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Sunday, December 8, 2013

Clang Went the Trolley

‘Would You Kill the Fat Man?’ and ‘The Trolley Problem’

By Sarah Bakewell
The New York Times
Originally published November 22, 2013

Here is an excerpt:

Nothing intrigues philosophers more than a phenomenon that seems simultaneously self-evident and inexplicable. Thus, ever since the moral philosopher Philippa Foot set out Spur as a thought experiment in 1967, a whole enterprise of “trolley­ology” has unfolded, with trolleyologists generating ever more fiendish variants. (Fat Man was developed by the philosopher Judith Jarvis Thomson, in 1985.)

Some find it frivolous: One philosopher is quoted as snapping, “I just don’t do trolleys.” But it really matters what we do in such situations, sometimes on a vast scale. In 1944, new German V-1 rockets started pounding the southern suburbs of London, though they were clearly aimed at more central areas. The British not only let the Germans think the rockets were on target, but used double agents to feed them information suggesting they should adjust their aim even farther south. The government deliberately placed southern suburbanites in danger, but one scientific adviser, whose own family lived in South London, estimated that some 10,000 lives were saved as a result. A still more momentous decision occurred the following year when America dropped atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on the argument that a quick end to the war would save lives — and by macabre coincidence, the Nagasaki bomb was nicknamed Fat Man.

The entire story is here.
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