that I must view each person as equal. I really don't know what to think about my response to the 2nd scenario though other than I suppose someone I love would outweigh all else. But then the question becomes just how many people would need to be on the other track for me to sacrifice someone I loved?


I would not flip the switch in either case. If you do nothing, you are simply letting things happen. If you flip the switch, you are a murderer, willfully killing the lone person.
 
Zetherin
 
Reply Wed 13 Jan, 2010 12:46 pm
@Pyrrho,
Pyrrho;119701 wrote:
I would not flip the switch in either case. If you do nothing, you are simply letting things happen. If you flip the switch, you are a murderer, willfully killing the lone person.


But can't inaction make you a murderer also, or, at the least, morally responsible? Your placement in the situation makes you morally responsible, I think.
 
Amperage
 
Reply Wed 13 Jan, 2010 12:52 pm
@Zetherin,
Zetherin;119702 wrote:
But can't inaction make you a murderer also, or, at the least, morally responsible? Your placement in the situation makes you morally responsible, I think.
I think so too. I would be kidding myself to think that I could turn a blind eye
 
Pyrrho
 
Reply Wed 13 Jan, 2010 01:05 pm
@Zetherin,
Zetherin;119702 wrote:
But can't inaction make you a murderer also,



No, inaction is not action. To be a murderer, you must do something. Letting someone die is not murder. To think otherwise would require condemning all doctors as murderers who do not always go to extraordinary lengths to keep someone alive, even if only for another second.


Zetherin;119702 wrote:
or, at the least, morally responsible?



To have a moral obligation to help someone, it must be possible to do so in a manner that is not objectionable.


Zetherin;119702 wrote:
Your placement in the situation makes you morally responsible, I think.



You are morally responsible for your decision in every situation which occurs in your life. But that does not mean you are responsible for the situations themselves.
 
Amperage
 
Reply Wed 13 Jan, 2010 01:08 pm
@Pyrrho,
Pyrrho;119708 wrote:
No, inaction is not action. To be a murderer, you must do something. Letting someone die is not murder. To think otherwise would require condemning all doctors as murderers who do not always go to extraordinary lengths to keep someone alive, even if only for another second.

whereas I think it would only be murder if the doctors did nothing. Like not attempt CPR. Attempting to save someones life and not succeeding does not make one a murderer.

If you come upon a house(for the sake of the example lets say there are no windows and there are no other ways out) that's on fire and you can hear people inside but they can't get out because the doors locked, if you don't unlock the door I might consider you a murderer but if you unlock the door but someone still dies I don't see how that could be construed as murder
 
Zetherin
 
Reply Wed 13 Jan, 2010 01:15 pm
@Amperage,
Pyrrho wrote:

No, inaction is not action. To be a murderer, you must do something. Letting someone die is not murder. To think otherwise would require condemning all doctors as murderers who do not always go to extraordinary lengths to keep someone alive, even if only for another second.



No, to think otherwise would not necessarily mean this. You're making it a black and white issue. I think it depends on the specific circumstances. Doing something which could lead to death is not always murder, just as not doing something which could prevent death is not always murder. But doing something which could lead to death could be murder, just as not doing something which could prevent death could be murder.

Quote:

To have a moral obligation to help someone, it must be possible to do so in a manner that is not objectionable.


Not objectionable? Can you elaborate?
 
Pyrrho
 
Reply Wed 13 Jan, 2010 01:36 pm
@Amperage,
Amperage;119712 wrote:
whereas I think it would only be murder if the doctors did nothing. Like not attempt CPR. Attempting to save someones life and not succeeding does not make one a murderer.



You seem to misunderstand me. Many times, in a hospital, a patient who is judged to be terminally ill is not revived when the patient goes into cardiac arrest, even when the doctors are fairly sure that they could revive the person. This is done because it is judged to be not worthwhile, and may cause prolonged suffering. But it is a failure to prevent death when it is possible to prevent it. Now, tell me, are the doctors who do not always attempt resuscitation murderers? It is their failure to act that leads to the death at that time.


