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July 23, 2007

A moral dilemma

Scenario #1:

There are 5 men working on a railroad track. You see a onrushing train, heading directly for them. Their backs are to the train, and they are wearing ear coverings so they can't hear it either. It's clear that they are going to die.

However, you have a lever which you could pull and divert the train to another track. Only problem is, that other track has one man working on it. He would die.

What do you do?

Scenario #2:

Same exact setup, only now there is no other track and there is no lever. Instead, you are on a bridge about track standing next to a very large man. And you know that if you just gave the man a little shove, he would land in the way of the oncoming train and block it's progress, thus saving the 5 men again. However, this large man would die.

What do you do?

In surveys, 90% of people pull the levers but won't push the man. Even though the end result (1 person dead, 5 saved) is the same. Why do you think this is? I have my reasons, which I'll chime in with in the comments after I get some answers.

Posted by jason on July 23, 2007 08:40 PM


I wouldn't pull the lever, and I would't push the man.

For me the reasons are basically the same. It's all about responsibility. The five guys shouldn't be on the track in the first place. It's their fault that they will die. The man working on the track is supposed to be there. If I were to pull the lever, I would be killing an innocent man, which is much different from letting five people die by their own fault.

The large guy, same deal. I would be murdering an innocent.

Posted by: ian on July 23, 2007 09:57 PM

I agree with ian I wouldn't push the man or pull the lever

Posted by: Anonymous on July 23, 2007 10:29 PM

I would pull the lever, but wouldn't push the man. The reason being is exactly the same as your logic, Ian. In the case of the lever, either 5 men all taking the same knowing risk die, or 1 man taking the same exact risk dies.

But the dude standing next to me is innocent! He didn't sign up for a dangerous job.

This show I was listening to was trying to say that there is no real difference between the lever and the pushing, but I think it's actually clear.

I also think maybe I wouldn't pull the lever, because even though the math is good, saving 5, letting one die instead of saving 1, letting 5 die, I really don't know if I should make that choice.

I'd probably freeze up anyway.

Posted by: jason on July 24, 2007 12:01 AM

I don't think the either the group of men or the single man deserve to live or die any more or less than the other. With this amount of information, you can only speculate as to why who is standing where. You can assume the man on the side is working where he is supposed to sure. You can also assume he is supposed to be watching out for the train and warning the others if it's heading in their direction.

Deciding who should live in any situation isn't a decision anyone should be faced with. I'm going to assume the 90% that wouldn't push the man feel that way because it's of a direct result to their action. The tracks move by pulling the lever yes, but you aren't placing him in front of the train yourself persay.

For example, this is similar to say, asking someone to kill a cow, cook it, and then continue to eat it. Most people wouldn't do that, but if they're given a hamburger, it's chow time.

People have less of a problem doing something if they don't see a direct negative reaction from it. If there are a few steps in between before that negative action takes place, (lever THEN moving of the tracks) it's a little easier to feel less responsible for what just took place.

Posted by: Jack on July 24, 2007 04:16 PM

I know a family who bottle fed a cow, named it, raised it until it was big, and then killed it and ate it.

Posted by: Collin-Band Member on July 24, 2007 04:32 PM

notice i said "most"

clearly that family does not fall into that catagory

Posted by: Jack on July 24, 2007 04:43 PM

Jack: for some, being handed a brownie is synonymous with chow time as well...but you wouldn't know about that, would you?

Jase: just how huge is that one man who, falling in front of a speeding train, stops it instantly? I mean, are we contemplating shoving Hagrid onto the tracks?

and the five guys on the tracks would feel the vibrations of a speeding oncoming train...they would get out of the way in time and we would all go enjoy hamburgers and brownies--we probably wouldn't invite the very large man, for fear that there wouldn't be enough hamburgers and brownies for us, too--but we would be glad that the giant was still alive. And we would be grateful that we didn't have to try to shove him onto tracks, cause he probably wouldn't have budged anyway and we would have just succeeded in angering a giant, which is not a good thing to do, i think.

Posted by: jessica on July 24, 2007 11:28 PM

I would run in front of the train and stop it with my bare hands. Then I would kill the five morons, the other numbnuts working on the track, and the fat dude that was laughing at them up on the bridge. I would then go home and eat my pet cow. RAW.

Posted by: Big Strong Guy on July 24, 2007 11:41 PM

Jason is clearly a white collar man. He thinks that a worker trying to feed his family by repairing a closed railroad track is taking the "exact same risk" as five airheads walking down the open tracks (trespassing) listening to music under head phones. He deserves the same computer virus that a twelve year old downloading pirated movies gets. He takes the same risk every day.

Posted by: The Union on July 24, 2007 11:56 PM

No, both the 5 and 1 are all workers with the exact same job, working in the exact same way (headphones and all), just on 2 different tracks.

I don't even have a shirt with a white collar.

Posted by: jason on July 25, 2007 12:16 AM

If people were working on the railroad tracks, I don't think trains would be running on them.

Posted by: SnakeMan on July 26, 2007 08:44 PM


Posted by: Anonymous on July 26, 2007 11:57 PM

this is an easy one. i would pull the lever and then shoot the other five dudes, so one gets out alive. that way everyone gets fair treatment. fair is fair

Posted by: paul Odders on July 28, 2007 05:40 PM

this is an easy one. i would pull the lever and then shoot the other five dudes, so one gets out alive. that way everyone gets fair treatment. fair is fair

Posted by: paul Odders on July 28, 2007 05:41 PM

but how's it fair if only one gets out alive?

Posted by: Anonymous on July 28, 2007 07:08 PM

life isn't fair.

kill the fat guy.

Posted by: Anonymous on July 28, 2007 09:34 PM

jason - give us an upset from LA!

Posted by: Anonymous on July 28, 2007 10:37 PM

upset? do you mean update?

Posted by: Anonymous on July 29, 2007 12:16 AM

Okay, I thoroughly disapprove of the cow comments. Cow's are cute (and tasty).

I'd flip the lever halfway. That way I can derail the train, and as it's tumbling forward over the rails, I can probably hit both the five guys and the one guy and everyone in the train.

As for the second scenario, it's tougher. Is there a way to kill the fat guy and the people on the train? Are there any pieces of metal or strong tree branches nearby? Perhaps I could get the fat guy to slam into the wheels of the train from the side, then his bones would get caught in the drive mechanism, that might cause a derailment. I just don't think a head on collision, even with Hagrid is going to be enough.

Does he have anything in his pockets? Like a step ladder (SQ3 joke for the old school people), or a crow bar?

Posted by: Rhew on August 1, 2007 08:59 AM

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