Using moral shorthand to deal with philosophical thought experiments

by phil on Sunday May 9, 2010 10:51 AM

Two similar moral scenarios:

  1. You're a trolley driver, and there are five construction workers in your path. If you switch tracks, though, you'll only kill one construction worker on the sidetrack.
  2. A trolley is about to plow into five construction workers, but if you shove a large man onto the track, you'll slow down the trolley and save the workers.
If the probabilities are known 100%, then both choices are equal. But even though we don't live with perfect knowledge of probabilities, we can still make judgments using human moral shorthand: The first choice leads to an "incidental death" because you had to take the side track; The second one is an "opportunistic death" because there might've been other ways to stop the train, or because shoving the man was not guaranteed to work.

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