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Who would you kill? Test your moral intuitions

Do you have loco-motives? What the ‘trolley problem’ shows us about human behavior

As we discussed in our interview with Jon Wertheim last week, there are all sorts of unconscious motivations that influence the choices we make. Why do we choose to act in some situations, but not in others? Why is harm permissible in one case, but not the other? When is killing okay, and when is it wrong?

Psychologists, philosophers, biologists and other researchers have spent decades trying to uncover these hidden intuitions. And one of the main tools they use to study moral decision-making are the four “trolley problems” you just answered. So what do they tell us?

Well, for our purposes, they illustrate an important psychological principle known as omission bias: Committing a harmful act (killing one person) is generally seen as morally acceptable only if is an unintended consequence of a greater good (saving four people). This is also known as the law of double effect. Generally, human beings are uncomfortable with intended harm, and we won’t insert ourselves into a situation when we know that doing so may have negative consequences. But those same negative consequences are considered acceptable in other situations if they are seen as unintended.

Take the basketball example: Referees have been shown to call far fewer fouls in the final moments of close games. Why? No one can be sure, and there are probably a number of reasons at play. But omission bias may be one of them. Referees may be uncomfortable intentionally causing “harm” to the game — giving one team an advantage by allowing them to score points on free-throws.

Allowing players to foul their opponents freely, of course, also gives them an advantage over the other team. In both cases, the advantage could be enough to win the game in its final moments. But in the first scenario, the negative consequence — giving one team an advantage — was intended by the referee. In the second, the negative consequence may be considered acceptable by the referee or by the home crowd, because it is unintended harm.

Of course, there are all sorts of other factors involved: Whether the referee likes one team better than the other, whether he personally knows the players on one of the teams, or whether calling a foul would cause the home team to lose.

But our moral intuitions — ingrained in us by thousands of years of evolution — certainly play a big part.

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  • Wesgreen913

    1). It bothers me to that Steve thinks he has the authority to use the switch. Who’s to say by switching the tracks Steve isn’t going to cause more harm, make the train run into something else, like a commuter train- killing many more?

    2). These 4 hikers shouldn’t be on the tracks to begin with. Again, Steve should not presume the authority to make a by-standard “pay” for the hikers’ decision to be on the tracks.

  • Brooke Kaiser

    I do not find any logical difference between the four scenarios. Not matter what, any time that Steve intervenes, he will be directly responsible for the death of the individual on the side track. Flipping the switch and killing the guy on the side track is the same as pushing the guy off the bridge. He is killing one to save the four. Steve may rationalize his reasons for flipping the switch, that is was just incidental that that one guy was on the other track and not his fault, etc etc. Nonetheless, his interference will Cause the direct death of the lone guy on the track, whereas if he does nothing, he is not responsible for the deaths of the 4 hikers. He did not set the train into motion, he did not cause the engineer to be drunk, etc. He will, however, forever be the direct cause of the death of the lone man on the side track (or man on the bridge if he pushes him), and in a way, a murderer.

  • Impossibleactor

    In the three scenarios where Steve can switch the tracks, it is pointed out that the death of the single person is incidental and impersonal because Steve would not have direct contact with the person on the tracks. When Steve hypothetically pushes a person off the bridge, however, it is personal and direct. I too choose “No” on that question but not because it was too personal. I believed that in that situation if Steve wanted to stop the train he himself should jump and not cause the death of another person. If he truly wanted to save the lives of the most people possible why should the other man have to die rather than Steve himself? He would only truly be a “hero” if he sacrifices himself, not another!

  • gck

    I agree with all of the above. I also object to the the initial presumption that four lives are worth more than one. In all scenarios except the first one in which the drunk?driver may suffer the consequences of his own actions, Steve is being asked to save the hikers from the consequences of their own actions by sacrificing someone who is an innocent bystander. I agree that the only situation that is morally acceptable if for Steve to make the decision to sacrifice himself if he thinks the hikers should be saved from the tragedy which they have brought on themselves. If they were children, it would perhaps bring in another factor to consider. But still it would be wrong to think saving four is worth killing one.

  • gck

    Addendum to my comment. I had my 17 year old son take the test and for him in all situations he said it was wrong to make the decision to kill the innocent man on the side track. This time I saw the first scenario which I had not played the first time. The only one that may deserve to be thrown from the train is the driver of the train. But since it’s not clear why he’s out of it….In the first and third scenario Steve has the option of sacrificing himself, otherwise, let the events play out. One can’t say four people are worth more than one.

  • Joe

    How can anyone say that Steve isn’t “intentionally” killing someone in the last scenario? If he knows that the person will die and he chooses to cause the actions which kill him, then he is intentionally killing him, whatever the reason. Don’t get me wrong, I DO think he should do so to save the four people on the other track, but to opt out of the blameworthiness for a tough moral choice but pretending his decsions weren’t “intentional” when he knows exactly what will happen is absurd.

  • Kev

    First off in the first test Steve is on the train, that makes him a participant not a bystander. What is he doing on the train with out the knowledge to use the brake. Ignorance is no excuse. He has to do something. In the following three tests Steve is a bystander and has no duty to act.

  • Robert Wm Ruedisueli

    My logic is simple. No to all situations.

    1. The 4 hikers might see or hear the train coming and still might move, while the other people wouldn’t’ see it coming.

    2. All cases you would be directly causing one person’s death to possibly save 4 people. There is no way of knowing if those 4 people will hear the train coming last second, but that person on the other track will surely not realize that the rail was switched until it is too late.

    3. The fact that people would not shove a person off a bridge, yet would throw a switch well knowing it would kill an unwary and innocent bystander obviously have a lack of perspective. The two actions are one in the same.

  • Elsietywann

    Steve is not an authorized operator of the train and therefore has no business changing directions under any circumstances.

    In a court of law, he would be screwed for any action he takes. The law and its negative consequences overrides any sense of morality for me.

    You don’t know if those four (4) people on the track are railroad employees and are going to get out of the way in time. They might even be witnesses in court against the act of unauthorized diverting of the train and killing that one person on the side track.

    Ever hear of a good Samaritan coming to the rescue and getting sued !!?? Unless you are a professional it’s best to leave things alone.

  • Mizkatt

    1. It is very important to note that morally speaking, people who take dangerous actions (like hiking on train tracks) put themselves at risk for negative consequences.
    2. Judging a person (like Steve) who is in a situation where he must make a split-second decision with potentially lethal results and condemning that person may be more morally reprehensible than the action you are condemning.
    3. There is no person whose girth is such that they would stop a speeding train (or semi-truck or speeding bus) who would also be light enough to push quickly off a bridge, or who would be capable of a hike on a track. Even 1200 lb cars can be pushed along tracks for great distances.
    4. Any action taken by Steve is the sum total of all of his life experiences, prejudices, opinions, knowledge, and preconceptions. When he looks at the people, there is no way that all he sees are their number. He sees sex, age, race, behavior, dress, etc. It isn’t one vs. four as much as it could be “old drunken hobo vs. stranded mom and three kids” or “worker with stuck leg vs. reckless teenagers.” Therefore, any test that attempts to over simplify morality must also over simplify the results.

  • ~katie~

    It’s just not a good example. If he has all that time to think…those people have all that time to react. It doesn’t seem real, so you won’t get real results from our answers.

  • Chelsye

    I said yes to all. The question is if it is “morally permissible”. To me, that means is there grounds to make that decision, could it be explained. Yes, though possibly not the optimum decision, it is still understandable.

  • Laurac18

    No to all four. My presumption is that the four on the track can see the train coming from far away and know they are in the path. If they want to take the risk to be there until the last moment, then that is their unfortunate choice. The single person is not on the track in the path of the train at all, so not putting himself at the same risk. He should not be killed to save the reckless others. And finally, they should all stay off the tracks!

  • Jennycx007

    let the chips fall where they may. the train is headed for those four people and as unlucky as that may be, that’s the way it is. switching the train to the other track, you are intentionally putting an innocent bystander in harms way therefore becoming responsible for his or her death. doing nothing to divert the train doesn’t make you responsible for the death of the four people who were already in the train’s path.

  • Tanzalone111

    I dissagree, if you have a way to save someones life but choose not to take action that makes you responsible for that persons death.

  • Rick Canfield

    We had these questions in Ethics course, and it all makes sense, but the situation is quite ridiculous. Whoever wrote these questions needs to consider the ethics of intelligible physics in their scenario options. In real life, a train, or trolley, wouldn’t be slowed down by a person. The dilemma needs to be revised to make sense.

    How about one that’s more relevant to our current times, such as eliminating the budget on social welfare and spending trillions on the military. In fact all persons in political office should be given these questions.

  • Tanzalone111

    So you just make up information that doesn’t exist in the scenario in order to aleviate your responsability? Weak.

  • alohajerseygirl

    I agree with this response until the last line “In the following three tests Steve is a bystander and has no duty to act.” The residents of Germany who knew about the concentration camps and who did not act contributed to the genocide that occurred. We always have a duty to act humanely, whenever possible. However, in these scenarios, we are not given a humane choice as a response. Dave either watches four people die or kills one.

  • Df248

    Problem 1, Steve is an employee ON THE JOB. He is morally bound to make a decision.

    The other 3 problems, Steve is clearly NOT on the job, if he makes a decision to act he will be responsible for murder.This is not the same as saving 3 people from drowning and have no time to go back for the 4th. If Steve acts He is accepting direct responsibility for 1 or more deaths.

  • Ltrasczak

    “Judging a person (like Steve) who is in a situation where he must make a split-second decision with potentially lethal results and condemning that person may be more morally reprehensible than the action you are condemning. ” But isn’t that EXACTLY what trial lawyers are all about?
    I agree they are morally reprehensible, but that is exactly what they do.

  • Ltrasczak

    Nice way to dodge all moral responsibility there.. Just sit on the couch at home and watch Furher Knows Best…

  • Odie17

    No it doesn’t. There is action in inaction. Deciding not to intervene isn’t the same as doing nothing. Whose to say that any one life is more expendable than another?

  • Tanzalone111

    All rationalizations, it is always easier to just say “I didn’t know” and just wuss out. What if the 4 were people you loved? Why would that make a difference? They are human beings and someone loves them so the “rightness” of the action should never change.

  • kitINstLOUIS

    I don’t know that we can assess the value of human life by the number of bodies it inhabits. Perhaps the one guy who gets sacrificed makes a contribution to society that is 100 times what the group of four will contribute. Perhaps he’s responsible for taking care of 20 different family members who depend on him. Steve does not have that information, he shouldn’t make that judgment. As far as pushing the big guy off the bridge…he has no idea that guy is in fact big enough to stop the train…he might as well dive into the path of the train himself. If he isn’t willing to do that, he certainly isn’t morally justified in throwing someone off the bridge.

    I agree that there are too many variables for these contexts to make sense.

  • kitINstLOUIS

    I don’t know that we can assess the value of human life by the number of bodies it inhabits. Perhaps the one guy who gets sacrificed makes a contribution to society that is 100 times what the group of four will contribute. Perhaps he’s responsible for taking care of 20 different family members who depend on him. Steve does not have that information, he shouldn’t make that judgment. As far as pushing the big guy off the bridge…he has no idea that guy is in fact big enough to stop the train…he might as well dive into the path of the train himself. If he isn’t willing to do that, he certainly isn’t morally justified in throwing someone off the bridge.

    I agree that there are too many variables for these contexts to make sense.

  • Lisa

    No to all. Take Steve out of the equation — he didn’t set matters in motion & he doesn’t have the right to step in and decide that X deserves to suffer more than Y.

    I’m human enough to admit that if Steve could save everyone I’d be the first to say “fate be damned,” but in the 4 scenarios here I don’t think Steve should be making the decisions.

  • Lisa

    No to all. Take Steve out of the equation — he didn’t set matters in motion & he doesn’t have the right to step in and decide that X deserves to suffer more than Y.

    I’m human enough to admit that if Steve could save everyone I’d be the first to say “fate be damned,” but in the 4 scenarios here I don’t think Steve should be making the decisions.

  • Anonymous

    Steve needs to watch more episodes of “McGyver.” He could easily throw the switch half way, causing the out-of-control train to derail, sparing everyone.

  • Anonymous

    Steve needs to watch more episodes of “McGyver.” He could easily throw the switch half way, causing the out-of-control train to derail, sparing everyone.

  • Davidmaker

    If this is truly a measure of moral intuition, then where is the option for Steve to sacrifice himself instead of others?

  • Davidmaker

    If this is truly a measure of moral intuition, then where is the option for Steve to sacrifice himself instead of others?

  • Lynident


  • Lynident


  • Wulfila

    No in all four scenarios. Steve did not create this situation and is not morally responsible for the fact that there is a train hurtling out-of-control towards one or more persons. People may die, but it is entirely accidental and unintentional so there is no moral fault to any party. On the other hand, Steve would be morally responsible for the consequences if he made a conscious choice to redirect the route of the train. He would be making an intentional choice to kill and would be as guilty for that as if he had chosen to murder the individual(s) for fun.

    The Thomistic principle of double effect does not apply in any of these scenarios because double effect only justifies actions which result in unintended negative consequences. The death of the innocent parties is an intended consequence in all four scenarios – you cannot intentionally do something you know will result in the death of another person without therein intending that person’s death.

