Train ImageToday I am going to present you with two scenarios frequently used in research examining moral judgments. Here we go….

1) You are standing at the side of a train track. You see a train approaching and, to your horror, realise that it is going to hit and kill five people standing on the track. However, you then realise that you can pull a lever and send the train onto another track, where it will only kill one person. Do you pull the lever?

2) There you are, standing on a bridge over a railway track. You see a train approaching and, to your horror, realise that it is going to hit and kill five people standing on the track. However, you then realise that there is a well-built man on the bridge, and if you push him off he will stop the train and prevent the deaths, but will be killed in the process. Do you push the man off the bridge?

I will give the necessary credits for the scenarios, and talk more about the answers, next week. However, for now……how would you act in each instance?

Update: To make it even more interesting, I have added two polls so that we can look at whether religious people make different decisions to atheists!

109 comments

  1. Eugh. 1. That’s a hard thing to say, but I’d probably pull the lever and run to save the other dude. I don’t think that’s impossible considering that if the lever is close-by.
    & For number two, I’d never, ever push the person off, I’d probably just try to yell at the five people to try to get them off.

  2. My gut reaction is 1) Yes 2) No.

    Trying to find a reason for this is more difficult than deciding. I know I’ve read about this test in some detail a year ago or so, but I can’t remember it clearly.

    Your example is worded as if in 1) the single person is on the tracks, and therefore already in potential danger, whereas the man in 2) is not expecting to be at risk.

  3. I’d make the decision to save the greater number in both scenarios… not sure if this reflects my military training or not – or simply that I have seen these many times before and also read the “explanations”…

    1. also indicates your a sociopath hahaha, logicality 😛 yes, would stem from military training where the perception of life is assessed more as a cost benefit as opposed to in 1 you will be distanced and not directly engaging in the act of killing someone (can mentally disassociate / excuse yourself from the act). Whereas, in two, you must directly engage in an act of knowingly taking a life (which military training has the foremost aim of enabling the ability to do so) which has exceedingly different implications for your actions. an interesting point to mention is that is whether you ‘think’ this is right or whether you ‘know’ that you should do it? (validate via right vs wrong as opposed to a rational process of thought) and further, does this change with how many people are on the track? what if it is 50 people on the track, would it make more ‘sense’ to push that person off? what if it was 100 children? what if the person on the bridge was a family member? what if you knew 100% that the person on the bridge was going to cure cancer/ was highly probable that they would soon (mostly for other people)?

  4. Exactly ditto Veetwo. Except when you made me look at it like that, I questioned the options. Were those the only solutions? Can’t I try and rescue ALL of them?

  5. This is silly and wholly academical.

    Even though you can reason about what you *want* yourself to do at such a moment, at the moment itself just about any factor will come into play except your morals;

    – The speed at which you recover from shock of realisation.
    – The ability to grasp quickly enough that there is a way to save 5 people.
    – The ability to grasp quickly enough that there is a downside to your solution.
    – The will to put yourself into motion even if you have decided (bunny in headlights).
    – The mood you are in (having been dumped, became bankrupt just today, etc).
    – The fact that there might be other people around (and then *nobody* does anything).

    Sorry Mr. Wiseman, but these stories are not tests of the subjects themselves, but rather are markers on how we *would like to see* our society act in such situations.

    Saying things like ‘I would such and so’ actually has to be translated into ‘I would like a person in such a situation to do such and so’.

    1. I agree with Adrianus, then the poll will show how beliefs change your like.
      If we change the question, and put a time stop at the decision point and give you 1 hour to think. Then the polls would have more correct results (due to Wiseman’s question).

      ps: timestop could be easily put by changing the transportation method to ship.

    2. It’s true that I would probably act differently in reality, but that’s not what this question is about. It’s about how we think about very similar situations in very different ways based on just a few factors.

      It’s hypothetical for a reason and there’s a reason my mind jumps right to how I’m sure I could not kill anyone if I did X. That’s why X is not an option here.

  6. These scenarios are terribly unrealistic and artificial,
    but I shall answer them nonetheless.
    1) Yes.
    2) Yes. (That fooled you, eh?)

