What Would You Do?

A railway trolley is moving at a speed of 60 kilometers per hour. The driver notices five men engaged in maintenance work on the same set of tracks. He applies the brake. The brake fails. The driver has no control over the trolley and prepares for the worst.

As the trolley approaches the men, the driver notices that there is a deviation available. The “steering wheel” is still functioning and the driver can divert the train.

There is a problem. On the other set of tracks is one person apparently engaged in a different type of maintenance.

Here is the dilemma. If the driver does nothing, the five men will surely be killed. If he diverts the trolley, the individual going about his work will die.

Assume you are the driver of the trolley.

What would you do? Why?

Now consider the same problem with a twist. The set of tracks runs right under a bridge. You are standing on the bridge enjoying the gentle breeze. Next to you, a person weighing over 300 pounds is standing, doing the same thing (enjoying the breeze). An idea enters your mind. Suppose you were to push the person. The person would fall right on to the tracks on which the trolley is hurtling.

Probably, the trolley will hit the person and kill that person. However, the trolley would stop or slow down or be derailed. The five men on the set of tracks and the individual on the adjacent set of tracks would be saved.

What would you do? Why?

How are the two situations different?

We face dilemmas every day. We don’t pause to think. If you are interested to learn more, you can look for and read the concept of the consequential imperative and the categorical imperative in moral philosophy.

Yours in dilemma,

Dilshad and Krishna



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