Dec 18, 2010

The Run-Away Train Dilemma

Today I will present a few hypothetical situations which present ethical dilemmas.  I have already conversed with multiple people on these dilemmas, but I have come to no real conclusion concerning the correct answer.  I have my opinions, but I'm not convinced of anything.  You are given two choices when you read about these hypothetical situations.  This may seem irrelevant now, but everyone I've talked to has tried to create a third choice and choose it.  This is not allowed.

Situation #1:
You are standing in a small warehouse with a window 100 feet from the train tracks.  The train is coming, and there are 10 people trapped standing on the tracks.  You do not know these people.  (Please do not ask how they are trapped.  This makes no difference, and with this hypothetical situation we must simply accept the givens.)  Inside of your warehouse, there is a switch.  If you flip the switch, the train will switch tracks at the junction and miss the ten people, but it will kill one person (another stranger) who is standing on the second set of tracks.  Your choices are: A) Pull the switch and one person dies, or B) do nothing and watch ten people die.

Situation #2:
You are standing on the platform next to the train tracks with one other person.  The train is heading towards ten trapped people and will kill them.  However, if you push the man who is standing with you onto the tracks, he will be the only one to die.  (Please don't ask why; this is another given.  The train will stop if this one man in killed on the tracks.)  He won't resist; if you choose to push him, it will work.   Here is where people create option C, which is to jump onto the tracks yourself.  This is not allowed, I'm sorry.  Your choices are A) push the man onto the train tracks where he will die, but the ten will live, or B) do nothing and watch the ten die.

I will publish a follow up post where I explain my position on these dilemmas.  Feel free to comment on this post and tell me your choices for each situation and why.  Use any reasoning you choose to defend your choice.  I am interested to see what people think is the morally correct choice, and I'm also interested in learning what people believe they would actually do.  Keep in mind that as a principle of governance in my life, I refuse to judge people for their ideas.  Also, please don't become depressed and anxious over these situations.  They are stressful, and they have caused multiple contentions, but please don't let them make you angry.  Thank you.


  1. These are very difficult situations. After much thought I have decided that I would probably pull the switch, but I don't think I could bring myself to actually push someone onto the tracks. Of course, I don't actually know what I would end up doing if really in the situation, and would probably end up covering my eyes and screaming, thus saving no one. In any case, and with any outcome I think I would have regrets later on.

  2. It saddens me that you think of situations like this. Haha I'm just kidding but these are hard! Hmm...I would push the switch, but in situation 2, I would have to be convinced by the guy that he'll be fine with me pushing him. If he was crying and begging me, I wouldn't be able to.

  3. As terrible and selfish as it is, I think I would let the ten people die in both situations. My reason being simply that I did not put them there. It would not be my fault if they died, because I wasn't the one that trapped them there. I suppose that technically I could have saved them by sacrificing someone else, but I wouldn't have to have the option of saving them if someone else didn't put them there. If I were to pull the switch or push the person next to me, their death would be on my conscience and I'm not sure the happiness of saving the other ten people would outweigh the guilt of knowingly sacrificing someone else who most likely is not okay with that. The man may not resist, but that doesn't mean he necessarily wants to be sacrificed.

    Well... There's my logical reasoning. But I've found in stressful situations I sometimes tend to throw logic out the window.

  4. I, on the other hand, would instantly pull the switch or push the one man or feel responsible for the deaths of nine of the other ten. Although I'm not so interested in the dilemma as I am in what the arguments reveal about the commenters. Good thought, sir.