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A Sam Harris Question

A train is heading toward 5 people standing on the track. You can throw a lever and divert the train so it will hit and kill only one person. You could also push the person standing next to you onto the track which will stop the train. Or you can jump in front of the train, killing yourself but stopping the train. Which would you do?

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Grecio 7 May 8

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Sounds like a trick question so I think I'd push the person next to me since it doesn't say they would be killed but would stop the train. Always reading into things... lol

Jayde Level 2 May 8, 2018

nice catch! kicking myself. lol.


I answered self-sacrifice. But lets be honest. A. who knows if I'm brave enough to live up to that until the moment arrives? And B. my skinny ass isn't stopping a runaway shopping cart, let alone a train. ?

Hahahahahahaha... Good one!!!


Why am I the only one who notices that there is an oncoming train?

Deb57 Level 8 May 9, 2018

Everyone else is busy answering trolly problems on their phones.

I guess you are just lucky!!!


Option E. Take a taxi and avoid the train. There are lunatics there.


I would just wake up.

You got this one right !!!!


I liked the one being asked of prolifers last year.
You're in a fertility clinic that is burning down. There is a 5 year old child scared and crying in one room. In another room is a container full of thousands of fertilized embreos. You only have time to save one. Which do you choose?

MsAl Level 8 May 8, 2018

Good question. When is an embryo a real person? At the moment of fertilization? Is an embryo concious? I am pro harvest stem cells. Nobody remembers being in the womb. Am unborn child is not concious.


I would keep myself out of the situation and not throw the lever, unless someone I care about is one of the five people who are about to go hit.

Bystander effect for you eh. Of course in todays society of crazy laws; that is the only real world answer. You could just say you did not see what was happening. Good answer.


I don't know why all these people are standing on the track, but I guess it's the Darwin award for them.


It is a train how is jumping in front of it going to stop it from running 6 people over instead of 5 there is this annoying thing called momentum. Even flipping the switch if it is going fast enough to hit all 5 people means it is likely to derail and kill everyone around it and on it.

hahaha this Sam Harris hypothetical falls a bit short...


Tough choice. What you will hypothetically vote for, may not be what you will be doing in real life though. That's how mysterious we are.


How do we know that one person isn't the person who will cure cancer? Maybe the 5 are part of a terrorist cell? Who am I to decide whose life is important. I didn't set the train in motion. I didn't put those people on the track. Let chance run it's course.

Cheri Level 5 May 8, 2018

I would let the event unfold the way it's going to happen. I'm not going to murder to save people unless it's my family. Yes, I'm a hypocrite.


This is a take off of the Trolley problem. A whole book has been written about this and most people would rather walk away then make a difficult decision. For me it would be a question of the last 2. It depends on who the other person is (If it was tRump it would be an easy decision). This would be a good discussion for the philosophy group.


The trolley problem is not Sam Harris'. It has a long lineage all the way back to the turn of the last century:

"The modern form of the problem was first introduced by Philippa Foot in 1967,[1] but also extensively analysed by Judith Thomson,[2][3] Frances Kamm,[4] and Peter Unger.[5] However an earlier version, in which the one person to be sacrificed on the track was the switchman's child, was part of a moral questionnaire given to undergraduates at the University of Wisconsin in 1905,[6][7] and the German legal scholar Hans Welzel discussed a similar problem in 1951.[8]"


Thanks for your insight. I had never heard it until I read Sam Harris. In fact, I never read an entire book in my life until I was 60 years old.


It makes me wonder whether Sam Harris has actually ever been in an emergency situation.

Yes, he seems to know a lot about emergencies.

@Grecio I actually was thinking the opposite.


Is the person I’m standing next to deciding on the same choices, maybe we make the same choice and both jump?

I gues that would be where only 2 people die., Better than 5 I guess.


I always wondered if you threw the lever only halfway would the train just miss everyone and no-one has to die?

