The Trolley Problem, or Would You Throw the Fat Guy Off the Bridge? A Philosophical Conundrum

The Trolley Problem, or Would You Throw the Fat Guy Off the Bridge? A Philosophical Conundrum

by Thomas Cathcart


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A trolley is careering out of control. Up ahead are five workers; 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 argument 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.

Read with an open mind, this provocative book will challenge your deepest held notions of right and wrong. Would you divert the trolley? Kill one to save five? Would you throw the fat man off the bridge?

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780761175131
Publisher: Workman Publishing Company, Inc.
Publication date: 09/10/2013
Pages: 144
Sales rank: 731,533
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 7.10(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Thomas Cathcart graduated from Harvard with a degree in philosophy, studied theology at the University of Chicago, and embarked on a “checkered career” (his words) from college teaching to hospice management until, at the age of 67, he started his writing life by coauthoring Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar with Daniel Klein. Mr. Cathcart and his wife live in New York City.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“Unflaggingly engaging, witty, and completely true to the underlying philosophical issues.”
—Robert Paul Wolff, author of About Philosophy

“Stop! Before you throw anyone off the bridge or under the bus, grab this witty, intelligent, and fast-paced treatise on ethical reasoning and chuckle your way to fresh moral insight. With Tom Cathcart as guide, you’ll discover the pleasure of ethics without the sermon.”
—Marvin M. Ellison, ethicist and author of Making Love Just: Sexual Ethics for Perplexing Times

“Cathcart’s probing exploration of the complex nuances of moral reasoning takes you on an intellectual journey both stimulating and educational. This riveting little book is grounded, relevant, and fun. If you enjoy wrestling with ethical challenges, it’s a must read.”
—Gregory Stock, author, The Book of Questions

“Clang, clang, clang goes the trolley problem! Join Tom Cathcart on a wild ride through the various permutations of this philosophical puzzle, as he picks up such disparate passengers as Jeremy Bentham, Immanuel Kant, Thomas Aquinas, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Peter Singer along the way. While there may be blood on the tracks, Cathcart will guide you to a thought-provoking final stop.”
—Tim Madigan, Associate Professor of Philosophy, St. John Fisher College and columnist, Philosophy Now Magazine

“Does the sacredness of our fundamental right to life trump the utility of doing the greatest good for the greatest number? If harming an innocent person was not the intention of our action but was a foreseeable consequence—as in drone strikes or as in taking medical care from some to aid others—how are we to judge this? Cathcart’s new book on the trolley problem brings out the inner moral philosopher hidden in all of us: its gets us to think about the importance of moral reasoning by luring us into doing it.”
—Kenneth Sharpe, Professor of Political Science at Swarthmore College and coauthor of Practical Wisdom: The Right Way to Do The Right Thing

“Clearly written and dramatically presented, Thomas Cathcart’s The Trolley Problem is an excellent introduction to ethics. It's a pedagogical classic.”
—John Perry, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy, Stanford University, and author of The Art of Procrastination

“Entertaining, informative and presented in an original format. I would recommend it to anyone looking for a sympathetic route through the big moral questions of the day.”
—Robert Rowland Smith, author of Breakfast with Socrates and Driving with Plato

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The Trolley Problem, or Would You Throw the Fat Guy Off the Bridge? A Philosophical Conundrum 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
FLANY More than 1 year ago
I found this analysis of the issues concerning the ethical and moral dilemma involved and its treatment with many moral interpretations by the various so called etical positions very helpful in understandin the problems involved. Easy to follow the presentation, recommended for the general public and scholars alike.