"The Trolley Problem" and its impact on our decision-taking

Term Paper, 2021

9 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. “The Trolley Problem “

3. Utilitarianism

4. Intending vs. foreseeing

5. Applied ethics: Is artificial intelligence capable of good judgement?
i. Trolley Problem
ii. Whose life matters the most?

6. Conclusion

7. Bibliography

1. Introduction

“The Trolley Problem” and its impact on our decision-taking, has first been established by Philippa Foot in 1967. In the dilemma she created, we are confronted with two options of action­taking. The death of one person only to save multiple other people, or the death of multiple people because one does not feel in the position to choose to kill the single person.

In order to create a discussion on this topic, I will elaborate how the dilemma is explained by Foot. Since utilitarianism plays a major role in this dilemma, as most people think this is the right way to act, I will briefly explain its idea and how I feel about it. At this point, I want to precise that I will not be going into the definitions of morality, as they would go beyond the scope of this paper. I will only go into the aspects of intending and foreseeing, which are important terms to distinguish in this discussion.

The main interest of this paper lies in applying what we learned about the “Trolley Problem” and the terms that the dilemma implies, in connection with modern technologies. I will do this, by considering some aspects brought by Patrick Lin in “The Ethics of Autonomous Cars”. How would a car act in a trolley case? Can it properly distinguish between intending and foreseeing, and at the same time protect its owner?

2. “The Trolley Problem ”

The Trolley Problem is a thought experiment, established to find a solution to a moral dilemma, one may be facing. Therefore, we are now considering two hypothetical cases that Philippa Foot incentivizes us to reflect on. I will firstly elaborate those cases, and in the following sections I will analyze the dilemma we are confronting.

The first hypothetical case is stated as such: I assume that I am the driver of a trolley. While I am driving the trolley, I encounter five track workers who have been repairing the track during their working hours. I am going through a valley which is a bit steep. But as soon as I notice those workers, I step on the brakes to make my trolley stop going. To my misfortune, I realize that my brakes are not working. However, I do notice that I have the option, to switch to a different track, as there is a track appearing to my right. Now, I notice that on the track to my right, there is another man working on the tracks. I realize that I am put in a dilemma, as I am confronted to either killing one man if I switch to the sidetrack or killing five men if I do not switch tracks.

The opinions are mixed, when visualizing such problem. Many would agree and say that the death of five men is worse than the death of one man, so switching tracks is a must. Of course, I will partially agree to this. But since I need to imagine myself in this situation, turning the switch, I am facing a dilemma with myself. The inner-me may tell me that I should switch to the sidetrack, but I might not be able to physically make myself turn the switch and cause the death of that one person.

Now consider a different case. I am asked by Foot to picture myself as a good surgeon. Since I have the experience and I know how to properly do my job as a surgeon, the transplants of organs I do, always turn out to be successful. Five of my patients are in need of organs. More specifically, one needs a heart, two need one lung and two need one kidney. Making it a total of five organs, which are included in a healthy person. I immediately think about this young patient of mine, who is in perfect health and corresponds to the blood type of my five patients in need. I contact this young man and ask him if he is okey with the idea of me removing his organs from him and giving them to five people in need, causing the young man's death. The man is not amused with the idea of giving up his life, and gives me a straight no.

Now, would it be acceptable for me to still, without the man's consent, cut his organs out of his body to save other people? I think that every well rationalizing human being would reply “no” to this question. Both cases stated by Philippa seem so different, yet they are the same. Why should I be motivated to switch to the sidetrack and kill one man, and yet be considered to act wrong when killing one man by removing his organs, to save other five?

3. Utilitarianism

Utilitarianism is a philosophical approach, often put in relation with the “Trolley Problem”. As their way of going on about this, is that an action should be held to please the biggest amount of people. This is a consequentialist's approach, as they only consider the consequences that derive from an action.

For this problem would be easily solved, saying that in both cases stated by Philippa Foot, the best option is always the one where the biggest amount of people gets to benefit of the consequences. In both cases, I am supposed to imagine myself being the one responsible for the death of one person and not the death of five people. Now, does utilitarianism solve the dilemma I am facing in those hypothetical cases? I do not think so. The first claim I add to this, is that the “Trolley Problem” is not really considered a “problem” for utilitarianist's, as they do not consider the subjects as such. Since utilitarianism is a rather neutral approach in philosophy, I share the opinion that it should not be involved in discussions where subjects with feelings, thoughts, and souls, are involved, as these factors are completely ignored by utilitarianists.


Excerpt out of 9 pages


"The Trolley Problem" and its impact on our decision-taking
Systematic Introduction to Philosophy
Catalog Number
trolley, problem
Quote paper
Sabrina Fiel Abade (Author), 2021, "The Trolley Problem" and its impact on our decision-taking, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/1168143


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