    (BTW, I have high-functioning Asperger’s syndrome, and so am probably not all that representative of the man on the “Clapham Omnibus”.)

  7. Would not pull lever in first or push man would get ready to help the injured after the event. Its not possible to predict the deaths prior to event!!! what will be will be. This is not a question about morals but more about how a person reacts in the moment in the nano second that has nothing to do with your morals and I feel its wrong to say it has.

  8. Probably two times no. I don’t know if it should be up to me to make the decision who dies. Maybe a note; i’m not a religious person, this has nothing to do with god.

  9. The thing is, in a country such as the USA, one would be most probably be held responsible for taking action and thus killing a person. Not taking action would probably not be blamed. The most likely scenario is that if you take action and save 4, you will be prosecuted and jailed (or get death sentence). If you look the other way, you’re just an innocent bystander who needs psychological support after seeing such a terrible accident.

    Forgetting the crazy legal stuff, I really wouldn’t know what I would do if this really happened. Most probably everything would already have happened before I’d realize I could have saved 5 people by killing 1.

  10. 1) Assuming that either must die and there is no one can be saved, I would run with thinking that those 5 people are meant to be hit(which, in turn, lowers my responsibility in placing it in a higher power and less guilt for me for letting more people die etc)… in many cases, i don’t think it’s definite that 5 people are worth more than the life of 1. Not to mention, there is an over-population in the world!

    2) Same thing, I would let the people die. Odds are, in the group of people there is someone who is obese and lazy. Being built is probably a sign of someone who is driven and has a much larger appreciation for life and therefore not worth killing.

    With such thinking exercises, it’s not a good idea to focus on the numerous variables(emotion at the time etc) which could be there- it detracts from the exercise!

    1. “Being built is probably a sign of someone who is driven and has a much larger appreciation for life…”

      Or of being a narcissistic prick.

  11. I have to say no to both. Trains are noisy and can be felt through the earth several meters away. I find it hard to believe people could completely miss a train coming towards them and not move out of the way. Specifically dealing with 2, if the man was strong enough to stop the train I doubt I’m strong enough to push him off the bridge.

    @Adrianus
    The test is not meant to find out what you would literally do. I think psychologists are fully aware of the limitations that we humans have. The test is meant to discover your morals. It wants to find out what you want to do, what you feel is right.

    1. “Trains are noisy and can be felt through the earth several meters away.”

      I have to agree. OK, so one could argue they’re deaf or whatever, but they’d still *feel* it. And if they’re on the railway tracks in the first place, then sorry, but that was their own stupid decision.

      Would I feel guilty? Of course, and in fact I’d probably lose it. But that’s irrational me talking; rational me says they should have known better.

      No to two also, for same reasons, compounded by the facts that (a) I’m not going to *actively* top anyone and (b) as Nunquam Secutus states, he’s probably too heavy.

      In both cases I’d probably just scream at the morons on the track to get off it.

  12. Wow, I changed my mind about three times while mulling this one over, so that suggests I’d be frozen in indecison, and not do anything!

    Ultimately I’ve decided not to act in either circumstance. In the first case, the person on the other track is not initially in any danger. In the second case, neither is the man I could push. In both circumstances the 5 individuals on the train tracks are in danger.

    Given free will, and also the notion of personal responsibility, the 5 individuals who have placed themselves in danger by walking onto a railway line ought to face the consequences in this circumstance. Regardless of the quantative morality of losing 1 life to save 5, it would be unreasonable to expect the individuals who have not placed themselves in danger to die in order to save the 5 who have.

    If either option allowed me the option of sacrificing myself to save the five, I’d have to think a bit longer before refusing .. just for the look of it you know. And if any of the 5 were people I loved, then the outcome might almost certainly be different. That’s if I could do my moral calculations quickly enough. And in the circumstance, if I could very quickly pass of the responsibility of making a decision to someone else – preferably a steering committee – that’s what I’d choose first 🙂

  13. 1) no. 2) no. I think instinct is more likely to allow one to sacrifice your own life for others before you sacrifice another’s life. But would I jump onto the tracks? Hmmm.

