Trolley Problem Discussion Summary

My discussion questions are a bit different in that it compares the situations of the Trolley Problem to each other. In my discussion, I talked about three situations that Thomson describes from Foot’s Trolley Problem: the Trolley Driver situation (Thomson 1985 P. 1395), the Surgeon situation (Thomson 1985 P. 1396) , and the Fat Man situation (Thomson 1985 P. 1409). I decided to build my questions around these situations, rather than the text itself, because I felt that it would be more effective if I did so.

My questions were addressed to the class:

What would you do in each situation?

One person said, “As long as you are aware of the situation and the weight of your decision, you can [sacrifice the one to save the five]”

For the Trolley Driver situation, most people would pull the switch, saving the five but killing the one in the process.

For the Surgeon situation, most people would choose to do nothing and let the one healthy person live, but let the five patients die.

For the Fat Man situation, most people would do nothing and let the five people die, but sparing the fat man.

In each of these situations, when and why is it morally permissible or not morally permissible to sacrifice the one to save the five?

The class answered that the Fat Man Situation and the Surgeon situation are different from the Trolley Driver situation because there is a difference in agency and there is a presence of bystanders that you are potentially forcing into the situation, as opposed to the Trolley Driver situation.

The situation changes for each of these situations, and that is why the morals are different.

Philosophy in the World: Life is Strange – The Video Game

*Spoiler alert on the video game: Life is Strange

Life is Strange is a video game published by Square Enix (2015). It is a “story based game that features player choice, the consequences of all your in-game actions and decisions will impact the past, present, and future” and at the beginning of the game, the player is told to choose wisely (Square Enix 2015). The player wakes up as the protagonist, Maxine Caulfield, in the middle of a forest during a storm. She makes her way to a lighthouse and sees a tornado heading towards the town, Arcadia Bay. The lighthouse is about to crumble and fall on her. As the lighthouse falls, she wakes up again in the middle of her photography class at Blackwell Academy, wondering what just happened because she doesn’t believe she was daydreaming. Max finds out she has the power to rewind time when she witnesses her childhood friend Chloe getting shot. She decides to use this power to become an “everyday hero”, and her first task so the save from getting shot. Throughout the game, the player realizes that the decisions made set the butterfly effect in motion and that Max actually brought the tornado to Arcadia Bay by going back in time to save Chloe. The final decision that needs to be made in the game is to sacrifice Arcadia Bay to save Chloe, or to allow Chloe to get shot and save Arcadia Bay.

To me, philosophy is about the pursuit of knowledge and understanding the truths about ourselves and the world around us, as well as living with those truths. Part of this is understanding that we are in fact only human and cannot control the universe nor can we ask anything of it, which relates to the game Life is Strange. The decisions we make every single day are based on morality, what we think is good or bad, right or wrong. Based on this definition, the decisions made by the player in Life is Strange clue into what is thought to be morally right or wrong.

This definition ties in with Judith Thomson’s view on the trolley problem. The trolley problem is a train is heading down a track that splits, with one person on one track and five people on another, and the train is heading towards the track with five people (Thomas 1985). A bystander can pull a lever to change the track, making the train hit the one person instead of the five people (Thomas 1985). This decision will be based on what the bystander believes to be morally right. Thomas (1985) argues that, morally, it is okay for the bystander to switch the lever, allowing the train to hit the one person instead of the five people because killing five would be worse than killing one. Stereotypically, humans would agree that given this kind of situation, fewer fatalities would be the best route to go. This is acknowledged as a truth. By the definition of philosophy given, understanding this truth will allow the bystander to live with the decision made because they will have believed they did the right thing.

Life is Strange allows the player to make decisions which impact the future. Max sees going back in time as a chance to help others. Going back in time allows Max to change certain events to make sure fewer people get hurt in the future, but in doing this, she actually hurts more people. Her power caused the storm she first wakes up to in the beginning of the game. Max begins to realize that her decisions have consequences and that she cannot control everything. The last decision that Max has to make is to save Chloe or save Arcadia Bay. This is similar to the trolley problem. It is like having Chloe on one track and the town on the other, but in this case, the train is heading towards the track with one person on it and this one person is Chloe. Max goes back in time to the very beginning, the day Chloe gets shot. As the last decision in the game, Max can pull the lever like the bystander, making the train hit the town, ultimately bringing Arcadia Bay to its doom or she can allow nature to take its course, allowing Chloe to die. By the definition of philosophy given, Max learns and understands the truth that actions have consequences and although she may be trying to do good, it doesn’t always end up that way. Changing the events in the past will disrupt the order of the universe, causing more harm than good. The truth is that Max is only human and must accept her role as a human. Just because she has this power to time travel, doesn’t mean she should go against the order of the universe and change events in time. Throughout the game, Max was in pursuit of what she should do. She was in pursuit of knowledge of the situations of her friends and this led her to difficult situations which she again tried to understand. After witnessing the outcomes of her decisions, Max gains more knowledge about what is morally right or wrong since the universe retaliates against her decisions.

I engage in philosophical activities outside of the classroom through my religion. I was raised as a Catholic and I went to Catholic school my entire but I didn’t always practice my faith. Coming into university, I began to open up to the idea that there may actually be a God. By my definition, I am in the midst of searching for the truth and if I ever find that truth, I’ll be able to live knowing the truth and understanding the truth. I may end up fully believing the truth to be that God exists. However, this sort of truth is difficult to determine. Because of this, the decision to fully believe in God or not will be based on the research I’ve done and will do, as well as experiences I have and will experience. It will also be based on what I believe to be true.

Creative Commons: Life is Strange (6)” by Videogame Photography is licensed under CC BY 4.0.

Bibliography:

Square Enix, 2015, Life is Strange, video game, Linux, Microsoft Windows, OS X, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Square Enix, Japan. 

Thomson,  J 1985. The Trolley Problem, The Yale Law Journal, vol. 94, no. 6, pp. 1395-1415. Available from: http://www.jstor.org/stable/796133 [31 March 2017]