Morality: To Turn the Trolley or Not

In the first few minutes of Sandel’s lecture, he provides a story about the Trolley and asks what you would have done as the driver. What would you have done and what does this say about your stance on Morality? Would you have turned the wheel or pushed the man over the bridge? How does your version of morality relate to Kant or Bentham.

Bonus question: Where should I have my stuffed body placed at SJR when I die?

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13 thoughts on “Morality: To Turn the Trolley or Not

  1. I believe that it is impossible to make a hypothetical decision on the issue. Until I was in the moment, I don't think I could ever reach a accurate consensus for myself.I do believe in Immanuel Kant's philosophical reasoning that in certain situations there can be a categorical imperitive. In the famous British law case discussed in class, I think the sailors were in a situation where categorical morality took precedence over "law." Many are quick to judge the two sailors as guilty of murder. If I was a judge hearing the case I would never beable to convict the defendents, and I don't think anyone should, until I/they had been in a situation under similar circumstances.

  2. Although I believe that it is always best to spare as many lives as possible, even if you have to take one to protect many, I don't think I would be able to make a valid decision in the Trolley case until I was in that very situation. It is much different to logically and thoughfully think through the moral repercussions of the action than to be faced with the snap decision of who to save, and in turn kill. I tend to believe Immanuel Kant's reasoning that morality can be summed up as taking actions we find are necessary. However, different people would in turn have a different view of what is necessary to them, and would ultimately share different moral values and ethics.

  3. It is also said that Bentham is required to be taken out and served a beer at the annual dinner of university college. Does he have any recourse if his wishes aren't honoured?Consider this: is necessity a defence or an excuse? A defence is – I didn't take Bentham out for his annual beer because I was held hostage. An excuse is that I couldn't take Bentham out for his beer because I was home sick. In the first case it can be said that, categorically, there was no way that you could honour Bentham's wishes; in the second, that the utility of honouring Benthams wishes was outweighed by the circumstances(being sick but not incapacitated)So is Morality only concerned with our excuses? if we couldn't do something because it was impossible there is no moral blameworthiness, but if we simply offer an excuse for our conduct – how should moral blameworthiness be assessed: by how good the excuse is, how reasonable it seems, how capable the judge is of understanding or being sympathetic to the excuse offered? Or does it even matter if we have an excuse for why we failed to take Bentham out for his beer, the fact that we failed is all that matters, that we think we had a good reason to fail, or anyone agrees with us, is irrelevant.The point is this: we can always say 'I am not certain what I would do if faced with the responsibility of taking Bentham out' (maybe Dead people gross me out more than I care to admit) – but understanding Morality requires us to consider what we believe is the right thing to do – always a much more difficult question!You will all someday be required to take Mr. Henderson for a canoe trip down the Red River upon his eventual death and stuffing – and you must not use him as the Canoe. There will be no acceptable excuse for turning Mr. Henderson into a vessel – or is there?

  4. It's always easier to think about these situations then to actually be in them ourselves. You may have the decision made up that you are going to kill either the one or the 5 right now but your mind could completely change if you were actually in the situation. If the trolley is turned then you save the lives of the 5, but you have also made a conscious decision that you are going to kill someone else which would be very hard to do in that situation. I believe that you must look at the oppurtunity cost of the situation relating to which of the choices will cause more harm and which goes more towards the greater good. In that case it would obviouly be to turn the trolley. However, in the actual situation this would be a very difficult decision to make.

  5. I would have done opposite things for the two different situations. In the situation with the trolley, I would have killed the one person to spare the five others. In the second scenario, I wouldn’t have killed the man. I think I feel this way because there’s an extent to which I’d involve myself when trying to step in and help. In the situation involving the trolley, either way I would have to hit either one person or five, the most obvious choice would be to hit the group with the least amount of people. In the second scenario, I’m involving myself to an extent that seems wrong. The man on the bridge wouldn’t have to die. It isn’t a matter of hitting one person or five, it’s involving a bystander who doesn’t need to be involved in the situation. In the trolley, there’s a level of responsibility that comes with it, do I want to be responsible for killing five people or one. On the bridge, I’m not responsible for killing the five people, I’m just a bystander like the man on the bridge. I agree with Jeremy Bentham in that our actions are based upon their consequences. I believe that we think about the consequences that everyone in the situation will experience before choosing a course of action.

