A New York Times–bestselling author explores a classic ethical challenge: “This riveting little book is grounded, relevant, and fun” (Gregory Stock, author of The Book of Questions).
A trolley is careening out of control. Up ahead are five workers, and on a spur to the right stands a lone individual. You, a bystander, happen to be standing next to a switch that could divert the trolley, which would save the five, but sacrifice the one—do you pull it? Or say you’re watching from an overpass. The only way to save the workers is to drop a heavy object in the trolley’s path. And you’re standing next to a really fat man . . .
This ethical conundrum—based on British philosopher Philippa Foot’s 1967 thought experiment—has inspired decades of lively arguments around the world. Now Thomas Cathcart, coauthor of the New York Times bestseller Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar, brings his sharp intelligence, quirky humor, and gift for popularizing serious ideas to “the trolley problem.” Framing the issue as a possible crime that is to be tried in the court of public opinion, Cathcart explores philosophy and ethics, intuition and logic. Along the way he makes connections to the utilitarianism of Jeremy Bentham, Kant’s limits of reason, St. Thomas Aquinas’s fascinating Principle of Double Effect, and more.
This provocative book explores our most deeply held notions of right and wrong, and asks us to contemplate for ourselves: Would you divert the trolley? Kill one to save five? Would you throw the fat man off the bridge?
“Cathcart’s charming approach in The Trolley Problem is to dramatize the dilemma by presenting . . . a trial in the court of public opinion, complete with arguments from lawyers on both sides as well as a psychologist, a professor, a bishop, listeners to a radio call-in show and so forth.” —The Wall Street Journal