    Moreover, the duty not to kill is absolute and admits of no exceptions. It is not something that can be negotiated on a cost/benefits ratio, it is an unconditional duty incumbent upon all moral agents. Steve would be better off praying that something happens to change the unfolding situation so that nobody dies than taking it in his own hands to break the moral law.

  • Jeff Shires

    A problem with the third scenario is that the people “might” be able to get free. By flipping the switch, you definitely kill one person and possibly the other four. By letting the train go into the people, you have definitely saved one person–the other option has the potential to kill five.

  • Geoffhearl

    because you especially want to run over the mom n kids.

  • Tanzalone111

    Your answer is not logical and the fact that 3 people liked it I find baffeling. Deciding not to take an action that would save a life by defenition makes you responsible for the death. Maybe not legally but if you have the ability to take an action that saves a life and you choose not to then how can you not be responsible. What if that person you were saving were your child? That person is someone’s child.

  • Margbgracia

    I felt that it was possible for the train headed for the boulder to hit such a large boulder and derail killing possibly numerous people. Even with just a crew & no passengers, I think that several people could be killed.

  • Brendawoolam

    It’s sad to know that these could someday be real life scenario’s. I answered yes to all but one. Nobody has the right to push another person to their death if it would save others. If the person who would push the other person, he should be the one jumping himself to try to save those other people. But the choice for all the other scenario’s are at the best judgment because actually, no one should be stuck on the train tracks, and if you have to take one life compared to four lives then one life it is.

  • Tanzalone111

    Stop yelling, and yes info was made up maybe you should look up the word presumption. To read anything into a scenario that is not given in the scenario is making info up. Especially when the presumed info gives the person answering an “out”.

  • J. Pouliot

    Steve doesn’t get out a becoming a moral decision maker by choosing not to act. Whether he chooses to pull the levers or not, he is making a choice that has consequences. In every example, Steve has the choice to save one or save four. Whether his direct intention is to kill a person or to “inadvertently” kill a person by ramming the train into the boulder is irrelevant. The difference between the cases is the degree to which Steve is personally involved — pushing a man to his death is quite direct, but has the same mathematical consequence as the other three cases — one person, rather than four, dies. The issue is: how comfortable would we be in the aftermath of the accident? Could we face the family of the man we had directly killed? Is there room to rationalize our behavior? To me failing to direct the train one way or the other is a way to hide behind the “moral” stance that we had not taken direct action to kill another person. Not getting one’s hands dirty may be moral in some frames of reference, but it is immoral and cowardly in mine.

  • LynnieJ

    I thought the same lind of thing. At first they say they are stuck as if unable to escape…then they say it will slow the train allowing them to make their escape.

  • Jason

    First, I’d like to point out that this quiz is poorly worded. “Is it morally permissible…”. Permissible clearly doesn’t mean that an act is the right thing to do, it just means that it isn’t forbidden. It is also fatally restrictive in its answers. I would have answered “other” to each question. But that aside, to respond to the spirit of the quiz, my position is mainly that of noncognitivism or emotivism. The first ism states that all moral claims are incoherent. More specifically, that the only thing a moral claim can say is that I approve or I disapprove of an act. For a moral claim to go beyond that into the realm of prescriptivism makes the claim incoherent. Saying, “x is wrong” is clearly saying something different from “I disapprove of x”. When people state the first but mean the second, they make an incoherent claim. The second ism states that moral claims are nothing more than a person emoting positive or negative feelings in response to an act. Basically it states that all moral claims are either a “yay” or a “boo” to a specific act. In either case, moral claims aren’t really moral claims at all. People just think that they are. If you disagree, please tell me what it means for an act to be objectively right or wrong, or what the word “should” really means.

  • wikiwiki

    The answer is absolutely logical. We have no knowledge of what type of people are on the tracks. If 2 of the four people stuck on the tracks were children, then a lot of people’s answers might be different. If there were a way to flip the switch and divert the train without harming anyone, answers obviously would be different. It would be difficult to be put in the position of choosing who to spare and who to save, and I for one agree that in this case you let nature take its course.

  • Dave

    Yes to all 4 – saving 4 lives in each instance. Whether moral or not, I’d hate to be responsible for NOT saving 4 lives. I’d also kill a known terrorist if I had absolute knowledge he was on his way to blow up a bus

  • Matt

    I think Steve’s duty not to kill applies both to his potential action to kill one person and his potential inaction that allows 4 to die. In real life, both are unacceptable. When dealing with reality rather than a philosophical quiz, there are an infinite number of choices, not just two. He would have a duty to try to think of a way to save all the people in every situation. There always could be a chance he could think of some way to save everyone, even if it’s 0.0000001%.

    In these problems with 2 choices, though, none of that applies — we know at least one person will die in each situation. This makes these problems almost meaningless in their application to real life, no matter how interesting they might be hypothetically.

  • Tess Morgan

    I think moral imperative is that we do something to keep Steve away from the tracks. That guy is Trouble.

    Kidding aside – are we assuming that aside from the knocked out conductor, there are no passengers on the train? Running a train full of passengers into a boulder (or even people for that matter) would certainly result in casualties.

    This is really interesting, thanks PBS!

  • noneya

    Only scenario #2 was any different than the other 3. They were all a 1 to 4 payoff. #2 was where he had to physically push the guy off the bridge, intentionally murdering him.

  • Knstewart

    Honestly, in real life, that sharp turn would cause a derailment and kill ‘em all.

  • Bill G. Hayes

    I said “No” to all four… fate and/or choice put those 4 on the track the train always travels… had Steve not been there that would have been that. Because he was there, he now has a choice… let fate take its course and the fools walking a “live” track suffer the consequences of their actions or intervene and be personally responsible for killing someone who was not directly in the path of the train and did not otherwise place himself in danger by walking a “live” track.

  • Eglenneccles

    Now this is interesting but not everyone knows the McGuyver character and would not thus think that way. Personally, if four people are on a train track and hears or sees a locomotive coming towards them the logical response would be for them to remove themselves from that path! Steve is jumping to an illogical conclusion by pulling the lever or even pushing the fat person into its path. I tend to side with Lisa’s assumption. There is no real moral precept in any of these assumptions…unless the four men are both blind, deaf, and are totally absent of the absolute sense of feeling(a train produces a great amount of vibration such that they would have known of its approach). But that’s just me. I grew up near train tracks and we knew when one was approaching long before we ever saw its faraway arrivel.

  • Bob Chapman

    Save four or throw a switch and save one? The right decision is to look for another solution.

    You know the results if you don’t throw the switch and do nothing. But, you don’t know enough of the solution of throwing the switch. Is there another train coming towards you on that alternate track? Having a head-on collision isn’t good.

    Can you only throw the switch partially (or switch it “late” so it is switching when you git it), which could derail the engine you are on? Even though this may take your life in the wreck, it provides you a better moral alternative.

    There are all sorts of possible alternatives. The moral failure is not to work for a better solution.

  • Bob Chapman

    It isn’t made up to say you don’t know enough about the situation.

  • Andreas

    I answered NO in all four scenarios. The question that is raised here is how much you value life, and whether you value the life of one person more than the lives of many persons.
    From a utilitarian standpoint (Jeremy Bentham), it would be appropriate to answer YES in all scenarios, since it is preferable to sacrifice a limited amount of people for many.
    In my opinion, though, this would not be appropriate, since you would be deciding which of the individual deserves to live more than the other. This is not a question of pure quantity of deaths, but a question of different individuals dieing. Nobody has the right to sacrifice one life for many, and the term “greater good” should be treated very carefully not only here, but in general. It almost always goes against individual rights. Since, no life is worth more than the other, it would be wrong to act in any of the scenarios. Acting means that you become involved in the scenario and intentionally kill somebody. Not acting means that you stay out of it, and are not responsible for anything. There is no difference between flipping a switch, or pushing somebody off a bridge, since both times you willingly intervene and kill.
    A good comparison would be a hijacked airplane threatened to fly into a building. Should we have it shot down or not? From a utilitarian point of view, we definitely should. In my opinion, though, again we should under no circumstances do so, since the lives of the people in the building are not to be valued more than the lives of the people on the airplane.
    The number of potential deaths does not play any role. Making a decision purely on that, automatically makes you a killer.

  • Brownthrasher

    1) a person will never be “heavy enough” to stop a train.
    2) We don’t know if this train has passengers or anything on it that would be killed by a derailment. Therefore I am assuming there are personnel or passengers that could be hurt or killed by a derailment.
    3) The person who could push the switch is not a person who works for the railroad or anything, he’s just a person out walking. He may think he knows what would happen, but he doesn’t know. If he takes action and flips the switch, he can be liable for killing anyone on the train as well as the unfortunate souls he is forced to choose between.
    4) Railway switches are LOCKED, so if Mr. Walking around tried to fliip the switch, he would be unable to do so, because it’s locked. The illusion is that there is control, but there isn’t.

  • Brownthrasher

    1) a person will never be “heavy enough” to stop a train.
    2) We don’t know if this train has passengers or anything on it that would be killed by a derailment. Therefore I am assuming there are personnel or passengers that could be hurt or killed by a derailment.
    3) The person who could push the switch is not a person who works for the railroad or anything, he’s just a person out walking. He may think he knows what would happen, but he doesn’t know. If he takes action and flips the switch, he can be liable for killing anyone on the train as well as the unfortunate souls he is forced to choose between.
    4) Railway switches are LOCKED, so if Mr. Walking around tried to fliip the switch, he would be unable to do so, because it’s locked. The illusion is that there is control, but there isn’t.

  • Bob Chapman

    Anyone with a switch control at their command is not necessarily off the job.

  • Pamela O’Neil Emery

    I answered “no” on the bridge scenario for two reasons: 1) Steve would have felt some camaraderie with bridge guy. They were both innocent bystanders, and you could argue that he was thinking the other guy could have as easily thrown him over to stop the train. 2) The people on the tracks seemed to have put themselves in a dangerous situation; the men on the bridge had not. It wouldn’t be fair to penalize a person as removed from the situation as he himself was. I think self preservation factors into this particular scenario.

    I answered “yes” to the other questions.

  • Bailey

    hum.. and here I was thinking…save as many lives as you can… but if the train hits the rock it could damage the train. then what?

  • Jason

    I think that a lot of people are missing the point. This is a thought experiment. Changing the circumstances or pointing out that the scenario is unrealistic misses the whole point. There are two implied questions: 1) Would you sacrifice one to save many? 2) Should anyone in this situation make the same choice as you? The article that PBS highlights is using these questions to point out that people make decisions that they think are morally based when in fact they are making these choices based on unconscious psychological factors. That is why the quiz results are inconsistent. Pointing out that people’s responses are inconsistent just makes that point clear.

  • pastisprologue

    I said no to all scenarios as I imagined the worst: the 4 are found to be miscreants/ crackheads and the 1 is a train worker being right where he is supposed to be, having done his job for years and he’s ready to retire to his other job of parenting foster children…if that was discovered after, playing God would obviously be wrong. Take no life, however people often choose to risk their own to save another.

  • Impshow65

    The quantity of the lives should not be important here. What if the four joggers were mass murderers or rapists or bank robbers? Would it then be justified to kill the lone heart surgeon who tutors middle school students in math and science every Monday and Thursday at the local middle school because he is stuck on the train tracks by himself? The taking of a life without the knowledge what quality of life that we are forfeiting does nothing in the area of providing a moral defense for judging who has the right to live. Without the ability to determine which life will provide the best hope and quality for our human existence, I would find any and all actions in these scenarios as problematic and morally indefensible. Again, who’s to say that the lone person stuck on the tracks is not the potential great-great-great grandfather of that person that may be one of the world’s future greatest contributors to making the world a better and more loving place to live.

  • Justonethought

    That’s basically the thinking I went with. The 4 put themselves on an active track, but the one was on a track where safety might have been assumed. The 4 could possibly help each other get out of the way…the one would have little or no warning. In the last scenario the narrator didn’t actually say that the man standing in front of the rock was stuck, so on that one I chose to divert the train. I think it might have been different with different characters too. The figures look like railroad employees who should know to stay off those tracks, or how to be safe, but had it been a family of 4….maybe different thoughts.

  • Sebilla

    Steve doesn’t get to play God, period. If he makes a switch that kills one person in lieu of others that is playing God. After all, if he weren’t there to make the switch this would be a moot question. ….. Seriously, take it from the point of view of the lone guy who wouldn’t be killed if some lone human (STEVE) didn’t have the choice. ….And what if the lone guy is a philanthropic soul while the four people are gang members? Who are any of us to choose life or death for another?

  • Bob

    In this particular scenario, failure to act when that act would preserve a life also makes one a killer.

  • Dave

    But we don’t know the 4 on the track were merely fools who got lost and ended up on a live track . What if they were tied there by kidnappers demanding a large ransom? For me, it’s simple – Steve can save 4 lives but chooses not to. I see that as morally wrong

  • Dave

    There are only 2 options – that’s how the test was designed. We can discuss an infinite number of other possibilities but they are not the options presented here

  • mO_On

    I couldn’t divorce from the nagging idea seed that flipping the switch may free some or all of the endangered track occupants’ feet. Once no longer stuck, they could flee the approaching train in the knick of time.

  • Clancyfox

    I, also, do not believe it is Steve’s right to make the choice between killing one or four. Supposing the four were child abusers or murderers and the one was a religious leader that had devoted his life to helping others.

