Photo by Evren Sahin
In an article on psychology The Economist refers to the runaway-trolley problem:
A runaway rail trolley will kill a group of people unless someone chooses to push one of the group in front of it to slow it down (“The roar of the crowd”, May 26th).
Doing nothing means all will be killed, so who should be pushed?
The Military elite like to use 'the runaway trolley problem', or similar examples, when justifying such things as sending young soldiers to die in Vietnam, or bombing people in Afghanistan.
Anthony Sweeney, of Darien, Connecticut, writes:
SIR – I see the dilemma, but not the one described.
If someone feels strongly enough about saving peoples' lives then he should make the ultimate sacrifice and throw himself in front of the trolley.
Throwing a bystander (which could be me) in front of the trolley to satisfy the subject's idea of morality is murder, pure and simple.
Of course, the 'runaway-trolley' is most likely someone's fault.
Website for this image
Let us look inside the minds of the CIA and all its supporters in the USA and beyond.
INSIDE THE MINDS OF THE CIA
The CIA is largely run by people who believe in creating the greatest happiness of the greatest number.
These people are called 'utilitarians'.
A utilitarian might approve of torture - for the greater happiness of 'the majority'.
A utilitarian might approve of a false-flag terror attack, if it is thought that this will bring greater wealth and happiness to 'one's people'.
New research suggests that 'utilitarians' have higher scores on measures of:
and life meaninglessness.
(Antisocial personality traits predict utilitarian responses to moral dilemmas)
Utilitarians forget about goodness and justice.
Are you a utilitarian?
You are standing next to a large man on a bridge over rail tracks.
You notice a run-a-way trolley coming down the tracks.
It is about to run over 5 workmen further up the tracks.
If you push the large man off the bridge, he will fall onto the tracks and die.
His body will stop the trolley from killing the 5 workmen.
Should you push him?
Roughly 90% of people oppose the utilitarian act of killing one individual to save five.
Roughly 10% are utilitarians and would kill one individual to save five.
Utilitarians will sacrifice 'other people'.
Here's an easier test:
You are standing next to a very pretty white girl on a bridge over rail tracks.
You notice a run-a-way trolley coming down the tracks.
It is about to run over 5 ugly looking immigrant workmen further up the tracks.
If you push the girl off the bridge, she will fall onto the tracks and die.
Her body will stop the trolley from killing the 5 workmen.
Should you push her?
You are standing next to a Palestinian child throwing stones at an Israeli vehicle which is about to smash up the child's home.
Utilitarianism is the invention of Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill
(Goodness has nothing to do with it The Economist)
Bentham thought up the idea that "the greatest happiness of the greatest number is the foundation of morals and legislation."
Research into utilitarians has now been carried out by Daniel Bartels at Columbia University and David Pizarro at Cornell.
Their research has been published in Cognition.
They found a strong link between utilitarian answers to moral dilemmas (push the large man off the bridge) and people who are psychopathic, Machiavellian or tend to view life as meaningless.Was it right to bomb Dresden and Hiroshima?
Or, were the bombers forgetting about justice?
Was it wrong to kill innocent children?
What if it was your child that was killed by British and American bombs?
What if it was your child killed by certain people on the London tube train?
What if the people behind the recent terror think that they are doing the right thing?
The 'utilitarians' believe that governments should try to bring about the greatest happiness of the greatest number.
But, are the utilitarians forgetting about justice?
Bentham and Mill, the philosophers who advocated 'utilitarianism', no doubt had good intentions.
They were thinking about the happiness of all the world's citizens.
But, what about the planners in the Pentagon?
Are they thinking only about the greatest happiness of the greatest number of rich and powerful Americans?
Was Hitler only thinking about healthy, fair-haired Germans?
Did Truman have no concern for the women of Hiroshima?
Sociologist Alan Wolfe asks: "Why do capitalism and liberal democracy, both of which justify themselves on the grounds that they produce the greatest happiness for the greatest number, leave so much dissatisfaction in their wake?"
Could it be that western governments forget about justice?
Former London police chief Sir Ian Blair urged the public not to let the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes overshadow the deaths of 52 victims of the London bombers.
The Metropolitan Police Commissioner told BBC Radio 4: "We can't let that one tragic death outweigh all others."
Utilitarianism - the end justifies the means.
Below are some thoughts from Roger Kimball:
Let's pretend, he said, that some mad scientist has figured out a way to bring peace, prosperity, and general happiness to the whole world.
There was just one catch: this brave new world required the yearly sacrifice of one innocent person, chosen at random.
Supposing this scheme were perfected: would it be moral to close with the offer and subscribe universal happiness at the cost of one innocent life per annum?
Well, why not?
Think of all the billions of people there are in the world.
Scads of innocent people die all the time.
Why not spread happiness and reduce the death toll at the same time?
Hard cheese on the appointed victim, of course.
But he (or she) would at least have the consolation of dying for the good of society.
This is the sort of argument you might get from Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832), the father of utilitarianism.
Utilitarianism defines the good as the greatest happiness for the greatest number.
Utilitarianism, especially in its undoctrinaire forms, has a lot of appeal.
Most of us are at least intermittent utilitarians.
At least, we expect those running society to act on broadly utilitarian principles, to "maximize" goods and services (read "happiness") for as many people as possible.
It is interesting, then, that everyone to whom I have presented my friend's thought-experiment has recoiled.
Some people say, "That's just silly," and change the subject.
Some say, "What a horrible idea," and change the subject.
Hardly anyone says "That would be wrong because . . ." and then supplies a reason.
I think that the uneasiness that most people feel about this utilitarian fantasy is a good thing.
I also think that the reluctance on the part of most people to provide a reason for their uneasiness is troubling...
What's wrong with the utilitarian philosophy?
...One important human ideal is freedom.
A central reason that the utilitarian fantasy with which we began is morally repugnant is because it requires the violation of freedom.
Anonymous left this comment:
The Trolley Problem is crucially important in human moral calculus.