The Trolley Problem


#1

As before, a trolley is hurtling down a track towards five people. You are on a bridge under which it will pass, and you can stop it by dropping a heavy weight in front of it. As it happens, there is a very fat man next to you – your only way to stop the trolley is to push him over the bridge and onto the track, killing him to save five. Should you proceed?

Firstly, of course, the Catholic response is "No" to Thompson's question as Catholic Ethics are highly Kantian in violations of universal maxims (i.e. the act of killing) as well as being antagonistic to the fifth commandment.

What I would like to know is what the Catholic ought to do in such a situation in order to save the five children besides even thinking about using the gibbous gentleman.

One thought would be to pray a Hail Mary. Another might be to take into account the surroundings and see if the environment holds an alternative. How ought the Catholic take the consequences into his/her mind?

I do not agree with Judith Jarvis Thomson whatsoever in her ethical theories, and I wish that such poor reasoning was not so popular in ethics classes. For example, I find her violinist argument to be extremely incoherent. Source: str.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5689


#2

I might decide to throw myself over, even though I am not heavy, and sacrifice myself to try and save them. Maybe others might join and we actually save them, even though we might lose our lives. That is an option. You may convince the heavier guy to throw himself over if you have time.


#3

The basic gist of these types of questions is to try and force the subject to decide the value of a human life. The asker wants you to admit that the children are "worth" more than the fat, old man and then triumphantly accuse you of being judgemental. I was given a question like this in an adolescant psycology class in college. We were given a list of individuals with brief discriptions regarding their age, race, gender, criminal history, profession, etc and were told to pick six of them to survive a nuclear holocaust with us. One of my classmates, who was a further along Catholic than I was, told the professor that even engaging in the discussion went against her faith and she wouldn't participate in the activity. I think she had the only right answer in the room. I also think the activity had absolutely nothing to do with the curriculum and the teacher was a creep.


#4

wasn't there a scene in the book 1984 where the hero? was "asked" if there was nothing he wouldn't do?
i agree with the previous poster. we also were asked similar type questions in school once upon a time, would we sacrifice ourselves to save another soldier about to die in no-mans land, or some such.
it is primitive psychological conditioning, nobody knows what they would do until they are in that situation and whatever they do in such pressured circumstances on the spur of the moment is quite blameless. many have rescued soldiers wounded in no-mans land and many have not. many have died and many have lived. it depends on the inspiration of a moment to move one to act and no blame rests on one who cannot act.
in the trolley scenario, you could jump onto the roof and go to the engine and stop it, but only if you thought of doing so, if you did not think of it no blame rests on you. nobody would think of throwing the fat man in front of the trolley, inspiration does not work like that.


#5

I think is why I would say that I would throw myself off in attempt to stop it. It would catch them off guard and show that I value them equally and value others more than myself. And if I didn’t succeed in saving them, at least I tried.


#6

In the first place, it is doubtful you could stop the trolley by throwing a fat man down in front of it. If you were so brave as to try, it is doubtful you could lift that fat a man over the guard rail if it was not his idea to go. In the second place, that would also preclude throwing yourself down in front of the trolley.

Can we have a better case than the Trolley Problem?


#7

[quote="Charlemagne_II, post:6, topic:317857"]
In the first place, it is doubtful you could stop the trolley by throwing a fat man down in front of it. If you were so brave as to try, it is doubtful you could lift that fat a man over the guard rail if it was not his idea to go. In the second place, that would also preclude throwing yourself down in front of the trolley.

Can we have a better case than the Trolley Problem?

[/quote]

if you could throw a fat man then you must be a fatter man, and better suited to stopping the trolley.


#8

[quote="Paddy_Walker, post:7, topic:317857"]
if you could throw a fat man then you must be a fatter man, and better suited to stopping the trolley.

[/quote]

:rotfl::rotfl::rotfl::rotfl:


#9

Putting yourself in harm's way to save someone else is morally justifiable. Putting someone else in harm's way, even to save a third person's life, is not morally justifiable. It's a form of theft.

Think on it this way. You and a stranger each have $1000. A man needs help paying off past-due utility bills so that he can get the water and power turned back on. It's OK to use your $1000 to help the man, It's NOT ok to take the stranger's $1000, no matter how charitably you use it to help the needy.


#10

Haha what an interesting scenario!

