Would You Kill the Fat Man?

Would You Kill the Fat Man?

The Trolley Problem and What your Answer Tells Us About Right and Wrong

Book - 2013
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Baker & Taylor
Examines the history of the moral "trolley" problem, discussing why philosphers have struggled with the ethical dilemma the problem describes, and how each individual's answer indicates a great deal about personal and universal morality.

Princeton University Press

A runaway train is racing toward five men who are tied to the track. Unless the train is stopped, it will inevitably kill all five men. You are standing on a footbridge looking down on the unfolding disaster. However, a fat man, a stranger, is standing next to you: if you push him off the bridge, he will topple onto the line and, although he will die, his chunky body will stop the train, saving five lives. Would you kill the fat man?


The question may seem bizarre. But it's one variation of a puzzle that has baffled moral philosophers for almost half a century and that more recently has come to preoccupy neuroscientists, psychologists, and other thinkers as well. In this book, David Edmonds, coauthor of the best-selling Wittgenstein's Poker, tells the riveting story of why and how philosophers have struggled with this ethical dilemma, sometimes called the trolley problem. In the process, he provides an entertaining and informative tour through the history of moral philosophy. Most people feel it's wrong to kill the fat man. But why? After all, in taking one life you could save five. As Edmonds shows, answering the question is far more complex--and important--than it first appears. In fact, how we answer it tells us a great deal about right and wrong.



Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University Press, 2013
ISBN: 9780691154022
0691154023
Branch Call Number: 150 CHURC EDMON
Characteristics: 220 pages ; cm

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1aa
Nov 28, 2015

The weakest part of the book is the first thirty or so pages where he just writes in a gossipy about the lives of Foot and others.
Apart from that, its entertaining and clear, but it doesn't get much in to the details or complexities of 'trolleyology' (that's where the fun really is). A good bibliography and clear notes are included.

ksoles Mar 08, 2014

Is it justifiable to steer a train away from five people tied to the track when, as a result, an individual on a side track will perish? Is it morally acceptable to cause the death of one man in order to save five innocent lives? What about pushing a large man off a footbridge to block a runaway train that is hurtling towards five people tied to a track? In his provocative new book, "Would You Kill the Fat Man?", David Edmonds demonstrates the fun of philosophical discussions. He presents a number of thought experiments that pique interest, stimulate curiosity and "test our moral intuitions." Although some of Edmonds' scenarios sound far-fetched, they succeed in motivating us to ponder complex ethical issues.

"Would You Kill the Fat Man?" provides an immensely pleasurable read. Neither ponderous nor pretentious, Edmonds explains technical terms such as the "Doctrine of Double Effect" clearly and concisely. In addition, he deftly mixes law, evolutionary biology, linguistics, medicine, psychology, and sociology in his effort to explain why we act as we do. Do we make specific moral distinctions instinctually? Does a person's geographical/cultural background influence his/her behaviour? Finally, the author includes intriguing anecdotes about figures like Winston Churchill, Grover Cleveland, and Harry Truman, all of whom had to make extremely controversial decisions.

The book does not supply conclusive answers though it does have practical implications. Soldiers might have to attack a military installation, knowing they might kill civilians in the process; agencies invade people's privacy with hopes of foiling terrorist plots; law enforcement officials deceive suspects to make them reveal vital information. Every day, in both dramatic and mundane situations, each of us must make moral and ethical judgments.

No "one-size-fits-all" solution exists. Even if some convince themselves to push the fat man off the footbridge, for others, no rationalization could eliminate the guilt that might ensue. We all think, cry and laugh differently; we all have memories and, in most cases, feel empathy for others. "Would You Kill the Fat Man?" ultimately encourages us to reflect on Kant's statement: "Persons must never be treated merely as a means to some other end."

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