How should you make moral decisions?

There is a runaway trolley barreling down the railway tracks. Ahead, on the tracks, there are five people tied up and unable to move. The trolley is headed straight for them. You are standing some distance off in the train yard, next to a lever. If you pull this lever, the trolley will switch to a different set of tracks. However, you notice that there is one person on the side track. You have two options:

Do nothing, and the trolley kills the five people on the main track.
Pull the lever, diverting the trolley onto the side track where it will kill one person.

What would you do? Which is the most ethical choice?

Suppose there were not five lives at stake if you did nothing but 100 or 1,000 or 10,000? Suppose the one life at stake is somebody you know or like or love? Would these factors change your decision?

The trolley problem thought experiment was first introduced by British philosopher Philippa Foot in 1967. I came across it in the book I am reading at the moment: “The Big Picture: On The Origins Of Life, Meaning And The Universe Itself” by Sean Carroll.


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