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  • But Then, A Moral Experiment
  • Petar Ramadanovic


Once upon a time, there was this pilot. His plane was about to crash and he had to choose whether to steer his plane to a less or a more inhabited area. You'd think his choice would be simple, right? But before you give your response, consider the following situation that is practically the same, only a bit different.

A judge faces rioters. The crowd demands that the culprit be found guilty for a certain crime or else they will take revenge on a particular section of the community. Since the real culprit is unknown, the judge realizes that he can prevent bloodshed only by framing some innocent bystander and having him executed to save the lives of many. But should he do it? Can he, like the pilot from the scenario above, justify killing an innocent person by preventing an even bigger atrocity?

Now, please, before you respond, suppose you are walking over a bridge, minding your own business, "Doo do doo do doo do do doo . . ." when you see a trolley hurtling toward five men working on the track. There is a fat man next to you and you realize that if you push the fat man, with your own hands, over the bridge and onto the trolley track, you will save the five innocent people. [End Page 230]

As you approach the fat man, you hesitate, just as the bystander and the judge would have. What should you do? You don't know. You are not sure. This means that you are having a moral issue.

Let's suppose you do the following: You scratch. You sweat. You begin to feel how hard it is to make moral choices. And time acquires this weird dimension. It starts to kind of stretch and stretch and stretch . . . —the universe is giving you a chance to examine your options.

These thoughts are rushing feverishly through your mind: What if I try to push him but cannot? He is fat and I am just a squirt. If I bounce back and don't manage to push him off, the five men will be killed and one fat man will be angry with me for trying to kill him.

Would he agree, you are thinking, if you tell him, "I did not really mean to kill you, I was just trying to save the five men"?

How convincing would that be?

Does he share your moral values?

Would he buy it?

And then even more thoughts flood into your already very crowded head, all aimed at showing you why you should not murder this one person even if you were to save the five wretches about to be killed.

You have a stomachache. You feel dizzy. You bet that an fMRI would show a lot of activity in your "emotional" brain zone and you'd be totally right. It's like a brain itch, you want to say.

And you begin to believe that the fat man has five kids. The innocent kids are at a funeral crying their eyes out—you imagine all this so that you can justify not pushing him off the bridge.

No one to love them, no one to rear them, no one to hug them. Your feet are as heavy as lead. Your brain is engulfed in fog. When there is only one tiny step between you and the fat man's destiny, out of nowhere a philosopher appears like an angel to save you, or so you hope. The philosopher, a nice-looking woman with round glasses, presents you with the following quandary:

Suppose you are a brilliant transplant surgeon who has five patients on their deathbeds. Each needs a different organ: a heart, a liver, a kidney, and so on. As fortune would have it, no organs are available at the moment to perform any of the transplants. Just around that time, you meet a young traveler who complains to you about a cough he has. In the process of checking him over, you discover that his organs are compatible with all five of your patients and, what's more, you realize that the young...


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pp. 230-235
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