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Discussion Starter #1
Imagine that one day you come across five people in immediate and mortal peril. You and you alone can save them, but doing so will kill one other person. For instance, five people may be in path of an out-of-control trolley that could be diverted onto a track where there is only one person. You are aware of no morally relevant differences between the six people: none of them are murderers or saints who especially “deserve” to live or die, and none of them ended up in this situation due to their own negligence or transgressions. Given such a situation (hereafter referred to as the “thought experiment”), would you be able to kill one person to save five? Is it justifiable? Is it right or wrong?

I was just thinking about this while eating breakfast..fruitloops...I don't know what train of thought took me there..

But any thoughts or opinions are welcome!
 
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It depends on what system of ethics you are using. I may not exactly remember this info since I learned it like 4 years ago in 10th grade but I'll try giving this a shot. Feel free to expand or correct these statements.
If you think "the ends justify the means", and "it's for the greater good", then yes it would be justifiable to kill that one person.
Or maybe you think that there absolutely must be a way to save them all, because killing one person to save others is still wrong. Committing an unethical act in order to save others is still wrong.

In this scenario, if you follow the former set of ethics, you would most likely just let that one person die.
If you follow the 2nd set, then you will try to find a way to save all their lives. Maybe they might get hurt but they would still be alive.

The 1st one has the advantage of making an "easy decision" and guarantees that at least some people will be saved.
The 2nd one could potentially result in the best outcome if you actually found an alternative solution. But if you fail to find that solution In time, everyone could die. It's all or nothing.


Or if you care only about yourself, you would probably ask "what's in it for me?" and then the 5 people will come up with offers and pleas to save them instead of that one other person, and vice versa. Whoever comes up with the best offer, you save. The one guy could be a billionaire and reward you accordingly for your "heroic" deed. But this is assuming that you can even get in contact with either party.
If you can't, then there would be no way to determine if you would get anything out of saving any of these people, so you might just forget them all and let them die altogether. On the other hand, you may attempt to save at least one of them because they will be forever in your debt and the news reports will regard you as a hero and a pillar to the community.

These are just examples of 3 sets of systems of ethics that I forgot the names to. There are several more but I can't remember them at the moment.
 

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Discussion Starter #3
I was watching the dark knight the night before, the scene where the joker had 2 boats filled with about 3000 people on each one. Each boat has the detonator to the other boat, one boat is full of convicts and gaurds, the other is full of pedestrians. Each boat only had one hour decide to blow up the other one or both boats would blow up. The story concluded that both boats did not choose to press the button and batman saved the day. But I really had a hard time accepting that neither boat would press the button. So I suppose a better scenario would have been, If you had both detonators and had an hour to decide which boat would you blow up?

If you choose not to blow up either, your whole family and your friends family would die, but both boats would survive?

Im just wondering if people are willing to suffer alot so someone else doesn't.
 
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Imagine that one day you come across five people in immediate and mortal peril. You and you alone can save them, but doing so will kill one other person. For instance, five people may be in path of an out-of-control trolley that could be diverted onto a track where there is only one person. You are aware of no morally relevant differences between the six people: none of them are murderers or saints who especially “deserve” to live or die, and none of them ended up in this situation due to their own negligence or transgressions. Given such a situation (hereafter referred to as the “thought experiment”), would you be able to kill one person to save five? Is it justifiable? Is it right or wrong?

I was just thinking about this while eating breakfast..fruitloops...I don't know what train of thought took me there..

But any thoughts or opinions are welcome!
I love thought experiments like this. They teach us something about ethical dilemmas, the nature of good/evil, right/wrong etc.

In this case I'm in no doubt - I would kill the one to save the five.
 

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I'm very curious as to what lead you to choose the one person over the other five.

For the batman scenario I would probably try some risky approach that would get around the situation. Have people create makeshift boats out of whatever they can find. Preferably something buoyant that will support the weight of at least one human being. Deconstruct the friggin ship if you have to. Use that hour of time to make your own little raft/boat/floatation device and get the fuck off those boats within the hour. Boat explodes. Some people may die from the resulting explosions, or die from hypothermia or drown while waiting to be rescued in the ocean. The outcome of trying to save as many as possible by making your own option is uncertain. Whereas if you go with any of the choices given to you, you know the consequences of your decision.
 