  • Dave

    It’s a simple equation – 1 dies or 4 die. Steve should save 4

  • Dave

    one life is more expendable than four lives

  • guest

    Moral of the story, never play on railroad tracks, period.

  • Guiness4emery

    It is more fun to add some descriptive characteristics to the scenario and test response times. With generic descriptors, it takes almost no time to trade one for four, but if you give folks race,or age, or gender, or a disability, or a religion, the interval changes. Really lets you know where your biases lie. It’s not a surprise that folks would rather kill four ex cons than a child, but it’s considerably more telling how cheaply folks would surrender the lives of persons who are disabled.

  • Iamtardis

    In my opinion, killing one instead of four is still wrong. if there was a way to switch the track and give himself time to pull the brake and spare all…that would be the optimal solution. I voted “no” on all of the questions….killing one or killing 4 is still the same in my opinion…justifying “it’s only one” is wrong.

  • Spilt

    In scenario 2, if Steve wanted to save the four men, the answer wasn’t to throw someone else in front of the train. He could have jumped in front of the train himself.

  • Adjustmedc

    There is the chance that the one man who is stuck on the other track, suddenly breaks free and steps off the track in time. We don’t know what’s keeping him there?

  • Paula

    My philosophy is that it generally is not “okay” to cause the death of one person to save more than one, unless the death caused is your own and you voluntarily sacrifice it. I don’t quantify human lives and don’t believe 4 are “more valuable” than one.

  • Sprvixn

    1. I hate Steve. 2. His life is so morally complicated I don’t know how he can stand it. 3. No human body ever stopped a train. Is Steve dumb, too?

  • Bridget Erlikh

    Part of the moral issue that I think has been omitted is the people on the train. If the train hits a boulder, it will likely derail and kill at least several if not all the passengers.

    it also doesn’t sit well with me that it’s not ok to have the fat guy be sacrificed if he’s the only thing that can stop the train, but somehow it’s more acceptable if he just happened to be standing between the train and the boulder that would stop it. In all these cases, the poor fat guy would never have been jeopardized if Steve wasn’t at the control. While obesity is a huge problem in modern times, it hardly warrants such drastic punitive measures!

  • MEM

    You can’t pretend that variables don’t exist when making a choice – like pretending that a person is not standing in front of a rock. The variable (person) exists and therefore flipping the switch is intentional and intended. All scenarios are “intended” but the intention changes, that’s all. So killing is killing. As well, you can also not assume that you know all the variables and since you don’t, your decision may cause more harm than good – even if it were unintentional. You don’t know, for example, if there are more people on the train that may get hurt. If there are, then it’s no longer 4 to 1. The odds could turn against what you intended if say there were five people on the train who got hurt when you switched the track. In addition, since the narrator does suggest that in option#4 the people are not really stuck but can possibly get off the track in time, this suggests they can do that in the other scenarios as well. Therefore, Steve choosing to take someone’s life to “save” four, comes back to not knowing all the variables. What if they four were able to get off the track in time, or three of them were.. Then the ratio is balanced 1 to 1. The scenarios are flawed and so in order to avoid not making the situation worse, the best choice is therefore “no” for all scenarios.

  • Jen

    Why doesn’t Steve just yell out Hey Hikers, get off the damn track! I also answered no to all scenarios. It just doesn’t feel right to flip the switch. The hikers clearly have more time to consider stepping off the track than the single man on the side track.

  • Jen

    Why doesn’t Steve just yell out Hey Hikers, get off the damn track! I also answered no to all scenarios. It just doesn’t feel right to flip the switch. The hikers clearly have more time to consider stepping off the track than the single man on the side track.

  • Drtim1

    I was under the impression all of the people on the track were somehow stuck (not just stupid), so there was no option of them just stepping of. All in all, however, Steve needs to find another place to walk. As of now he is this centuries worst serial killer.

  • Guest

    I thought the videos were a little poorly done. At first I wasn’t sure what pushing someone off the bridge was supposed to accomplish since it didn’t look like their position on the bridge was lined up with the tracks of the oncoming train. Then with the video of switching tracks it appeared that if the track was switched the train would hit the one guy and then return to the track to at least hit the last 2 guys of the four. So I just said the heck with it and hit yes on all.

  • Tymopa

    All scenarios are basically the same with the exception of Steve and the man standing on the bridge. It really doesn’t matter if he pulls the switch on the train or on the ground…he’s making a conscience decision to save four men and sacrifice one. I apologize if this has already been said, I’m too tired to read through all 70 comments.

  • Tymopa

    All scenarios are basically the same with the exception of Steve and the man standing on the bridge. It really doesn’t matter if he pulls the switch on the train or on the ground…he’s making a conscience decision to save four men and sacrifice one. I apologize if this has already been said, I’m too tired to read through all 70 comments.

  • Leah K

    I think it’s interesting how many people say it’s not okay for Steve to play God and flip the switch, it’s not his choice to make. But the fact is, the tools are in his hands to flip the switch or not. Inaction is at that point just as much a choice as action. He can’t not choose.

  • A. Katherine Suetterlin

    Clearly, judging by the very sagacious commentary on this quiz, moralism isn’t everything. Though if you put a strict moralist in an ethics class, it’s kinda fun to watch the fur fly–especially when it’s the moralist tearing their hair out at all the frustrating variables that ethics students will come up with, because moralists do NOT, as a whole, like to deal with ‘gray areas.’ At least not from what I have experienced with the moralists around me.

  • Doctor Biobrain

    But if you believe in fate, then fate put Steve in that position, as well as putting the other individual. And maybe it’s Steve’s fate to pull the switch, because if that’s what he did then it MUST have been his fate to do so; or he couldn’t have done it.

    But of course, there is no fate. We all have freewill. Otherwise, we’re all just puppets on a string and can’t make moral decisions anyway, and can’t blame anyone for anything they do; because it would also be part of fate.

    As for Steve, it’s better to kill fewer people than more people, and if Steve didn’t save them, he’d be responsible for their deaths. We’re responsible for our actions, as well as our inactions. Similarly, in Nazi Germany, it’d be better to kill a Nazi solder if it meant saving a group of people. Everyone knows that.

  • Quinart

    In the fourth senario, even though the intent is to stop the train with the boulder, because Steve sees the man in front of the boulder he would still be choosing to kill the innocent bystander. To say that the bystanders death was not the means to the end is a justification made possible by the inclusion of the boulder. This actually makes the choice to through the swith in senario #4 less honest than it would be in senario #3, and there by all the more imoral.

  • Doctor Biobrain

    Your “isms” are nothing more than specific thoughts along the path of moral relativity. You believe that there are no absolute morals, but only personal preferences. And yours is an extremely simplistic version of moral relativity, as you don’t seem to believe there are any morals at all.

    But of course, I don’t really believe that you really believe that. After all, if a stranger killed your brother for the sole purpose of watching him die, you wouldn’t merely disapprove of that. You’d think it was wrong. Stop trying to be clever here and try applying your theories to real life.

    As for the question asking about what is “morally permissible,” that’s exactly the right question. They’re not asking if you think Steve SHOULD do these things. They’re merely asking if he’d be permitted to do so. How is that fatally restrictive?

  • The Dude Abides.

    For me the fate of the four men on the tracks had already been decided. That does not give me the right to kill anyone. Those other individuals had every right live and it was not my right to decide their fate. I would want to be saved, but I would not want to be killed ether.

  • Doctor Biobrain

    But what’s the difference between pushing the man and merely redirecting a train to kill him? Either way, he’s dead and you’re the one who made the decision.

    You might not want to get your hands dirty by physically pushing the guy to his doom, but he’s no less dead than the other men you killed. This is like saying it’s ok to kill thousands of people, just as long as you’re doing it from an airplane..

  • James H

    I answered no to all of them. My problem with these is the implausibility of just about every scenario. There is no difference between switching the track and pushing the man from the bridge in that both result in saving the people, IN THE HYPOTHETICAL. However, people are willing to make the decision to kill the man if they don’t have to physically touch him to do it. This represents an approach to morals that is based on aesthetics rather than numbers. Somehow the man standing on the bridge is less deserving to be sacrificed than when he is standing on the sidetrack and, both times, a conscious decision must be made by the observer to sacrifice someone? This is the illusion of the distance of interfering, morality plays no role in the choice of the people answering the question, only the aesthetics about physically pushing the man. I saw this lecture on a video from Harvard. It is similar to the video “Collateral Murder” as it is referred to. People are less hesitant to kill at a distance via a machine than by their own hands, even in a hypothetical. The moral choice should not be different in any case about the needs of the many outweighing those of the few, but when they must consciously put someone on the track with their hands, suddenly they are beset by squeamishness.

    I find it immoral that Harvard uses these hypotheticals, they are trivial and unbelievable. And, the truth about morality is that the outcome can never be predicted in the real world, hence a value is difficult to extract from a hypothetical with predetermined outcomes.

  • Pvices

    this appears to be just more situational ethics training, trying to show that the lives of some are more valuable than others. The scenarios don’t give all options that would be available. First of all, anyone standing on a train track has already made their decision, as far as I’m concerned. They should not be there, they would know that a train could come by and run them over. I will not make a decision to kill some to save others.

  • guest1224

    wherein “steve” might save the four men by pushing a man large enough to stop a train off a bridge:
    in my opinion if such a man exists- larger than a man AND a boulder which would only slow the train- and steve is strong enough to move such a man he should just punch the motherfucking train in the face.

  • Jules

    Allowing the plane to fly into the building would kill everyone on the plane AND in the building. You are saying you would allow everyone to die?

  • Vivian

    When you think of individuals, their deaths affect not just them, but their families and friends. I am amazed that people would not value a number of people over a single person. The losses would be magnified in the community. I would not choose to push the man off the bridge because it is an action that would not guarantee results and would only increase the number of victims.

  • Vivian

    it is not the individual’s life only that has an impact. The loss would then be magnified throughout the community. Four families losing instead of one, etc…

  • Taylor

    Hindsight is 20/20 and you can personally debate your actions now that you have all the time in the world and knowing that these are just action figures. But understanding what we would do in emergency situations is viable research because we don’t always act how we think we should act when we are afforded time to fully assess the situation.

    On a personal note, I would foresee myself taking a different approach. I call it “well, if it’s meant to be…”. At the point of the decision I’d probably close my eyes, flail around wildly and if my hands/body hit the switch hard enough to flip it then it was meant to be. To me I would be putting it back in God’s hands (He’s not getting off that easy). Plus I would feel less guilty which is the driver of the choices most of us make.

  • Akdj

    I said yes to #4 because, unlike the first three, he said the man is standing on the tracks, not stuck on the tracks. Therefore, when the train switches to that track, he can remove himself from the path of danger, whereas the four “stuck” people cannot.

  • Connie41

    I never flipped the switch , except in the LAST scenario, the man was STANDING in front of bolder ( not stuck) He could get out of the way of the train.

    I couldn’t flip the switch on a death row inmate either. I am not the DECIDER of who dies and who doesn’t.

  • Sungodessally

    I voted with the majority on all but scenario three. I guess even though the mathematical imperative of saving four with the loss of one is compelling, I held back because in this case, Steve had no authority to pull the switch; in scenario one he was on the train, presumably an employee, in two I (and majority) voted NOT to push the guy off the bridge… and in four, I had read three’s explanation and realized I was in the minority for not wanting to mess with the switch. loco-motives!

  • DDD


  • Cjkeegan

    I assumed everybody was poor, elderly or very young and could not afford to pay me to protect them. So I let them all go to waste – what better way to cut the budget. And, it would “create” at least four more jobs – I am a congressman and my conscience is clear.

  • DDD

    anyways if there are four ppl on the tracks who are on the path to destruction by the time the train hit the first or second one it would still probably spare the last 2 so it wouldnt be neccessary to involve anyone else as a sacrifice from another track or above the bridge.

  • Rayllompart

    1—Your presumption that Steve will cause more harm is completely out of the portrait presented. You are not sticking to the FACTS, which are as circumscribed as presented——nothing less or more…
    2—Again, this is not about WHY they are on the tracks, but SPECIFICALLY about the saving of ONE or FOUR. STICK to the story.

  • Rayllompart

    Indeed he will be haunted for the rest of his life, but MURDERER is a complex issue, Are our soldiers in Afghanistan murderers? Many will say yes, and find it repugnant. That’s why you do not ask a soldier how many people he killed——-deeply offensive…..
    There IS a difference between the scenarios:it is the issue of, shall we say, intimacy. The closer we get to the person to be killed, the less we are prone to do it ourselves.
    Stalin is “famous” for the following statement: “The death of ONE human being is a tragedy; the death of ONE MILLION is simply a STATISTIC…”. Cruel, but more than a bit true in our nature.
    One example for us Americans: HIROSHIMA….. Anything else?

  • Rayllompart

    Beautiful, but IMPOSSIBLY idealistic….
    You are reaching for SAINTHOOD….. and most of us are COWARDS when it comes to facing death…..
    I certainly will not push him, but if I had to choose between him and me, sadly, alas——am honest enough to say that I would indeed push him……
    Only if I cherished the person would I contemplate my suicide…..

