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The Trolley Problem

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The Trolley Problem is set up in two parts. The first part of this problem puts the reader in a passive position to choose between shoving a large person onto the track causing one person to die to save the five other people and refraining and doing nothing would allow the five to die and the one person to live. The second part of this scenario would put Frank in a very personal position to choose to do something about the situation at hand, or to let five people die; or deliberately push a large person to save the five. This would seem like a very hard choice for most people. The moral issue in question is to look at a large person as the answer to stop the trolley. If the large person is pushed in front of the trolley to save the five people, one would be making a conscience decision to end someone’s life. I will use Kant’s views of how this decision would seem to me to be morally impermissible, by deontologist ethics, and psychologist points of view.

I believe Kant would see the scenario as impermissible because of his views on the categorical imperative. Kant’s categorical imperative is to never act in such a way that a maxim should become a universal law. One’s duty is always a connection between moral laws. Kant believes that you can choose to do things or not to do things. What is right for a universal law? Then Kant argues that morality is based neither on principle of utility, nor on a law of nature but simply on human reason. According to Kant, reason tells us what we ought to do, and then we follow our own reason. So, to push a large person in front of a trolley would be using someone as a means to get an end. Kant feels we should not use people as a means, no matter what the feeling. Kant’s formula for humanity is that one would act in such a way as to treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of another, always at the same time as an end. So Kant’s key idea here is not to use someone as a tool, even though your goal would have good reasoning.

First I will consider how deontologist ethics would view pushing someone in front of a trolley impermissible. According to Sanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, the view of deontologist ethics is that some choices cannot be justified in their affects. No matter how good outcome is supposed to be, some choices are just morally forbidden. Deontologists are committed to the following Catholic theology, “We are categorically forbidden to intend such evils as killing the innocent or torturing others. We are obligated not to kill the innocent for example.”(Sanford 6, 7).This quote suggests that people should not kill a person no matter how good the intentions are of the person. Deontologists feel that a person has to be willing to sacrifice their life. Another person cannot make that decision for them. I feel deontologists would be ones to follow the Ten Commandments. They would argue that it is morally wrong for Frank to push a large person in from of an out of control trolley. One may see it as killing someone versus the alternative of letting other persons live. Therefore, killing an individual on purpose is not only worse than letting the five individuals die, it is still, ultimately, morally wrong.

The sixth Commandment in the bible, in Exodus 20:13, states, “Thou shall not kill”. In the case of Frank pushing a large person to stop the trolley, he would be interfering with the natural course of the universe by killing one person, and violating the rules established by his God. Frank would really be intentionally causing the death of the large man. However, if Frank refrains and does nothing, he would not be letting five die. He did not intend for those five people to be placed in the path of death and destruction. The trolley would then just move along to its intended path, and Frank would not have violated the Sixth Commandment. Dr. Joshua Green of Harvard University suggests that there is a psychological reason why Frank should not push the large person in front of the trolley. The psychological view of dual process morality supports the impermissibility of pushing the large person in front of the trolley. The dual process theory states that a person has reasoning based on what seems to be true, without thinking, and more controlled cognitive responses promotes the greater good of a situation, respecting the rights of people.(Greene 11). Dr. Greene calls the trolley problem the “footbridge dilemma”.

He has found that people have said that they would disapprove of someone being pushed in front of the trolley because it has a negative outcome. Greene has also stated, “People have a negative emotional response to the trolley problem because of the more personal nature in that case” (Greene 13). According to the dual process theory the trolley problem brings up two issues, 1) the conflict between emotional intuition and 2) the conflict with emotional intuition. The emotional intuition has been the more dominate answer for people to decide upon in the trolley case. In a case study by Greene he found that patients who have dementia were more likely to approve of the “footbridge dilemma” (trolley problem) than those who have healthy reasoning processing. The patients who were mentally unstable, with dementia and various mental diseases, approved of someone being pushed in front of a trolley opposed to those who did not have any mental defects to alter their judgment. So in this psychologist view I have found that it is morally impressible because it is mentally unhealthy to so. This was a case study of patients who did not have good reasoning skills or capabilities decision making and the trolley problem.