  14. – Why are these idiots standing on the tracks to begin with?
    – Can’t they tell the train is coming? (sound, vibration)
    – Why don’t they move their lazy arses out of the way?

    and other such questions.

  15. No and No. To me, the choices aren’t will you save the greater number but would you knowingly kill people who would live if you did nothing.

  16. Yes and no.

    In the first case, all persons are standing on railway tracks, so sacrificing one for five when all six are equally responsible for their own predicament seems reasonable, and although this is purely artificial, I could see myself actually responding that way.

    In the second case, you have five people (willfully) standing in harm’s way and one innocent bystander. Add to that the emotionally more difficult decision to kill someone with your own hands (as opposed to pulling a lever and trading one life for five), and I’m pretty sure I’d be incapable of pushing the one guy into the path of the train (ignoring for a moment the problem of being able to move someone with sufficient mass to stop a speeding train). You could tweak the scenario in one of several ways and I might change my answer, but as it’s presented, the folks on the tracks are doomed.

  17. Err… the parenthetical “(willfully)” was meant to have a question mark. Are they there by choice? That might be a factor.

  18. There’s no way I could actually push a man off onto the tracks, and although I see that it’s a similar situation, I would feel a lot better pulling the lever. There’s a disconnect, as if it’s not a direct action like using someone to block a train is. But I would still feel terrible doing both actions to save the five individuals.

  19. 1) Pull the lever
    The one family damning me for condemning their loved one to death is countered by the families of the 5 I had the choice to save. Possibly their thanks would sway the larger community to praise me for my actions.

    2) Do nothing and tell the big fella, “Woah, there’s something I wish I could erase from memory.”
    Throwing someone under protest into the path of a train, even if it saves 5, isn’t going to garner enough support from the 5 families to shield me from the family of the man I pushed coupled with the community outcry for my reprehensible act.

  20. Ooooo ………. I’ve just had a thought, are the 5 all super models who would be eternally grateful to the person who saved their lives? ……. the answer could change my actions dramatically ………

  21. Limiting the poll to binary options makes it easier to try and think of this in purely theoretical terms. Of course the first thing I think is “can’t I just yell at the 5 idiots (assuming they’re idiots, which seems likely) to get them off the tracks?” but I know the test isn’t about that.

    I voted as an atheist before I read the comments. Jim (second comment) exactly described my experience as well:

    “My gut reaction is 1) Yes 2) No.

    Trying to find a reason for this is more difficult than deciding. I know I’ve read about this test in some detail a year ago or so, but I can’t remember it clearly.”

    I’m much stronger on 2 than on 1. I would never push a guy off a bridge into the path of a train no matter what. The first one feels less personal although I still doubt I’d be able to live with myself afterwards.

    And as Jason commented, I spent so much time haggling over the answer that probably “try to help the (allegedly) idiot victims” is the most honest answer for me in both cases.

  22. Logically, (and Spock would agree with me here), Yes and Yes.

    But then I actually put down Yes and No, (and after thinking about it more would change to No and No), because people, including me, would find an abstract concept of killing a person to save others, much more difficult if they had to physically do it hands on. For instance, I like eating meat; but would find killing cuddly little lambs for my dinner difficult. Not a moral issue but just me being squeamish 😉

    I’m sure soldiers find the same; easier to press a button, pull a lever than push somebody off a bridge with your own hands; hence capital punishment tools like the electric chair that try to seperate people from the action, even though the result is the same.

    The wording of the same ‘moral’ puzzle would affect the results; what if by actively murdering somebody and havesting their body organs you could save five innocent young lives? What if a man with a gun was reloading and about to shoot five people and you could kill him with your car? If the gun man was wearing a police or soldiers uniform?

    How is this different from the train exercise?

  23. Nice to see a classic morals experiment used again, and from the comments it seems the results will replicate the earlier ones. I don’t think it will make a difference if people are religious or not, but that’s the point to be proven anyway…

  24. If I had to, I would jump infront of the train rather than make that descision for someone else.

    I would of course rather the man jumped before I could.

    So not enough options for a moral experiment.