  • Rayllompart

    Perhaps, to add to the dilemma you may want to consider the fact, off the top of my head, that when we consider Vietnam we think of the death (arguably USELESS) of 50,000 lives. When we consider the death of a little more than 5,000 in IRAQ we are not as scandalized.
    And what led you to think the one man aloneas an “innocent bystander”—–as irresponsible as the other four to be in the middle of the tracks, no?

  • Rayllompart

    Yes ONE CAN——-if 1,000 JEWS had been killed in the camps it would NEVER have been as REPUGNANT and GROTESQUE as the figure of SIX MILLION……
    Isn’t that transparent????

  • Anonymous

    EXACTLY, Tanzalone!
    And by the way some of us use the CAPS because we (I) do not know how to use ITALICS on my keyboard (uuummm—–LUDDITE here….)
    Most of these people keep EXPANDING the issue presented when they must stick to the FACTS given.
    It’s not whether the fat man wil or will not stop the train——it’s that he WILL, period!

  • Anonymous

    You let “nature” take its course?
    Where did you see NATURE in any of this…..
    This is all man- made……

  • MayflowerNYC

    A bystander should not flip the switch without knowing how many people are on the train. By flipping the switch, the train could tip over and kill everyone on it as well as anyone in the path. And surely, a boulder of that size would cause the train to flip. In the scenario in which flipping the switch could possibly kill the guy standing alone plus the others, without even knowing how many were on the train, it would surely be the wrong decision. Also, the bystander does not know that the train is out of control because he wouldn’t be able to see the passed out conductor on the other side. For the scenario on the bridge, if Steve feels morally obliged, he could jump in front of the train himself to try to save the others.

  • Donnie Bender

    if old boy is big enough to stop a speeding train… how on earth am I supposed to push him the bridge anyways?

  • Melisa

    I chose not to alter the course of the train at all, under any of the circumstances. I could not choose to alter fate and cause the death of a person. The train is on it’s path. The four men have their fate. I am not God and would not choose to end the life of the man who’s fate placed him on the “lucky” track…

  • David

    I agree, that works for all 4

  • David

    Finally, someone with a sense of humor :)

  • asoleil

    Exactly. If you said ‘yes’ for scenario #1 then logically you should have answered ‘yes’ for the rest of the scenarios regardless of the story behind them because in each one you are saving four lives at the expense of one.

  • Tami Despain Lawrence

    I chose not to make any decisions about who should live or die. Who knows, maybe the hikers would get out of the way at the last minute. When it comes to deciding who lives or dies, I leave it to God. I only feel that I can make the decision of life or death when it comes to suffering animals or people who are brain dead, because they are not in a position to make it themselves. In those cases, I feel that it is my responsibility to make the decision. It is possible that I could kill someone in defending of myself or a loved one. I hope I never have to make that decision.

  • Foustart

    Steve needs to stop walking by the train tracks and find another route.

  • anne

    i totally agree that after the first scenario i would never walk that way again!

  • anne

    you took the words out of my mouth, thanks!

  • Julie Husa

    Maybe Steve should jump off the bridge himself. LOL

  • Dan

    And you are holier than us, apparently.

  • GCK

    You have used the classic “taking the roof off” technique. However, if the Jews had foreknowledge of the outcome (knew they could be killed as part of a mass murder) by living in Europe and did so anyway (hiked on the tracks), I don’t know I would sacrifice myself to save them. The Jews fate was not the consequence of their own actions with forethought. Here is where you have to think what you would do if the four people were innocent children. I think in that case it would be morally permissible to save them by sacrificing the life of another especially if they are standing by watching the horror unfold without doing anything themselves. And may people did sacrifice themselves trying to save the Jews. I hope I’d be brave enough to do that too if given the opportunity.

  • Diana

    The scenarios are lose lose situations. No matter which choice you make, someone dies. This never haapens in the movies lol.

  • Ghaslem

    Bury your head, don’t make the difficult decision. “There is peace in our time”. This is not faith, it’s avoidance, and it’s cowardice blamed on God.

  • Marchlioness13

    I heard these scenarios before and I’ve always gone to flipping the switch to save the 4 but not pushing the guy off the bridge.

    This time I gave it more thought and felt it was more moral for Steve not to get involved…as nature’s basic survival of the fittest rule was in play…it was plain to me that the 4 guys on a track which was the active train track were incapacitated by inebriation or stupidity especially if they couldn’t see or feel a train coming…and therefore they must pay the cost for their failings…the other guy…though still not wise to travel on train tracks at least was on an inactive track and could see no train heading for him unless some wanna be hero named Steve pulled a swtich.

    So to sum up I’d rather save a somewhat competent and more responsible guy than 4 oblivious men, by letting nature take its course and Steve keeping his hands to himself.

  • teej

    I re-played the last 2 videos several times, and answered accordingly to the exact wording that was used and assumptions created as a result. Regarding the 1st scenario, I said “yes,” personally hoping Steve was yelling his bloody head off to warn the one man on the alternate track, though it was stated that the man was “stuck” on the track.

    The 2nd scenario calls for a lot of suspension of disbelief that Steve could be so certain that the larger man would fall exactly on the four (again stuck) people on the track. And, if helping at all via this falling method, Steve himself should have taken the leap of faith.

    The 3rd scenario is where the words changed and indicated that if Steve flipped the switch, the four people would have enough time to get off the track, so couldn’t have been really stuck. Therefore, I assume the lone man is not really “stuck” either, so perhaps Steve can yell to the man to move while flipping the switch. Or, perhaps flip the switch and run like heck and tackle the guy to safety. Not enough information.

    The 4th scenario is a very, very blurry example of double effect. The wording of the scenario does not state that any of the people standing on the tracks are stuck (which begs the question “why are they all hanging out on the railroad tracks?”). Therefore, it seems plausible that some, if not all, of the persons in peril can remove themselves from said peril when they see or hear the train: since they’re not stuck. Steve needs to speak up, get the guy off the side track by yelling out or tackling again, after diverting the train.

    Guess I find it a flawed exercise. Bummer.


  • Anonymous

    THANK YOU, gck….
    Whatever “takin the roof off” technique is I am not familiarized with, but you DID NOT (these are italics, I am not screaming! ha!) stick to the response I had to her point that “one can’t say that four people are worth more than one”——certainly, all of us are worth our lives (except perhaps the most depraved individuals)——but when making “rational” decisions and when remembering the number of lives lost in any tragedy the numbers DO COUNT from a distance, removed from intimate knowledge of particular lives, in our interpretation of the DEPTH of such event…. AGAIN, TEN people killed in an earthquake (or a massacre, for that matter) are NOT the same as 10,000…. You must agree, no?

  • Jason

    The differences between morality and ethics are trivial. Both are incoherent/unsubstantiated excuses for rationalizing the prescription of our personal values onto others. Just because utilitarianism and deontology are more rigorous than less “rational” decision-making systems(morality) doesn’t mean they are any less value-based.

  • Jason

    First of all, my isms aren’t mine. They are ethical theories that were developed by notable philosophers during the 20th century. They are not the least bit simplistic, they involve not only ethics/morality but linguistics and cognitive psychology. They point out very real problems with morality/ethics; problems that you have failed to solve in your clearly defensive post. You obviously have no idea what you are talking about. Noncognitivism and emotivism have nothing to do with moral relativism. Moral relativism states that morals are relative to the beliefs of the individual. Noncognitivism says that there are no coherent moral claims. Emotivism says that moral claims are vocalized emotional states.

    Thankfully what you believe has nothing to do with what’s actually true. It is very clear to me that moral claims cannot possibly be coherent for the reason stated in my previous post(to which, of course, you failed to respond). Of course if someone killed a loved one of mine I would react with a lot more than disapproval. I would probably be angry, distraught and feel the urge to hurt the person who committed the act. None of that is the belief that the act was “wrong” because that word doesn’t mean anything. It is simply an expression of disapproval and/or an emotive verbal response. If you have a coherent explanation of the word “wrong”, please post it here. That explanation must include a rigorous model of objective morality.

    With regards to “should vs permitted”: what does it mean to ask if Steve is permitted to do something? Permitted by whom? Permission is granted by an authority figure, it has nothing to do with ethics/morality, it has to do with *legality*(the enforcement of rules). There was no authority figure in the scenarios so permission is not a relevant issue. There are three different questions being confused in the quiz: 1) does Steve have permission to flip the switch, 2) should Steve flip the switch, and 3) would you flip the switch. The quiz was clearly intending to ask (3), instead, it presented the scenarios in the third person which mistakenly implied (2) but (again mistakenly) used the language of (1). It could not have been more poorly worded.

  • teej

    But it never said there were people on the train. The visual looked like a cargo train, though the conductor was aboard and it’s not certain that he would’ve been hurt.

    See above comment from today.

  • Marcus

    Don’t be fooled; this is not about morality it is about the justification for killing. This whole thing is stupid if you believe that killing is amoral. Steve did not put the train in motion—it is not for him to make choices on who dies and who doesn’t. He cannot make a truly moral choice on who to kill or save based on the fact that he is not the cause. Many things in life are bigger and more complicated than will allow a single person (or group) to make a moral decision on. We are not Gods. We follow the rules of this earth. If someone kills somebody it is on them—the killer must own it as it is a result of their action. If Steve were the one that set the train in motion, then he could feel obligated to kill lesser individuals. The Truth of the matter is that to be truly moral Steve must not act against what will happen on it’s own—he did not cause it to be. By making a choice, he kills a person; he sacrifices a few for another one. Choosing who to kill is not a matter of morality (thou shalt not kill) it is simply a matter of choice. Freewill. Please don’t try to justify killing some for the greater good.

  • Agaudwin

    In real life, things are not black and white or “on tracks,” like in the test. When conflicts happen, there are always peaceful solutions. Monetary reasons (for-profit wars) are often, if not always, the cause of our incapacity to find them. I always believed that if the Jewish people, who had the right in 1948 to return to their land, would have used there resources to educate the Palestinian and to modernized the land of Israel for the benefit of all, for the newcomers and for those who had made Israel their home for generations, there would still be problems, but they would be lesser than the ones we are facing now. I say “we,” because I believe that if peace is ever established in Israel, it would spread to the world. That is what we need to do now, convert our economy of war into an economy of peace.

  • Tami Despain Lawrence

    There are only peaceful solutions if both sides are willing to compromise or one side gives up. This train scenario always reminds me of the Mother who is asked to decide which of her two children must die. There is no “peaceful solution” here. I think I would rather die than make that choice. So unless you consider death a peaceful solution, there is not always a peaceful solution for those who want to remain living.

  • Fulsqust

    while i also find it a flawed exercise… i tend to be a person of action, while i will not push someone off the bridge, i would flip the switch. i understood the exercise to imply that the four people could not get off the track while the assumption was the single man on the side track could get off. This like all moral exercises minus real life… it is intellectual masturbation… how a person would act in real life is not reflected.

  • Jeannie

    I agree with Tami. This is not avoidance. It is only avoidance if you do nothing when you can have a positive impact on a bad situation. I do not think choosing to kill a different human being is a positive influence. It’s not my choice to decide who lives and who dies. I am not particularly religious and I am extremely action oriented.

  • Nancy

    I tested in the minority for most of these train scenarios. I am considered to be highly “epathetic” by most. My moral values as very strong. I feel that it is not for us to judge or decide whether one person should live, or whether four persons should live. In a moral or spiritual sense – we cannot be expected to make such a decision unless it involves family members – of which, we have a moral duty to protect. In addition: If the scenario of the four individuals were children instead of adults, I again, in a universal sense, would save the children – because we are all fathers and all mothers…we instinctevily protect our young , whether they be ours, or someone elses. The individual left with the horific decision to throw the switch or not to throw the switch – whatever he or she’s final decision be… cannot be held accountable for the end results. It is not therefore, a moral decision, but a decision that involves personal empathy – and again: this person cannot be blamed or judged. ..but only sympathized with, and commended, for being put in such a situation as to seemingly play God.

  • mark

    The question is “is it morally acceptable”, not “would you do it”. So the question is more one of how would you judge Steve for taking this action or not taking it. I am not Steve, I was not in a position of making this decision and, with one possible exception, I can’t judge his actions as right or wrong. The only sticker is the second choice — is it morally justifiable to murder an innocent bystander to save four people that managed to get themselves stuck on the tracks in front of a trolley. Would it be more or less acceptable if Steve were to throw himself in front of the trolley? What if he pushed the guy and followed him down?

  • Deej

    Fortunately, I saw this segment and have had time to think about it. Steve did not. This seems to be the whole point of the exercise. The example of umpires and referees is one of fairness to both sides. If you have ever played or refereed basketball, you know that it is impossible to call every infraction. The game would go nowhere. Umpires and referees can only hope to call the game in a way that is “mostly” fair most of the time. Very few of us are trained or experienced at making these kinds of decisions on a daily basis so, we are more likely to choose the “do nothing” button if we don’t have time to consider all things.

  • Herbwoman_728

    NO WAY I am pushing someone to their doom!! In the last 2 scenarios I was thinking Steve could try to help get the people unstuck. I know I know the train is moving fast, but I have to hope for the best.

  • Tony Gushanas

    I didn’t think it was my choice most of the time to choose who lived and died (regardless of number) and so I’d let things play out as if I wasn’t there to make the decision. Therefore, for most of my answers I said no, except the last. The person standing in front of the boulder isn’t stuck and so they aren’t at the sole mercy of my decision. There is a chance they might see the train barreling at them and be able to get out of the way.