In his The Doctrine of the Double Side Affect, Dr. Nucci at the University of Duisburg suggests that there is a third reason why pushing a large person in front of the trolley is impermissible. Dr. Nucci stated, “It is morally impermissible to push a fat man in front of a trolley” (Nucci 2). He has also stated that ‘killing is just killing” no matter what the means or outcomes seem to be.(Nucci 2). Dr. Nucci provides statistical analysis in the discussion of “fat man and the trolley problem”. According, to Dr. Nucci this thought is backed up by “Hauser’s Moral Sense Test” and a BBC test poll. About 90% of the individuals who took the test said it would not be morally permissible to push the fat man in front of the trolley and save the five. The same results came from a BBC news poll where 73% of the respondents answered simply “NO” to the question that was asked” should you kill the fat man”? (Nucci 12).

So in this point Dr. Nucci is showing that the majority rules it to be wrong to push the fat man in front of the trolley, and supports the Doctrine of Double Side Affect. The argument of doing versus allowing brings up a moral difference of killing and letting die. Dr. Nucci suggests that pushing the large man in front of the trolley is morally worse than letting five people die. He says that our negative duty of avoiding harm to an individual is greater than our positive duty to bring aid and help to an individual (Nucci 12). We should not kill anyone in either of the trolley scenarios,1)the fat man scenario, or 2) the switch trolley scenario . According to Dr. Nucci we should not kill a person as a means and side effects according to “The Doctrine of Double Side Affect”. We are more than likely to help people in their time of distress than to be the ones causing that distress to others.

I took a survey of faculty and students at Wake Tech, locals, and relatives concerning the fat man scenario in the trolley problem. I asked the following of the survey participants: 1. If you were Frank, would you push the fat man in front of the trolley? 2. If you were the fat man what would you do?

3. Would you want to be pushed in front of the trolley?
4. Is it permissible or impressible?
The first respondent was Tumar Thomas. He is a 32 year student at Wake Tech. His response was, “ If I was the heaviest one, I would sacrifice myself for the greater good of the five if they were women and children. If it was just five men I would let nature take its course.” I found this morally impermissible. The second response was an 18 year old college student named Adryanna Messer. She said, “Yes, I would sacrifice for the greater good and save the five people. If I were to sacrifice for those five people, I would have to have a conversation with God first. If I had not sacrificed myself, the guilt would eat me up inside of what could have been? If I did not do anything, I would find that to be morally permissible. The next four respondents were faculty, locals and relatives. The third respondent was Carolyn Koonig, the disability services advisor. She said the following in response to the scenario and questions. “It would not be my decision to sacrifice a person. It would be up to God to make that decision, not me.

You cannot put a value on human life. One life is not more important than another life. I find this morally impermissible”. The next was a local college student Daquin McDaniel at NC State. She said, “In that instance, I would push the large man to save the five. I would be saving lives. I would be losing one life to save others. I do find this morally permissible to do.” The next was the local librarian at Green Road Library, Martha Spencer. She said, “No, I would not push a large man in front of a trolley to stop the trolley. There is no guarantee that it would stop the out of control trolley. If it did not work, I would have murdered someone for no reason. I find this to be morally impermissible.” Last respondent to this survey is Tonya Nooks, my mother. She said, “No, I would not push a large man in front of an out of control trolley. That would not for me to decide. I would try to warn others of the out of control trolley and not hurt someone else. Yes I do find this morally impermissible”.

In conclusion, the writer believes that pushing someone in front of a trolley is wrong for the following three reasons,1) the doctrine of the double side effects, 2) dual process reasoning, and 3)deontologist ethics. I believe that pushing someone in front of a trolley is wrong because of my belief system, and I would have to answer to God for what I would have done. No one should be able to decide if that person’s life ends. It would not be a person’s decision to make other than the large man himself. Hippocrates states, “Make a habit of two things: to help or at least do no harm.” We should do no harm to anyone. We should help people, but we should not put them in danger.

Works Cited

Greene, Joshua. “William James Hall Home Page.” The Cognitive Neuroscience of Moral Judgment. N.p., 2008 Dec. 1. Web. 07 Nov. 2012. <http://www.wjh.harvard.edu/>. Deontologist Ethics.” (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). N.p., 21 Nov. 2007. Web. 07 Nov. 2012. <http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/plato/>. Di Nucci, Ezio, The Doctrine of Double Effect and the Trolley Problem .N.p. September 20, 2011.Web 07 Nov 2012. http://ssrn.com/abstract=1930832.

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