Obviously, you cannot throw the fat man onto the trolley and commit a direct and intentional killing of an innocent human being. If so, the logic of this ethical approach becomes ridiculous. Imagine, then, on going down to see the five children who have rescued by sacrificing the fat man, you notice, a bus speeding towards you out of control with forty people on board. The only way to stop the bus is to use each of the five children as speed humps to slow down the bus or else it will crash and instantly kill everyone. So this is what you do…

I mean, it’s ludicrous.

Presumably, if you are strong enough to lift the fat man, you could probably jump yourself and stop the trolley. Otherwise, you could shout at the children to warn them, try to divert the trolley somehow, ask the fat man to volunteer himself, pray (of course!), and perhaps other things.

Ultimately, however, you are not morally responsible for saving these children’s lives if you have no real opportunity and have not even caused the situation in the first place.


#11

One can never do evil to bring about good so pushing the fat man onto the tracks would be evil and sinful.


#12

I was asked a similar question not a week ago in my psychology class. Its to test your "level of moral development". Examples for this problem would be:
Preconventional: "I would not push the fat man because I would go to jail if I did because that's murder" (this is usually how children view the situation)
Conventional: "I would not push the fat man because it is wrong to kill someone deliberately. It is against all laws and beliefs and is therefore wrong" (the explanation involves no fear of punishment like the last)
Post conventional: "I would push the fat man because losing one life is better than losing 5"

We discussed in class that its good to have conventional and postconventional viewpoints on dilemmas. Otherwise, we would be either in a world of people who take no exceptions to rigid laws or full of people who would themselves rationalize "new laws". A balance is necessary. There isn't a right answer in my opinion.


#13

There is another version of this problem too. The other version is there's a guy standing on the tracks and you're the controller. If you flip the switch for it to go one way the children fall off a cliff. If you flip it the other way the man can't get away in time and he gets run over.

Oddly enough, in this alternate scenario overwhelmingly fewer amounts of people felt it was wrong to flip the switch that killed the man than felt it was wrong to push the man even though you're doing the same thing. (I don't have a link for this or anything this was all class discussion. I wish I did.)

I must sound like such a geek lol.


#14

[quote="Caged, post:12, topic:317857"]
I was asked a similar question not a week ago in my psychology class. Its to test your "level of moral development". Examples for this problem would be:
Preconventional: "I would not push the fat man because I would go to jail if I did because that's murder" (this is usually how children view the situation)
Conventional: "I would not push the fat man because it is wrong to kill someone deliberately. It is against all laws and beliefs and is therefore wrong" (the explanation involves no fear of punishment like the last)
Post conventional: "I would push the fat man because losing one life is better than losing 5"

We discussed in class that its good to have conventional and postconventional viewpoints on dilemmas. Otherwise, we would be either in a world of people who take no exceptions to rigid laws or full of people who would themselves rationalize "new laws". A balance is necessary. There isn't a right answer in my opinion.

[/quote]

Hi Caged, I'm not sure I like the distinction between "conventional" and "post-conventional" moral viewpoints. It sounds as though moral values are based on socio-historical context rather than truth.

I also think there is a problem with the response: "A balance is necessary. There isn't a right answer in my opinion." How is it possible to achieve a balance? If there isn't a right answer, why does a balance become "right"?

Jonathan


#15

Well this is all psychological theory. Kohlberg's theory of moral development.

Well the reason we said there needs to be a balance is because society needs people who always follow the set rules in place, however there are sometimes situations in which the law is wrong for a certain situation (or just plain wrong) and your own moral reasoning transcends those laws to do something right yet outside of human law. If everyone did the latter, there would be chaos. If no one did the latter there would never be motivation for necessary change.


#16

[quote="Caged, post:15, topic:317857"]
Well this is all psychological theory. Kohlberg's theory of moral development.

Well the reason we said there needs to be a balance is because society needs people who always follow the set rules in place, however there are sometimes situations in which the law is wrong for a certain situation (or just plain wrong) and your own moral reasoning transcends those laws to do something right yet outside of human law. If everyone did the latter, there would be chaos. If no one did the latter there would never be motivation for necessary change.