  25. Brilliant case. Most people, including myself, find it much easier to pull the lever than too push the person. Why? In effect you’re doing the exact same thing: killing a person in order to save five others.

    The difference is not rational; is just that it seems less like killing when there’s a mechanism between you and him. It’s just like most people would never take a coin from a tip jar at work, because thats considered stealing, but at the same time one wouldn’t be concerned about taking pens, paper etc from work, even if the actual value is bigger.

    Anyone who find these irrationalities of our ethics and desicions fascinating, should watch the lecture “Predictably irrational” by Dan Ariely at Authors@Google.

  26. I said no to both. I’d be shouting “get off the tracks you eejits”! My father in law worked for BR so I have no patience for folks mucking around near trains.

  27. I used to raid as a healer in WoW. I’d quite often have to make the choice between saving few vs. saving many. I’d invariably choose to save those I knew were vital to our success, even if I knew this meant saving arrogant jerks rather than people I truly liked and respected.

    But in this scenario, all I have to go on are numbers. Do five lives count more than one, if all I have to do is to flip a switch? What if I physically have to throw someone on the track? I’ll have to go with no and no. Because numbers alone tell me nothing, I’d not feel that I had the right to act.

    Now, if I thought I recognized, say, the next Albert Einstein among those five, I’d probably try to throw that dude onto the tracks, even if I wasn’t 100% sure of success. But that’s a whole other kettle of fish.

  28. It’s interesting to see how many people try to twist the scenario in order to avoid answering it. “I’d shout at the people” for example … can’t you just take the scenario as it is written and work within the implied constraints? 🙂

  29. Ugh, ethical dilemmas. The best way to take morality out of the real world and abstract it beyond all reason. It’s an interesting distinction between action and inaction, but in reality we would no doubt yell at people to get off the damn tracks, and perhaps attempt to rescue the solitary chap in the first scenario after pulling the lever.

    I remember a similar dilemma used in support of utilitarianism.

    I’ll be interested in the results, though.

  30. Speaking from experience, I am guessing that most of those who answered yes to either question wouldn’t actually do anything at all if push came to shove, but wait for someone else to do something…

    The reason I voted no & no was that apart from the fact that I couldn’t kill anyone, I was thinking that if there is enough time for me to pull the lever, then there must be enough time for those five people to jump off the track; and they MIGHT just notice that there’s a train coming towards them, whereas that one person who’s got no train coming towards him at the moment wouldn’t stand a chance in hell!

  31. Ha ha well if the train in question IS the Upfield train (supplied by the oh so horrid Connex train system) then I wouldn’t be stuck in this dilemma.
    The train would either be so delayed that all parties could be rescued better still the train would be cancelled and replaced with buses for the next day and a half which would have extended our travel time by at least 30 minutes in the sweltering heat and we’d all have to listen to Connex ‘apologise for the inconvenience’ over the P.A. system…anyway back to the dilemma.

    This is a horrible problem I came across in first year philosophy and I believe I went the utilitarian way the first way and chose to pull the lever but not push the man. My doing a direct action by pushing the fat man in front of the on coming train seemed to suggest that I was an amoral person despite the fact that pulling the lever amounts to the same action. It’s just feels more heroic pulling a lever and saving five then pushing a man in front of a train and saving five.

  32. Richard, this is not a serious inquiry into the relative morality of the religious and the nonreligious. It is obvious that moral decisions take place every moment of the day, and not in absurdly staged scenarious like the one in question. Furthermore, moral scenarios are messy, but there is no room in this test to

    a) shout to the people on the track
    b) jump in front of the train yourself
    c) any other thing you can think of

    …as there would be in the real world.

    To suggest that this test signifies anything at all just further idiocratises the already active debate about the role of religion in human life, which already suffers from a huge amount of misinformation.

    If you’re going to interrogate and investigate the role of religion, you owe it to yourself, and to your readers, to do so intelligently and not with fallacious appeals to the lowest common denominator.

  33. 1) Critical information missing. Is the one person on the line Daddypapersurfer?

    2) I’m far too delicate to be able to push a big fat person anywhere.

