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Discuss with your peers:

· This scenario and the corresponding questions always elicit a wide range of responses. Some people will disagree about the right choice to make, and some people will agree on the right choice but for different reasons. Discuss with your peers each other’s answers to these questions, especially when your peers’ answers differ from yours, and use that as a chance to draw out the strengths and weaknesses of utilitarianism.

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1. Do you agree with that? Why or why not?

2. Do you find yourself agreeing with the utilitarian about the answer to one of the scenarios but not the other? If so, explain what accounts for that difference. Does this point to objections, limitations, or flaws in the utilitarian approach? Explain.

3. If you found yourself agreeing with the utilitarian about both scenarios, how would you defend your view against those that might have given different answers?

PEERS RESPONSE:

Class,

I find utilitarianism to lead to the correct answers in a lot of moral situations, but I don’t think it is a perfect philosophy, and I think the trolley problem highlights some of the flaws that it has. According to Thames (2018) in our text, “Remember that utilitarianism holds that if we are to live morally, we should be choosing the actions with the best overall outcomes” (chap 3.1, para 21). Those best overall outcomes are the ones that provide the greatest amount of pleasure, and the least amount of pain for everyone involved. As a generalization, I tend to agree with this idea. But, as I said before, I think it contains problems as well because I think there are certain things that are of a higher value than pleasure or pain. I think there are certain virtues, rights, and values that are more important parts of a moral equation than how much pleasure or pain is doled out.

For the first part of the trolley problem, I tend to agree that as the conductor, I should pull the lever to send the train towards the one man rather than the five. The reason I think utilitarianism holds up in this case is that it is an either-or choice that I did not set up. I am not forcing any of the men onto the track, and I can’t do anything to get any of them off, the situation is just a terrible tragedy that I am not in control of aside from which direction I send the train. Either the five men will die on the track, or the one man will die on the track. The men are already on the track, and none of them have the option for escape. So, in choosing to send the track towards one man instead of five, I am preserving more life and it is the best overall outcome possible if all else is equal.

For the second scenario, I disagree with pushing the man onto the track to save the five. My reasons for this are found in our text as two of the main objections to utilitarianism; respect for persons, and irreducible plurality of values. By me pushing the man onto the track against his will I am not respecting his autonomy as an individual (respect for persons). He is not on the track initially, he doesn’t want to be on the track, and so by me pushing him onto the track I am murdering him. His right to life is more important than my opinion of the greater good for the greatest number (irreducible plurality of values). It is a greater evil to murder someone, and take their individual right to autonomy away, than to let a tragedy happen that is otherwise out of your control.

-Kevin

Reference:

Thames, B. (2018). How should one live? An introduction to ethics and moral reasoning (3rd ed.). Bridgepoint Education. How Should One Live? An Introduction to Ethics and Moral Reasoning – 3.5 Objections to Utilitarianism (uagc.edu) (Links to an external site.)

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