Runaway trolley problem


Ender, do you think you might be “preferring” those word meanings that fit your preferred understanding of the theological principles?


I’ve told you before: I don’t really care what the definition is or who supplies it. What I do care about is that the definition is clear. All I have been doing is trying to clarify exactly what the terms mean when they are used. If I object to your definition it is not because I prefer a different one, but because I perceive an ambiguity in the one you have provided.


I care. Meaningful dialogue is not possible if the appropriate contextual meaning of words is of no interest.

So any consequence we’d rather didn’t arise cannot condemn our act? Why then does the Double Effect recipe include a condition that the act not be intrinsically evil? You do accept that intrinsically evil acts are not determined by the actor’s desires?
See also BF’s post: Runaway trolley problem


Injustice is the violation of another’s strict right against his reasonable will.

All innocent persons have a strict right to their own life.

When the bystander evaluates the situation, he determines that the innocent person’s life is safe.

That the innocent person’s reasonable will is to live must be assumed absent his express consent to the contrary.

If the bystander pulls the lever then the bystander violates the innocent person’s right to life.

If the bystander pulls the lever then he does an injustice to the innocent person.

All injury, like every kind of moral delinquency, is either formal or material. The species of injurious action determines the act’s formal moral status. The attitude of the actor determines the actor’s culpability and the act’s material moral status.

Pulling the lever is an act (at least) of formal injustice and is, therefore, an evil act.

May one do an injustice to prevent an injustice? No.


Such violations (in general) can occur without the act being immoral - innocent casualties of war-time tactical bombing is an example. In that case, those casualties are not in the moral object of the bombing. In the trolley situation, the contention is that pulling the lever (by the nature of that act) targets the innocent. The act is voluntary, and the result would appear to be as morally direct as aiming and firing a gun, despite the actor having no wish to see the target die.


A further difference among the bombing, tubal pregnancy and trolley exercise is the nature of the presence of evil. In the bombing the active evil is moral (unjust aggressor) and in the tubal pregnancy the active evil is physical (disease). There is no active evil present in the trolley exercise against which one may justify an act that has, in itself, an evil effect, i.e., the death of an innocent.


I just want you to provide the meaning of the words you use. If you care about whether it is the “appropriate” meaning then I’m sure whatever you provide is appropriate to you, and since what I care about is simply the meaning, by definition what you provide is appropriate to me as well. Just can we please discuss what “direct” means? I have said I think it means: “If act A inevitably leads to consequence B, then A is the direct cause of B.”

No; that’s too simplistic, although it is questionable whether a consequence can change the moral character of an act, that’s not really a question I want to debate now.

Of course. Let’s just assume I’m familiar with at least the basics of Catholic moral teaching.

Now, back to the meaning of “direct”…


Wow! So according to your “ethical” system it is forbidden to perform one murder in order to prevent a genocide slaughtering 100 million. And then you can’t understand why you are not taken seriously. Sheesh!


That was covered back in post #676. You are not happy with it, which is not surprising given you are not happy with the meaning of moral object offered some hundreds of posts earlier.

I find your take on the meaning of a “voluntary act” the more surprising.


You missed a post, friend. There is one exception.

Under your moral principle, What the heck, he’s going to die anyway, we can state The Scowler Exception

If Scowler, in his bumbling attempt to murder the viral person, contracts the virus then one may tie him to the track and pull the lever.

It’s in the catechism somewhere. We still pray for you but you’re already a dead letter to most serious Catholics.


Yes, that would be the correct way to handle it. I only wish you could actually show which part of the catechism affirms that. :rofl: I could rub some nose into it…


I’m not happy with that definition because it is ambiguous. I have asked for clarification.

As for the meaning of moral object, I accept the one JPII provided; any other definition is irrelevant.


Where is the ambiguity? I doubt I can make it any clearer. If you can point to usage different than I’ve offered & used routinely by theologians, can you present it? I tried to look for the same online, but could not find anything sufficiently on-point and succinct other than articles such as the following from Ron Conte:


Thank you. Using your definition of the moral meaning of “direct”:

  • Throwing the switch (act A) inevitably leads to the death of an innocent person (consequence B).
  • The bystander foresees that throwing the switch inevitably leads to the death of an innocent person.
  • Since throwing the switch is foreseen as inevitably leading to the death of an innocent person, throwing the switch directly destroys an innocent human being.
  • CCC #2258 … no one can under any circumstance claim for himself the right directly to destroy an innocent human being.
  • If the bystander throws the switch then he immorally claims the right to destroy an innocent human being.
  • Throwing the switch directly kills the innocent person and is, therefore, an intrinsically evil act.


While I contend Ender’s proposed meaning for “direct” is not quite right (though yes it does lead to the conclusion you just demonstrated), I am more concerned by his proposed meaning for “voluntary” - as used by JP2 in post #676; Ender interprets a “voluntary act” to mean the “result” was voluntary, not the (choice of the) act. By so doing, he enables an evil act (eg. voluntary decision to directly kill an innocent as in the trolley) to be excused (ie deemed not evil) if the outcome was not “desired”


If “direct” does not mean “inevitable consequence” then be specific about what aspect of that definition you disagree with, and provide your own. Post 676 is one by o_mlly, and there is no definition there, only a series of examples that quite frankly don’t appear to fit any specific definition.


Yes, throwing the switch inevitably leads to the death of an innocent person. (I’ll point out that performing the operation has the same consequence.) That, however, according to JPII, is insufficient to make the act immoral. The killing also has to be voluntary.

the direct and voluntary killing of an innocent human being is always gravely immoral.” JP II, VS (57)

This is rather different than the citation from 2258 :"…no one can, in any circumstance, claim for himself the right to destroy directly an innocent human being. " As I’ve said before, I don’t see any moral difference between throwing the switch and operating on the mother, nor is there anything in the definition I’ve used that makes a distinction: if the act of throwing the switch violates 2258, then so does operating on the mother. On the other hand, neither of the acts violates JPII’s definition.

Assuming 2258 and JPII are saying the same thing in different ways, which seems a very reasonable conclusion, then how do we reconcile them? I think JPII’s definition is the clearest, but if they mean the same thing then certainly committing an act which leads to an unwanted death hardly meets the criterion of having a right to kill when the death is desired. That is, your sequence fails at step 5. An act that leads to an unwanted outcome is morally different than the same act where the outcome is desired.


I struggled with the definition of voluntary as well; here’s how I understand it. Suppose I drive my car down a street, don’t see a pedestrian, and run him over and kill him. The act of driving was voluntary, hitting the pedestrian was not. This is a very different situation than if I drive my car, see the pedestrian, and run him over anyway. Externally there is no difference between these two scenarios; a bystander would not be able to distinguish between the two incidents. In the second case I voluntarily killed someone; in the first case I did not, although driving the car was certainly voluntary.


Post #676 is authored by me as I view this thread.


The only act I saw in that story was a decision to use your car to go somewhere, and you chose that act voluntarily (assuming you are not sleep ‘walking’).

In the first case, the only act was to use your car to go somewhere. In the second scenario, there are likely two acts both voluntarily chosen: the act to go somewhere in your car, and then the act to run over a pedestrian - different acts at different times, both voluntarily chosen.

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