The Trolley Problem

Hypothetical moral dilemma:

  • A: Allow a speeding trolley to run its path & kill many people?
  • B: Or cause 1 persons death to save the others?

This item wants to know if you can make the tuff decision.
Sacrifice one to save many?
There is a runaway trolley barreling down the railway tracks. Ahead, on the tracks, there are five people tied up and unable to move. The trolley is headed straight for them. You are standing some distance off in the train yard, next to a lever. If you pull this lever, the trolley will switch to a different set of tracks. However, you notice that there is one person on the side track. You have two options:

  • Do nothing, and the trolley kills the five people on the main track?
  • Pull the lever, diverting the trolley onto the side track where it will kill one person?

Which is the most ethical choice?
The modern form of the problem was first introduced by Philippa Foot in 1967.
However an earlier version, in which the one person to be sacrificed on the track was the switchman’s child, was part of a moral questionnaire given to undergraduates at the University of Wisconsin in 1905, and the German legal scholar Hans Welzel discussed a similar problem in 1951.
The trolley problem and its variants have been used in research on moral psychology. 
Trolley problems have been used in many stories and books, it often involves the discussion of ethics behind developing autonomous vehicles and systems
This has been the subject of many surveys in which approximately 90% of respondents have chosen to kill the one and save the five.
If the scenario is altered where the one sacrificed for the five was related or emotionally involved people are much less likely to sacrifice their life
A 2009 survey published in a 2013 paper by David Bourget and David Chalmers shows that 68% of professional philosophers would pull the switch, 8% would not switch, and the remaining 24% had another view or where unable to answer
A platform named “Moral Machine” was created by MIT Media Lab to allow the public to express their opinions on what decisions autonomous vehicles should make in scenarios that use the trolley problem paradigm
Pop culture examples and uses

  • Opening scene in the video game Prey

Films & shows

  • “Eye in the sky”
  • Short “Most”
  • “The fault in our stars”
  • “Orange is the new Black”

“Flip the switch, it’s the right thing to do”
Ryno-666 of

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