My Problem with the Trolley Problem
Andrew Kerr

This is the second “trolley problem” blog post I’ve seen in as many days, decrying the utilitarian motives of those who would kill the one over the many, so I figure I’ll take the time to throw in some thoughts:

I feel like this misses the point of the trolley problem. When I was introduced to this thought experiment, it was meant to show how my emotional response to the “right” thing to do would screw up my ability to actually do it. For example, I (personally) realistically can see myself pulling the lever that sends the trolley into the track with one person instead of the track with five. When you change the problem to actively pushing someone in front of the train, I can’t actually see myself being willing to do that. My perceptions change even though they shouldn’t, since I’m effectively doing the same thing. But my (irrational, IMO) feelings about my actions impede my ability to do the right thing. In this sense, the trolley problem is used a device to show my inability to make the rational, correct decision as a result of my emotional response to the action I need to take.

The same thing goes for killing myself in order to save the people on the track. Given no other information (eg. everybody on the track is the next Hitler), it’s safe to assume that the _correct_ decision would be to kill myself in order to save those other people. But I probably wouldn’t do it because I’m an animal with pretty strong self-preservation instincts which makes me value my life over the lives of others. So even though I might not be willing to kill myself in order to save those people, it can still be viewed as the proper course of action in this case.

Finally, on the point of the utilitarian point of view, what if it’s 1000 people on the track? Or a billion? Or 1 person vs every other human being in the world minus that one human on the other track? Certainly there’s a point where you must accept that the utilitarian viewpoint is the correct one. I don’t think I’m being arrogant in saying that killing one person instead of an entire species is the absolute, objective morally responsible thing to do.


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