The trolley problem

by webmaster on December 20, 2016

I suppose some of you might have heard of the trolley problem and it’s many variants, but I was looking through them and found that if you put together some of the variants in a particular order, it can get quite interesting. If you haven’t heard of the trolley problem, basically it’s a thought experiment about sacrificing one life for many – there are plenty of good publications you can check out on it, just google it.
If you look at the variants this way though, it provides an even more interesting way to look at it – the best way to do this is to look at 1 first, and prevent yourself looking ahead until you’ve answered 1, and so on etc. I’ll put some line spaces in to make it easier…

You’re a pilot and your plane is going to crash. Counting you, and passengers and crew, you total 100. The plane is going to crash into a small town that you just happen to know has a population of 500. You have a choice to do something completely out of the normal procedure and by doing this you can avoid the small town – but of course you and all the crew and passengers will most likely still die. What do you do?

You are standing at a tram line and there are five people working on a track and 1 person working on a second track. There is a unoccupied tram coming for the five people but there is a switch beside you, so you can divert the tram to kill either the one or the five. You can’t contact them in any other way. It’s a simple choice – 1 or 5…

Similar scenario but this time you’re looking on from a bridge at five people working on a track and a person is standing beside you on the bridge (in some examples he’s referred to as a fat man but I think that clouds the judgement so in my version it’s just a person) and you can save the five my pushing the person off the bridge into the oncoming tram… actually now I see the fat man reference – presumably he’s fat enough to disrupt a tram… but it’s still the same question: 1 or 5?

Now it gets interesting. Imagine that the five are still working away on the tram line, the tram is approaching, but now, when you flip the switch, you will cause the tram to go to an unfinished line where it will derail and fall down a hill and kill a person sleeping in a hammock. 1 or 5.

Still with me? This one is for anyone who is still killing the one to save the five.
Enter a world famous surgeon with five patients who each need an organ from a compatible donor. A backpacker who openly tells the surgeon that they have no family arrives into the hospital and Dr House (sorry, Freudian slip there) the famous surgeon realizes the backpacker is a compatible donor and could be killed without anyone ever finding out – thereby saving the five transplant patients? Well? what do you say now? 1 or 5???

Anyway – Happy Christmas!

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