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Would you kill one person to save five?

By bobcat · 36 replies
Apr 24, 2012
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  1. “Thou shalt not kill!”

    Imagine you are a train-yard operator who sees an out-of-control boxcar running down a track where five hikers are standing. The hikers won’t have time to get out of the way unless you flip a switch to change the car to another track. But on the second track there’s a worker repairing it. You have just seconds to make a decision: let the five hikers die — or kill the one worker.

    What do you do?
  2. SNGX1275

    SNGX1275 TS Forces Special Posts: 10,729   +409

    Its a trap! I sense how you answer this question will lead to another question, "ok, but now what if..." :cool:
  3. Marnomancer

    Marnomancer TS Booster Posts: 723   +51

    Hang on, wouldn't an out-of-control boxcar make quite a bit of noise? And where's the siren? :p
  4. bobcat

    bobcat TechSpot Paladin Topic Starter Posts: 688   +67

    Don't fight the question guys.

    Actually, this dilemma is a famous philosophical conundrum that was originally called the “trolley problem.”

    The two opposing philosophical approaches to the trolley problem are the utilitarian one (kill one guy in order save the others) and the do-no-harm approach (let God or nature take its course, but don’t make an active choice to kill another person).

    It has been the subject of much research. Now a team from Michigan State University's psychology department has used virtual-reality technology to test how we respond psychologically and physiologically when faced with this problem.
  5. slh28

    slh28 TechSpot Paladin Posts: 1,706   +172

    But isn't letting someone die when you could do something about it pretty much the same as killing them? If you know the hikers won't be able to get out of the way in time doing nothing isn't exactly a "do no harm approach".

    Therefore I would flip the switch and kill the worker.
    Matthew likes this.
  6. Doctor John

    Doctor John TS Enthusiast Posts: 204   +15

    Maybe I'm imaginatively undernourished or something, but this seems a no-brainer - one dead is better than five dead, ask First Science Officer Spock if you don't believe me! ;)
    Matthew and Benny26 like this.
  7. Marnomancer

    Marnomancer TS Booster Posts: 723   +51

    Not fighting bro, just looking for a loophole to escape the inevitable violation of The Ten Commandments imprinted on my mind every Sabbath. Kinda hard to decide, but in the end, the volume of harm caused comes into play, as one man dying is better than 5, but that essentially is the equivalent of killing someone in full consciousness of your act.
    No matter what you choose, you violate the Commandments. It's not a soldier's life, in which he kills not because he wants to, but because he has to, for the greater good. (Does not apply to the non-sense taking place everyday in Afghanistan).
  8. benken2202001

    benken2202001 TS Booster Posts: 115   +17

    Actually, the philosophical "trolley" question is if you'd sacrifice yourself. Being at the lane change device, you can switch the direction of the train, however it requires you stand on the other traintrack. The trolley kills 5 going east, or kills you going west. The question debates murder vs. suicide, this question has very high religious value as well.
    Matthew likes this.
  9. Benny26

    Benny26 TechSpot Paladin Posts: 1,535   +50

    If i knew for sure that the five were safe afterward? Yes, I would.

    If all six were family? Yes, I still would.

    Being an Atheist it's a pretty simple question from my eyes.


    "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one" -- Spock. (and amen to that):D
    Marnomancer, Doctor John and Matthew like this.
  10. Matthew

    Matthew TechSpot Staff Posts: 5,311   +100

    Given the right context, I'd kill someone without there necessarily being a life or death event. For instance, a rapist caught in the act warrants a bullet, in my humble opinion. As for the suggested scenario, I'm with slh28 and others in saying this seems like a no-brainer. Benken's alternate question poses a more interesting debate (one track kills five, another track kills you -- murder versus suicide). I'd like to believe I value five lives more than my own, but I'm not sure what I'd do in the heat of the moment, and I'm not afraid to admit that my decision would probably depend on some superficial perception of the individuals in question, as wrong as that might be. For the record, I'm not religious.
    Marnomancer and Doctor John like this.
  11. Zen

    Zen TechSpot Paladin Posts: 861   +48


    The Needs Of The Many, Outweigh The Needs Of The Few Or The One!
    Doctor John likes this.
  12. Dawn1113

    Dawn1113 TS Booster Posts: 322   +65

    So there's no way for me to just kill 'em all and be done with the dilemma? :D:D Kidding, kidding...

    Tough question. But I'll go for the more interesting "one route kills five, another kills you" scenario.

