Friday, May 4, 2012

[PL 431] Trolley Problem and rule-utilitarianism
The Trolley Problem presents the following challenge to utilitarianism:
  1. According to utilitarianism, sacrificing one person to save four is always a good moral reason.
  2. But pushing a fat man off a bridge to save four workers who are about to be killed by a runaway trolley doesn't seem like the right thing to do.
  3. Therefore, it is not the case that sacrificing one person to save four people is always a good moral reason. 
Can the utilitarian use the distinction between act-utilitarianism and rule-utilitarianism to meet this challenge? Suppose the utilitarian argues as follows:
From an act-utilitarian point of view, the problem arises because the act of pulling the lever seems right (because one person is sacrificed for the sake of four) but the act of pushing the fat man seems wrong (even though one person is sacrificed for the sake of four). 
However, from a rule-utilitarian point of view, both pulling the lever and pushing the fat man would be morally impermissible because it would make utilitarian sense to have a rule that prohibits people from sacrificing others for reasons that they (i.e., those who are being scarified) do not share. In other words, following the moral rule that says "Don't sacrifice people without their consent" makes utilitarian sense in the long run.
Is this a satisfactory response to the aforementioned challenge to utilitarianism?

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