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Killing, Letting Die, And The Trolley Problem

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Ludwig Labu

on 18 December 2013

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Transcript of Killing, Letting Die, And The Trolley Problem

Killing, Letting Die, And The Trolley Problem
by Judith Jarvis Thomson

Judith Jarvis Thomson
born 1929
American moral philosopher and metaphysician
Killing, Letting Die and the Trolley Problem (1976)
"Trolley" vs "Fat Man"

1. Introduction

2. Killing vs. Letting Die

3. Variations

4. Approaches

5. Conclusions

6. Discussion

Killing vs. Letting Die
There is an intuition that how a death comes about is relevant to its moral wrongness.

Death caused by an agent that has a plan and intends to kill is often thought of as being morally worse than an accidental death.
There is a specific intuition that a death caused by a killing is worse than a death caused by a letting die.

The intuition requires only that in some cases killing is worse than letting die.

But there is also a further question of what this intuition is about, and what explains the difference between killing and letting die
Is Killing worse than Letting Die?

hates his wife and wants her dead. He puts cleaning fluid in her coffee, thereby killing her.

Intent: to Kill
Action: Poisoning
Consequence: Death
Letting Die

hates his wife and wants her dead. She puts cleaning fluid accidentally in her coffee. Bert happens to have the antidote to the cleaning fluid, but he does not give it to her; he lets her die.

Intent: to Let Die
Action: not giving antidote
Consequence: Death

What do you think is morally worse in this case?

Do you think that instinctive morality exists?
Judicial Approach of the
Trolley Problem
In German Criminal Law the distinction between action and omission has significant consequences.

In the conflict between a duty and a duty not to act with respect to its peers, legal rights must be decided by the prevailing opinion for the omission: the inaction of Edward is justified and not punishable.

In such an unusual, almost unsolvable conflict of duties the law is able to raise any debt charges if the offender makes its decision in good faith.

Distributive Exemption - DEP
[I]t is not morally required of us that we let a burden descend out of the blue onto five when we can make it instead descend onto one only if we can make it instead descend onto the one by means which do not themselves constitute infringements of rights of the one?

- independently of any further consequences
"The thesis that killing is worse than letting die cannot be used in any simple way [...] The cases have to be looked at individually"

"We must accept that out 'negative duties' are more stringent than our 'positive duties'"

Judith Jarvis Thomson, 1976. Killing, Letting Die, and the Trolley Problem. Monist 59: 204-217.

Judith Jarvis Thomson, 1985. The Trolley Problem. The Yale Law Journal Company 94: 1395-1415.

S. Pinker, 2008: The Moral Instinct. The New York Times.

B. Steinbock, A. Norcross, 1994: Killing and letting die. Fordham University Press: 103-279.

H. Frowe 2007: Killing John to save Mary. MIT Press: 2-17.

Michael Gorr, 1990. Thomson and the trolley problem. Philosophical Studies 59: 91-100.

Kevin Dutton, 2013. Psychopathen: Was man von Heiligen, Anwälten und Serienmördern lernen kann. dtv 33-38.
(O)ne could sacrifice a smaller group of persons to save a larger group only if one did so by

a pre-existing threatening

from the larger to the smaller group by doing something to the threatening force rather than to the person(s) in the smaller group.


"Normal Human" vs Psychopath
90% would
push the fat man, but who are the 10%?
case 1 (Trolley):
moral dilemma
case 2 (Fat Man):
moral dilemma
normal humans have scruples in the 2. case because it gets personal whereas "psychopaths" don´t
Would you push
Personal Claim
Large City
area with high probability of avalanches
settlers knew the risk before they settled
people accepted the risk because of the beauty of the countryside and the money to be made there

Doctrine of Double Effect:
says that you may take action which has bad side effects, but deliberately intending harm (even for good causes) is wrong

You have 2 possibilities, either you work with your intuitive emotional system or with your morality and rules.

unconsciousness versus conscious reflection
How would you relate the Doctrine of Double Effect to the Fat Man Problem?
Do you know a more realistic example?
presented by Karin Schneider & Ludwig Labuzinski
Conclusions continued
Small City
settlers did not wish to run the risk of being overrun by an avalanche
less lovely city and less money to be made

May we deflect the avalanche onto the Small City to save Large City?
NO, inhabitants of the Small City have more claim against it than the inhabitants of the Large City.
The Moral Instinct
Most people think they can pull the switch, but they cannot push the Fat Man without any coherent reason.

Moral Philosophers
explain it with the Moral Instinct:
"Evolution equipped people with a revulsion to manhandling an innocent person. This instinct tends to overwhelm any utilitarian calculus that would tot up the lives saved and lost."

found signs of a conflict between brain areas associated with emotion and areas dedicated to rational analysis.
adapted version of the Trolley Problem
Full transcript