The Trolley Problem
- Thomson, J.J. 2008. Turning the trolley. Philosophy and Public Affairs 36: 359–74.
In a nutshell
The problem was first posed by Phillipa Foot (1967) "Abortion and the Doctrine of Double Effect". Discussed further and expanded by Judith Jarvis Thomson.
- The bystander (two options) case - http://www.chrishorner.net/wp-content/uploads/2009/02/2007-08-13-202.png
- The fat guy case - http://www.chrishorner.net/wp-content/uploads/2009/02/2007-08-16-991.jpg
The moral question
The moral question - What should we do in these two situations?
- Standard answer - You may flip the switch in the bystander case, but you may not push the fat guy. Why?
- One answer: In the first case the death of the bystander is an unintended consequence, but in the second case the death is part of the plan.
- A utilitarian might disagree - You should flip the switch and you should push the fat guy.
- Thomson (2008)'s new position - You should not in both cases. (on the basis of the bystander three options case)
Psychological and other issues
- What do people think in general? Are the intuitions widespread?
- Why do people think that way? What cognitive mechanisms underlie our moral judgments?
- The connection question - Do findings in psychology and neuroscience have any bearing on the moral question?
Greene's dual-process theory
- Moral judgment is a product of two systems: a more rational and impersonal abstract reasoning system applied to morality, and an emotional system that is less rational.
@personal moral dilemmas, as compared with impersonal and non-moral dilemmas, produced increased activity in areas associated with social/emotional processing: medial frontal gyrus, posterior cingulate gyrus, and bilateral STS (originally labeled ‘angular gyrus’). By contrast, impersonal and non-moral dilemmas as compared with personal dilemmas produced increased activity in areas associated with working memory: dorsolateral prefrontal and parietal areas. They found comparatively little difference between the impersonal-moral and non-moral conditions, suggesting that impersonal moral judgment has less in common with personal moral judgment than with certain kinds of non-moral practical judgment.@
- Use fMRI to check brain activity when dealing with the trolley problems.
- In the fat guy case,
- areas associated with emotions are more active - medial frontal gyrus, posterior cingulate gyrus, angular gyrus.
- areas associated with working memory less active - right middle frontal gyrus, bilateral parietal lobe.
- People who are willing to push the fat guy over took significantly longer to respond - they have to override their emotional response.
- The two systems can come into conflict, as in the crying baby case.