Let's have a logical thought experiment and see what it tells us.
Or, as Jigsaw says, "Let's play a game."
A new virus has been engineered by a vengeful group of lunatics bent on saving the planet, and, apparently, with a grudge against you personally.
The virus is highly contagious, and has been engineered to be transmissible through any and all vectors. The creators of the virus predict that 80% of the people who are exposed to the virus will become infected.
The virus is non-lethal, but will, however, render 60-80% of its hosts utterly and permanently sterile.
A three year old child and its mother have been infected with this virus and placed in an airtight 4 foot by 4 foot steel box in a crowded park. You can see them through a small portal in the side of the box.
On the box, there is a timer. At 5:00 p.m. the timer will trigger a number of blowtorches that will incinerate all traces of the virus in the box. There are no other existing traces of the virus anywhere else, and all the notes on its creation are in the box. In other words, when the contents of the box are incinerated there will be no more threat, ever, of this particular virus. Unfortunately the mother and child will also be incinerated in this process.
There are two buttons on the box, one marked "OPEN" the other marked "SHOOT".
If you press the button marked "OPEN", the following will occur: the blowtorches will deactivate; the lid of the box will open and a series of nozzles will begin spraying a fine mist of virus contaminated water into the breeze; a panel will open and free the mother and child.
If you press the button marked "SHOOT" a member of the lunatic group on the roof of a nearby building with a sniper rifle will kill you, quickly and cleanly. He will not miss. Also, when you push the "SHOOT" button, a vapor will be released into the box that utterly neutralizes the virus in the child and in the tanks of virus-contaminated water. There will be no further danger from this virus whatsoever. The box will then open, and the mother and child will released completely unharmed.
You have been given all of the information above, and you are at least 95% sure this is not a hoax.
You are standing next to the box and you can read the display on the timer.
It is now 4:57 p.m.
actually, this one is far too easy. i am not alone in feeling this way, so there would be lots of takers to press the 'shoot' button. this would save the mother and child, destroy the virus, give me a way off this planet, and make meaningful the end of a rather unremarkable if not toxic life.
now the trolley is a dilemma...i doubt if i have the strength to push the fat man, but the switches i could probably manage. dont know what i would do there...i would say call for help but i assume there is no one to hear me.
i assume also there is no time to attract the attention of the worker before diverting the train towards him so that he has time to get away. i suppose there is no option other than what the dilemma provides? maybe i would walk away, saying there may be a cosmic plan here that i dont understand and by intervening i would screw up something i know nothing about. i would be taking the risk of being damned for killing five people-but taking my judgment call out of the issue, since i believe no one has a right to judge anyone else. maybe the one man working is worth the other five, the other five could be ....(here insert the word that best describes what segment of humanity that you most despise, i.e. terrorists, serial killers, etc)....i cant make that call, so i let the chips fall where they may.
---------- Post added 12-07-2009 at 06:20 PM ----------
i didnt mention it, but i believe i used both logic and emotion to reach those conclusions. i like to think i try to balance them rather than favor one over the other all the time, but it is hard to be objective about things like that. using both would make the best moral judgments i believe.