Do you flip the switch?

8.11.11


It's a lovely day out, and you decide to go for a walk along the trolley tracks that crisscross your town. As you walk, you hear a trolley behind you, and you step away from the tracks. But as the trolley gets closer, you hear the sounds of panic -- the five people on board are shouting for help. The trolley's brakes have gone out, and it's gathering speed.
You find that you just happen to be standing next to a side track that veers into a sand pit, potentially providing safety for the trolley's five passengers. All you have to do is pull a hand lever to switch the tracks, and you'll save the five people. Sounds easy, right? But there's a problem. Along this offshoot of track leading to the sandpit stands a man who is totally unaware of the trolley's problem and the action you're considering. There's no time to warn him. So by pulling the lever and guiding the trolley to safety, you'll save the five passengers. But you'll kill the man. What do you do?
Do you flip the switch?

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3 comments

  1. No, I don't think I could do it. I don't think I could play God and decide that one person should die to save some others. It would be actively choosing to kill someone instead of passively allowing people to die, and I think there's a moral difference.

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  2. I would flip the switch. Because if I were the one person on the tracks, I would be okay with someone else switching the tracks to save more lives. And in response to Emily: Now that you have seen the whole situation and have to power to change it, no matter your choice you would be actively killing people. Any option of being passive in this situation ended as soon as you realized you had the opportunity to change it.

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  3. ... Why can't I pull the switch while screaming at the man to move?

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