Amperage;119712 wrote:
If you come upon a house(for the sake of the example lets say there are no windows and there are no other ways out) that's on fire and you can hear people inside but they can't get out because the doors locked, if you don't unlock the door I might consider you a murderer but if you unlock the door but someone still dies I don't see how that could be construed as murder



What you consider to be "murder" may not coincide with proper use. Murder is:

Quote:
the killing of another human being under conditions specifically covered in law.


Murder Definition | Definition of Murder at Dictionary.com

And killing is:

Quote:
the act of a person or thing that kills.


Killing Definition | Definition of Killing at Dictionary.com


In order to murder, one must kill, and in order to kill, one must act. Inaction is never murder, though it may be negligence in some cases.
 
Jebediah
 
Reply Wed 13 Jan, 2010 01:48 pm
@Pyrrho,
Pyrrho wrote:
I would not flip the switch in either case. If you do nothing, you are simply letting things happen. If you flip the switch, you are a murderer, willfully killing the lone person.


That's such a cop out.
 
Pyrrho
 
Reply Wed 13 Jan, 2010 01:51 pm
@Zetherin,
Zetherin;119717 wrote:
No, to think otherwise would not necessarily mean this.


"To think otherwise" was referring to the previous sentence, "Letting someone die is not murder." The negation of that is, "It is not the case that letting someone die is not murder", which is logically equivalent to "Letting someone die is murder". If letting someone die is murder, then the doctors in my example are murderers. I am sorry if what I stated in my earlier post was unclear.

Zetherin;119717 wrote:
You're making it a black and white issue. I think it depends on the specific circumstances. Doing something which could lead to death is not always murder, just as not doing something which could prevent death is not always murder. But doing something which could lead to death could be murder, just as not doing something which could prevent death could be murder.



Which means, in part, letting someone die is not equivalent to murder, which is what I said.


Zetherin;119717 wrote:
Not objectionable? Can you elaborate?



A full elaboration would be lengthy, but to give you the right idea, let us consider a different version of the trolley problem that in fact exists. Right now, there are people waiting for organ donors, who will die because they will not get the organs. But we could change that, if we were willing to actively kill people to get organs for them. We could find someone suitable, and harvest all of their organs, thereby saving several people, as one would get the heart, another a kidney, another a liver, etc. So by murdering one person, several (who knows? it might even turn out to be five people) could be saved. Should we be doing that? If not, then I don't see why you would want to murder one person in the trolley problem in order to save five.
 
Zetherin
 
Reply Wed 13 Jan, 2010 02:05 pm
@Amperage,
Pyrrho wrote:

Which means, in part, letting someone die is not equivalent to murder, which is what I said.



But, then, given the details of the circumstance, I think you can see how someone could argue you would be responsible for the lives of those people. Not doing anything in this case would not excuse you from being morally responsible.

Quote:

If not, then I don't see why you would want to murder one person in the trolley problem in order to save five.


Well, you have to consider the context of the question. It's an either or question. There are no other options besides those two, which places it in another ballpark, so to say. If you take the question out of context, then you are not really answering the question, are you?
 
Pyrrho
 
Reply Wed 13 Jan, 2010 02:11 pm
@Jebediah,
Jebediah;119732 wrote:
Pyrrho wrote:
I would not flip the switch in either case. If you do nothing, you are simply letting things happen. If you flip the switch, you are a murderer, willfully killing the lone person.


That's such a cop out.


If you have something useful to say, you should say it instead of merely being insulting, which is a violation of forum rules.

Since you regard it as a cop out to refrain from killing someone in order to save five, what do you say to the altered trolley problem I mention in this thread? Here it is again:

Let us consider a different version of the trolley problem that in fact exists. Right now, there are people waiting for organ donors, who will die because they will not get the organs. But we could change that, if we were willing to actively kill people to get organs for them. We could find someone suitable, and harvest all of their organs, thereby saving several people, as one would get the heart, another a kidney, another a liver, etc. So by murdering one person, several (who knows? it might even turn out to be five people) could be saved. Should we be doing that? If not, then I don't see why you would want to murder one person in the trolley problem in order to save five.
 
