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Philosophical Problem! What would you do?

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posted on Jan, 28 2011 @ 09:26 PM

This is a something I heard a Harvard professor (sorry, his name escapes me) discuss on TV last night. I couldn't sleep because it kept on rattling around in my head!

It's NOT my quiz, but here it is: (There are no right or wrong solutions)

The Trolley Problem...

(1) You're on an out of control trolley that's racing down a railway track. Ahead are 5 workers on the track that don't see or hear you coming. All 5 face certain death if the trolley continues on its course.

However, you have a switch in the trolley that will divert it to another track where there is only 1 worker. If the trolley went this way he would face certain death.

What would you do? Would you flip the switch kill the 1 worker to save the lives of the 5? Would you let fate take its course and let the 5 workers die and save the 1?


Lets shake up the example...

(2) The trolley is still speeding towards 5 workers who will certainly die if the trolley continues. However, this time you are not in the trolley but on a bridge above the track, there is no alternative track and no switch.

BUT on this bridge is a really fat man who is unaware of the situation... If you pushed him onto the track he would stop the train and you could save the lives of the 5 workers but you will be killing the fat man.

What would you do and who would you save?

Lets change the scenario one last time...

(3) This time you are a doctor; a very talented surgeon. You have five patients all in need of different organ transplants. They will all certainly die if they do not receive the organs they require and there are no compatible organs available.

In another room there is a patient who is perfectly well; he is a traveller and nobody knows who or where he is from. He has a check up and it turns out that he is a perfect match for all five patients...

Would you let the five patients die?
Or would you sneak into the travellers room when he least expects it, kill him and harvest his organs to save the 5?

PS. In relation to (3) lets imagine that for some reason that you can't use any of the five patients as donors for each other.. It ruins the philosophical aspect

Anyway, let me know what you would do and good luck!


posted on Jan, 28 2011 @ 09:44 PM
WOW, good one...thanks for sharing, it's a brain-twister...

To answer, as honestly as I can...

(1) I'd probably avoid turning the trolley at first, as to do so would deliberately murder a man by my own actions. Whereas, if I kept on track it wouldn't be my fault would it? But realizing that five lives are more valuable than one, I would turn at the last second, killing the lone man and dealing with my own personal ramifications for this action.

(2) I would not shove the fat man to his death. I would be beside myself with overwhelming strain at what to do, and would do nothing. This would probably scar me deeply.

(3) Really hard, because this places me in a role of responsibility over these patients (their loved ones praying to God for their survival.) At the same time, killing the other patient would be murder and I doubt the law would show me little mercy for this decision (unlike in the second example (a doctor murdering a healthy patient would be a frightening thought to a judge or a juror for an obvious reason.) Also, in this scenario I have time to weigh out all my options.

If one or more of the dying patients was someone I felt was extraordinary, and the healthy one was a rotten bastard (a child molester or something,) part of me might seriously consider it. But I doubt I could go through with murdering a man, so the answer is no.

posted on Jan, 28 2011 @ 09:49 PM
number one.......sont change the track... Yell out to the 5 men.. at least on will hear you and warn the others..

Number two... yell out to the the workers

Number three... If you kiled the traveller you would be in violation of the hypocratic oath... All 5 would have to die, make it as comfortable as possible...

posted on Jan, 28 2011 @ 09:49 PM
HaHa I love Ethical scenarios like this. I usually find that most people naturally act like a utilitarian...until their own loved ones are effected.

posted on Jan, 28 2011 @ 09:53 PM
I think the point here is that most people will quickly pull a lever in (1) to kill 1 person to save 5, but when you are less removed from the one person being killed, and have to do so with your own hands, directly, in parts 2 and 3, you wont. Even though its essentially the same scenario: do something to kill one person, so that 5 who were previously in danger will be saved.

posted on Jan, 28 2011 @ 09:59 PM
Of course there are no right or wrong answers with this, it's a matter of moral perspective. It's the kind of situation that a general or national leader finds himself in, involving the lives of soldiers and local residents.

Upon second thought on (2), I'm not sure it would make me feel bad about myself to not have done nothing. I doubt that I would have even considered pushing the man to save the others, it would not have been an option. The scenario suggests though that the thought is in my head. In that case, I doubt I'd feel bad about it because it wouldn't have been a moral option for me. So my suffering would just be in what I'd witnessed.

