Imagine a remote part of town, a former now abandoned industrial area where the only time the dust is disturbed is when the tram passes through, a brief journey between downtown and the suburbs. At one point in the middle of the area, the track splits into two. One day, some routine workers, in true old-fashioned Hollywood movie style, are robbed and tied to the tracks. By a remarkable coincidence, at the same time, the driver of the afternoon tram journey has a heart attack and passes out. The tram is now a runaway tram, heading for the five workers tied to the track. At this moment, you pass by, alongside a lever. If you pull it, you know you’ll divert the train onto the other track. But then you see the other track. One worker is tied to it. You’re too far away to get to them in time to free them, and nobody else is anywhere to be seen. The lever can only be pulled one way or the other. The choice is simple. One person dies or five people die. No other option. So, readers, which is the correct choice? ‘Tis the question.
This is more a thought experiment, than anything else. First introduced by Philippa Foot in 1967. Foot was a British philosopher noted for her work in ethics, and died recently in 2010, aged a remarkable 90. It’s a wonderful way to study human psychology. A utilitarian view states one must sacrifice the one for the greater number. It would be ‘more moral’. Another way of looking at it is participation. If you do nothing, you’re not responsible for the death of any of the six, but if you get involved, you are. But if you do nothing, then does one have a clear conscience or would it haunt one? Some would say just being there means one has a moral obligation to act. Some would say that one wouldn’t have time to think and would just ‘act’. Studies have proven that in the brain, there would be a massive conflict between emotion and cognition, and that we would become rational. Logical. On average, in countless studies, a remarkable 90% of people chose to kill the one and save the five.
It’s a real dilemma.
I think the logical approach is a good one. Remember, that one and those five are screaming. Blood curdling screams. Even a couple hundred yards away, you can hear them. Screams that will haunt you. The screams of the already dead. You also must consider something else. You don’t know those six people. Sacrifice the one. Okay. But what if it’s your father? Or your son? You could not live a life knowing you killed your own blood. Honestly, I’d walk away. It’s correct that if you wash your hands of the situation, you’re not responsible for what happens. If I walk away, whatever happens is not my fault as I was never involved in the first place. That situation is nothing to do with me. Walking away is the most honest and honourable thing one can do. To not be responsible for the death of anyone or have the blood of a dead man on your hands for the rest of your life. It’s simple logic to simply walk away. Yes, I could act and save the lives of five innocent men, and kill one innocent man, but to do neither, is, for me, the best thing to do because nobody has died because of my actions. And yes, I could easily live with that.
Logic wins, here. It always wins. When it comes to the runaway tram, the best thing to do is to run away.
But what would you do, readers?
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