Here is something akin to the famous trolley problem.

The train is coming.

You are in charge of the lever and thus in charge of what track the train goes along.

There is one person on the sidetrack.

There are five people on the main track.

Do you pull the lever and divert the train so that the person walking the side track will be killed?

Do you let the train go along and kill the five people?

The question asks if you let things run their course or do you take action to take one life to spare five?  Or to rephrase, do you deliberately kill one or just let the worst come to the others?

The question asks if the number of lives matters? If it does not then you cannot say one life is worth taking to save five even if there is no choice. Do you have the right to judge five lives as more valuable than one life? Is that not comparing something totally valuable and thus denying it really is totally valuable?

Can you compare lives even when the five people are murderous paedophiles and the person on the side track is your beloved and noble spouse? Or the other way around?

The question asks that if you say you have no choice but to send the train at the one person then is it really true you have no choice?

The reality is that 999 out of a 1000 people will pull the lever if we are talking about ordinary five people on the main track and one ordinary person on the side track. 999 out of a 1000 will NOT pull the lever if it is the killer child abusers on the main track with a saintly spouse on the side track.

We see that those who are saying five lives weigh more than one do not really value lives and persons as much as they say.

Why stop there? Why not capture a healthy or dying person so that their organs might be harvested to save the lives of one child or ten children? Say there really is no other way? Say there is no alternative to letting the child or children die horribly?

We wonder if the reason you would not agree with the person being taken is that you could be seen as offering yourself for that purpose! Or you could be the one taken. That may be unlikely but it shows how selfish you are for you don't even want a small risk of that happening to you.

If you knowingly derail a train so it kills one person on a side track but spares five on the main track most people will intuit that you are behaving morally. But if you select a fat person, a sick person or a child to throw them on the track to stop the train and save the lives you are intuited as evil or immoral. Many people - not all! - will judge this action as despicable despite the fact that in both cases you are saving five lives by sacrificing one. Many would do what you did. There is no consistency.

This problem exposes us. It shows that morality is more about feeling you are a good person than any real concern for good or bad. Either way somebody is dead and that does not matter as much as your wish to see yourself as moral.

You may judge a person as moral if they derail the train and judge them as vile if they send it at the fat person/sick person/child. These days if it is a beautiful dog on the side track you will be despised too.

The pious say that sending the train at the fat person/sick person/child is wrong is because it is using a person as a means to an end.

They tell us it does not matter if it is a the fat person/sick person/child. But that alarms us too for we would say killing the child is worse.

Either way you are killing. You are the one sending the train to kill five people. Not acting is acting. You are the one who sends it to the side tract. The derailing is condemned because we are more hypocritical than we are moral. You have a weapon and it is going to kill either way.

Our love and goodness are not as squeaky-clean as we want to think and want others to think. That goodness is what we offer to God which shows that we think he is as morally dubious as us and we don't truly want a proper loving God but one that is on our side even if it is wrong.

What if it is one person on the track and sidetrack? The same debate happens and shows you are clearly regarding one person as being of lesser value.

The trolley dilemma is used in two disciplines. The one it was thought of for is social psychology. It was used as test to see that if we have a moral philosophy, if we are consistent with it in times of grave decision-making. It is a test to see if human nature will keep shifting from worrying about principles and mere consequences. You may say it is never right to accuse the innocent even to do huge good but you will do that when swayed by the good results of doing so. You may say it is wrong to sacrifice one innocent person for saving many as in the trolley dilemma but when you get the chance you will sacrifice that person. You will feel "moral" about it. The dilemma is used in philosophy as well to help decide if morality should be about consequences or principles when there is a conflict.

Imagine you could kill God. God is on the side track...most of us would kill him wouldn't we? What if Jesus was on it? This shows the inherent extremism of saying God comes first. It shows the cruelty if it is just man saying God is real and it is man's word you are taking. It is only mans' word you can take which shows the cruelty.

Imagine you could kill Satan? What if five Satans are on the main track and one on the side. What if Satan is only on the side track and good people are on the main?

The problem shows that carry tension in us about morality all the time even if we are not aware. Train problems happen all the time - it could be just between giving five people money or giving one money. Who is valuable enough for the gift?

Life is one big train problem of the extreme variety. The poor starve so we can have bread. We pretend to be good people and we get angry when challenged for we think if we rage and rant the true nature of what we are like will not be seen. We think our raging forcefulness shows that we are so good that nobody should suggest we are fakes.

It shows what we must really feel about morality. It shows why we hate those who do evil things for when doing the right thing can be hideous and terrible they are just doing terrible things. It makes us fear what dilemmas are going to have to be faced next over them!


Many horrible things such as torture and putting somebody to death may be rarely needed perhaps once every decade. People say we need a strict iron no exceptions prohibition on them to keep away the slippery slope. Human nature when it passes a moral line will go that bit further every time. You can guarantee that somebody will end up being tortured for nothing.

If you would push a person onto a track to derail a train to stop it killing five people further on down the track you are saying that sometimes you have to do something unthinkable to bring about the greatest good. Utilitarianism tells you to break rules to do the most good.  You would seem to be good.  Many would agree that you are.  Not all.

Two psychologist David Pizarro and Daniel Bartels found, “Participants who indicated greater endorsement of utilitarian solutions had higher scores on measures of Psychopathy, Machiavellianism, and life meaninglessness”.  This is a very interesting point.  Most of us agree with saving many by killing one.  Those who tell us not do admit that they agree 49% but disagree 51%.  It shows the corrupting effect of life for we all meet trolley problems one way or another daily.  Buying clothing for your children at "reasonable" prices is taking advantage of children in factories  who are paid next to nothing so that the clothing can be cheap.

Religion would say that if you push you are putting yourself in the place of God who alone should decide when a person should live or die. Now the God problem is not a problem if it is true that God has chosen you to be the way he takes the person’s life. Nobody would have the right to condemn you for they cannot prove you were defying God instead of co-operating. They have to either validate your choice or be agnostic or neutral.

Religion would add that we open the door to a way of thinking that can be too easily abused. You might kill the homeless person for their organs to save children’s lives.  They think there is a slippery slope.  If there is a God it is up to people to ask him for help to keep them good in the face of temptation and it is up to him to help. So assuming it opens the door to people being bad is cynical. But you will notice from examples of how some practice was validated and people abused it and so it counts as putting grease on a slope for people to slide down. But that is the past and God belief says it does not mean the same will happen this time.

Is the killing by itself the problem or the slippery slope? If both then what is the biggest concern?  If the killing is just wrong then is killing in self-defence wrong?  If the circumstances raise a slippery slope issue then unless killing is wrong in the first place this would not matter.  This shows there is incoherence here.

All you can say is that you are not really sure and morality is messy.  The mess, as the studies by psychologists show, seems to indicate that our real inner moral life will decline no matter how much we feign improvement.

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