Philosophical Multicore

Sometimes controversial, sometimes fallacious, sometimes thought-provoking, and always fun.

Archive for December, 2012

The Google-Trolley Problem

Posted by Michael Dickens on December 30, 2012

Before reading this essay, read about the Google-Trolley problem here.

As a utilitarian, I’d say you should of course run into the fat man. That’s not very interesting. But what other reasons might one give to make one choice or the other?

As far as I can see, only two factors distinguish the trolley case from the fat man case. The first is that you are killing the fat man with your own hands, whereas you only indirectly kill the man on the track. [1] If one believes that this is the relevant distinction, it would be acceptable to program a computer to kill the fat man since you are not killing him yourself.

The second factor is that you use the fat man as a means stop the train—it would not stop without pushing him—whereas the man on the track only just happens to be in the way. In Kantian terms, you treat the fat man as a means to an end and not as an end in himself. Kant would say that you should program the machine not to kill the fat man.

But the real answer is that you should kill the fat man because doing so increases utility.


[1] I think this is the reason why most people switch sides between the trolley problem and the fat man problem—an aversion to direct killing, not actual moral reasoning.

Posted in Ethics, Moral Dilemmas | 4 Comments »

Utilitarianism Resources

Posted by Michael Dickens on December 17, 2012

This is a collection of some of my favorite resources on utilitarianism.

Light Books
Practical Ethics, Peter Singer
Animal Liberation, Peter Singer
The Life You Can Save, Peter Singer

Heavy Books
The Methods of Ethics, Henry Sidgwick
Utilitarianism, John Stuart Mill
The Principles of Morals and Legislation, Jeremy Bentham

Consequentialism FAQ
Utilitarian FAQ
Common Criticisms of Utilitarianism

80,000 Hours
Effective Animal Activism
The High Impact Network
Giving What We Can

Utilitarian Philosophers
Utilitarianism: past, present and future
Recommended Reading

Less Wrong

Essays and Blogs
Essays on Reducing Suffering
Reflective Disequilibrium
Measuring Shadows
Philosophy, et cetera
Reducing Suffering

Posted in Ethics, Utilitarianism | 2 Comments »

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