Contemplating the Trolley Problem March 3, 2012Posted by humbug27 in Ethics, Life, Philosophy.
Tags: Ethical dilemma, Philosophy, Thought experiment, Trolley Problem
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In the philosophy of ethics, there is a thought experiment called “The Trolley Problem.” This thought experiment is based on the following moral dilemma: Suppose you are on a train heading toward 5 people who are stuck on the tracks. The train cannot be stopped, only diverted to another track, where only 1 person is stuck. The good news is: you can control the trains path with a simple press of a button. The bad news is: someone will die no matter how you respond. The choice is yours: (1 lives, 5 die) or (5 live, 1 dies).
It seems logical to assume that most people would choose to push the button and spare 5 lives for the cost of 1. Of course, my assumption is based on the fact that we place equal value on each human life. However, this logic does not seem to follow, if the lone person set to die was your mother. In that case, I would expect that most people would sacrifice the five strangers to save their mother. Again, this seems like the obvious choice, but it contradicts the logic we applied in the first scenario. How is it that we can value the life of 1 person (our mother) over the lives of 5 people, in this case? I believe the deciding factor is the personal relationship that one has with their mother. People usually place a higher value on the ones we love the most. Now, the result may be different for someone who has a bad relationship with their mother. My point being that personal relationships affect the way we make ethical decisions.
And if we hold this to be true, then how many people are we willing to sacrifice for the sake of saving a loved one? Is there a limit? Is it 10, 100, or even a million people? I certainly don’t have an answer to that question; it’s up to everyone to decide for themselves, if possible. One of the things that makes our decision so difficult to predict is the fact that most of us have never experienced a scenario like this. We simply don’t have experience to draw on, only intuition, moral values, and limited amounts of information. What I find troubling is the fact that even the staunchest moral values can be betrayed under extreme circumstances.