  34. no to both, for similar reasons as have already been given. i have no sympathy for 5 people stupid enough to put themselves in the path of an oncoming train. not religious.

  35. I know, logically, that it would be better to sacrifice one person to save five. On the other hand I also know that, if I were actually there in the thick of it, I’d be unable to bring myself to take action in either scenario.

    It’s one thing to say it’s ethical pull the lever or push the man while I’m sitting at my computer in my nice cozy house. But actually being there and actually doing it?

  36. I will say both yes because i follow this principle called principal of utility

    from the book Think by Judith A.Boss

    hehe

  37. I wouldn’t want to actively engage in anything that would result in the death of someone. However, being an witness is different. As another commenter stated, there are other options, such as shouting at the morons on the track, which is probably what I’d do.

  38. These people are walking on a train track. If they are not looking out for the possibility of a train traveling down it then they must be expecting to be hit or extremely lacking in the common sense department.

    I voted no action on both counts. If it were for real, of course, there would be other things you could try and do, e.g. shouting and throwing things to attract attention; so I don’t consider my choices to be immoral.

    If anything, I’m more worried about the man on the other track’s morals. Surely he’s in the closest position to save the 5 people?

  39. Before taking action, I would need to know the political affiliation of those involved, then their favorite sports team, or if any of them are lawyers… lots of factors could sway the decision. “Hold still a minute, Senator…”

  40. I don’t think that a religious/spiritual person would do much different from the atheist/agnostic put directly into the situation. Yes, they may think they would act differently based upon their views of life, but unless they have been in that particular or extremely similar situation, then there’s no telling what people would do in the given situation. This in my opinion renders the test of morality in the 4 groups mentioned useless.

    In my experience the majority of people have a tendency to think too highly about themselves and their actions. I’m quite sure that a lot of those that think themselves as “the saviour”, will when put in the situation, do everything in their power to avoid getting involved. “It will be taken care of, it isn’t as bad as it looks”, and “I cannot get involved, I have to [insert excuse here]”. There are truly altruistic people in the world who will stop and start helping, but the majority would rather get out of there as fast as possible, preferably before anyone saw them at the scene.

    Some of the other commenters have mentioned lack of possibililties and information – apart from those mentioned (at the time of reading) – I think the option “I would walk away” is missing.

    In essence we’ve all been asked to hypothetically act as Executors, deciding who gets to live and who gets to die. If we make the brain experiment that the above situations are what you have left after having exhausted all other posibilities – then perhaps people would feel differently, but then again, Even if people say one thing in the relative safety behind their monitors – they may be very surprised if they are ever put in that particular situation.

  41. I have to admit to being somewhat fascinated about what answers indicate morality here, because the more I consider the question, the more I see a multitude or moral options.

    1) Switch the train and kill one unsuspecting bystander, but save 5 apparently doomed innocents

    * Moral because you are saving 5 presumably innocent lives
    * Immoral because you are randomly killing an innocent, judging them to be worth less than the other 5 lives on a purely numerical basis

    2) Don’t switch the train, and ‘allow’ 5 apparently doomed innocents to die, whilst letting an unsuspecting bystander live
    * Moral because you have no right to kill an unsuspecting bystander in order to assuage the death of 5 others.
    * Immoral because you allowed 5 to die when you could have switched it and allowed only one to die

    3) Push the fat guy in front of the train to save 5 apparently doomed innocents from imminent death
    * Moral because you save 5 apparently innocent lives
    * Immoral because you’ve selected a completely unsuspecting stranger and killed him to save 5 other people

    4) Don’t push the fat guy, and allow the 5 to die
    * Immoral because the death toll could have been lower
    * Moral because you’ve chosen not to kill a person

    In terms of religion, I find it hard to see how it informs us here. My christian atheist background recalls that one of the commandments says that thou shalt not kill. So this is clearly a guide that says don’t be making any decision that could lead to you being directly responsible for the death of another. I also recall something about a good samaritan going out of his way to help a stranger, so I should be attempting to do something for the 5 people in trouble. I’m pretty sure the commandment would win out in the Christian Ethics ranking, but I admit to not really knowing. I don’t know how the Koran, or buddhism, or other theisms would help, I suspect they’d all be similarly unclear.

