Who do you kill?


On SaaniaSparkle’s blog, I read about the infamous trolly problem again. If you have not heard of it before, it goes something like this:

A train races towards a group of five people who are stuck in the train’s path. You can decide to pull a lever and change the train’s path, but then you would direct the train towards a single other person on a different portion of the track instead.

You have no time to communicate with anyone. The only question is: Do you pull the lever?

In trying to solve this problem, there are mainly two arguments (that I am aware of), leading to two different solutions.

Number one is: You do not pull the lever, because you should not interfere with the unfolding event and make yourself the judge over who should live and who should die.

And number two: You pull the lever, because one person dying is better than 5 people dying.

What do you think? Feel free to put your answer down below, before reading what I think about it.

I think both solutions have fundamental problems that make them unacceptable – next to the inevitability of someone dying, that is.

First, the option of not pulling the lever to not interfer is a red herring. Just by being in the situation, whatever you do will be your decision. Either you decide to pull the lever and determine that one person dies, or you decide not to pull the lever and determine that five people die. Whether you want it or not, you are deciding the outcome of the situation.

Does that mean you should pull the lever? Maybe, but this option, too, has some problems. Because for all we know, any of the six people could be anything from a violent criminal to a saint. But even if we knew that we could not know which deaths would cause the least amount of harm in the future.

In other words, any answer to the lorry problem that is based on any projection of who these six people are or may be is useless, because it can only be based on arbitrary assumptions that can neither be validated not invalidated.

This is why I think the real question the lorry problem poses is: What are your internal assumptions on other human beings and your disposition towards the outside world?

My internal assumption is that more human life equals more potential for constructive evolution – whatever that may look like in practice. That is why I would pull the lever (hopefully). What would you do?

16 thoughts on “Who do you kill?

  1. Pull the lever. But quite possibly kill myself after due to guilt.
    What if the 1 person is a genius, or a heart surgeon, or some other form of betterment for society?


  2. If all lives are equal, killing one is 80% better than killing five. The franchise Star Trek has analyzed this concept to death and even created a ‘trekkie’ catch phrase around it. *The needs of the many out-weight the needs of the one.*

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Fair. This still leaves one problem, though: We cannot know whose life will better serve the needs of the many. What if the One will save >5 lives in the future, invent something great or do any other thing that vastly benefits the Many? What if one of the Five will kill >4 people or otherwise greatly harm the Many? This is why I think our internal assumptions are the best we got and all we can do is be consistent with them.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Right, we can never know. In Stephen King’s book 11/22/63 a subplot of the book is how would the world change without the assignation of one person–JFK. In other episode of star trek, The City on the Edge of Forever (I swear I’m not a trekkie, they just explore topics like this) shows how saving the life a person working for world peace has the opposite effect in the long run. It’s a mind-bender.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. What if you didn’t know them, why would that be morally different?

      But yes you are right: The decision is tough, perhaps even impossible. If you were in such a situation, though, you would nonetheless have to make a decision.


  3. I’ve always hated this problem and I still don’t have a sure answer. Before I was sure to say I’d choose to save more people but now I’m older I’m thinking of all the other factors, and would probably not pull the lever if only for the fact that I know I won’t be able to ACTIVELY participate in this situation.


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