    Would I, for instance, run into a burning building to save the lives of the members of my family knowing full well that I would die in the process? Yes -- without the least hesitation But, to be absolutely honest, I don't think I would do the same for five total strangers. That is something only real heroes would do.
    ravisunny2 likes this.
  13. cliffordcooley

    cliffordcooley TS Guardian Fighter Posts: 9,169   +3,261

    The car will kill someone regardless. Its not your fault (I'm assuming) that the car is out of control. Take the road of lesser harm and flip the switch.
  14. alen9331

    alen9331 TS Rookie

    There is no uniform answer . you have no right to kill a person, however , you take the responsibility to save the five hikers.
  15. cliffordcooley

    cliffordcooley TS Guardian Fighter Posts: 9,169   +3,261

    You wouldn't be killing anyone unless you were responsible for the out-of-control boxcar. By stepping in and making a decision, you would be acting responsibly and hopefully preventing the most damaging outcome. I would have trouble shaking someones hand if I knew they stood back and did nothing at all. This probably makes me look bad but I can't help it, thats the way I am.
    Doctor John likes this.
  16. bobcat

    bobcat TechSpot Paladin Topic Starter Posts: 688   +67

    OK guys, as expected, you took the view of the large majority of those participating in the university experiment I mentioned. Nevertheless, there are two matters that I believe haven’t been treated adequately or appropriately.

    Firstly, though people get killed in both cases, I see an important difference between taking active action of killing as compared to letting die thru inactivity. Now, I’m not saying this difference should necessarily tip the balance, only that it exists and there are people who will not actively kill, even if the alternative is “washing their hands” or worse. Indeed, a minority in the experiment chose not to actively kill.

    Secondly, I made a subtle change in the scenario of the conundrum which nobody seems to have noticed, or at least mentioned. In the original presentation there were five workers on one track and one on the other. To make the decision a little tougher, I intentionally changed the five workers to five hikers. Now, hikers have no place in a train-yard and should not have entered it, whereas the worker is rightfully there doing the work he was assigned. Furthermore, hikers should expect trains on a track, whereas the worker was presumably assured there wouldn’t be any at his track. Would it be fair to kill a legitimate worker in order to save the irresponsible hikers who created the problem?
    Doctor John likes this.
  17. Doctor John

    Doctor John TS Enthusiast Posts: 204   +15

    It wouldn't be fair to the legitimate worker (life isn't!), but still logically and morally(?) the correct thing to do.
    I think.
  18. Benny26

    Benny26 TechSpot Paladin Posts: 1,535   +50

    Still doesn't change my answer.
  19. cliffordcooley

    cliffordcooley TS Guardian Fighter Posts: 9,169   +3,261

    I must admit I wasn't thinking about the hikers being responsible for the out-of-control boxcar.

    There is no since in discussing a topic, if at some point the variables change. New evidence is different than changing things. Whats going to change next, the worker being a close friend of the family?

    Let me add that in the heat of the moment you are not looking at who is doing what and who is rightfully in their places. In the heat of the moment, all you are going to see if five people vs one person. During the moment you don't have time for all the after thoughts you will have later.
  20. bobcat

    bobcat TechSpot Paladin Topic Starter Posts: 688   +67

    Of course, the hikers were irresponsible in entering the train-yard and created the problem by being on a track. That’s what I said and thought it would be obvious to everybody.

    Not so. The hikers were there from the start in my OP. Nothing changed in the conundrum as presented in this thread. I had made the change from the old original version before presenting it here. Again, that should be clear to everybody who read my OP correctly.
  21. circusboy01

    circusboy01 TS Enthusiast Posts: 799   +16

    As far as killing five or killing yourself. It says in the Bible,( don't know where,and I am paraphrasing. ) "No greater love can a man give than to lay down his life for another." He would be welcomed into Heaven with open arms. God would not consider it suicide.
  22. Doctor John

    Doctor John TS Enthusiast Posts: 204   +15

    Spock wouldn't be impressed.
  23. bobcat

    bobcat TechSpot Paladin Topic Starter Posts: 688   +67

    Sacrificing yourself to save others is really a different subject. But it seems to me, the religious aspect would take much the second importance for most real life people. Very few would be willing to suppress their self-preservation instinct, except possibly for their own children, but not for strangers. In fact, that question could be posed as: “Would you kill others to save your life?”

    But as I said, that’s a different problem, despite the fact that I fell into the trap of addressing it. :)
  24. ravisunny2

    ravisunny2 TS Ambassador Posts: 1,986   +12

    The needs of the many do not outweigh the needs of the few.
  25. Benny26

    Benny26 TechSpot Paladin Posts: 1,535   +50

    Looks like we have a Romulan among us...
    Doctor John likes this.

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