In 1967 Phillipa Foot introduced a thought experiment into ethics that has become rather famous. This thought experiment is called The Trolley Problem, and it is often used to illustrate basic utilitarian reasoning. Generally, the experiment goes like this: Assume that you are a trolley driver and you have discovered that your breaks are out. Your train has been picking up speed and now you have no way to slow down. Further, you can see five workers on the track a few hundred yards a head of you. You don’t know why the workers are there, but your radio is out and they have not noticed your attempts to ring the horn of the train. Further, they have a concrete wall on one side of them, and a highway on the other with speeding traffic. While you can’t tell exactly how fast the cars are going, you know from experience that the speed limit is 60 mph, but most people on the highway drive between 70 and 80. There is a side track that you could turn the trolley onto, but you can also see one man working there. He is stuck between two concrete walls, and further he has not noticed your horn blasts either. As the driver, what do you do?

Ostensibly, this experiment is about whether it is better to kill one man or to kill five men, and certainly it fulfills this purpose well. However, the experiment has also raised significant questions about responsibility. If you turn the train, are you responsible for one man dying? If you don’t turn the train, are you responsible for five men dying?

Another version of this experiment is known as the Footbridge Scenario: in this version you are a pedestrian on a footbridge over a trolley track. There is no second track, but you can see a speeding trolley heading towards five workers. The trolley driver seems unable to slow his vehicle and the workers again haven’t noticed his horn blasts (apparently all the rail workers in this town are deaf). However, there is a very fat man leaning over the railing of the footbridge apparently trying to get a better look at the accident. You could easily push this man over the railing, and his girth is such that it would likely slow the trolley to a reasonable speed that would avoid serious injury or death among the five workers. Would you push the man?

Again, this raises questions of responsibility: is it wrong to push the fat man but right to turn the train? Why or why not? Are both right or both wrong? Again, why or why not? What is the difference between the two situations?

These are your questions for today’s challenge. Write me a 1000 word story presenting and defending your solution.


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