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Trolley Problems Essay

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Updated: Feb 5th, 2019

There are two cases presented for analysis in this essay; Trolley Problem I and Trolley Problem II. In the first case, a runway trolley would kill five people on its pathway. These persons can only be saved by pulling the switch in the train. However, pulling the switch would kill one person.

The dilemma is whether to pull the switch or not. In trolley problem II, a runaway trolley would kill five people on the pathway if it stays on its course. Again, pushing a stranger to the track is the only way to save these persons. The body of the stranger would prevent the train from hitting the five people. Nevertheless, the train would kill him. Again the dilemma is whether to push him or not. In both cases, the response is yes because in either way there would be loss of life. Therefore, it is better to save many lives at the cost of a single life.

Immanuel Kant was one of the most prominent philosophers. He is widely regarded as a key figure of the present philosophy. Kant argued that human beings should act in a way that upholds humanity as an end but not to meet certain goals.

According to him, rational beings should never be treated simply as tools for achieving certain ends. Instead, they are regarded as an end in themselves and their rational motives must be respected. Kant argued that there are some kinds of actions, such as murder, stealing, and dishonesty, which are totally forbidden, even if they would result into more joy. In applying Kant’s ethics to the trolley problem I and II, there are two queries that must be taken into consideration.

First is whether it is rationally justifiable for every person to act in a similar way. Second is whether the action upholds humanity and not simply using beings to meet certain goals. If the answer to both questions is no, then the action should be avoided. Apparently, in both trolley problems I and II, the act of pulling the switch and pushing a stranger to the train pathway would kill them and save the lives of five other people.

These acts would mean using human beings to make an end, preventing the death of five people. Per se, these actions would not be accepted by Kant. A reasoning being cannot sensibly accept being treated simply as an object to make an end; they are regarded as an end in themselves. The two acts contravene Kant’s ethics and are not acceptable. In addition, Kant would refute such acts if adopted by everybody.

Jeremy Bentham and Stuart Mill were the two philosophers who developed utilitarian ethics. Utilitarianism stresses on the outcome of actions, which are either pain or pleasure. According to the theory, the right action is that which results into greatest pleasure over pain. However, the consequences of an action are not considered only to a person but for everyone.

In addition, the consequences of an action are analyzed based on its long-term effects. Utilitarian ethics claim that in any particular dilemma, the right decision to make must result into more joy and least sadness for most people (O’Donohue & Ferguson, 2003).

In applying utilitarian ethics to the two trolley problems, the fundamental subject to analyze is whether the decision would cause more happiness to most people. The greatest happiness for the most is based on measure. Obviously, pulling the switch and pushing the stranger to the train pathway would save the lives of five persons.

It is arguable that, these actions would bring more joy to the greatest number of people in this situation. In line with utilitarianism, the right decision in these two situations would be to pull the switch and to push the stranger in trolley problems I and II respectively. Even though the acts could be harmful to some people, they would be right provided that it would result into more joy to a great number of persons. Therefore, utilitarian would say yes to the acts since they would cause more good than the alternative.

In conclusion, both theories have their strengths and weaknesses. One of the major strengths in Kantian ethics is that it forbids actions that are obviously immoral, like murder, theft and dishonesty. Kant ethics are rational, positive and do not rely on the consequences of actions. However, the major weakness in Kant ethics is that it does not exempt a maxim.

This is not practical in certain situations where sacrificing few people could cause more good. It is necessary in trolley I and II problems. The major strength with utilitarian ethics is that it supports greatest happiness to most people, which could be necessary in some situations. However, it disregards the minority. This means that the rights of few persons could be violated to make the greatest happiness for most people. It is also unrealistic since most people would not prefer to act in the interest of others above themselves.

Reference

O’Donohue, T., & Ferguson, E. (2003). Handbook of professional ethics for psychologists: Issues, questions, and controversies. Thousand Oaks, Calif: SAGE Publications.

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