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I wouldn't, not ever, I'm not gonna make such choices as I wasn't nominated god
But let's say you were forced into having to make that decision. You happen to be working in the control room and you notice these two trolleys are going to collide with each other and kill everyone if you don't act. However, changing the path of either of the trolley cars will result in the trolley car being led off a cliff, effectively dooming everyone on that car while the other trolly car continues on course.

Would you really refuse to make the call, knowing that in doing so you would kill everyone?
 

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I'm very curious as to what lead you to choose the one person over the other five.
@RayStormX

In real life there'd probably be uncertainty about the situation, eg are we talking about certain deaths or just injuries?

For sake of the thought experiment i think we're assuming perfect knowledge of the situation and consequences of action/inaction. In which case i have the choice: (i) do nothing and 5 people die or (ii) divert the trolley and one person dies.

Therefore i divert the trolley.
 

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Depends on that one person. Though majority of the time I'd choose the 5. @The Proof , why play God? Well if you don't choose there will be 6 dead people, all of their deaths on your hand. To not help them is to kill them yourself.
 

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I misread your post; I thought you said you'd save the one and kill the other five lol, my bad.

As for your last few sentences. Well the thing is, the way the OP made this particular thought experiment is that there are two trolly cars, one with 5 people, the other with one person. So your choices are actually
I) do nothing and 6 people die
II) save one , but 5 others die
III) save 5, but one dies.
 

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Gah! It would be horrifying for me to have someone's fate in my hands. I would save five and let one die, but I would be wracked with guilt, asking myself, if there was any other way to save them all? I feel extremely guilty for the smallest things, I can't imagine the kind of guilt I would experience in that situation.

In your altered batman boat scenario, I would try and save everyone. Get everyone off one boat, and take them to the other boat, and detonate the empty one.

If it was impossible to do a "loophole" and save everyone, I would detonate the prisoner's boat. I love my family way too much and I'm selfish. I know it is illogical to kill off a boat full of people for the sake of four individuals (my family), but once my emotions come into play, I make irrational decisions.

So...uh...never let me decide whether or not someone should die.
 
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I know it would cause me pain to watch anyone die and their face would be etched into memory. With that said, probably without hesitation, I'd save the 5. I'll leave the quote to the most logical of characters:

Spock: "Logic clearly dictates that the need of the many outweigh the needs of the few."
Capt. Kirk: "Or the one."

Star Trek: Wrath of Kahn
 
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Another dilemma to consider:

As before, there is a trolly heading for the 5 people and if it hits them they will all die. But this time it's possible to stop the trolly by dropping a large weight in its path from a bridge overhead. However, the only such weight available is a large man sitting on the bridge. Should we push him off the bridge (meaning his death) in order to save the five?
 

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Remove the notion that human lives are precious and valuable and we must persevere them all and these hypothetical scenarios come down to a simple math problem that any 3rd grader would know the answer to. But we know that not all lives are equal so we must weigh each one considerably before making a decision. But you have not given us information to make a theoretically correct answer possible for any of these scenarios. So with the incomplete information you have provided us, plus the fact that if these scenario were to occur in real life it would require snap decision making, I would say yes. It is highly unlikely that life of the person being sacrificed will outweigh the 5 being saved. In order for me to consider the alternative, then the sacrificial person must fulfill the duty of a life preserver, perhaps a police officer, fireman, or doctor.


@Zech
Pushing a man off a bridge adds a completely different level. But I'll push fatty off the bridge only if you do it with me.

@flicker099 makes a good point about family members. We value those who are closer to us over those who aren't through subjective means. But objective speaking, are your family and friends really worth anything? Most of us would probably detonate the prisoner boat in the Dark Knight dilemma. But heres one for you: How many of your friends and family would you sacrifice for lets say, a cure for cancer or aids? What about your own life? You are trading the lives of your most intimate for the lives of people you don't know and never will know, in a situation where your sacrifice is going to be paid off tremendously in the long run.
 

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I love the trolley thought experiment. It's a classic. I'm fascinated by people's reactions and how/if their positions change as the hypothetical evolves.

It all boils down to what we most value—what ultimately forms the basis of our ethical systems. This will determine how we distinguish between ethical and unethical behavior. Intentionality? The material result of action or inaction?

