From a utilitarian perspective, there is only one good answer - pull the lever, minimizing the cost to human life. The consequences are what matter, and in this case, pulling the lever will mean that 1 person dies instead of 5 people. However, a person may still have some worries about pulling the lever nonetheless - for in pulling the lever, you make yourself directly responsible for a person's death. Considered in isolation, removing the 5 people on the original track from the scenario, your act is equivalent to murder.
|Whether any human is 'stop-a-train fat' is a separate question...|
The scenario can be tweaked to isolate differing moral intuitions in different cases. Consider:
- The scenario remains the same, except that the single person on the side-track is your brother. Divert?
- You stand on a bridge above the railway. There are 5 people on the track who will be killed by the train. However, the train can be stopped by pushing a fat guy standing on the bridge alongside you into its path, and then the 5 people will be saved. Push him? (most find this a harder choice than the original example).
- The same scenario obtains as in (2), except the fat guy is a villain, who was responsible for the train being out of control in the first place. Push?
- The same scenario obtains as in (2), except the fat guy is your brother. Push?
Discussion of these examples has been widespread in philosophy and online. The philpapers survey (see previous post) reported that almost 70% of philosophers would pull the lever in the original case.
I think I’d probably pull the lever in the original scenario, and push the fat bloke in both 2 and 3 (though the fact that he’s a villain doesn’t seem to affect things particularly). At least, I think doing these things would be the right thing to do, whether or not I had the courage to do them myself. However, the family cases raise some of the most profoundly difficult moral dilemmas in moral philosophy. It’s a tough question as to whether one’s personal relationships should affect one’s moral outlook in such tricky cases.