    There is a lot of talk about “responsibility” in earlier comments, and I find this interesting. My initial response, which was to switch the lines, but not push the fat guy, was based on a quick mental summation based on the fact that the ultimate cause of death in the first scenario wouldn’t be my flicking of the switch, but being hit by a train. I’m not driving the train, ergot, the death was not caused by me. In the second scenario I just couldn’t find a way to justify being directly responsible for killing one person, in order to stop the deaths of 5 other people for whom I would not be the ‘guilty’ party.

    But responsibility is not really at issue here. One should feel a responsibility to act in the best interests of others, even where one is not a player in the setup of a scenario. It bothers me that actions involved in my final choice were the same actions that would be involved if I had made no choice, because this somehow diminishes the choice that I actually made.

    This bothers me because ultimately, I feel that the “moral” choice here is not which action one takes, but whether one actually can make a choice. To decide that one need not make a decision because “it’s not my responsibility” is the only scenario where I feel a person is abbrogating some moral requirement to contemplate acting to change a forthcoming tragedy. Being a valueless, uncaring bystander is, in my opinion, the only truly immoral position.

  42. Interesting. I know myself. I would be totally unable to act and would stand there wringing my hands trying to find a way to save everyone. I can’t even bring myself to kill a bug ( except cockroaches and flys).

  43. Yes and no. I would pull the leaver to save the majority but I would never be able to justify the decision as right to myself. I wouldn’t push the guy because there is only a chance he could save the people and that would mean sacrificing someone who isn’t dumb enough to stand in the way of a train.

  44. I voted pull lever and push man as I was answering the question as an “intellectual excercise” I know regret this kinda suspecting I wouldn’t push the man in real life (or away from keyboard as the saying goes…)

  45. Pull the lever-ABSOLUTELY
    Push the fat bastard-ABSOLUTELY NOT

    PS: This is what I think is the right thing to do. I can’t guarantee what my actual actions would be in reality when you don’t have much time to think or other factors come in. For example if I did not know the 5 people but the other person on the other rail was my child, I would never pull that lever.

  46. I know that people are more likely to flip the switch than push the man because I’m aware of the study. I can see that the dehumanising variable that the dilemma creates is one that holds true in realistic situations and is partly why bureaucracies are so efficient at shunting blame around.

    If the previous results of the study are true of most people then I’m guessing that the law would have a similar perspective and consider flipping-a-switch to be more acceptable, when the pushing would not be. Doesn’t this create a feedback loop on the moral decision in which we amplify the consequences of the action through the eyes of others?

    Which brings me to why I haven’t answered the question: Partly to avoid skewing the result for this reason (and perhaps others), and partly because in reality, like others, I would find the situation too surreal/traumatic to deal with and the default position would be the result. It would not be a moral decision that I took to let 5 people die, but a hopeless by-product of anxious de-realisation. Even if this was not the case, I’m far too indecisive to make quick decisions and the default would stick.

    On a side note: I have a hard time believing that a well-built man would stop a train even if you assured me he would, not that I would otherwise be inclined to push him.

  47. There is an important missing info with the problem. The problem assumes that we know the result which would never happen in life. We mostly guess the result, and the percentage of guessing wrong changes our decision.
    For ex:
    What if is the guy standing already had the solution and will react soon ?
    What if the situation has no problems at all and i see it wrong ?
    What if the guy standing is a nobel prized genious ?
    etc..

  48. Ayn Rand once said “people don’t live in lifeboats” in response to insipid questions like this.

    She’s right.

  49. I would have to not change any thing, to know that I have purposely killed someone is a lot more scary in my head that to know I didn’t stop someone from dying.

  50. I am not going to take any willful action to save people stupid enough to be standing on railroad tracks.

    Realizing it’s a ludicrous hypothetical situation makes this decision even easier. Perhaps something more realistic would allow me to consider it more profoundly.

