The Trolly problem


The New York Times book review reviewed two books this week on what is called the trolly problem.  Would you throw the fat man off the bridge?

Two situations are offered. The first has five people tied to a track sure to die when the trolly rolls over them unless you throw a switch that diverts the trolly onto a side track. If you do, it will roll over only one person tied to the side track. What do you do?

The second scenario has a fat man standing next to you on a bridge over the tracks. Five people tied to the tracks  below can be saved if you toss the fat man off the bridge knowing his body will be large enough to stop the trolly. What do you do?

Apparently there are all kinds of philosophers interested in people’s varied reactions. It even has a name, trolleyology.

Most startling to me was this sentence from the reviewer, “When Americans dropped atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on the argument that a quick end to the war would save lives, by some macabre coincident, the Nagasaki bomb was nicknamed Fat Man.”

Makes one wonder, did the namers know about trolleyology? No answer given in the review, but reviewer Sarah Bakewell does tell us that”trolleyology now forms part of the philosophy course at West Point.”

5 thoughts on “The Trolly problem

  1. New Hampshire Garden Solutions November 28, 2013 / 4:44 pm

    Aren’t we humans supposed to sacrifice the few to save the many in such situations? It’s an easy answer as long as you’re not the one being sacrificed.

  2. Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist November 28, 2013 / 7:52 pm

    We used to have scenarios such as these in the ethics courses we had to do for nursing. It was always fascinating to see the huge diversity of opinions. I wonder if we were being given trolleyology. (I started reading this article thinking it would be about shopping trolleys as we do not refer to train carriages as trolleys.:))

    • fictionfitz November 28, 2013 / 9:40 pm

      That language foreign to me too. For me a trolley is like a San Francisco Cable Car.

  3. Carole Webber November 29, 2013 / 10:38 am

    My late brother-in-law piloted one of the planes that dropped the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It troubled him his whole life, thinking that reasonable men would have come up with a better solution.
    I hope I am never faced with such a decision. I know I could not do either scenario,

    Trolley cars were part of my life in Brooklyn.They ran on tracks under electric wires., a fun way to get around. My dad remembered when they were pulled by horses.
    I have been on the cable cars in San Francisco also. Our kids kept singing the Rice-A-
    Roni jingle

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