The Trolley Problem And The Morality Of Killing

1340 words - 5 pages

Essay topicThe Trolley Problem and the Morality of KillingIntroductionThe Trolley problem, first introduced by Philippa Foot, is one thought-experiment that creates a moral dilemma in many. Such moral dilemmas arise from conflicting moral principles - while one principle says we should save as many lives as we can, another tells us it is wrong to kill an innocent person, even for a good cause. Herein, we face a moral quandary. In order to resolve this tension, we ought to rethink the principles we initially espoused.PrinciplesTwo general principles can be identified to explain the conflicting intuitions - the "best consequences" principle (BCP) and the "sanctity of life" principle (SOL). BCP believes one should always strive to bring about the best achievable outcome, while SOL believes that the taking of (human) life is intrinsically wrong and hence impermissible.ContentionThe Trolley problem shows us that when we are confronted with moral dilemmas, we conceive moral argument as a dialectic between our judgments about particular situations and the principles we affirm on reflection.Killing and letting dieIn the Trolley problem, most people would think that sacrificing one life in order to save five does seem the right thing to do. BCP is in tandem with majority's judgment here. However, when the SOL argument is raised, a state of perplexity seems to be created.Even though five lives are going to be lost if the bystander does not flip the switch, proponents of SOL are convinced that this is the right course of action to take. To them, the number of lives to be saved is an irrelevant consideration. They believe that the sanctity of life has a special and superior status compared to other ethical principles such as utility.Though seemingly convincing, upon closer analysis, we identify an inherent contradiction in the SOL principle: while the principle seems to be an expression of our respect for human lives, this very same principle thinks it is permissible to let five lives die. One finds it hard to grapple with this inconsistency.Perhaps, proponents of SOL will go on to argue that moral wrongness lies in knowingly killing the person. According to them, morality is located in intentions and it is the consciousness that makes the act of flipping the switch morally impermissible. In James Rachels' essay 'Killing and Letting Die', he gave the following example:"We allow people to die, for example, when we fail to contribute money to famine-relief efforts; but even if we feel somewhat guilty, we do not consider ourselves murderers."Likewise in the case of Trolley, SOL tells us that while it is morally deplorable for the bystander to actively participate in the killing of someone by flipping the switch, 'letting' five others die is less blameworthy. According to the SOL, this difference between action and inaction is what that matters.However, the following illustration proves otherwise:"A woman wants her uncle dead, and she gives him poison in his...

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