Experimental Philosophy Blog
Originally published on 10/03/2013
You know the trolley problems, of course. An out-of-control trolley is headed toward five people it will kill if nothing is done. You can flip a switch and send it to a side track where it will kill one different person instead. Should you flip the switch? What if, instead of flipping a switch, the only way to save the five is to push someone into the path of the trolley, killing that one person?
In evaluating this scenario, does it matter if the person standing near the switch with the life-and-death decision to make is "John" as opposed to "you"? Nadelhoffer & Feltz presented the switch version of the trolley problem to undergraduates from Florida State University. Forty-three saw the problem with "you" as the actor; 65% of the them said it was permissible to throw the switch. Forty-two saw the problem with "John" as the actor; 90% of them said it was permissible to throw the switch, a statistically significant difference.