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runaway train hypothetical - ends justify the means

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 5/22/2014 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 7 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 591 times Debate No: 55251
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there is a runaway train speeding towards a hundred people who are tied to the track. the only way to prevent them from being hit, is to pull a level. doing so will cause the train to go down another track, killing one person tied to the track.

some say the ends never justify the means. here, i'd argue they do, and you have to keep things proportional. see proportionalism.


The trolley problem (or as its often called "the train problem") was developed by British philosopher Philippa Foot in 1967. I was originally theorized as an exorcise to UTILITARIANISM, a popular philosophy developed by Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill. Utilitarianism holds that the most moral actions are those that cause the greatest good for the greatest amount of people; inversely, the least amount of pain for the least amount of people. Utility is a CONSEQUENTIALISM, or a theory that holds that the ends justify the means.

It might seem moral to kill the one man instead of the hundred. That would achieve both utility and proportionality. However, its far more involved than that.

DEONTOLOGY is the idea that the ends don't justify the means, and in my opinion, this is far more moral for two main reasons.

First, the train is going to hit the hundred people unless someone does something. The key here is "does something". If you let the hundred men die, it is an unfortunate tragedy. Actively choosing to kill the one man, however, is a choice. You are choosing to kill one man, whereas the death of hundred was not intended by anyone. Thus choosing to kill the one man constitutes participation in the moral wrong, making one partially responsible for the death when otherwise no one would be responsible.

Secondly, German philosopher Immanuel Kant theorized a "categorical imperative" to our actions. The first formulation reads, "Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law without contradiction". Using consequentialism in one instance means you permit it to be used in EVERY instance. Imagine this: a leader comes to power, seeing his down trodden nation that he loves in pieces. He wants to liven his people into action. But how? Blame the whole of the nations problems on one group of individuals, and then slaughter them, he thinks. He knows they're not to blame. But he knows it will benefit his country in the long run. So he does it.

This example is a little extreme, and I dont mean to compare my opponent to Hitler. All I'm saying is that there needs to be a standard: the ends cant justify the means in EVERY situation, so the ends shouldn't justify the means in ANY situation.

Thank you.
Debate Round No. 1


i would argue doing nothing is a choice. you did not actively participate in causing a wrong, but then again you did not actively participate in preventing one.

propotionalism can be taken too far, or abused. i do not pretend to offer easy answers. even with the idea that we should act in a way that offers moral rules for all to act upon, propotionalism does just that. it's just not in prepackaged easy answers form.

i'd argue, step back and really think about what you are proposing. we let one hundred people die, just so one can live. it's an outrage. and all just so someone can think they followed some moral rule. in truth, theh probably just comforted themself in the nowledge of 'truth is absolute' etc etc mumbo jumbo. truth can be absolute and proportionalism be true. it may get less and less clear as the numbers decrease of those who might die or different scenarios. but that's just life. we can say at the other extrems that there is a right thing to do and simply acknowledge is won't always be so clear when that's the case.


Jeanpaulsarte forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 2




Jeanpaulsarte forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 3
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Vote Placed by FuzzyCatPotato 7 years ago
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