The Trolley Problem and the Morality of Killing

Essay by robotsandtrainsCollege, UndergraduateA+, October 2011

download word file, 5 pages 0.0

Essay topic

The Trolley Problem and the Morality of Killing


The Trolley problem, first introduced by Philippa Foot,� is one thought-experiment that creates a moral dilemma in many. Such moral dilemmas arise from conflicting moral principles - while one principle says we should save as many lives as we can, another tells us it is wrong to kill an innocent person, even for a good cause. Herein, we face a moral quandary. In order to resolve this tension, we ought to rethink the principles we initially espoused.


Two general principles can be identified to explain the conflicting intuitions - the "best consequences" principle (BCP) and the "sanctity of life" principle (SOL). BCP believes one should always strive to bring about the best achievable outcome, while SOL believes that the taking of (human) life is intrinsically wrong� and hence impermissible.


The Trolley problem shows us that when we are confronted with moral dilemmas, we conceive moral argument as a dialectic� between our judgments about particular situations and the principles we affirm on reflection.

Killing and letting die

In the Trolley problem, most people would think that sacrificing one life in order to save five does seem the right thing to do. BCP is in tandem with majority's judgment here. However, when the SOL argument is raised, a state of perplexity seems to be created.

Even though five lives are going to be lost if the bystander does not flip the switch, proponents of SOL are convinced that this is the right course of action to take. To them, the number of lives to be saved is an irrelevant consideration. They believe that the sanctity of life has a special and superior status compared to other ethical principles such as utility.�

Though seemingly convincing, upon closer analysis, we...