May 23, 2019

How Would Judaism Address Philosophy's "Trolley Problem?"

“One of the more popular questions that professors of ethics like to pose to their students is “the trolley problem.” The basic question goes like this:

There is a runaway trolley moving toward five people lying tied-up on the tracks. You are standing next to the switch that controls the trolley. If you flip the switch, the trolley will be redirected onto a side track, and the five people on the main track will be saved. There is, however, a single person lying on the side track, and if the trolley is diverted to there, that single person will be killed. You have two options:

1. Do nothing and allow the trolley to kill the five people on the main track.

2. Flip the switch, diverting the trolley onto the side track where it will kill one person.

Which do you choose?

Ethics professors often frame this conundrum as a battle between “utilitarianism” (which would dictate that the most appropriate action is the one that achieves the greatest good for the greatest number, e.g., kill one to save the many) and “deontology” (according to the rules, the action is wrong, regardless of the consequences).”

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