The Trolly Problem is Broken

I love “The Trolly Problem” and have for a very long time. I will stick with the version I know best, but Saania proposed a fantastic version involving a mad man and some theatrics that is very much worth your time.

The concept is simple: you are the conductor of a trolly. Driving your route, you notice that the breaks are out. Ahead, there are three people working on the tracks. Their equipment makes them completely unaware of your impending vehicle, and, the way they are situated, you will surly kill them all.

You then notice that there is a fork in the track that you are able to activate and take advantage of. Unfortunately, there is a solitary person sitting, enjoying the view away from you, clearly unaware of the impending doom. Of course, if you switch the track, he will surely be killed by the metric tonne of steel you drive.

The question that is supposed to sit at the end of this situation is “What do you do?”

Do you kill three to save one? Or do you go the path of sacrifice one for the many?

I have noticed that in every version I have seen of this conundrum, you are always given a situation that is out of your control. It has been my experience that people will rationalize and find ways to avoid blame.

It’s the mechanics fault. He should have checked the breaks better.
It’s the cities fault. They shouldn’t have workers on an active track without notifying the right people.
The solitary man should know better than to be near the tracks at that time.

This brings you to now, where I am trying to solve this issue with a situation that can not be thwarted.

The exercise is supposed to be about where the value in a human life sits. Is it actually better to kill three? Or is it better to destroy one life?

I really enjoy how The Good Place illustrated it.

The episode kept swapping out the solitary man or the workers for people the protagonist knew. One time, it was his mother or three important people from history. One time it was a mother with a stroller vs. a collection of nuns. It quickly became greater than one life vs. many and became more a question of morality.

Does one appearance matter more than another?

Again, my frustration with the question is that it is in a bubble. There is no credence placed on the guilt that forms after the event. No ramifications of resulting law suits or familial issues arise.

To be fair; the problem was devised to see what people would do in one situation and there was never supposed to be emphasis placed on any long term issues that arise. MIT released a version looking more in depth, but it still avoided “the next day” in every version that it brought up.

None of the issues detract from how much “fun” the thought experiment is, though!

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