Runaway trolley problem


Incredible. You write above that the moral object of this act has no moral object. You continue to ignore the Catholic fundamental definitions of the three fonts of morality.

I must conclude this ignorance is invincible and offer to you your own question given on another thread to another poster:

I hope this ignorance is not willful. I offer my variation to the OP’s scenario: If I’m at the trolley station someday and see someone who looks like Tony the Tiger’s son wandering around looking for a switch to throw may I make a citizen’s arrest?


Of course, we agree. As has been pointed out many times and apparently ignored, the erroneous analysis of the trolley case relies on a confusion of fonts. To give on this point of correctly defining the moral object defeats this erroneous argument.

One cannot claim, as Ender does, that the act which causes the death of an innocent is merely a consequence and as such belongs to the circumstantial font.

Some circumstances of a moral action are of such an aggravating nature that they actually alter the moral object itself, for which the scholastic Latin used the phrase “transit in rationem objecti,” viz., the circumstance passes over into the definition (ratio) of the object.


If the conductor comes to the switch, and because of the route he is supposed to take he throws it, what is the object of the action? If he comes to the switch and is supposed to go right, but there are people on the tracks he will commit the same action: throw the switch. What is the object of that action? Finally, he comes to the switch and there are people on both the right and left tracks. Because there are more on the right side, he again throws the switch; what is his object in this case? In each instance the action is identical, so what makes the objects different, given that the object encompasses both the act and the proximate end, but not the ultimate end?

You keep using terms without specifying what they mean; you provide only assertions. Why am I not equally justified in simply asserting the opposite? What does “ordered to” mean? You equate throwing the switch with shooting someone in the head - deliberate acts of murder. The thing is, murder is in the act of shooting someone, but the death from the trolley only stems from the act; it is no part of the act itself. That is, it exists per se but not in se, which by a definition actually provided, means the death is not direct.


No, I equate throwing a switch with squeezing a trigger. No moral content in either of THOSE descriptions. Further, I assert a trolley on tracks that point somewhere to be comparable to a gun pointing somewhere, and I compare a man fixed to tracks comparable to a man being in the sights of that gun.

It’s called a “moral object”. Do you contend there is no moral content to be evaluated? How is goodness to be evaluated?


A moral object doesn’t have a moral object because it is a moral object. You provided a definition for direct; I simply used that definition.

You have yet to explain how you can oppose throwing the switch in the OP example yet support throwing the switch where the track is circular. In both cases the result is the same: the trolley is redirected toward an innocent person. You have claimed this is an intrinsically evil act in the first case, but apparently you accept it as a valid exception in the second case, but there are no exceptions to intrinsically evil acts, so how can you justify throwing the switch?


You know that that is nonsense, right? The act has a moral object.

I ask you again, if you’re serious, define the moral object for both trolley cases. Please be specific.


The moral object in all of the trolley cases is the same: throw the switch to redirect the trolley. That describes the act and the proximate end. The intent of the act is to (a) follow the trolley routing plan, (b) save the people on the track, © save the people on the track. In the case of the circular track the intent is to save the life of the mother. The circumstances of the acts are: (a) that’s what the trolley route calls for, (b) there are people on the active track but not on the alternate track, © there are four people on the active track and one on the alternate track. With the circular track, unless the switch is thrown both the mother and infant will die.


@Ender, do you propose to respond further to earlier posts?


Your definition of object is invalid as all that you describe is in the physical order.
In order to specify the moral object one must step inside the willing actor and cite more than merely the physical.

By the object of a given moral act…one cannot mean a process or an event in the merely physical order … (VS)


Reference the post you want me to respond to and I will.


The object is the physical act and the proximate end (according to JPII). This is why I defined the object of the acts in all the trolley cases as “throw the switch to redirect the trolley.” “Throw the switch” is the physical action, and “to redirect the trolley” is the proximate end.


You omitted reply to the following Posts, or replied superficially at best. I include some commentary for context and to assist you to find them:

#755, 768, 774, 804 Which introduces a different mode of death - electrocution instead of death by trolley; The only distinction you can draw is that electrocution kills immediately and a hurling trolley takes a few seconds. In both cases - the end in terms of morality to which the chosen act is inherently directed includes killing someone (and saving others); In neither case does our actor desire that anyone die; The idea that intentionality varies according to how the switch kills (in the 2 cases) is just absurd.

#766 and #777: Which draws your intention to the distinction between direct vs indirect abortion according to what act (medical procedure) is chosen; Do you still claim that all treatments of ectopic pregnancy are “direct killings of an innocent”?

#784: Circular Trolley and the distinction between it and the OP and between actions in that case and Euthanasia.

#803: Proximate is not about timing.

#809: Moral Objects rely on moral content in the description of acts, not merely physical events / process. As JP II writes: “If the object of the concrete action is not in harmony with the true good of the person, the choice of that action makes our will and ourselves morally evil,…” You describe objects as purely physical, eliminating any capacity to judge goodness.