And observing the difference in my responses to (1) and (3) is interesting. Split second reaction to save five people on a moral decision versus allowing five people to die under my care to not murder one man. I think the difference here is the time to think about the reality of what I'm doing, the moral implications. To take a life with my own hands (trusted in my care) would feel worse than allowing five to die (as I presumably did all I could to save them.) So morally, I did nothing wrong.

Ha, you learn a lot about yourself with this problem!

posted on Jan, 28 2011 @ 10:08 PM
Here is a spin on number 1.

The five people on the track are very close family members(your kids, parents, or siblings), and the one guy is a complete stranger. What would you do?

On # 3: The organ needers may not be saved by the traveler even if they did receive organs, due to the body's tendency to reject foreign material. So that's an easy no.

On #2: You could not absolutely know "Fatman" would stop the others from getting hit, so that's a no. Even if it was an absolute, actually pushing somebody to their death is much different than looking the other way.

posted on Jan, 28 2011 @ 10:15 PM
Thanks for the thoughts everyone

What about if the fat man in (2) was obese and showed very little concern for his own well being?

Too much brain-twisting!

All three scenarios involve murder but I guess its just the way in which the individual is killed which plays on our minds. For example in (2) instead of pushing the fat man, if there was a switch that would open a trap door that would make him fall and stop the trolley, for me that would strangely make it easier. Something to do with killing with your own hands possibly?
edit on 28-1-2011 by NeverAcquiesce because: added reasoning

posted on Jan, 28 2011 @ 10:20 PM
(1) ...i would do nothing... why?... an inexperienced person flipping a switch to divert the trolly to another track could cause it to derail... that could kill or injure the passengers and i'm one of them, so screw that stupid idea... besides, maybe hitting the blind and deaf workers will slow us down... surely the one guy working by himself will see the grisly scene and go call the calvary...

(2) ...throw a really fat man off a bridge?... ahahahahaaa!... if he's fat enough that his carcass is gonna stop the trolly, is there time to go get a forklift?...

(3) ...the 5 patients get to die - tough luck...

posted on Jan, 28 2011 @ 10:38 PM
No more pedestrians if the trolly's passengers die.

I googled Phillipa Foot awhile ago after seeing her obit on the news. I am into philosophy, and had never heard of her prior to her death. read about this "problem"

The people that make the decision's, use this excercise often i imagine.

posted on Jan, 28 2011 @ 11:26 PM
reply to post by NeverAcquiesce

1. I am facing backwards on the trolley and it is travelling away from all the men. Ahead of me, I see the men and wave as they continue their work and disappear into the distance.

2. "If you pushed him onto the track he would stop the train"... That's fine, but what about the trolley?

3. A perfectly healthy person would not be under care or be recieving treatment and would not be a "patient", but..."Would you let the five patients die?" ... Yes. What comes around goes around and 1 murder isn't worth trying to save 5 lives that could end in the blink of an eye anyway, run over by a bus or from complications from the operations. Also, there wouldn't be a time when a healthy person "wouldn't" expect someone to enter his/her room with the news that they could leave so no chance of bumping them off quietly. Hospitals are about anticipation and a healthy person wouldn't sleep or stay there overnight too.
The healthy person might be a long lost relative of one of the patients or even the surgeon...Karma is like that.

posted on Jan, 29 2011 @ 02:02 AM
1) It would depend on the time constraint. Out of instinct alone, the majority would see the 5 men first and pull the switch. After they see the 1 man ahead, their brain freezes knowing that if they pull the switch back, they will kill 5 instead of 1. I know a lot of people who would deliberately jump in front of the trolley and sacrifice themselves in an attempt to either stop it or divert it away from the people.

2) If the guy is really fat, how in the world are you going to push him?

3) Any moral person would not wish to continue living if they knew their life was extended at the cost of another, especially against that person's will and even more so if that person didn't see their death coming. If I was one of the five men who was dying and was told there were zero other options, I would accept my fate and ask that I be put out of my misery peacefully.

posted on Jan, 29 2011 @ 02:19 AM
Hmmm - I wonder why I majored in philosophy.

Now I know!

Because philosophers waste time by wondering about a lot of crap, oops, sorry, world-enlightening questions.

Just take a look at philosophy professors.

Philosophy actually means love of learning and includes all aspects of learning.

posted on Jan, 29 2011 @ 03:13 PM
In (1) I would probably kill the individual worker and try to save the lives of the five workers. If these people work on train tracks they should be aware of the dangers but I'd feel like poop for doing it.