  • Sean_ellis

    The jews did not “return” to “their” land, they invaded land that was not theirs, and already occupied and inhabited by someone else. Even before the diaspora, the land belonged to someone else. So let’s give it back to them? And the old testament has nothing at all to say about it, as it is pure rubbish, a complete fabrication, which you would know if you watched more PBS. One cannot condone the abonimation that is “israel” without condoning any other apartheid, racist, genocidal, fascist entity, INCLUDING NAZI Germany.

  • Andreas

    It not only the individual’s life that has an impact, but it is solely the individual’s life that matters in this case. The individual directly involved is the one we are talking about, while family members are not in danger of death, but are only involved indirectly through a grievance process. Therefore they are not in the conversation. Again suffering does not become easier or better for anybody when the quantity is lower.

  • Andreas

    It surely would, you are right. This would be the case, though, if the airplane actually ended up crashing into the building. You do not know, whether that is going to happen. There is no 100% clarity on which you could, rely and therefore justify the decision to shoot it down. The possibility that unforeseen events occur further exists, plus there are still other measures to be taken.

  • Andreas

    The statement that failure to act makes you a killer is fundamentally wrong. “Killing” itself is an act, and therefore not acting can never be killing.

  • Alex

    There are several who think themselves into the scenarios rather than looking at the moral choices available and state they would not be able to flip the switch. This is in my view not the question being asked. The question under consideration is: would you consider Steve’s action moral / immoral if he did one or the other. The next logical question after that is then: Is it moral for you yourself not to act accordingly?

  • Alex

    There are a lot of comments here second guessing the scenario along the lines of the “if steve can do this he should also be able to do something else” or “imagine the single person is someone you are familiar with”. These are a refusal to accept the scenario as is and attempts to change the choice given by adding additional options or introducing unstated intentions. As a result they no longer ask the simplest possible version of the question which eliminates unnecessary variables.

  • Marcus

    one life is as valuable as the next. To flip the switch in any scenerio your actions caused the death of a innocent bystander, which is different than others death as the result of inaction.
    Flipping the switch is MURDER.

  • Anony

    First do no harm, i.e. don’t touch that switch unless you really know what you are doing. In most real life situations, you probably won’t have enough information or time to act by your own reasoning. Hopefully you are a professional who has been trained in some procedure that allows you to act more or less correctly without even thinking. Otherwise you’ll probably just make a bad situation worse.

  • Nam Le

    wow, you have completely missed the point of these exercises. Don’t be so literal-minded; philosophers and rhetoric professors weep.

  • Verboten

    Reading the posts here, it’s clear that my moral compass is clearly not pointing in the same directions as most here. Now, morality is not a total absolute in my book, meaning that for me it’s not based in a religious dogma, or a particular philosophical school. I’m pro-choice, and against the death penalty and I’m guessing that for many of you, that’s a kind of bizarre contradiction.
    However, I thought it would be moral to use the train switch in every single case. I also thought it would be moral to push the guy off the bridge. By not acting, more people die, and that seems to be the less moral choice to me. Doing nothing seems a bit, well . . . for those who subscribe to a Christian belief system, . . . a bit Pontius Pilot to me.

  • Cher Godiva

    Nam if that’s your opinion then why don’t you share how the point is missed?

  • Simone

    I personally would find it morally reprehensible to be responsible for the loss of one mans life whether it was through means of a switch or a push. I would seek a third solution. In addition this situation weighs all by standers equally; it would be very easy to make these scenarios even more morally twisted by giving the bystanders obvious personality – for example a pregnant woman or a child or a group of drunk homeless men or a group of soldiers or someone with a gun, the wife/husband of the decider, etc etc. These subtle or not so subtle changes would dramatically alter the outcomes of any one given scenario. But the ultimate question remains: are you willing to by your own actions judge who should live and who should die? And if you are, is this moral or not? Is morality conditional or absolute?

  • Agaudwin

    I agree 100% with you. I never believed that the Jewish people had the absolute right to the land of Israel. And I despise the way the handle their conquests. But I keep this opinion to myself not to throw oil on the fire. The facts are that they believe it and they have the power. It has become a fait sccompli. Might as well accept their argument, since refuting it only lead the whole world into an insurmountable impasse. As for your enumeration of reprehensible entities you will have to include the conquerors of the First Nations, all of us living in America…

  • TJ Cahalan

    I thought this would be a nice little brain teaser. I was so disappointed. This exercise is nearly useless. The writer has no grasp of physics or of the basics of how trains work. #1. The side rail switch lever is outside the train. As the subject is aboard, he can’t pull the lever to throw the switch. #2. It’s physically impossible for a human being to be large enough for his mass to stop a train of the kind that is shown in the quiz. At least, there has never been anyone of that girth in recorded history so far. #3. The train cannot circle on the rail and kill all 5 people. The 4 people are on the main line, and don’t have to get off the rail once the switch for the side rail is thrown. The train will NOT be slowed down by hitting the worker. #4. Regardless if the worker is able to exit the train or not, the boulder appears to be of a size that could possibly derail the train. Depending on the workers, passengers and possible freight aboard the train and people in the vicinity who are not on the rail, but perhaps in their homes and businesses unsuspecting a derailment, routing the train towards the very large boulder may result in far more casualties than the 4 people on the main line rail.

    #’s 1,3 & 4 The single man looks to be a railroad worker, perhaps he is going to through the switch himself and is not “stuck” on the track as it appears to the questioner? Also, anytime a switch is thrown the switch for the train to re-enter the mainline also has to be thrown. Otherwise a derailment can occur which could potentially increase casualties.

    #’s 1-4. How can 4-5 people be “Stuck” on the track? Why can’t they simply sidestep left or right to avoid the oncoming train? If there is time to throw a large heavy steel switch lever, there is certainly time for the pedestrians to exit the right of way. The most shocking mistake is of the urgency of the situation. The Engineer being incapacitated with the throttle still engaged is a far far more dangerous scenario that is not even addressed. The moral thing to do if you are in any proximity to the runaway, is to try to board the train if possible and get it stopped! If you have any doubt about this statement, I suggest you watch the new blockbuster “unstoppable”. Thanks.

  • Sigh

    You missed the point entirely. That is a great way to be literal which has nothing to do with the morality of the questions being posed.

  • Justme

    So Marcus, you are saying that, though Steve was able to comprehend the results of his action or inaction, the right/moral thing to do was to not act? By not acting, Steve was faced with allowing more people to die than would die if he acted. Are you trying to claim moral high ground with the “thou shalt not kill” / “I didn’t act and therefore I-am-a-better-person crap??

    The fascinating thing about this exercise has been reading the responses! The person implying that drunk homeless guys or soldiers would change the moral implications! What if one of the group of four was destined to become a serial killer of pregnant women as well as children if not for the fact that Steve pulled the switch?? The fact is that, changing the circumstances of the scenario in your “Reply” to this quiz, is simply seeking to find a way to either avoid the responsibility to decide, or a way to ease your mind in making the decision to “play a part” in the death of another human being. The reality, as Marcus is trying to avoid, is that we could find ourselves faced with a horrific decision to “take/allow to be taken” the life or lives of other people. Net to self preservation, killing another of our own species is instinctively wrong. Now, having said that, if my two sons were among the four (or were on the siding), I would have no problem allowing those on the other rail to perish, regardless of number. Likewise, if my boys were on the rail and my jumping in front of the train would save their lives – no question – I would give-up my life.

  • Sigh

    The choices were “throw the switch” or “don’t throw the switch.” By choosing to “not make any decisions about who should live or die” you chose to not throw the switch. So by choosing to “leave it to God” you chose to let the four people die.

    Every day when you go out into the world you are faced with choices. Looking the other way, putting your head in the sand, and “leaving it to God” are all choices whether you call it that or not.

  • DockEllis

    Yes, but I think in a lot of ways that is an easy way out of the dilemma. The fact is that you ARE there, and you have the ability to think and decide to act one way or the other. Fate (or whatever you want to call it) has determined that you are present, given two options for action. You are no less fated into the situation than the men on the track.

  • Utrecht

    It seems these people are stuck to the tracks since their feet are fused to these huge gray(metal?) discs. The moral thing to do would be to quickly amputate these peoples feet and get them out of the way. They might never walk comfortable again, but nobody dies. Anyway, in the manner in which this railroad has constructed their switches, they will never work. The train can’t even get off the straight track, so throwing the points is no option.

  • DockEllis

    Wow. When I woke up this morning, the last thing I thought I would see was TJ Cahalan single-handedly discredit one of the most oft cited ethical dilemmas in philosophy.

  • steve

    Are you kidding? Are you that dense? The point is if you are willing to take a life to save several lives and the varying degrees you are part of the situation. Not if your actions cause a chain reaction of events or you know how to operate something. It’s just about the lives mention

  • DockEllis

    What color did this scenario appear to you: black or white?

  • Justme

    I LIKE IT! The survival of the fittest approach is something I take into consideration (along with the “that’s-the-breaks” / ‘it’s fate” approach) but, it assumes that those who ended-up stuck were not fit (for saving) and those who are fit (to be saved) wouldn’t get stuck in such a circumstance (again, I agree that those are somewhat rational reasons for taking the inaction approach). When faced with a quick flip of the switch to save four live human beings (who I have not interacted with and therefore have not formed a biased opinion of), I cannot judge whether they are “fit” to be saved; all I know is that simple math allows me to “save more souls for future judgement” (as to whether they are fit).

    I, like EVERY SINGLE PERSON responding to this, would desperately seek MORE INFORMATION about the circumstances before making such a drastic decision. ANYTHING that could help tip the balance one way or the other would ease my mind (virtually to the point of watching everyone jump to safety at the last second).

    No specific distances were given in the scenario – it was simply implied that the distance was great enough for Steve to act and short enough that horrible outcomes would result – regardless. That said, I would bet that Steve never had time to second guess himself (or read into the language of the voice-over provided).

    I think that the most important thing to take away from this is the knowledge that, regardless of the decision you made, you made it with the best intentions – that you acted in a manner you believed in that instant to be the right way. Of course, if you were that sick individual that not only pushed the guy off the bridge but had an accomplice flip the switch – may you rot in hel l ! (that contrived bad place that was created by the minds of a few to placate many so that they didn’t foul things up during times of “progress,” “reformation,” “enlightenment,” and so many other “good times” conjured by major “faiths”)

  • S-man

    Like you TJ, I suspect there is nuclear material aboard the train and that, even though the toys used in the visual piece are actually septuplets born on Krypton, there is no way to solve all of the worlds problems. Dang!

  • Justme


  • Justme


    I agree with what you said from “The individual left with..” to “but only sympahized with, and commended…” I am a father of two boys and I have brothers who are not fathers…I trust them to save my boys come-what-may. You might respond by saying that family looks out for family (I agree) but, I believe humans, as a social animal (not children of a god), would seek to protect those who have not experienced life and its many wonders, regardless of whether they were “family.” Some might say “protect the innocent” instead of referring to experience but, I think that innocence is too oft associated with the faith-based notion of sin – not to be confused with the more widely accepted understanding of immoral behavior!

    I have to say that I am not clear on what distinction you are drawing between moral decisions and decisions involving “personal empathy;” if we are looking on as bystnaders wondering what Steve might do, perhaps we could be empathetic or sympathetic but, we have been asked what we would do if we were in Steve’s place.

    I would also posit that morality and spirituality are/should be kept distinct. I am not spiritual but I am moral.


  • Tom S.

    by your logic we should stay out of Darfur, or Rwanda, or any other place where we did not actively chose to start the killing? interesting should we step in to stop a rape? we did not cause the rape so should we act to stop one we see being committed?

  • laurie

    THanks, Paula, that’s exactly what I think. Also, those who say the deaths of four people would impact the community more than the death of one. How do they know? Maybe the four are all single, only children whose parents died years ago. Maybe the one is a father of five small children. Who knows? My point is that one life can be just as valuable and one death can have an equal, if not greater, impact on a community.

  • Tami Despain Lawrence

    There is a difference though. Pontius Pilot had the obvious authority and knowledge aforethought to intervene and he chose not to. It is questionable whether or not we have the right to make the choices in these PBS scenarios.

  • Tami Despain Lawrence

    As I stated, my choice was not to make any decisions. I do not “have to” choose who to kill and I hope I never do. The train did that. Not choosing is a choice, and at times a very good one.

  • TJ Cahalan

    To me this “exercise” is a perfect example of why professors shouldn’t be teaching anything unless they have first “exercised” their feet in the real world. Usually there are more than just two choices for problem. Alt least it’s that way for anyone intelligent and experienced in the real world. This quiz really proves one thing – professors have no business teaching any more than just simple rote learning. We should “exorcise” from teaching those professors who profess so much but no so little about the real world. We should do away with tenure entirely & ban every last one of these boobs from politics as well. The typical professor is totally incapable of running things! Just look at how U.S. presidents Obozo & Wilson screwed things up during their political tenure.

  • TJ Cahalan

    Sure, go ahead and drag race into it! LOL

  • TJ Cahalan

    Actually Roman Governor, Pontius Pilot did intervene in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Pilot quite obviously did not care that Jesus insulted the Rabbis of the temple. Rome had much trouble with the Rabbis also. P.P. offered to pardon Jesus as a passover gift to the people of Jerusalem. But when he offered Jesus to the people they said, “Crucify him!” Then, to show his disgust with the people of Jerusalem, Pontious summoned his slave to bring him a bowl of water. Pilot washed his hands in front everyone so that the sin of killing Christ would not be on his or the Roman Government’s hands.

