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Train dilemma

  1. A. Yes, B. Yes

  2. A. Yes, B. No

  3. A. No, B. Yes

    0 vote(s)
  4. A. No, B. No

  1. Nov 26, 2008 #1
    A. Jane is standing at a railway switch as an oncoming train rapidly approaches from the left. Just beyond her is a fork in the track. Five innocent people, unaware of the train, are standing on the left fork. One innocent man is standing on the right. If Jane does nothing, the train will veer to the left and kill the five people. If she throws the switch, the train will veer to the right and kill the man. Should she do it?

    B. Now Jane is standing on an open footbridge that crosses a track. A large man is beside her. A runaway train is approaching at high speed. Just beyond the bridge, behind her, five people are standing on the track. The only way to save them is to push the large man immediately off the bridge into the train's path. Should she do it?
    Last edited: Nov 26, 2008
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 27, 2008 #2


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    Well, if her goal is to save the maximum amount of innocent people, then yes to both of the questions. Now, if Jane doesn't want to be directly responsible for the death of a innocent man, but rather indirectly responsible for the death of five, then no to both questions. If Jane believes in God and know that she will not go to heaven if she is directly responsible for the death of an innocent man, then of course no to both questions. If Jane existed, I doubt she would do it. Her conscience would most probably forbid it.
  4. Nov 28, 2008 #3
    Oblivious people standing on train tracks probably deserve a Darwin award. Natural selection culls as many weak links as needed to the betterment of the surviving population.
  5. Nov 28, 2008 #4
  6. Nov 29, 2008 #5


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    As I see it, if you happen to be in a situation in which you cannot prevent the loss of lives, then it is extremely difficult to see why a course of action bent upon minimizing that loss of life should be morally wrong.

    Thus, unless Jane is at least as big an individual as the man in B, yes on both counts.

    If Jane is as big as the man beside her in B, a heroic self-sacrifice is the morally best choice.
  7. Nov 29, 2008 #6
    I agree. However, I doubt she would have been able to do it in both cases. People are not always able to do what is right. For instance, I think many people would rather push the button and drop an atomic bomb over a big city, than killing one person by hand.
  8. Nov 29, 2008 #7
    I won't kill an innocent to save a group who put themselves in danger by their own actions. That's not moral. And it would dilute the gene pool. So it's a "no" for the second scenario. The first scenario is less clear because I don't know if the man is aware that the switch is protecting him or not. If he knows, then it's the same as the other case, I just don't know if he knows. Also a group of five has better chances of hearing the train coming since only one of them needs to hear it to alert them all. So probably "no" for that one as well, unless I know that all are deaf and the lone man is just as oblivious as the others.
  9. Nov 29, 2008 #8
    Assume they have no chance of escaping, and that they have been bound firm by islamists. Then the right thing to do is to kill as few as possible.
  10. Nov 29, 2008 #9
    [Edit mine.]

    It you create a scenario that is purely a numbers game then all moral dilemma disappear.
  11. Nov 29, 2008 #10
    We're still talking about lives, not mere numbers.
  12. Nov 29, 2008 #11
    Not really. In "5 lives > 1 life" the "life" units cancel out and you end up talking about mere numbers where 5 > 1. The thing is, you only have a moral dilemma when more than just a number of identical lives is at stake, that is, when the units are different. If you just ask "what is better, 5 lives or 1 life" then the answer is obvious. The problems arise when you add the condition that the decider must take explicit actions, when the quality of these "lives" isn't the same, and so on.

    And this is where problems arise because you don't have just numbers anymore, you pit one healthy life against several unhealthy lives. That difference is what makes you scratch your head.
  13. Nov 29, 2008 #12
    Some will claim that you are directly responsible only if you switch.

    Is a healthy life worth more than an unhealthy life?

    How many people would we need to save for it to be moral to kill someone to harvest their organs?
  14. Nov 29, 2008 #13
    A little bit, yes.


    It's not really a numbers game.
  15. Nov 29, 2008 #14
    What makes a healthy life more valuable than an unhealthy life?
  16. Nov 29, 2008 #15
    My personal preference of course. Wouldn't you also prefer a healthy life than a unhealthy one? I think everybody agrees on that one.
  17. Nov 29, 2008 #16
    I would also prefer a life as an American rather than as a Sudanese. Does that make Americans more valuable?
  18. Nov 29, 2008 #17
    Be careful not to switch terms in mid-stream. Based on your stated preference your question should ask:

    "Does that make life as an American more valuable than life as a Sudanese?"

    ...and you have already given your answer.
  19. Nov 29, 2008 #18
    Therefore it is right to kill a Sudanese to save an American.
  20. Nov 29, 2008 #19
    Wow leopard, you're not very good at this.

    I'm out.
  21. Nov 29, 2008 #20

    I think I'm good. I disagree that I am more valuable than you because I am healthy and you are not.
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