Consider the following scenario, “Going Deeper: The Trolley Problem”, from Chapter 3 of your textbook:
What if you could save five lives in a way that results in the death of a single person? If the overall consequences were the same, would it matter if you were intentionally harming that person or not? This problem is raised by the philosopher Philippa Foot (2002c) in her famous “trolley problem.”
Imagine that you are a standing next to a railroad track, and a runaway train is careening down the track. In the path of the train are five workers (let’s suppose they cannot escape the path of the train; perhaps they are in the middle of a long, narrow bridge high above a ravine). You know that if the train continues on its path, it will certainly kill those five workers.
However, you see that there is a sidetrack, and on the sidetrack is a single worker. Let’s also suppose that you know that if the train goes onto the sidetrack, that single worker will be killed.
As it happens, you are standing next to a lever that can send the train onto the sidetrack. Therefore, you are faced with a decision: to pull the lever and send the train to the sidetrack, killing the one worker but sparing the five, or do nothing and allow the train to continue on its course, killing the five workers. [There is an interactive illustration of this in your textbook, so be sure to take a look.] Ask yourself, should you pull the lever?
Now consider this slight variation, also from your textbook:
Instead of standing next to a lever that can switch the train to another track, you are standing on a bridge overlooking the track, and next to you is a very large man (think someone the size of an NFL lineman – someone who is just big, not necessarily obese or otherwise unhealthy). He’s leaning precariously over the railing such that barely a push would send him over the railing and onto the tracks. Let’s suppose that he’s large enough to stop the train, thus sparing the five workers, but his own life will be lost. Let’s also suppose that you aren’t large enough to stop the train, so it would do no good to throw yourself over. Ask yourself, should you throw the large man over the bridge?
Do you find yourself agreeing with the utilitarian about the answer to the first scenario but not the second one? If so, explain what accounts for that difference. Does this point to objections, limitations, or flaws in the utilitarian approach? Explain
The Utilitarian approach would suggest that the outcome be for the greatest happiness for the greatest number. When deciding whether or not to pull the lever and send the train on the sidetrack to kill one single worker or allow the train to continue on its course and kill the five workers the utilitarian would say that pulling the lever and killing the single worker would produces the greatest number of happiness for the greatest number. According to Thames (2018), “If the “best outcomes” means those that contain greatest overall happiness compared with the outcomes of alternative actions, then we would expect that the kinds of actions that we call noble or praiseworthy are motivated by this aspiration toward the happiness of all, even when that requires the sacrifice of one’s personal happiness” (Section 3.1, para. 24). The happiness of the five workers outweigh the happiness of the single worker, so therefore, killing the single worker creates the greatest happiness for the greater number of people. This would be the same case for the second scenario that suggest sending a large man onto the tracks would benefit the greatest number of people
I would disagree with both scenarios because each do not respect the value of the one being sacrificed to save the greatest number of people. Harming or even ending someone’s life to achieve the greater good and it goes against morality. Because innocent people will be killed for the greatest number of people then the value of one’s life as an individual person to be able to choose for themselves whether to sacrifice their rights will be made for them. According to Thames (2018), “By fixating on the consequences alone, utilitarianism does not adequately respect the rights, dignity, and value of individual persons themselves (Section 3.5, para. 26).
I do not find myself agree with the utilitarian approach to either one of the scenarios. I believe that God has a plan for everyone and that in both scenarios the five workers were meant to die. Deciding one’s faith is not someone else’s choice in both scenarios. According to Thames (2018), “One objection against Utilitarianism is that it would seem to permit or even demand actions and policies that appear to be unjust, such as subjugation and oppression of minorities,
the sacrifice of innocent lives for the sake of the greater good, or some other action or policy that intuitively seems wrong even if it is for the sake of the greater good” (Section 3.4, para. 7). The Utilitarian approach in these scenarios have flaws to them because killing an innocent person to save other people is an unjust and not a moral thing to do in this situation. Rule Utilitarianism says that when one tries to prevent things like torture or killing of innocents then one should follow the rule that prohibits them which is that they shouldn’t do the acts themselves. Instead of figuring out which action would have the best consequences, one should consider the rules in which society should adopt to maximize overall utility (Thames, 2018).