Though with my luck the damned thing would derail and kill us all.

Multitrack drifting!

@DonThiebaut Yup that about sums it up. Lmfao!

@DonThiebaut What the heck is multitrack drifting???

@Grecio This will sum it up quite nice. []

Though if you're skeptical of links (or for some reason it doesn't work due to Murphy's Law of computers.)

Multi-Track Drifting is a meme that originated from Densha de D, a parody doujinshi (fan comic) of Japanese street racing series Initial D that replaces automobiles with trains. Often used in parody of the "Trolley Problem".


Wull ....tell the person I'm with to choose while I video.
Of course.


This hypothetical does not have enough realistic specifics. However, throw the lever. Only logical choice. Why sacrifice my life for people who are stupid enough to be on the track for no reason?

That's a good point. I chose the same answer simply cause 1 life < 5. Minimize the casualties. However more context would be great. Are those 5 people trying to commit suicide by train and the other person not? If so that would completely change the situation. However if we ever did have to make that decision, there wouldn't really be time to find out. So the answer is pretty simple to me.


This is a loaded question. Why should I assume that I have the means and knowledge to decide who rightfully lives or dies?

The trolley problem is one of practical philosophy: if you are in that situation and you have to make a choice, which choice is it?
Notice that there is a default choice and the trolley continues on it's way to run over the people. So if you don't make a choice because you don't think you have the means or knowledge, then the default is that you allow 5 people to die.


You are certaintly correct, but be aware that I can't be guilty of doing something if I do nothing.

No doubt. That is one answer to the trolley question: since the trolley was already on that path, it is not your duty to change that path.

The other question is: if you have the power to save 5 people by only killing 1, what is the moral choice. A bit of "Sophie's Choice" if you know that movie.


Okay. The moral choice is to not kill anyone and just look away or something. Let's be real, here. This is a "damned if I do, damned if I don't" scenario. So by excluding one's self from the scenario, his hands are clean.

Think about it. You could reason that morality is subjective, and get nowhere. You could reason that it's more moral to have less people killed (which is really just a stupid collectivist argument). You could reason that the individual is more important (which is what another species of unintelligent people think).

In truth, a person may not know what type of people he is killing. Some types are naturally more essential to society and civilization, but that judgement may not necessarily be evident at the time. So a person can alternatively kill either party, granted that it is worth less than the other, but otherwise it's best not to pretend one can actually know such things and just stay out of the scenario.

This is very much a damned if you do damned if you don't scenario where "staying out of teh scenario" is not an option. It is very much meant to have us confront our morality and the limits therein.

That is what this problem asks us to confront: if we were in this situation, what would OUR moral stance be.

I for example would choose to kill one person over 5. I would not choose to sacrifice myself and if that one person were someone I loved, I might consider killing the 5.

In those answers my morality is exposed and open to investigation, which is the purpose of the question.


How would you program these choices into a self driving car?

MsAl Level 8 May 15, 2018

The worlds to crowded I'm not going to kill anyone but hell I'm not stoping it if it happens. Evolution is the survival of the fittest not survival of the most. With how humanity currently is evolution is stagnating theres no adapt to fit your environment its more adapt your environment to suit your needs and alow anyone to have as many kids as they want. The first time I watched idioracy I laughed at hiw ridiculous it was it's not so funny now more like best case scenario if the world keeps going the way it is. So less people always better


The peeps on the track are the least guilty. Only kill one as a lesson to the others.

If the peeps on the track were paying attention they could jump of the track and all would be saved, they may be the most guilty?


I am definitely not taking my own life. I can't push the person standing next to me because that is too personal. I guess I would make a command decision to choose 1 life instead of losing 5. I would probably got to prison for murdering one person. Do nothing seems like maybe the best answer but that would make me feel like a coward, I think.


Throw the lever is winner by far. Sounds reasonable but you choose who dies weather you meant to or not. Acting for "the greater good", I have heard that before.

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