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M 7 Discussion — Ethics

The Trolley Problem

Utilitarianism holds that in any ethical dilemma we can determine what to do by weighing the consequences of the various options open to us. Hence, the moral principle to use is “the greatest good for the greatest number of people.” While this often can solve moral problems, it can also cause injustice to minorities within the culture who might be victimized by the “greater good.” This difficulty is well illustrated in the famous “trolley problem.” The switch man has the ability to switch the runaway train from the track that will kill five workers, to the track that will kill only one. Would you do so to save the greater number? The second dilemma concerns a fat man on a bridge. If he should happen to fall onto the tracks, he could stop the train in time to save the people on the track. Should you and equally could you push him off the bridge and onto the tracks to save them? In order to resolve these issues, answer the following questions:

  • The theory of utilitarianism would agree that you can ethically switch the tracks and push the man over the bridge. Please view the video before you continue. Explain the basis of Utilitarianism. What are the moral principles that it is based on?
  • In the section titled Some Important Implications of Utilitarianism, the text provides reasons why the theory is problematic. Explain those three reasons in detail.
  • If you would feel uneasy switching the tracks or pushing the man on the track you are not alone. Using information from the text, what criticism of utilitarianism fits this situation?
  • Given all of this information, what do you think you would do if you were to face a trolley problem like this some day? Give reasons for your answer.
  • To discuss this adequately, you should write at least 750 words.
  • Please respond to two of your classmates for maximum points.

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