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My Constitutional Law professor always said that virtually all Con Law comes down to the question of "who decides". Who gets the right (and obligation) to make a decision that affects others and on what basis. I submit that in the Trolly case, Jones is not authorized to decide and should refrain from doing anything. Firstly, Jones does not know whether his assessment of the outcome of sacrificing the fat man will indeed save the 5 people, nor whether in the absence of any action that it is certain that the five will die. No person is omniscient or prescient with perfect accuracy. Therefore, Jones must first admit that his assessment of the situation and the options may be wrong in fact. Jones' expectations of outcomes can be no more than his guesses, and any action he takes to cause the fat man to die may result in an additional death (the fat man PLUS the five people in cease the fat man does not stop the trolly - Jones takes an ineffective action that kills the fat man pointlessly) or may cause the fat man to die for no reason because the five people would not have been killed even if no action had been taken and the fat man was not killed. Furthermore, the fat man may be more valuable to society (suppose he will invent a drug to cure cancer or other intangible value added by him). Thus, Jones should not substitute his judgement of outcomes and valuations and refrain from action. Secondly, it is not possible even from a utilitarian perspective to judge the outcome of the death of five people as worse than the death of one different person. Take an example where the five people are all convicted serial child rapists and murderers (or all terminally ill late-stage cancer patients) and the fat man is a creative young scientist working on a cure for childhood cancers that will spare 50,000 children per year from early death from cancer. Since Jones can neither be certain of his ability to judge the outcomes and probabiltiies nor his ability to weigh the relative values of the five people versus the fat man, Jones must do nothing. Jones does not have the moral authority to take steps that result in the fat man's death. He must do nothing.
Toggle Commented Jan 23, 2010 on A Solution to the Trolley Problem at
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Jan 22, 2010