In (2) I don't think I would have the heart to push the fat man (or the strength). Also, because I would not be in the trolley, there is a sense of detachment from the situation. It feels as though you are watching a tragedy as opposed to causing one. If you pushed him, it would more likely be murder instead of an 'accident' like in the first scenario.

In (3) I wouldn't be able to kill the innocent healthy man to save five patients. That's just harsh! I might ask for any bits he can spare... like a kidney, some bone marrow or a lung but I highly doubt that he will agree

I would hate to be in all three are situations. Technically they all involve the same act of killing 1 to save 5, but just by changing the way the person has to die completely messes with your morals!

In (2) and (3) you are like a bystander, you might be able to distance yourself from the deaths of the 5 if you do not act. In (1) It's like you're no longer a bystander because you actually are controlling he trolley. There's no distancing from it.

posted on Jan, 29 2011 @ 03:24 PM
reply to post by NeverAcquiesce

The only slightly reasonable example is the trolly.... and even thats stupid. Why are people standing on the tracks? Why cant you yell for them to move? why are there no othe objects to stop teh trolly with? Why doesnt the trolly use its horn?

Really they both deserve to die for being so stupid. But if your bored and feel like intervining in the affairs of seveal people who would die within 24hours anyway because they are probobly to stupid to drive without murdering somone.

Tell your harvard professor hes an idiot for using such ignorant examples. Tell him to get something 100% realistic because this is reality... not some fireside circle jerk with his stupid friends.

posted on Jan, 29 2011 @ 03:48 PM
I agree the scenerios are pretty retarded.

"Hey I know... I'm gonna stop a TRAIN, with a fat guy..."

Really, that's the best you could come up with Ms. Harvard professor?

posted on Jan, 29 2011 @ 04:50 PM
reply to post by SevenBeans

They're not meant to be detailed and realistic, they're meant to force you into a moral decision to learn more about yourself.

posted on Jan, 29 2011 @ 05:11 PM
link would flip the switch and save 5 rather than save 1. The idea is similar to the debate of: A guy has a pretty certain death from critical injuries at the hospital. Using his organs, and letting him die, you can save 5 people who need the organs. Do you save the 5 people using his organs, or work on the critically injured man and try to save him, even though the chance for survival is very small?

It sounds fairly similar to the trolley scenario. Except the idea of "rights" comes into play. Most would say the injured man shouldn't be sacrificed since he has rights. In the trolley scenario...the matter of rights doesn't come into play. No worker in that scenario has any rights. It's simply a matter of utilitarianism. The choices are -5, or -1. Simple.

The fat man scenario is like the critically injured man scenario, in which case you wouldn't push someone, sacrifice them, in order to save others. He has rights, rights not to be used as a doorstop.

As far as scenario 3.....kindly I'll say, is someone stupid? A doctor killing a perfectly healthy patient is the right choice? Delete the scenario and save us the time.The "critically injured" man scenario could be seen as somewhat an okay choice since his chance of death is almost certain, but someone healthy? Come on.

Originally posted by addygrace
Here is a spin on number 1.

The five people on the track are very close family members(your kids, parents, or siblings), and the one guy is a complete stranger. What would you do?

How is that a spin? Most people would save the 5 anyway. A better scenario is, 5 strangers or 1 loved one.
edit on 29-1-2011 by ghaleon12 because: (no reason given)

posted on Jan, 29 2011 @ 05:14 PM
reply to post by NeverAcquiesce

I would let fate decide, and then of course your also deciding, so you cannot win, i would close my eyes lol.

posted on Jan, 29 2011 @ 06:08 PM
Perhaps your Harvard Professor may be Josh Greene?

It's interesting to think of this as a psychology problem, rather than a morality problem.

BTW, my answers:

Maybe boringly, I am not bound, IMO, by Asimov's laws for robots, which include "Do not, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm." I certainly do not defer to arithmetic where the action is murder with a possible "competing harms" defense.

(1) Fate will take its course either way. I won't flip the switch, assuming I am not the cause of the trolley being out of control, and assuming that I have no special duty to any of the six workers. It is not my prerogative to murder anyone.

(2) I would do nothing and save nobody (the only danger to the fat man is that I might murder him, choosing not to murder somebody can hardly be called "saving" him.). For the same reasons as in (1).

(3) Yes. Although I do have a special duty to the five patients, and maybe the sixth, our relationship is that I am their physician, not their paid assassin.

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