In VS 74. JP II asks, “What is it that ensures the ordering of human acts to God? Is it the intention of the acting subject, the circumstances… or the object itself of the his act?” And in VS 78: “The reason why a good intention is not itself sufficient, but a correct choice of actions is also needed, is that the human act depends on its object, whether that object is capable or not of being ordered to God…” How do we conclude whether “Throwing a Switch” is capable of being ordered to God, our ultimate end? :thinking: Do you see? - you must identify the end(s) in terms of morality to which the act is inherently ordered if the goodness of the object is to be judged.


By the way @Ender, noting I have VS open at the moment, I see my copy includes headings, and just before para 76, the heading is “The object of the deliberate act”. [And in the prior sentence, JP II writes: “In this view, the deliberate consent to certain kinds of behaviour…”]

The word deliberate could equally well have been “voluntary”. Eg. in 59., JP II writes: “The judgment of conscience states in an ultimate way whether a certain particular kind of behaviour is in conformity with the law; it formulates the proximate norm of the morality of a voluntary act…” and in 72. “Activity is morally good when it attests to and expresses the voluntary ordering of the person to his ultimate end and the conformity of a concrete action with the human good as it is acknowledged in its truth by reason.”

"Deliberate " or “Voluntary” attach to behaviour - to acts, not to the actor’s desire for a particular consequence as you have earlier suggested.

Hence, for any “deliberate act” (= “voluntary act”), the direct killing of an innocent is always gravely immoral.


The scenario isn’t realistic, contact the suicide hot line if applicable.


Did you miss the part in the OP’s case that throwing the switch kills an innocent person?

You misunderstand the meaning of “proximate.” The proximate ends to the act are all moral outcomes directly or indirectly caused by the act. For instance, if I give a person radioactive tea and he dies 23 days later then that death is proximate to the act of poisoning.

JPII in VS specifically condemns this type of reductive analysis used by proportionalists and consequentialists who attempt to limit the object of an act to merely the physical order ignoring all the object’s moral content in order to falsely deny that any act can be intrinsically evil.

In this same erroneous manner, another might extend the absurdity by further physically reducing the object as “throw the switch to move the track”, or “throw the switch to move the gears” and so on. Like your analysis, according to these moralists, there are no acts evil in their object to which JPII resoundingly disagrees:

In order to be able to grasp the object of an act which specifies that act morally, it is therefore necessary to place oneself in the perspective of the acting person. … [T]he Church teaches that "there exist acts which … are always seriously wrong by reason of their object. The Second Vatican Council itself, in discussing the respect due to the human person, gives a number of examples of such acts: "Whatever is hostile to life itself, such as any kind of homicide …


It occurs to me that this is just how the proportionlist would analyse the situation. Nothing of moral significance can be allowed to exist in the object (never mind it is called the ‘moral’ object), the actor is well intended, and the balance of consequences is favorable.

In the correct moral analysis, the act has 2 moral objects, proximate ends (in terms of morality) inherent to the act:

  1. the saving of 4 lives;
  2. the depriving of 1 innocent of his life.

These ends are inherent in (have a morally direct relation to the act of) pointing a hurling trolley away from the 4 and (by the same action) precisely toward the 1.


This act is immoral. The deliberate electrocution of an innocent person is immoral regardless of reason.

The example I used before about shooting someone and sinking his boat so he drowns might serve here. In both instances the acts are equally immoral, but for different reasons. In one case - shooting the person - the act is intrinsically evil. Sinking a person’s boat is not intrinsically evil, but if it is done with the intent of drowning him, the action is evil because of the intent, not because of the act. This is the distinction I make in the trolley case, only in that case there is no evil intent, therefore throwing the switch is not immoral.


Electrocuting someone involves an evil object. Throwing the switch does not. Yes, the resultant death is foreknown, but it is not intended. Neither the object nor the intent is evil. Death as a consequence does not make the object necessarily immoral. This response should serve for 774, and 804.


As I understand the distinction, removing the embryo from the fallopian tube constitutes an immoral act; it is an abortion. The action is the direct cause of death. Removing part of the fallopian tube itself, however, is not immoral because in that case the death is indirectly caused by the operation. Even though the death is foreseen and the result is inevitable, because the death is indirect and not intended, the action is moral.

I see no distinction between that form of operation and throwing the switch. In both cases the act is not intrinsically evil because the resultant death is indirect (not the immediate result of the act itself) and there is no evil intent. The death in both cases comes as an inevitable consequence of this particular act, but the acts themselves are not intrinsically evil despite the evil consequence.


This misses the real distinction here: whether the act itself causes the death or whether it leads to the death. It is the difference between a salpingectomy (removal of part of the fallopian tube) and a salpingostomy (creating an opening into the fallopian tube). These are very similar, but the former is moral and the latter is not, even though both result in the death of the embryo. It is the same difference between electrocuting someone, and rerouting the trolley: the former causes death, the latter only leads to it.

Irrelevant. That’s what it means to be innocent. This is no different than the ectopic pregnancy case: everyone involved is innocent.


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