Zetherin
 
Reply Wed 13 Jan, 2010 02:17 pm
@Amperage,
xxx....................................
 
Pyrrho
 
Reply Wed 13 Jan, 2010 02:20 pm
@Zetherin,
Zetherin;119734 wrote:
But, then, given the details of the circumstance, I think you can see how someone could argue you would be responsible for the lives of those people. Not doing anything in this case would not excuse you from being morally responsible.



I agree that one is responsible for one's actions, and that one is responsible for one's inactions, insofar as action is possible (which is added because, of course, one is not responsible for not doing what is impossible). But the question is, is it right to murder one person in order to save the lives of five people?


Zetherin;119734 wrote:
Well, you have to consider the context of the question. It's an either or question. There are no other options besides those two, which places it in another ballpark, so to say. If you take the question out of context, then you are not really answering the question, are you?


There is no context of the trolley problem. It is simply a made up scenario to ask the question, is it right to kill one innocent person in order to save the lives of five innocent people? I say, the answer to that question is, "no".

If you believe that there is a significant difference between the trolley problem as stated in the opening post, and my real version of it involving organ donation, you should state clearly what you believe to be importantly different about the two situations.
 
Jebediah
 
Reply Wed 13 Jan, 2010 02:23 pm
@Pyrrho,
Pyrrho;119737 wrote:
If you have something useful to say, you should say it instead of merely being insulting, which is a violation of forum rules.

Since you regard it as a cop out to refrain from killing someone in order to save five, what do you say to the altered trolley problem I mention in this thread? Here it is again:

Let us consider a different version of the trolley problem that in fact exists. Right now, there are people waiting for organ donors, who will die because they will not get the organs. But we could change that, if we were willing to actively kill people to get organs for them. We could find someone suitable, and harvest all of their organs, thereby saving several people, as one would get the heart, another a kidney, another a liver, etc. So by murdering one person, several (who knows? it might even turn out to be five people) could be saved. Should we be doing that? If not, then I don't see why you would want to murder one person in the trolley problem in order to save five.


The organ donor problem is usually given in conjunction to the trolley problem. I don't consider it a cop out to avoid killing someone in order to save five, in the version of the trolley problem where you have to push a fat man off a bridge I would not do it, simply because I don't think I could kill someone with my bare hands like that.

I didn't mean to insult you, the part I find to be a cop out was the "simply letting things happen" which I thought abdicated the responsibility to make the best choice.

Most people will choose to save the five in the trolley problem but not to in the organ donor problem. It's a tough issue, I don't think you just can point out that inconsistency and say that they must be treated the same. Our moral instincts are in conflict with our moral ideas.

---------- Post added 01-13-2010 at 03:33 PM ----------

Pyrrho;119740 wrote:
I agree that one is responsible for one's actions, and that one is responsible for one's inactions, insofar as action is possible (which is added because, of course, one is not responsible for not doing what is impossible). But the question is, is it right to murder one person in order to save the lives of five people?


I don't think you are murdering anyone in the trolley problem. The trolley will kill them. You are just deciding if the trolley will kill 5 or 1. In the other version presented, the trolley is going to kill 5 people, and you have to kill the other. This is why people answer the question differently.

Quote:

There is no context of the trolley problem. It is simply a made up scenario to ask the question, is it right to kill one innocent person in order to save the lives of five innocent people? I say, the answer to that question is, "no".
How about 1 person to save 6 billion people? I say yes.

Quote:
If you believe that there is a significant difference between the trolley problem as stated in the opening post, and my real version of it involving organ donation, you should state clearly what you believe to be importantly different about the two situations.
Would you rather have a society where people died from not getting organ transplants, or one where everyone was so callous that they could grab innocent people and slice them open to save others? I would rather take my chances at dying from lack of a heart transplant.
 
