Trolley Problem: One Clear Solution

Alan Cai

July 28, 2023

Carnage; murder; death. Is it correct to kill one person to save five? The eternal question of whether the ends justify the means is central to the vastly controversial trolley problem, which in its most rudimentary version is as follows: given a trolley barrelling toward five people on the track inducing certain death, is it ethical to divert the train such that it kills one person instead? After prudent consideration, we reach the conclusion that the track must not be diverted.

The crux of the issue is whether it is right to sacrifice a minority for the benefit of a majority. No matter how great the benefit is, the notion of committing murder on a human being for the achievement of a goal is a violation of not only their rights but also the norms keeping together the fabric of society. Desperate times call for desperate actions. Yet, choosing to kill one person to save five is effectively deciding that five people are more valuable than one and that the individual deserves to be sacrificed for the preservation of the group. Choosing to kill is not a choice any rational human being ought to make.

Indecision in this hypothetical scenario is not a decision in itself. By committing to no action, one would act as if they had not been there at all. On the other hand, pushing the lever is indicative of actively killing an individual. Killing is fundamentally different from letting people die, for lack of a better term, because murder is a deliberate act against another person. Ending the lives of others is an act of commission while abstaining is omission. Saving people is always an excellent moral philosophy to live by. However, it can not be followed to a fault when lives must be traded for others. The utilitarian perspective brings several concerns; most notably, what quantity of lives saved would justify killing, killing two to save three, nine to save ten, 271828 to save 271829? To a certain extent, utilitarianism, or the greatest amount of good for the greatest amount of people is a societal form of greed and an inadequate way to govern a species of reason. The preservation of life must not come at the expense of others and the decision to do so would be an act contrary to the bounds of human capability. We do not possess the right to make decisions on whether others deserve to be killed and should never be entrusted with such a determination.