  6. In the trolly situation I think I would turn the car to hit the one person, saving as many lives as possible. On the other hand, if I were a bystander on the bridge, I can't see myself pushing the fat man to save the five people. Although the result would be the same, sacrifice one in order to save five, I don't think I would step up and push the man over the bridge.In the first situation, the train is out of control, and the trolly is going to kill someone regardless. But in the second situation pushing the man off the man off the bridge would be against the law. I dont think that I would make the decision to end his life

  7. I recognize the fact that I could not truly decide how I would react in this type of situation until it occurred. With that being said, I have come to the conclusion that I would not turn the trolley into the single worker. I don't believe that we as humans have the power or authority to decide who gets to live or die. It is impossible to accurately evaluate the worth of someone's life and choose to take it, regardless of our reasoning. Although it would obviously be tragic, I would not intervene and turn the trolley as the single worker as he should not be robbed of his life. The same idea applies to the scenario with the fat man; I would not take the liberty of pushing him over the bridge. It is not my decision whether the fat man should live, or even my decision to determine what I think the "greater good" is.In situations involving significantly more people (for example hundreds or thousands) I cannot determine if I would abide by the same principle. It would be a difficult decision that would depend on the moment.

  8. Posting for Zoe:I think that it is impossible to say whether or not it is moral to push the fat man over the bridge to save the five workers. I don't think that anyone can say whether they would kill one person to save five others unless they had been faced with that situation before. I agree with Kant that there are some instances where it is necessary to act "for the greater good", and kill a few to save the lives of many. However, I don't know that I would ever be able to bring myself to take someone's life in a situation like that of the trolley or the British men lost at sea. Although I probably wouldn't make the same decision that the stranded men made, I don't think they should have been prosecuted and tried for murder after they had been rescued. It is difficult to say whether what they did was morally right or not, but the fact is they took a man's life out of necessity, not hate. They were not a risk to society, and therefore they shouldn't have been punished.Zoë

  9. posting for Liz:In the situation that Sandel created in his lecture about the trolley I think that it is too hard to pick a side or option about who should die and who shouldn’t. In a way I believe in Bentham’s theory of utilitarianism because I relate more to the idea of one person dying for the greater good that categorical morality. Hopefully I will never have to make a choice like this but if I was forced into a situation like this I think it all depends on the circumstance; were the 5 men working on the end of the trolley path criminals who were serial killers working as part of their sentence? Was the one man on the other track a sex offender? We never know because every situation is different. In the exact situation presented I don’t think I could morally make a choice unless I was actually involved in a life or death situation previously. I believe that when stuck in situations like this where you are playing God and choosing between one life or five, the decisions people make are moral because they have no choice but to make them. I relate to Bentham’s idea of utilitarianism but I also relate to Kant’s idea of categorical morality too.

  10. I would turn the wheel and kill the one worker. Although it may not be the right thing to do, I feel that killing one person is definitely the better option in this situation. Someone must die so why not the fewer amount? It just feels like the only choice to me. As for the second case, I feel it’s entirely different, because as Andrew stated in the video you’re the one actually committing murder unlike in the first situation where either way someone must die. Both cases are entirely different, and I feel that in the trolley case since you are aware that your brakes don’t function, and it is evident that you will end up killing either one person or 5 people. Killing one person so that five can live would be the “right” thing to do although it might not be the moral thing to do. I also understand that as the amount of people being saved increases it is easier to make this judgement call, which isn’t necessary the right thing to do but I feel it is the only option.

  11. I think the one worker should die instead of the other five. While this would have to be a very quick decision and not easy to do, I don't see how doing nothing and letting 5 people die would be better than moving the trolley and letting 1 die. In the second scenario I would not push the man over the rail for 2 reasons. The first is that I either will or won't kill someone, rather than the first case, where you certainly will kill at least 1 person. The second is that the fat man has no part in this, and isn't going to die if I leave him alone. Pushing a man over the rail would be murder in more eyes because the fat man was never involved.Matthew

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