  • TJ Cahalan

    Masturbation would be more fun if it were scantily clad women on the track.

  • Tanzalone111

    Sorry bud, but your critical thinking skills combined with your spelling and grammar capabilities places you in the category of being officially retarded. The good news is that you are not alone because the rest of the tea baggers are right there with you. I actually started laughing when I read your first comments because I honestly thought you were joking. How in the world could an adult any adult be so obtuse? Seriously! You missed the point completely and then went on a rant about our president calling him “Obozo”. This is primary school level thought. The anti-intellectual, anti tenure stupidity is just too much for me to handle. Please in the future just stay as far away from anything labeled PBS. Primarily because you will not “get it” anyway and secondarily so we do not have to suffer reading your childish bluster.

  • TJ Cahalan

    I ask that you don’t refer to me as your “bud. Especially since you seem to be into tea bagging. I’m straight and simply don’t go in for your homosexual scrotum-in-the-face games. Also your rambling and circular thinking reminds me of a burned out drug user circling the sewer drain. I urge you to get some help. I’ve seen how this kind of thing ends among arrogant, ignorant kids. Actually, I AM a teacher and a tested and certified genius. I’m obviously far, far ahead of you in reasoning and grammar skills. I notice you have repeated the ignorance of Obozo and call those who are wiser than yourself “retards”. It seems that liberals when challenged in a way that is beyond their understanding choose only to insult, when they know they’ve already lost the debate. Common sense is a funny thing, If you don’t have any, you can’t understand why you need it. I challenge you to touch base with whatever elders may be in your life. They can help, really. The first step is admitting you need the help.

  • StayOffTheTrax

    Scenario #1 is the only one in which the individual is equal to the other participants. He cannot choose whether or not he will become a participant in the equation because he already is a participant as a passenger on the train. So, like the other participants he can only choose what he will do within that scenario. His ability to change the train’s direction is equal to the other participants’ ability to step off the tracks.

    In all of the other, three scenarios the individual is an outside observer; so, his first choice is whether or not to become a participant. He must first choose to become a participant before he can choose what action to take as a participant.

  • No Herd Instinct

    Before you can answer who you would kill, you must first decide whether you would kill.

    Who among us, if anyone, has the divine right, infinite wisdom and infallible capacity to decide who deserves to live and who deserves to die?

  • Marcus

    those who say steve should sacrifice the 1 over the 4 are the ones trying to play god. trying to be a hero. In the first scenerio the lone man IS an Innocent bystander and would not even be in the scenerio had steve kept his hands to himself. Those who thing steve should pull the switch are the people acting “holier than thou” not me. Honestly I could care less who dies

  • Marcus

    The act of killing is wrong in any circumstance. Sometimes the wrong thing is the right thing to do but the act is still wrong. If you want to add to the scenerio, and act “morally” I say instead of pulling the switch, take the conductor and throw him on the tracks hes the only one at fault and the only ones whos job might be to make that decsicion…STUPID..

  • Marcus

    RED with steves blood stained hands.

  • Marcus

    If in steves shoes Im not a part of the situation, Just riding the train, minding my business. And those who answered the first two scenerios differently need to reexamine their thought process because its the same scenerio morally.

  • Tami Despain Lawrence

    Choosing not to throw the switch WAS a very difficult decision. I made no mention of faith. I just made my choice, and blamed nothing on no one. We live in a world where death is the final outcome for all involved. To the best of my ability, I will not choose when that time is.

  • Tami Despain Lawrence

    Choosing not to throw the switch WAS a very difficult decision. I made no mention of faith. I just made my choice, and blamed nothing on no one. We live in a world where death is the final outcome for all involved. To the best of my ability, I will not choose when that time is.

  • As Neutral as I can Be

    WOW, first I have to say, you responded to Tanzalone111 as though you did not read his entry in full. Who reads: “You missed the point completely and then went on a rant about our president calling him “Obozo”.” and replies with an attack on liberals? And homosexuality has nothing, NOTHING, to do with this discussion. But I do not wish for this to become a roast. So lets get some things straight here. Item: This experiment was flawed. Somehow the designer created a example that was incompatible with the real world. I say that the point of these exercises were not so much to lay down a situation as does a film, but more a book. It was to initiate the simulation of a situation of which the basic rules of the world were to be laid down, but to allow your own mind, your own personality, and experiences and understandings to account for the problematic details. For you to build a question that feels natural to you, so you may answer without the complications of foreign information, such as the workings of a train or how a man could be stuck on train tracks, to divert your attention. Some of your analysisses of the videos are, A, creating information that is relevant, but again, created. ex: “The single man looks to be a railroad worker, perhaps he is going to through the switch himself and is not “stuck” on the track as it appears to the questioner” Yes, it is possible, but as this is a hypothetical situation, it is not for you to incorporate unfortunate inferences into you interoperation of the example. Or, B, insulting to the point of clear unproductively. Bluntly put, it is not important, relevant to the conversation, civil, or appropriate to refer to another member of this form as gay, homosexual, or—going for you as well Tanzalone111— retarded. Item: this is not accurate measure of ones response under pressure. Correct, at least under my opinion, but nor is it meant to be. This is meant to “test” ones understanding of right and wrong, a completely different concept than ones understanding of right and wrong under pressure with split seconds to form a course of action.
    And last, Item: spelling and grammar. I can not spell for the life of me, as many brilliant minds of all time can not. Spelling and grammar do not necessarily provide an accurate measure of intelligence. Do not judge on it sole or insult others for it.

  • Marcus

    You Shouldnt decide its better to rape just one person instead of 4.

  • Tanzalone111

    Of course you are correct, ad hominem abuse is unacceptable and there is no excuse. I was caught at a bad moment and have just had more than I could take watching and listening to,,, well I don’t seem to have the words without resorting to what appears to be attacking someone. Let’s put it this way, I live in WY. a place not known for its abundance of intellectuals. Lately I have been hearing a lot of minimally educated right wing people (you know, Glenn Beck listeners) call the President a monkey, socialist nigg@# etc… I just had my fill of it and over reacted. I shouldn’t have done it. The problem is you can’t out debate them because even when you do they don’t realize it. You can build a logical argument using facts and peer reviewed research as evidence and they will just disregard the facts and rely on innuendo and supposition because they do not have the education that enables them the ability to think critically. These people are everywhere especially here in WY. Here is an example “Duh, the president’s name is Obozo hehaw hehaw hehaw duh professors are worthless duh educators make too much money and are the reason for our fiscal problems today.” They are like walking zombie parrots that say whatever the talk radio hate squad tell them to say. I have a difficult time sometimes hiding my outright disdain, animosity and contempt for them, and there are so many of them. The best way I know is to just ignore it but sometimes it can be hard to do. Usually they tend to stay away from PBS but even here is not totally free of them.

  • Heather

    Q1: I chose to not flick the switch to save the four.


    A) Saving four versus saving one is totally random to me. Those numbers are not large enough to immediately pique my interest or raise my emotional reaction level by very much. However, were the same ratio of 1:4 kept, but the numbers increased to 100:400, I would have had a more difficult time choosing to save the 100 versus the 400.

    B) If my actions killed one person, the four survivors plus myself, which equals five total, will forever have to live with the first-hand survivor’s guilt of living within a moment and witnessing the sacrifice of one person. Ultimately that guilt could ruin and incapacitate all of our lives. If my actions kill four people, the one survivor plus myself will forever have to live with the first-hand survivor’s guilt of living within a moment and witnessing the sacrifice of four people. First-hand survivor’s guilt is arbitrary, in that I know I would experience it either way, and I know I would not feel any more or less guiltier if the number of deaths varied. Ultimately, I know I would experience survivor’s guilt. Why should more people who are in the moment with me have to experience that feeling?

    C) Is it morally acceptable? No. I don’t think either choice is morally acceptable. Whichever option is chosen will create suffering, sorrow, misery, pain, and create a big giant mess.

    D) But which choice is more morally acceptable? Neither. Whether I let the train stay on course or attempt to alter its course, both are actions. Both actions have unacceptable consequences. To save the four seems like the obvious right-thing-to-do choice, but I argue, within this circumstance, neither action is the right-thing-to-do. Therefore, I think both actions are totally random.

    F) Also, simply presuming the action taken to potentially save four is simply that, a potentiality and presumption. There is no guarantee the four will survive and the one to be sacrificed will die. There is no guarantee any one will live in this situation. There is no guarantee anyone will die in this situation. Who is to say that the train running over four people doesn’t cause the train to de-rail thus killing me and everyone on board? Who is to say that the engineer will not re-capacitate himself and hastily act contrary to whatever action I choose? Who is to say anyone is truly stuck within the train tracks and cannot get out? Who is to say another train will not run over the four stuck in the track before they have time to break free? I can’t know the answers to any or all of these things.

    I refuse to be held personally responsible for the train conductor’s unfortunate circumstance of being removed from acting appropriately within this situation (i.e. perhaps he could have figured out to stop the train preventing all deaths?). How accountable am I really in comparison to that? Is it my job to stop trains? Was I trained to learn how to operate a train? Did I choose to screw up while on-the-job at my job and place another person into a situation in which he or she is forced to fix my shortcomings? Negative.

    E) Ultimately, there are many, many more people involved in this moral choice and consequence. I think the path of accountability starts from the train conductor and meanders from there. My action, no matter which I choose, is not entirely my responsibility at all. The responsibility is split. I am accountable and responsible for my own actions or inaction, though I did not all by myself and on my own create this situation or its outcome.

    F) Also, why would one so happen to already be at the front of the train, anyway? I think the question is flawed with bias of someone who would deliberately choose to put him- or her- self within a moral dilemma situation in the first place. That’s OK, though. I was drawn to take this test, so maybe my odds of being that way are higher than I realize. Still, I think there is yet another choice of whether or not to place oneself within the situation of making a morally right or wrong decision.

  • Xxxx

    i don’t believe it is right to interfere w/what i would,for lack of a better term, call destiny if it involves actively deciding to hurt another person. I think you are only justified in throwing or pushing or otherwise involving another person in ahazard if you can honestly and without reservation say I would jump from the bridge to save the four or i would unhesitatingly throw my own self infront of the train to save the others. i am not willing to lie to myself and say i am noble enough to do this. there potentially might be a situation in which i would if the person to be saved was someone i loved or someone who i such respect for, that i thought all humanity would suffer if he died. i realize there are many instances of real people riski g their own lives to save others, so some people could in good conscience make this decision to kill an innocent, just not me. this reminds me a lot of a moral question put to myself in a classroom about how to ration health care w/ limited dollars. supposedly the most worthy or productive mebers of society should live, and the money should be expended this way. the problem for me is that if my personage is put in the mix i will always be the one to die because i am a single older female. what i really believe is fair is a lottery system, not individuals playing god. life is random. the train going down the tracks is random. let it be if it involves actively hurtibg someone else. just let it be > that’s destiny

  • Jim

    T.J., I will tell you something that my father told me too many times. You are too smart for your own good. Good luck figuring that out. As you are a “certified genius,” you may be able to do so.

  • Laurie

    With the understanding that these scenarios are conceptual and designed in an effort to purify the choices available to Steve into the clearest possible moral decisions…..I think freedom of choice is a factor that must enter into consideration here. In each of the proposed scenarios, every individual had a choice to make — not just Steve. The four people stuck on the tracks took a risk when they walked onto the tracks, no matter what their reason for being there. The individual on the side tracks made a slightly less risky choice — and the guy on the bridge even less than that. 

    I was inclined to make the choices I did for Steve based on the level of risk I assumed each of the other participants in the scenario to have taken for themselves. Isn’t each person’s responsibility for his or her own situation just as great as Steve’s responsibility for choosing whom to save? And is it moral to choose to sacrifice someone who didn’t choose risk, vs. saving a larger number of those who did?Now, if we assume all these characters to be “innocents,” and unable to foresee consequences of risky choices, I would have to think this through differently…..but I had less problem than some with allowing the four on the tracks to be mowed over vs. electing to kill someone who took less chance with his own life. I don’t know whether this is right or wrong. I even wonder if I’m not, in my heart of hearts, assigning blame to the victims only in order to justify passivity and avoid making the choice to deliberately take a life — which may also be avoiding the point of this exercise. But it also seems to me that the choices offered in these scenarios are difficult precisely because they involve the lives of our fellow humans — and that any discussion of morality that excludes the capacity of human beings to take responsibility for themselves is based on a false premise.

  • Szaldapetree

    I just think it’s wrong to choose to kill people, even if I choose to kill one over four. I might decide to jump off the bridge myself if I find myself in that situation, but not until my kids are grown. I really don’t see death as necessarily a bad thing, I just don’t think I have the right to decide when and where for anyone else. I’ll leave that to God. If I was in the situations described, however, and I thought I understood God to say “throw the switch”, or “push that big guy”, I’d probably at least consider it.