[/quote]

this [bolded] is the normal state of catholic being, catholicism remains within the laws of the land insofar as those laws are moral or morally neutral.
objectively speaking, it is never moral to do an immoral deed, obviously.
subjectively speaking, in any particular situation it is unknown how any particular person may react on the spur of the moment. they may make a mistake. but a mistake won't be moral, neither will it be immoral, it will be a mistake or an accident. like moses who killed a man by mistake or accident. you can never argue that it was a moral thing to do nor was it immoral, it was a human mistake. you can only act outside the laws of the land in a moral way, otherwise you will damage or destroy your conscience and become brutalized eventually.


#17

[quote="Caged, post:15, topic:317857"]
Well this is all psychological theory. Kohlberg's theory of moral development.

Well the reason we said there needs to be a balance is because society needs people who always follow the set rules in place, however there are sometimes situations in which the law is wrong for a certain situation (or just plain wrong) and your own moral reasoning transcends those laws to do something right yet outside of human law. If everyone did the latter, there would be chaos. If no one did the latter there would never be motivation for necessary change.

[/quote]

Granted, but this is an instance of the moral law, not positive law.


#18

[quote="jonathan_hili, post:14, topic:317857"]
Hi Caged, I'm not sure I like the distinction between "conventional" and "post-conventional" moral viewpoints. It sounds as though moral values are based on socio-historical context rather than truth.

[/quote]

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lawrence_Kohlberg%27s_stages_of_moral_development

A dilemma that Kohlberg used in his original research was the druggist's dilemma: Heinz Steals the Drug In Europe.[5]

A woman was near death from a special kind of cancer. There was one drug that the doctors thought might save her. It was a form of radium that a druggist in the same town had recently discovered. The drug was expensive to make, but the druggist was charging ten times what the drug cost him to produce. He paid $200 for the radium and charged $2,000 for a small dose of the drug. The sick woman's husband, Heinz, went to everyone he knew to borrow the money, but he could only get together about $ 1,000, which is half of what it cost. He told the druggist that his wife was dying and asked him to sell it cheaper or let him pay later. But the druggist said, "No, I discovered the drug and I'm going to make money from it." So Heinz got desperate and broke into the man's store to steal the drug for his wife. Should Heinz have broken into the laboratory to steal the drug for his wife? Why or why not?[5]

From a theoretical point of view, it is not important what the participant thinks that Heinz should do. Kohlberg's theory holds that the justification the participant offers is what is significant, the form of their response.[7] Below are some of many examples of possible arguments that belong to the six stages:[5][16]

Stage one (obedience): Heinz should not steal the medicine because he would consequently be put in prison, which would mean he is a bad person. Or: Heinz should steal the medicine because it is only worth $200, not how much the druggist wanted for it. Heinz had even offered to pay for it and was not stealing anything else.

Stage two (self-interest): Heinz should steal the medicine because he will be much happier if he saves his wife, even if he will have to serve a prison sentence. Or: Heinz should not steal the medicine because prison is an awful place, and he would probably experience anguish over a jail cell more than his wife's death.

Stage three (conformity): Heinz should steal the medicine because his wife expects it; he wants to be a good husband. Or: Heinz should not steal the drug because stealing is bad and he is not a criminal; he tried to do everything he could without breaking the law, you cannot blame him.

Stage four (law-and-order): Heinz should not steal the medicine because the law prohibits stealing, making it illegal. Or: Heinz should steal the drug for his wife but also take the prescribed punishment for the crime as well as paying the druggist what he is owed. Criminals cannot just run around without regard for the law; actions have consequences.

Stage five (human rights): Heinz should steal the medicine because everyone has a right to choose life, regardless of the law. Or: Heinz should not steal the medicine because the scientist has a right to compensation. Even if his wife is sick, it does not make his actions right.

Stage six (universal human ethics): Heinz should steal the medicine, because saving a human life is a more fundamental value than the property rights of another person. Or: Heinz should not steal the medicine, because others may need the medicine just as badly, and their lives are equally significant.

Note the emphasis.


#19

While that’s an interesting psychological analysis, it doesn’t tell us anything about morality or moral truths, especially when it comes to intrinsically good or evil actions.


#20

[quote="Valor_Form, post:1, topic:317857"]

What I would like to know is what the Catholic ought to do in such a situation in order to save the five children besides even thinking about using the gibbous gentleman.

[/quote]

How about convincing the fat guy to sacrifice himself?


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