The Trolley Problem

Oct 2010
67,036
27,055
Colorado
#31
There's a lot of pain in the World, & we're all to be admired or pitied (or both, alternately?), as we make our way through the World as best we can. But as a society, we need to exemplify our values. Was it Crosby of Crosby Stills & Nash that personified this puzzle not that long ago? He was a talented musician, but he'd led a dissipated life, that greatly contributed to his health problems. Between that record & his age & generally poor physical condition - Would it have been wise to allocate scarce resources to him to keep him alive & functioning?

If it had been eminent physicist Stephen Hawking, I'd have had no problem allocating all the resources necessary to keep him going - as he had already contributed mightily to the study of physics, & anything extra would be a bonus. We need people in that decision-making loop, because mere celebrity isn't (IMO) sufficient reason to keep people alive with heroic medical efforts.

A lottery would be a severely reductionist solution to the problem of resource allocation - certainly just in its way, I suppose, but ignorant of human motivations, & with no more consideration of individual cases than a filing cabinet would show. Some decisions should be painful, & troubling. @ the place where budgets & scarcity & human need intersect, I say we need people there to judge which lives are human & require all possible human effort to conserve them.
That may indeed be true, but it's not a job I'd want. You?
 
Nov 2013
2,493
1,062
NM
#34
That may indeed be true, but it's not a job I'd want. You?
I've served jury duty on a tough case. & we all gritted it out & came to what I believe is a just decision. I lost sleep over it, & had some ugly dreams (& so did some of my fellow jurors) - but that's the price you pay. I'm sure someday we'll develop AIs that could theoretically render technically perfectly just verdicts - & yet I think that it should be humans determining & delivering justice to humans.

So call me a Romantic. No one said civic life in a republic was going to be all peaches & cream ...
 
Feb 2007
3,324
1,685
New York
#35
But your inaction would result in your having a hand in the death of five people.
I disagree. Allowing events to play out unimpeded is not the same as having a hand in the outcome. That would be like saying that a fire chief has a hand in the death of a person in a building because he orders his people out when the situation becomes too dangerous.

As a side note, a trolley that would stop after hitting the obese person would probably stop after rolling over the second person. I didn't think it was important to bring up the technicality. :)
 
Dec 2018
1,910
1,248
Wisconsin
#36
I disagree. Allowing events to play out unimpeded is not the same as having a hand in the outcome. That would be like saying that a fire chief has a hand in the death of a person in a building because he orders his people out when the situation becomes too dangerous.

As a side note, a trolley that would stop after hitting the obese person would probably stop after rolling over the second person. I didn't think it was important to bring up the technicality. :)
This is true, but if doctor is standing in a crowd where someone falls unconscious, they CAN be charged for not acting. It’s not exactly the same but still
 
Dec 2016
5,101
2,620
Canada
#38
You are 100% correct and that's the point of the philosophical question. And I hope it doesn't come across as I'm badgering or criticizing you because I agree with you. I too would pull the lever and save the five lives. I too would NOT push the man off the bridge, resulting in the loss of five lives. But why is it different. At the end of the day, I'm making an active decision to kill one person in an attempt to save five lives. The difference is in one scenario I'm physically putting my hands on the individual who will die. I think that would cause great psychological problems for me. So while I'm saving five lives in one scenario, I'm doing so in a way that causes the least amount of harm to myself.

Put it to you another way (and again, this is how the Trolley Problem is generally approached). Let's say your a doctor. In one wing of the hospital you have five individuals who need a different organ transplant. In another wing of the hospital you have a grieving family visiting their relative on life support. Would you tell the grieving family that if they take their loved one off life support, five people can be saved? Just like pulling a lever and just like pushing a fat guy over the bridge, these actions would save five lives at the cost of one life.
Right! The 2nd scenario shows how we are more reluctant to make that utilitarian one for five calculation the more closely involved we are with the act of killing!

This is one of the reasons why firearms deaths are more common than stabbings and murders by way of blunt force trauma. It's not just about the extra killing efficiency of guns; it's also the factor that many people could pull the trigger who could not drive a knife through the same person.

I heard a psychologist discussing the basic trolley problem once who noted that there is one type of person who is just as willing to make the one for five calculation regardless of whether it's by flipping a switch or pushing a man off of a bridge...and those people are known as psychopaths. A person who has limited..if any emotional feedback that most normal people would feel cannot see any difference between the two scenarios! And that fact has made me a lot less of a fan of utilitarian or consequentialist ethical systems that try to turn morality into a mathematical calculation.
 
Sep 2015
14,014
5,044
Brown Township, Ohio
#39
Well, and you could jump onto the rails and instead of two people left alive on our ever-shrinking planet, there would only be one, a 50 percent better outcome.
Hawking sat on the Lucasian Chair at Cambridge University in Cambridge, England. Newton also sat on the Lucasian Chair which is maths but Hawking never got a Nobel but his maths teacher Penrose won the Nobel. Hawking Radiation will soon be dismissed once the data from the Event Horizon Telescope is released this year.
 
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Feb 2007
3,324
1,685
New York
#40
No, these trolley problem thought experiments are designed to give you strict a or b choices. You don't get to play Captain Kirk and change the rules of the game!
Except when the example has a basic mechanical trait that can be considered by those that tend to be non-linear thinkers. You don't get to dictate the laws of physics and mechanics.
 
Likes: hoosier88