Torbjörn Tännsjö Thou Shalt Sometimes Murder!

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The Footbridge.

The majority view: It is wrong to push the man onto the tracks.

My immediate reaction: It is wrong to push the man onto the tracks.

My (our) considered intuition (to be explained): none.

The Loop. As in the first case, you can divert the trolley onto a separate track. On this track is a single big man. However, beyond the big man, this track loops back onto the main line towards the five, and if it weren’t for the presence of the big man, flipping the switch would not save the five. Should you flip the switch and have the big man killed in order to save the five?
China Russia USA
Yes 34 54 60

No 52 23 32

I don’t know 14 23 8

Here my intuition is that we should flip the switch and most people — setting the Chinese to one side — agree. Again I see no reason to discard this intuition. It has been arrived at in much the same way that the intuition to the simple Switch case was arrived at. We use our ordinary capacity for sympathy and simple math. Again the content of this intuition is explained by utilitarianism. It is inconsistent with the moral rights theory. If we redirect the trolley towards the big man, we kill him actively, in order to save lives. That is not permissible, according to this theory. But this is not a plausible conclusion. This is good news for utilitarianism, then, and it spells problems for the moral rights theory.

What are we to say of the loop from a deontological point of view? Well, if I am right in my claim that we are allowed to push the big man, even according to the Sanctity-of-Life Doctrine, the loop should not be a problem. But once again, we must acknowledge that utilitarianism gives a simpler (and hence better) explanation of our intuition than does the Sanctity-of-Life Doctrine.

On a more strict Kantian theory, pushing is wrong in the Footbridge case, and also, it may seem, in the Loop. In that case, deontology is in deep problem here.

Is it true that, according to (Kantian) deontology, we should not flip the switch in the Loop? Frances Kamm has argued204 that there is a crucial difference between the Footbridge and the Loop. According to her doctrine of a ‘triple’ effect, we ought not to push the big man in the Footbridge, but we are allowed to flip the Switch in the Loop. How is this possible?

The main thrust of Kamm’s argument seems to be that, in the Footbridge, we intend the death of the big man in that we act in order to have him killed while, in the Loop, we don’t. Here we only act because he is there and will be killed when we flip the switch. If I am right in my claim that we do not intend the death of the big man in the Footbridge, then the claim that we do not intend his death in the Loop is completely trivial. Yet, on the Kantian version of deontology, Kamm’s argument seems to fail. For, certainly, both in the Footbridge and in the Loop one person is used merely as a means to the saving of lives. And this is not permissible, on this theory. Matthew Liao makes a similar point clearly in his ‘The Loop Case and Kamm’s Doctrine of Triple Effect’:

Even if one grants that in Loop, we are redirecting the trolley because the one will be hit, but not in order to hit the one, it seems that we are nevertheless taking advantage of the one’s being on the track. This seems especially the case, when, as in Loop, it is not even in part their good we seek to achieve. 205
Finally, it seems that utilitarianism, which gives an explanation of the content of the majority intuition in the Switch and the Loop, where we can rely on our intuitions, even after they have been submitted to cognitive therapy, and which can also make sense of our reluctance to push the big man in the Footbridge — with its claim that, even though it right to push the big man, it is indeed right to try to become a person who will not do the right thing in these very special circumstances — explains, not only our data, but also the relative success of deontological (Kantian) thinking. This means a genuine advance in our thinking, of the kind taken as a desideratum by Karl Popper, when we test bold conjectures.206

To avoid misunderstanding I should perhaps add that I have not here showed that those who hold the minority view, i.e. the view that it is wrong to flip the switch in the Loop, have made any cognitive mistake. They may be justified in their belief that it is wrong to flip the switch in the Loop. It is only that this is not my intuition, nor the intuition held by the majority. When I stick to it, I must also believe that they must have made some mistake. What kind of mistake? My conjecture is that they have conflated the problem of what it is right to do in the circumstances with the problem of what sort of character one should develop. It may well be that we had better not be people who are prepared to flip the Switch in the Loop. And yet, for all that, it seems to me, this is what we ought to do.

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