  51. People really need to get a grasp on how thought experiments work. You don’t get to make up what you would do. You don’t get to say “why are those idiots on the tracks anyway, can’t they hear/feel/see the train?” You are given the situation and a number of possible responses, you choose one and you give your reasoning. You don’t get to make up ways around answering the question just because you don’t like your options. And you can’t invoke real-life comparisons. “I couldn’t push a heavy person,” etc. It’s a *thought* experiment. It’s not meant to be played out in reality. This one is designed to examine people’s reaction to achieving the same end by different means (more vs. less passive killing of one to save five). Personally, I see pulling a lever to kill a person as equivalent to pushing the person into the same fatal situation, so my answer will be the same for both scenarios.

  52. I would pull the lever. I would never push the man unless of course one of my children was on the tracks, in which case I would do whatever it took to save them including jumping on track to push them off.

  53. Instant reaction: No. No.

    Honest – instant reactions. To explain has taken a few minutes to compose, but here goes.

    The five people on the one line are as stupid as the one person on the other.

    Here comes the religious bit: Darwin is correct, Creationists are not. So, eliminate the 5 weakest rather than the 1 eejit.

    The fat man has (a) absolutely nothing to do with the crisis, and (b) the idea that 20 stones can stop 3,000 tons (at any speed at all) is ludicrous.

    The answer to Q1 is contingent upon not knowing / being related to any of the 5 eejits. Even then, I would probably sleep better by letting things go, other than shouting like crazy!

    1. Victor, who says that the people on the tracks are ‘weak’ in terms of evolution? Intelligence is not necessarily the trait favoured by nature.

  54. Assuming that there’s no other way to solve these problems, I’d probably pull the lever. However, the pushing the well-built man scenario is tricky, especially since I AM a well-built man. Why don’t I just jump onto the tracks instead? If my option is only to push the guy or not, I don’t think I would. He’s just minding his own business from the safety of a bridge. He’s not an idiot standing on the train tracks, so why should he have to die? If my options are to jump into death’s maw myself or push the other guy, honestly, I think I’d rather push the other guy. Although, again, I’d probably do neither and just let the people on the tracks die.

  55. Really, I made a choice here, but I hate these kinds of questions. I have no idea what I would really do, probably be paralyzed by the situation and do nothing. Maybe I should have said not pull or push after all.

  56. My choice: 1 – No; 2 – No. I think I don’t have the right to cause the death (directically or indirectically) of someone who wasn’t in any dangerous situation even if it is necessary to save the lives of several people (doesn’t matter how many there are) who already are at a serious risk of death – unless that person tells me to do so.
    Nevertheless i would try other means of saving that group of five.

    P.S.: I’m not a religious person.

  57. No and no. In either case I actively cause at least one person to die, whether I consider the level “actively” or not. Obviously I wouldn’t be happy in any of these circumstances, but I’d be able to sleep better at night if I knew I didn’t make the call, and instead passively sat in the sidelines and despaired.

    If, on the other hand, the people were yelling to me, pleading, or consenting to die, that would change the equation.

  58. I would watch as the train killed them.
    What are those stupid shits doing on the tracks??? What are they all deaf??? I’ve played on tracks and getting hit by a train requires being REALLY stupid. If they work there then they should know better so they are stupid. If they dont work there then they are just plain stupid.
    Letting stupid people die raises the overall intelligence of the collective.
    I’m not stupid enough to be on the tracks so why should a smart person sacrifice himself for any number of idiots????

  59. These questions are SUPPOSED to illuminate the difference between pulling a lever (a mechanical process), and actually PUSHING someone to their deaths – while logically you’re doing the same thing, the second one is suppose to FEEL like doing something worse.

    HOWEVER I can’t answer the poll, because the second question is FLAWED . I’ve read it in psychology books before, it seems to be a favorite example. The first one is more strait-forward – pulling the lever guarantees that five will be saved but one will die.

    In the second question, pushing the “well built” man (simple overweight in some examples), has no guarantee of saving the people on the track – you may just end up killing SIX people, instead of five.

    Therefore any polls done with this example are useless, someone needs to come up with an example that is definitive for both instances (and you can’t just say it’s definitive either, it has to make sense).

    There are other problems, but this one always struck me as the most obvious road block to getting a clear answer.