Many have probably seen this, but here's a great video for the benefit of any who haven't:

 

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Leave the trolley as is. Killing one person is tragic; killing five is accelerating nature.
 

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Leave the trolley as is. Killing one person is tragic; killing five is accelerating nature.
Saving 5 people would be heroic! And when you get interviewed you could be like "I tried to save all of them but God had other plans". Would probably work in America. Or say something along those lines.

For the fat guy, we have a new element in the situation. Your direct actions may cause the death of one individual, as before, but you would see it up close and personal. I probably would not even consider pushing the fat guy. Unless he was a really big asshole, but even then I would have reservations about the idea.

This scenario is also slightly different in the sense that you are not saving one person and letting 5 die, but you are intentionally killing one person to save 5. In this scenario, I would likely be charged with 1st or 2nd degree murder after saving those people's lives. So that's another thing to consider.

Now, if you're particularly manipulative, perhaps you could convince the man to jump off himself. People would regard him as a hero who sacrificed his own life. You will not get the blame nor the accolades. This is so Machiavellian but I would probably take this choice.
 

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Monumental moral question

The answer is there is, with anything moral, it is naive to be absolute in our decisions before we have to make them, but weighing the factors of life can certainly help prepare
 

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I am operating under the premise, if I understood it correctly, that we are dealing with six strangers about whom we know nothing. If we do nothing, five people will die. If we act, one person will die and five will be saved.

First off, if you divert the trolley from its natural course, you are not "letting the one die," you are murdering someone who otherwise would have lived. Granted you are attempting to save five others, but this does not take away from the fact. I am not trying to malign the action, just attempting to cast it in its proper light. And the mere fact that is is murder does not change the equation in any way. On the other hand, if you allow the trolley to continue on its course, you are letting those five die so that you do not have to murder the one. I suppose technically allowing the five to die could be considered murder as well, but I am not sure I would label it as such, unless the person choosing also released the trolley.

Saving the five basically boils down to a numbers game. If you subjectively concede that human life has value, and you believe for whatever reason that the more things of value there are the better, then it logically follows that the five should be spared at the expense of the one. Yet this line of reasoning is only logical if you accept that premise... and there is no objective reason to do so (unless you are for some reason collecting humans, or getting a commission for each one, hoping for more converts, etc.). More of anything is not inherently, objectively better.

According to my own subjective ethical system, I am not sure what I would do. I feel that human life (along with all other forms of life) has no inherent value, other than what is given it subjectively by individuals. That said, I have absolutely no desire to contribute to the destruction of life; quite the contrary, actually. My gut response is to save the five and kill the one (irrationally based on the numbers game to which I do not consciously subscribe). Then again I am also rather passive, and do not necessarily believe that more is better, so I am not naturally inclined to attempt to save five who are passively doomed by actively killing one person. And yet...I would in all likelihood kill the one and save the five in the heat of the moment. Give me time to reason it out, and who knows? I certainly wouldn't blame someone for choosing not to kill the one. Or for killing her/him for that matter.

Some other hypothetical permutations:

1. Would you want you and your four fellow passengers to be saved at the expense of this other person?

2. What if we replace the passengers with five puppies, but leave the solo player human? Does this change anything? Five kittens? Five chimps? The last five baby seals on the planet?
 

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Saving 5 people would be heroic! And when you get interviewed you could be like "I tried to save all of them but God had other plans". Would probably work in America. Or say something along those lines.

For the fat guy, we have a new element in the situation. Your direct actions may cause the death of one individual, as before, but you would see it up close and personal. I probably would not even consider pushing the fat guy. Unless he was a really big asshole, but even then I would have reservations about the idea.

This scenario is also slightly different in the sense that you are not saving one person and letting 5 die, but you are intentionally killing one person to save 5. In this scenario, I would likely be charged with 1st or 2nd degree murder after saving those people's lives. So that's another thing to consider.

Now, if you're particularly manipulative, perhaps you could convince the man to jump off himself. People would regard him as a hero who sacrificed his own life. You will not get the blame nor the accolades. This is so Machiavellian but I would probably take this choice.
I think it's possible to make the argument that the two situations are different, but this isn't it. Diverting the trolley and pushing the fat man are both conscious acts, are they not? The distinction you draw is entirely semantic.
 
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