The Trolley Problem in Philosophy

My approach to The Trolley Problem is to make it about something less than death because when you do that, it just looks like a philosophical justification for NIMBY-style selfishness. “If I am not actively harming someone, I am not harming them” It is why they found it difficult to bust gangsters prior to RICO. “They died as a consequence of Al Capone’s vague directives ergo Al Capone did not kill anyone.” My first answer to the Trolley Problem is the consequentialist one, obviously, if anyone is wondering. I work in politics and for most situations the passively letting more people die approach is, unsurprisingly, a free market approach. “If you raise the minimum wage, you will actively drive a handful of small businesses out of buisness but if you do nothing there will be mass poverty you were not the proximate cause of” Yeah, I’ve heard that version of The Trolley Problem and it is truly stupid.

However, the problem with the Trolley Problem is that it is not deontology versus consequentialism but that it is cowardice versus courage. John Locke, Immanuel Kant, nor any other deontologist would find fault in choosing to kill fewer to save more. The question for deontologyis in the value of life like in the case of the “consistent life ethic” and whether the terminally ill have lives worth living not whether neglect should or should not count as manslaughter or whether RICO is a valid law. The Trolley Problem’s Libertarian answer says proximate causes are the only causes. Again, that is not deontology, that’s cowardice and selfishness and opens the flood gates to plausible deniability.

The Trolley Problem is an example of bourgeois academics in a affluent setting in a safe liberal democracy do thought experiments, secure in the belief nothing they say will ever matter. I actually wrote a bill to raise the minimum wage (which the legislator I work for never even sent in) and I have done philosophy and I am acutely aware of The Trolley Problem’s real world analogs. Even one’s that involve real trolleys. Like, if running a tram line across a major road will reduce fares and help poor people but will slow commutes on that road for rich people. Regardless of the number of poor people helped, the rich people will grab their pitchforks and make versions of the Trolley Problem their argument. My response is “Look, they fucking make $8 per hour and we’re not raising fares by 50¢ which, per day is $182.50 per year or two weeks of groceries. I may be actively fucking you but that is better than passively fucking them”

The first thing to know about trolleys is that NIMBYs hate public transportation and will pay much more in cost of living owing to normal people being unable to live anywhere near them or commute than a cent more in property taxes to pay for the trolleys. Lots of people hate trolleys. What The Trolley Problem actually says is academics seldom leave academia and sometimes when they think they have a brilliant idea, it is a truly moronic one like The Trolley Problem. They don’t think it is a real world problem but it is and their “deontological” answer is just capitalism. It is the idea that non-first degree-proximate causes don’t count or confer moral responsiblity.

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