Zetherin
 
Reply Wed 13 Jan, 2010 02:35 pm
@Amperage,
Pyrrho wrote:

But the question is, is it right to murder one person in order to save the lives of five people?


Yes, that is precisely the question. That's one of the questions the trolley problem raises - the one you sidestepped (by not choosing at all).

Quote:
There is no context of the trolley problem. It is simply a made up scenario to ask the question, is it right to kill one innocent person in order to save the lives of five innocent people? I say, the answer to that question is, "no".


Of course there is context. You must consider the details:

1.) There are only two choices
2.) Each choice has a relation with the other (If I choose A, X is saved and Y dies, if I choose B, X dies and Y is saved)
3.) I am the responsible party (I am the only one that can make this choice)

So, your organ example would not be an apt analogy unless it were identical, in detail, to this question. And since there seems to be more than two choices in your example (you didn't create a sense of urgency like a train speeding does; the people that need the organs could receive mechanical parts, for instance), and you didn't make it clear that I'm the responsible party in regards to making this choice, I don't think it's apt. It doesn't mean it can't be. I just need clarification.

Quote:
If you believe that there is a significant difference between the trolley problem as stated in the opening post, and my real version of it involving organ donation, you should state clearly what you believe to be importantly different about the two situations.


Well, I think I made clear what details I think may differ from your question and the OP's question.
 
Pyrrho
 
Reply Wed 13 Jan, 2010 02:37 pm
@Jebediah,
Jebediah;119742 wrote:
The organ donor problem is usually given in conjunction to the trolley problem. I don't consider it a cop out to avoid killing someone in order to save five, in the version of the trolley problem where you have to push a fat man off a bridge I would not do it, simply because I don't think I could kill someone with my bare hands like that.

I didn't mean to insult you, the part I find to be a cop out was the "simply letting things happen" which I thought abdicated the responsibility to make the best choice.

Most people will choose to save the five in the trolley problem but not to in the organ donor problem. It's a tough issue, I don't think you just can point out that inconsistency and say that they must be treated the same. Our moral instincts are in conflict with our moral ideas.



I think what that shows is that people are not consistent, and do not make these decisions rationally at all. I have never heard anyone give any decent explanation for the difference in what ought to be done. Of course, I am aware that people do, in fact, give different responses, just as you say. There are psychological explanations, but that is not at all the same as an ethical explanation, or an explanation that would make the difference in attitude in any way rational.

Of course, people do not have to treat the different scenarios already mentioned in this thread the same, because, of course, people do not have to be consistent. However, I think they should be consistent.

For anyone interested, here is an article on the trolley problem, with discussions of some variants:

Trolley problem - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

---------- Post added 01-13-2010 at 03:49 PM ----------

Jebediah;119742 wrote:


---------- Post added 01-13-2010 at 03:33 PM ----------



I don't think you are murdering anyone in the trolley problem. The trolley will kill them.



Come now. If a man pulls the trigger on a gun, and shoots a person, it is no defense for the man to say, "I did not murder anyone; the bullet is what killed them, not me." By flipping the switch, you are killing the lone person.


Jebediah;119742 wrote:
You are just deciding if the trolley will kill 5 or 1. In the other version presented, the trolley is going to kill 5 people, and you have to kill the other. This is why people answer the question differently.



If one were going to argue as you do above, one would say that by throwing the fat man, one is not killing him at all; it is the trolley that runs him over and kills him. The simple fact is, you are no more (and no less) killing him than you are killing the person tied to the tracks in the other version.


Jebediah;119742 wrote:
How about 1 person to save 6 billion people? I say yes.

Would you rather have a society where people died from not getting organ transplants, or one where everyone was so callous that they could grab innocent people and slice them open to save others? I would rather take my chances at dying from lack of a heart transplant.



I certainly never said that the organ transplants should take place in that scenario. Indeed, my position on this matter is as far from allowing that as possible. I do not believe that murdering an innocent person in order to save others is ever the morally right thing to do.
 
 

 
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