Imagine this scenario: You are walking near a trolley car track when you see five people tied to the tracks. In the next moment, you see a trolley racing towards them, out of control, and impossible to stop. A signal lever is within your reach; if you pull it, you can divert the direction of the runaway trolley down a side track, saving the five, but as a result, killing another person, who is tied to the track that you are diverting it to. What do you do? Most people say they would pull the lever because it’s better that one person should die instead of five.
This is known in Philosophy as the Trolley Problem. What is the morally best option, or at least the morally better option? The majority of people, when showed with this thought experiment, insist that pulling the switch is morally better or even required. Why? The overwhelmingly popular answer is that in any scenario, the more lives that can be saved is the better option, regardless of the actions is taken to achieve such results. Five lives are greater than one life, so the logically right option is to pull the switch.
But now consider this change to the original experiment:
All of the initial conditions from the original experiment are in place, however, this time, there is no switch, no side track, no different route. Instead, there is an overpass above and before the five tied up individuals are hit, there’s an option to save them. A fat man is on board the train, where, if you throw him out of the train, his body would act as brakes for the train, ultimately stopping the train and saving the 5-people tied, however, killing the fat man. The 2 options that you can do are: Do not push the fat man, in which case the trolley will hit and kill five people. Or, Push the fat man, in which case the trolley will hit and kill one person.
This is known as the Fat Man problem. What is the morally best option or better option here? The majority of people, when presented with this thought experiment, insist that when you do not push, it’s the morally better option, and some say it’s the required option. But notice that in both the original Trolley problem and the Fat Man problem, the choice of the person, is one life against 5 lives. If we were purely concerned with total lives saved, then not changing the direction of the tracks and not pushing the Fat Man should be morally the same, while changing the direction of the tracks and pushing the Fat Man should also be morally the same. But they don’t seem to be so-equivalent to the majority of people.