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My Solution to the "Trolley Problem"

Updated: Feb 21

A railway.

The trolley problem is one of the best-known dilemmas in ethical philosophy and psychology. Its purpose is to make you consider which sacrifice is preferable and when such a sacrifice is required. In some cases, it's a single person against a group of people; in other cases, the other, lone person is a person of higher standing, like a president, while the rest are more average people.

The problem with this thought experiment is that we assume that we will just commit murder just to not commit another murder. The train or trolley is already going to collide with someone or some people and kill them, whether or not you choose to be involved in this.

Why then choose to get yourself involved if you are going to suffer the consequences of any common murderer? Unless you happen to live in an absolute dictatorship, and the other, lone person is the country's dictator, then technically no life is above the law, not even yours.

Regardless of the fact that you would be able to save one or more lives, you will also be doing the exact opposite, by choosing to get involved and thus, killing other people at the expense of others.

This reminds me of a joke I once heard: "Why did you kill him?" the judge asked. "I didn't do it, the gun did!". If a large-scale cannon is being recharged, why take the handle when you can't even abort it?

People are going to die anyway, so why choose to get involved? Simply call the police to interfere, and no one will mark you as a murderer, simply because you will not interfere with the mechanism responsible for moving the train or trolley either way.

So you either are going to be accused of murder, should you intervene, or suffer on your own conscience, for abondoning the situation. The fact that you witnessed this, and can react practically, can never be escepable morally. Of course, that is unless you have no empathy for other beings, but I digress.

No one is going to see you as a hero if you sacrifice people for others, because the very action of sacrifice is, ultimately in this case, murder. The thing is, this is even not self-defense, because you are not the one on the trolley's rails.

What if the person in the way of the trolley is someone you hold dear, however? a friend, a family member, or a life partner? Will you be willing to commit murder just to save them? Will you be willing to serve prison time just for saving someone you like?

The penalty depends on each country's laws, but you will be going to prison anyways, because even if you save a life, it would necessarily mean that you kill innocent lives.

This is my solution to the trolley problem: call the police and don't do anything. You might not be able to choose which people to save, but at least the police will get notified of this situation, and get to investigate the case, something that you, as a civilian, can't right now. Surely, the decision of some people to sit on an active railroad is unacceptable.

However, even if someone you know dearly is involved, it is in no way your responsibility to save them from their own mistake. Taking responsibility, therefore, will be the same as murder. Some people are going to die; don't go to prison just to change a history that would have the same result in any case -- death.

What is already clear is that not everyone is going to get out of this alive. As I was told, Be wise, not righteous. Even if more people will be saved, you will be condemned for killing a single person or less people.

If both parties are tied to the railways, well, it just goes to show that there is indeed someone who is responsible for this; someone who isn't necessarily you. Get involved, and you might set that man or woman free from their crime.

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Tomasio A. Rubinshtein, Philosocom's Founder & Writer

I am a philosopher from Israel, author of several books in 2 languages, and Quora's Top Writer of the year 2018. I'm also a semi-hermit who has decided to dedicate his life to writing and sharing my articles across the globe. Several podcasts on me, as well as a radio interview, have been made since my career as a writer. More information about me can be found here.

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