  • Eurfirst

    I agreed with TJ.  In my mind, four pedestrians had time to get off the track and had a warning that the train was headed their direction.  The single individuals did not have any warning.  This task was not like picking the occupants of the life rafts on the Titanic, when I would join others who had lived full and complete lives on the sinking ships and given seats to young people of both genders and would have restrained any older person who wasn’t able to provide medical care to the survivors from getting into a life boat.  Of course, all of that is easy to say as I type on the comfy dry sofa in my living room.

  • Perfunctory

    If you switch a train to the wrong track it might hit a whole trainful of other people because you’ve messed up a system that, overall, works and prevents accidents.

  • Annmason24

    In the last scenario if Steve had flipped the switch, sending the train onto the side track, regardless of what happened to the unfortunate man standing there, the train might have derailed, killing many more than the four people ahead of it. A boulder will not stop a train unless it is large indeed; if it can stop a train, said train will jackknife off the track.

    Steve should not flip the switch and risk killing everyone.

  • Annmason24

    A more interesting scenario would be to put Steve in a position to either kill the four people ahead, or sacrifice himself somehow to deflect the train.Then what would his choice be?

  • Annmason24

    Why, if Steve is concerned with saving the four people below the bridge, does HE not jump off instead of pushing the fat guy? I mean, come on, what difference would a hundred pounds of flesh make to a train barreling down the track? Steve should have jumped rather than have sacrificed someone else.

  • Annmason24

    Are you kidding?

  • Anonymous

    In all of the scenarios Steve’s action of switching tracks would result in the pre-meditated death of a stranger. At their core – all the scenarios presented are exactly the same. They make it clear that Steve does not know any of the individuals stuck on the tracks.  At the end whether Steve acts or does not act – at least one person will die by his hand.  If he does nothing – his hands are clean – so to speak.  Steve should not interfere in any of the scenarios because who is Steve to decide who’s life is more valuable?  For all he knows those four “innocent” men could have gotten stuck while tampering with the tracks or countless other not-so-innocent reasons. Or if you want to take it in the other direction – maybe those four men got stuck while of the way to save the fifth guy stuck on the side track. – The only thing Steve should feel obligated to do is call emergency services (911) and/or make a mad dash to the nearest EMT/fire rescue dispatch station.

  • Fake Name

    All the conditions you are adding are not a part of the problem. answer just from what information is given to you, and it’s obvious to me in all the scenarios , which seem identical or nearly so, that either one person dies or four people die. I personally am interested in the survival of our species, and 4 people are far more likely to survive future “trolley problems” than 1.

  • Nk P

    The correct answer choice is “Not enough information is given.”

  • Nk P

    The correct answer choice is “Not enough information is given.”

  • Klsmithk

    Yeah, right, I agree.  I don’t feel that these are the “right” questions to ask.  If the question is simple, save one person or save four, then the answer is a no-brainer and the question is sophomoric.  Life decision, especially with regard to morality, are rarely that simple and more often then not, there is no “right” answer.

  • Anonymous

    “the train is headed for those four people and as unlucky as that may be, that’s the way it is. switching the train to the other track, you are intentionally putting an innocent bystander in harms way”

    You people are not listening to the videos.  In the first scenario, the narrator says that BOTH the four people AND the other lone guy are *stuck* on the tracks, i.e., none of them can move off of the tracks.

    *Stuck* means *stuck*.  


    plenty of intel’ only three innocent.    six guilty of poor judgment for putting themselves in harms way,   without having insured themselves a way out or in this case off of the tracks!!!!!!!!                     PERSONNEL RESPONSIBILITY FOR YOUR ACTIONS JUST AS I TOOK PERSONNEL RESPONSIBILY FOR THROWING THE SWITCH THAT TOOK THAT ONE PRECISIOUS LIFE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  

                                                                                                                       BROTHER   .DOG



                                                                                                               BROTHER   .DOG

  • Raymond Wallace

    Not really.  The one with the guy on the bridge was different.  There is an inherent contract of risk involved in screwing around on train tracks.  The guy on the bridge never signed up for that.

  • Zansabar0268

    Let the guy on the bridge live. Run over the 4 on tracks, stop and back up and run over the 5th. All  obviously are in need of a Darwin Award for playing on train tracks! Come to think of it why is the conductor passed out??? hmmm? and why does Steve have access to the compartment that controls the train?  

  • Ptf142

    So the question is a relatively simple one you can either let a large group of people die or sacrifice one person to save the others. The obvious answer to me is to choose the many over the individual.

  • Guzzo

    I’m not sure anyone has considered the moral obligation of the people who knowingly took the risk of being stuck on the railroad tracks, causing an innocent bystander to make a life and death choice.

  • Lew

    “trolley problem”. #1 First there is the possibility another train is going in the opposite direction & would cause a head on collision, killing even more people. Two the group of 4 must have at least 1 sensible person to know better than stand on the track, therefore they are probably attempting suicide. And third, perhaps the one man is mentally challenged, blind or deaf and has no perception of the train, for once he has luck on his side. #2 if I were big enough to stop the train, I’d jump myself. also the fat man was intending to end his life anyway that’s why he was up there to begin with. And he will die as a hero instead of a nobody without meaning or purpose, as he believes himself to be. #3 ummmm what was the question? can’t remember. #4 the fact that it is a huge boulder that would create more damage, maybe get pinned under the train, causing derailing. also if the boulder miraculously rolled out of the way, the four standing in front of it would be killed anyway. if they won’t move for a train they wont move for a rock either. Last the rock looks like it was put there purposely for a real reason, maybe to block a hazardous or missing track, it might even kill the conductor. Most important reason; the man in front of the rock happens to be my favorite uncle, (my dads little brother) well-known & loved in the community.

  • Get

    I choose the individual over the many every time, in a hypothetical situation where through my inaction a number of people will die and faced with only options that force me to harm an innocent person I would harm that person in order to prevent harm to others. I think that the individual is more important than the many, what good is helping the many if you harm the few. By helping all individuals we in turn help the many.

  • bluebird1

    The debate here is interesting because a fair number of comments address the choices and motives of the people on the track rather than only thinking about Steve’s motives, which the “test” is obviously (in my mind) set up to do. So clearly, some peoples’ “moral intuition” is affected by judgment and perhaps bias. Since we have no idea what the people on the track are thinking, I think it’s only logical to discount that aspect and just deal with the “facts” of the case.

  • bluebird1

    The debate here is interesting because a fair number of comments address the choices and motives of the people on the track rather than only thinking about Steve’s motives, which the “test” is obviously (in my mind) set up to do. So clearly, some peoples’ “moral intuition” is affected by judgment and perhaps bias. Since we have no idea what the people on the track are thinking, I think it’s only logical to discount that aspect and just deal with the “facts” of the case.

  • Gp

    Would you sacrifice yourself, or your family to save the many?

  • Gp

    Would you sacrifice yourself, or your family to save the many?

  • Buddess

    Why didn’t the people on the tracks just get off the tracks?

  • j817

    I answered no to all questions…..that being said i didn’t feel like i had the right to choose who lives and who dies…..

  • Doug

    I value life.  In each instance I would sacrifice an individual to save more lives.  I experienced combat in Viet Nam and had to choose the best way to protect my fellow Marines and myself.  We were in the I Corps and it was a free fire zone.  You attacked and eliminated the greatest threat and then attacked the next greatest threat…
    There is no time to and not enough information to debate who should be saved.  Your decision will haunt you the rest of your life.  So would decision by indecision.

  • Doug

    I value life.  In each instance I would sacrifice an individual to save more lives.  I experienced combat in Viet Nam and had to choose the best way to protect my fellow Marines and myself.  We were in the I Corps and it was a free fire zone.  You attacked and eliminated the greatest threat and then attacked the next greatest threat…
    There is no time to and not enough information to debate who should be saved.  Your decision will haunt you the rest of your life.  So would decision by indecision.

  • David Ammerman

    I said yes to every scenario. I mean, yes it is sad that one man must die. But I am making just as much a decision to end someone’s life by NOT pulling the switches. The only difference is, one result is one death, the other is four deaths. I could not live with myself either way, but I could eventually realize that I SAVED four people’s lives, and didn’t just END one person’s. I never would want to play God, but that is one man with one family in sorrow. The option of not acting leaves four families in sorrow. Lesser of two evils.

  • David Ammerman

    But in these scenarios you aren’t helping the many, this is only one man. And you are ending four people’s lives for one man. What do you think that the one man would say? If he had a strong moral compass I am sure he would prefer himself to die rather than the four other people.

  • Anthony

    I said no to all since there was
    no option to unplug the train set.

  • Drewtrujillo1

    I said yes to pushing the large man off the bridge and no to inderectly killing one man to save four why it would be more interesting

  • jack the ripper

    Question 1, 3 and 4 were essentially asking the same thing leading to the same scenario so the choices were the same. There’s not much psychology on morality as there are only two real choices in the test; 1 and 2. In other words, not a great test because it isn’t using enough variables for it to be valid scientifically. It does however make you think about how far you would go to save someone or yourself (an even better case study with fascinating results). That said, commenting on the content of the test; I would kill one to save many, simple. Even better, I would experiment and learn quickly how to apply the trains brakes. Strange though because trains have ‘deadman’ brakes that prevents a disaster in case the conducter is incapacitated. And to all those people who chose to say no to everything because they don’t want to play God, that’s ridiculous because you ARE playing God by not flipping the switch which inadvertently kills many more people than is necessary given the options. Hope you can sleep at night then!

  • ruta

    How do people respond if the numbers were increased 10 or a
    100 fold?  I can say I’d push someone off
    a bridge to save 4 persons, but 400,000 or 4 million, it would be a much more
    difficult decision.  And at what numbers
    of persons, would I change my method?

  • Robert Wm Ruedisueli

    I especially agree with number 2.

    While I would answer no to all of them.  Since I have no right to choose who lives or dies.  However, other people would clearly judge my decision as wrong.   I also know other people would not make the same decision.

    They are all tough choices, and I would never judge someone for a difficult choice unless asked to do so by that person.

  • Dawn Marie Hicks

    How were the morally correct or incorrect decisions derived here? Is it as simple as it seems, by the majority’s belief? I have always known ethics as the common belief and moral as the perfect decision that would support human nature as whole, growing beautifully, peacefully, naturally and with out force or manipulation Fostering natural consequence, (the most immediate being the effects on us psychologically, which I think we judge wrong often!) rather than playing God and overriding the natural order of things. I think if we use our gut instinct combined with our conscience and most open hearted loving self, we will find most times that it increases the level peace, love, fulfillment and happiness which will in turn foster life through normal positive, natural consequence. My belief is that we gain power when we are on the right track, whether it is the accepted track or not, as long as it is the one you fit on. If you find yourself justifying something, you probably aren’t on the right track and therefore you will lose power, starting with the energy it is taking you to justify it!
    That said I feel incomplete with the results provided for the test here. One other factor not counted is the ultimate truth often not realized, which is definite in life and death situations but also true on many other levels down to some as small as what is known as “the butterfly effect,” if you do not save yourself, you can not save any one else. If you betray your own instincts and/or morals you will pay dearly. In a severe form, it becomes PTS. Ask the soldiers of Vietnam what it is like to doubt everyone around you, but more to doubt yourself, your own morals, and your own ability to keep yourself safe in your decision making process. It is a lonely, tormenting, existence where even if you have wonderful love, it’s hard, and for some, at times impossible to realize. Even worse is when you have moments of clarity and realize all you are rejecting and that it’s only a matter of time before you leave that reality again, with almost no control. This is the ultimate in powerless and I think it proves my point that a moral decision is not decided by what is common, it is by what instinctively, way deep down, past all of our abilities to lie, justify and deny we know will harm the balance of our place and power in this world. Written by Dawn Marie Hicks of Concord, CA

  • Meats

    Steve is trespassing on private railroad property. Unless he is an employee of said railroad and has had the proper training in speeds and stopping distances etc.,Steve has no right to be in this position. And what happens to the conductor who is out cold and will probably be injured more or killed in this sequence of events?

  • AlkanFan

    With the last (boulder) example, shouldn’t he also yell to the guy in front of the rock to get out of the way, as well as throw the switch? This would further reduce Steve’s guilt because now the guy’s been given fair warning and it’s up to him to get out of the way (assuming he’s within earshot of Steve, of course).

  • Anonymous Coward

    Take it to the extreme and think about the consequences. There are six million people strapped to one track and one strapped to the other.

    The choice is clear in that situation.

    But what if the six million were an invading army hell-bent on killing and raping everyone you know and the one was a genetic freak with blood that can cure cancer?

    The choice is clear in that situation as well.

  • me

    How big was that fat guy on the bridge that he could stop a train?

  • Shenellica

    Basically question 2 is asking if you are a psychopath or not. Psychopaths lack empathy and therefore pushing the large man off the bridge to save the others seems the logical choice. I chose yes because even though I am physically involving myself in the death of someone I am also saving four others. I do not understand why this is a difficult decision.

  • Asdfgh

    What about the lives of the people ON the train? Running into a boulder, or switching tracks with a switch when the train is “barreling” down the track would likely cause a derailment and more death.

  • Patrick Henry S.

    The only time it’s permissible for him to intervene would be when on the train making him part of the peril in a way. If I were there on the train it would be a matter in duty to myself to minimize the tragedy I was in, however, when not on the train I can’t see it as acceptable from a moral standpoint to act the hero with another bystanders life. In the end all the proactive bystander can be is a false-Superman against the on-trains newspaper hero.