  60. I can see where this is going 🙂
    it’s about responsability, if the train is about to hit 5 people then I really have no controll over the situation, but by adding a lever you give me choice, but in a situation like that I wouldn’t want choice, so I would let 5 people die, as if i was to pull the lever I would feel like I murdered someone, despite saving 4 more people, so yeah grr him 🙂

  61. I voted I would not pull the leaver or push the man. My reasoning is not so much about my moral standards, but more than I honestly don’t think I have the capability in me to kill another person, even if killing that one person would save multiple others from being killed. Pulling the lever or pushing the man feels too much to me like a pro-active strike which is something I really am not comfortable with, despite the fact logically it can easily be the better, smarter, more life saving action.

  62. The intuition for yes/no is that, at the time we take any action, we do not know with certainty what the actual result will be. The stipulation of the question that the actions will have exactly the consequences described can’t overcome the fact that that’s not something we can use as a moral guide.

    Nagel dealt with this in his essay Moral Luck — actions have varying probabilities of creating future states, so it’s not enough to look at what actually ended up happening to evaluate the moral character of the action.

    The action of throwing the lever has a probability of 100% of saving 5 people on track A, and some probability > 0% of killing the 1 person on track B. On the other hand, the action of pushing the big man onto the track has a 100% chance of killing him (discounting the probability of succeeding in pushing him), while a > 0% but a priori quite small probability of saving everyone on the track.

    Discussions of agency (direct vs. indirect killing) seem to work well for this situation but don’t work if you scale the problem up from 5 people to, say, 5 million people.

  63. It depends why the people are on the tracks. If it was a bunch of people acting stupidly on train tracks I’d treat the situation differently to if it was a bunch of people who had a valid reason to be there (let’s say track inspection).

  64. Not enough info. Am I killing one old dude or 5 old folks? Also, how fast is the train going? If I throw a switch and the train derails I can kill an awful lot more. I’ll second what Paolo said because there are enough morons on the planet and I wouldn’t want to kill someone doing an honest job to save a pack of morons.

  65. Pushing the man off the bridge will do absolutely nothing to save the five people. Either the train will just keep going as normal and hit the five people anyway(by far the most likely scenario) or the five people are far enough down the track that they can just move away themselves or the man is somekind of a freakish mutant in which case you aren’t pushing him anywhere. It is a completely silly proposition.
    As for the lever, it depends on the speed of the train, distance from the people on the tracks and position of the intersection. My most likely course of action in this case would be to grab the nearest loose objects, throw it at the five people and signal for them to move off the tracks.

  66. i think i might be too shocked to act at all
    but if i can, i would pull the lever but not push the man.
    i don’t think i would even be able to come up with the idea of pushing the man to save more lives…

  67. How come the question does not allow one to answer that they would throw themselves over to stop the train? Just curious, and I don’t suppose most people would choose the option but it is another solution to the problem.

  68. Hi,

    I think in case 1) i will not pull the lever however i’ll shout loudly to make the people know that the train is coming & anyway the driver will blow the horn with the good distance. By pulling the lever i can divert the train to another track but then there are chances of big accident from coming the train from opposite site.

    in case 2) there is no point or right to me to kill a innocent man to save other people.

    Let the situation to be handle to driver. He must be learned in his job how to handle such situations.

  69. I would pull the lever and save the group, and then run and shout at the other person. However, as mentioned above, this could divert the train into the path of another train.
    I think I would pull it, but do I have the knowledge required to do so – can i be sure what the lever does? Assuming I have that knowledge, I would pull it. As i said, though, this could be a terrible decision.

    I would never murder someone by pushing them under a train. I know that effectively the situations are the same (one dies or five dies) but the reality is more nuanced.

    Can you be sure that Mr Big will stop the train?

    Can you be sure that the group will not move in time?

    Are they definitely in the path of the train?

    And so on. Nuances.

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  74. Even if the scenario were true, wont even bother to pull the lever or the push the man. Be realistic, Richard. Is yr IQ LOW?

  75. I would save all 6. I would pull the lever and jump in front of the train cause if it hits me it would stop and I would jump down instead of push the guy.

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