  • Alyssa

    Well in every single scenario I said that the guy was morally okay with interfering with the train, whether that meant pushing the fat man or changing the direction of the train. Here’s why: plain and simple because of logic. Sure, you kill one person, but you save 4. 4 is better than 1. If someone was about to send a bomb to kill hundreds of innocent people and you had the chance to kill him, turn off the bomb, and save all people, would you? I hope so. The train is the same thing but on a smaller scale.

    People need to stop thinking with their feelings and think more logically. Many more lives would be saved in various situations this way. Toughen up and make the harder decision because it outweighs the negative.

    But really all of those people should have just died, because if you’re stupid enough to stand on train tracts, you’re a waste of space and recourses in society. Not all should be saved.

  • August

    Congratulations, you’re a sociopath!

  • Cam

    A lot of people have been stating their reason for NOT pulling the switch is because they don’t want to “play God”. The thing is is in this situation you are thrown into a situation where you indeed are playing God. Break the situation down to 2 scenarios. The first scenario is if you don’t pull the switch. If you don’t pull the switch you are responsible for those 4 lives lost because you had the option to NOT kill them. The second scenario is if you do pull the switch. You just killed one person because of your action, but saved 4. As we can see, your presence in that situation pretty much is forcing you to play God because if you do something someone dies but if you don’t do something, people die. You affect the situation no matter what so I say that the best is to save 4 versus the 1.

  • Dave

    Now, assume that the one person on the other track that you would be killing is your mother. Is it still such a clear cut moral decision on your part?

  • Dave

    Now, assume that the 4 people on the tracks were elderly and the person you must push off the bridge is a child. Is it still such a clear cut moral decision on your part?

  • jenna

    What if I were fatter than the fat man? I think it would be better to throw myself instead.

  • Jenna

    Amen Patrick Henry S. !!!

  • jenna

    It is immoral to do that. Because you cannot sacrifice someone’s life other than your own to rescue another. You can sacrifice your own life to save others. It is probably against their will and they would not want to do it. And fate may have it be that those people were there for a reason, maybe they were crack heads or something.

  • jenna

    I will add that even If I were not fatter than the man I would still not throw him over to save the other 4. I think sometimes you have to let fate do it’s thing. Now if that fat man was the one trying to kill those people or he is the one that tied them down on the tracks then of course I would throw him.

  • jenna

    I think battle and war it is a whole different scenario and require different way of analyzing the situation than you would in a free and peaceful society.

  • jenna

    Exactly! Amen! Sometimes fate is what it is. You cannot be forced to do an immoral act. I think the question made it impossible to come out with a moral choice. I think the options given are all immoral. I believe it is good to think that sometimes one has to go to save the many, but I think with that has to come choice and willingness. Anther thing is why is this thought process not really used when talking about serial killers and the death penalty? oh they want to be against the death penalty but they will throw that poor fat man over to save 4 people? Just think some of these serial killers have killed 10s, hundreds. I mean don’t people want to save the many innocent that get murdered?

  • jenna

    You are wrong! you are not ending the 4 peoples lives! The train is. You are not at fault for this accident. What if the fat man valued his life and he had 4 children he needed to protect and keep safe? He is the one who should choose, not you? What about if these people were crack heads who got stuck there out of their foolishness?

  • jenna

    Yes! valuing the individual over the many means you care about each and every person.Every ONE counts. Not just massive group or number of people. It does not mean you don’t value the many. If fact it means you do value the many except you balance it out and it is not out of hand. Hitler valued the many more than the individual. He did not care for the individual he had idealism and wanted everyone to be the same he wanted communism for all for the masses for the many! For the benefit of all! He did not care about the individual.

  • jenna

    I agree with you Tami. It is not our choice to make for them when.

  • jenna

    Amen to that too!

  • Sachbir Dhanota

    I think that is ridiculous. Allowing fate to do its course means absolutely nothing. I could argue that someone dying of cancer is fate, so we should stop trying to find a better treatment, but that’s crazy. If you can use any mode of thinking to justify unnecessary deaths, then something is wrong with your morals. (I realize that morals are subjective, but that’s too much effort)

  • Sachbir Dhanota

    First of all, morals are about what is right and wrong, so you cannot say that something just is immoral. It is known to be subjective. I would say that your decision is more immoral because you’re allowing more people people to die than necessary, but the point is that each person has a different opinion about what is or is not moral.

    Now you mentioned fate at the end. Is it fate when people die of cancer? If it is, your logic dictates that we should stop trying to save them or seek a better means of treatment for them, because it’s against fate. Regardless of what you think fate is, if more people have died through your action/inaction, that is bad.

    Finally, what if fate has it for 4 innocent, good people to die instead of one murderous crackhead? Fate is a horrible thing to hide behind. Assuming all people involved are equally good/bad, you should choose the path that has less casualties.

  • Jerad

    Stopping the bomber would be self defense. Killing the innocent bystander is not.

  • Andrew

    I picked no. Why? because if a train is hurtling toward those four men then they are denied for death. I am not morally responsible to save them when saving them sacrifices another human being.

    It’s the difference between letting die and killing.

    For all you people who picked they would kill the one person on that track, what id it was your kid? or your spouse? Would you still save the four men?

    I doubt it.

  • JT

    If you are so certain that the train is going to hit those people, then I think it’s valid to conclude that those people knew what they were getting into? Should you punish an innocent person because of four idiots? Evolutionarily speaking you should let them die so that the smartest people live on. Utilitarians would say to save the four people because more is better. People who engage in reckless behavior are likely to do it again, so you could very well be saving them only to have them do something dumb again? There really is no right answer because there are just too many confounding variables so I guess you should just do whatever you think is best – that’s all one can do.

  • ubhinj

    It was the same scenario every time, and was hardly controversial at that. Each time the choice was to have a single person die or have multiple people die. Presuming that all the variables given are correct (i.e. the train actually is going to hit the people), all possible actions are accounted for (there isn’t a magical braking system somewhere), and the system is taken in isolation (derailing with the train with a boulder won’t kill 10 additional passengers) the only rational choice is to act to save as many people as possible. There wasn’t any qualitative difference between any of the scenarios, as each human life remains absolutely equal to the other human lives.

  • qwert

    There is no such thing as destiny. You are morally responsible to save they four men regardless of whether it sacrifices another human being or not. There is no difference between killing and letting die.
    To answer your questions, yes to all. One human life doesn’t outway four lives merely because that one happens to be someone I care about. The only one saving the one could be justified is we remove the system from isolation and presume the one is, for example, a doctor who will save thousands of others.

  • flame

    Your second point doesn’t prove anything. Sure if the one person on the track alone was your kid or spouse you would let the four men die. But what if there were 3 random men with your kid/spouse on the one track and a random man on the other? Would you still let the one man live?

  • Jc Equality Tilton

    The problem with this study is it only gives you a narrow scope of the actual scenario. It eliminates our own intelligence from the scenario. It is morally wrong to take any life. What if in the first scenario, flipping the switch means the train would then encounter a head-on collision with another train, killing more people? Making rash decisions without looking at the larger picture, is always the wrong decision. The correct answer would be, “All trains have a brake lever,” use your head and find it! If the brake fails, flip the switch and jump to save the one person. Choosing life is always the correct choice even if you fail at least you tried.

  • Jc Equality Tilton

    Cancer is not the same as this scenario. Not even close!

  • Jc Equality Tilton

    But if you are on the train then why not use your intelligence to find the break?

  • Jc Equality Tilton

    Finally, a person that would try to find the brakes… Thank you

  • Sachbir Dhanota

    Why not? Cancer, like an unavoidable train, is going to kill a person/people if no one intervenes. If you dislike cancer, then we can use “being mauled by an animal” or “being trampled by a herd of elephants” if you’d like.
    My point is that if someone will die without another person’s intervention, that does not mean it is fated for that person to die, and I think it’s foolish to think so.

  • Jc Equality Tilton

    Lew, well said!

  • Jc Equality Tilton

    Well said!

  • Jc Equality Tilton


  • Jc Equality Tilton

    Life or death is not an easy question with an easy answer. All the people are answering correctly to their way of thinking. This is not like writing a term paper, and should not be taken lightly. There will be some that will not accept such a basic scenario, and think outside the box, just like they do in real life.

  • Jc Equality Tilton

    Alex, Life or death is not an easy question with an easy answer. All the people are answering correctly to their way of thinking. This is not like writing a term paper, and should not be taken lightly. There will be some that will not accept such a basic scenario, and think outside the box, just like they do in real life.

  • Jc Equality Tilton

    I agree.

  • Jc Equality Tilton

    Well said.

  • Jc Equality Tilton

    Tom but you forget, rape is a moral and ethical taboo against society, and a whole different topic.

  • Jc Equality Tilton

    Thank you James, well said.

  • Jc Equality Tilton

    No because steve did not put the train into action. It is no different than you (or Steve) approaching a big man holding a gun to someones head, or for that matter, holding a gun on four people. If you or Steve are not big enough to stop that man, then you or Steve would be killed along with the person(s) the gun was pointed at. If you walked away to phone for help, but the person(s) were shot while you went for help, it is not you who killed those people. It was the big man. You (or Steve) still walked away, so would you think it was your fault? It is still inaction… You did not put that action into place. The big man did, just like the train, and the people put into place was not put into action by Steve.

  • Asten Langley Palmer

    in option 1 , however through this explination I will explain the issue with all of them
    You seem to think that there are only two options, that by
    choosing to change the path of the train you are making a choice to save more
    people and by not you are choosing to save the other person. This however is
    not correct, there is another understanding, that to choose to do nothing, This
    would not be your action in killing 4 people, in a understanding that people
    have unlimited worth, you can see that both choice are equally as bad , as 4* unlimited
    is still unlimited worth (thus both the individual and the group are equal in
    terms of worth) by choosing to not act (as the person in control of the train)
    , you are simply choosing to not intervene in an event that you had no right (
    a right is a freedom you are entitled to as being simply human) (by acting when
    you have no right you are acting immoral) you do not have a right to decide on
    who can live and who can not. Because you do not have the freedom to choose who
    lives or who dies ( by saying this choice is allowing all to die) you are
    missing the point because you wouldn’t seem to agree that an immoral act such
    as chosing who lives at the expense of who dies is immoral and thus you simply
    do not have the right to choose because this would be killing some one sa a
    result of your action , thus you can not be called responsible for an immoral action
    in a situation you had no right to act on

    thus it is not immoral to choose to not act, if morality is
    to be understood as either a collection of socially agreed upon norms that are
    set by the majority or a utilitarian ideology , then the act of “doing nothing”
    would be immoral (as it would be understood that the bigger group have some presidency
    to live because there are more of them and thus more utility), however morality
    is not set by humans , it is a common law that is understood by using logic and
    ethics (such as natural law theory, it would be illogical and incorrect to say
    that it is morally acceptable to make a choice over lives at the expense of
    lives ( this is a logical and moral contradiction)

    it is simply immoral to kill , by trying to argue that an individuals
    non action allows more people to die thus there action is immoral is to argue
    for utilitarianism , morality is not based on the idea that more life’s are
    worth more , that they have more utility but on the fact that no one has a
    right thus a choice to allow death at the expense of life ,

    I would also like to point out that acting immoral against
    an immoral or seemingly less intellectual group or individual is always immoral
    regardless of who why ect. Other wise it would always be subjective , morality
    is not subjective it is a set law understood by humans through reason.

  • Asten Langley Palmer

    utilitarianisms is not the law which governs moral principles and it is never moral to choose who lives and dies, just because a certain group of people seemingly have a higher value or worth. the truth is we can never know all the variables or the future implications of removing life and to argue that idiots are of less value as is idiotic !! as you can not see the future , and furthermore you are assuming that education can not teach intellect !

  • Asten Langley Palmer

    you are exactly correct !! people are told to follow theutilatarian principles from society , however this idea that utilitarianism is a foundation of maral laws is simply a human construct !! and a bad one at that , the worth of a man isn’t decided by that of a man.

  • Asten Langley Palmer

    clearly you are a bi product of utilitarianism supremacy in modern society , read the ethics of liberty and this may educate you in a way the state simply didn’t. its by Murray n Rothbard

  • Asten Langley Palmer

    if you kill a man regardless of his morality , you become a murder and then I can kill you as a result of you being a murderer and the cycle continues until the whole world is dead ? awks

  • Asten Langley Palmer

    actually incorrect , It is immoral to kill your self , read immanuel kant golden rule

  • Asten Langley Palmer

    urm , no. its not opinion !! that’s what you are led to believe ! it is following the laws of nature , more accurately it is understood by using reason , read the book ( the ethics of liberty, by Murray n rothbard

  • Asten Langley Palmer

    exactly , privet property is the foundation of morality !! you don’t have a right to choose who lives and dies because you don’t have the right to either groups property , i.e them selfs thus any action you take that is ment to kill another is immoral , thus to take no action is the only moral action , the death of the 4 would simply be a by product of a moral action that couldn’t be stopped by any moral action in the scenario

  • Asten Langley Palmer

    read the ethics of liberty by Murray n rothbard !!! I dare you

  • Shadow19231

    I said push the guy off the bridge. Apparently I’m wrong, but to be perfectly frank, 4-5 lives are more important than 1. Plain and simple. If I was the fat guy, I would be OK if that meant saving 4-5 more times the people than myself.