Does trolleyology promote violence?

Lawmakers blame philosophy for recent spate of trolley deaths.  Humor!  And yet maybe we should think about the propriety of flippantly talking about flipping the switch in life-and-death cases.

Is trolleyology dangerous?


The dangers of thought experiments in ethics.  “Thus there are the two dangers of ethical thought experiments:  First, they cannot be used as conclusive disproofs. … Second, they might seem convincing and clear even though they are not.”

The trolley comes round the corner

Clang Went the Trolley.  Sarah Bakewell’s interesting review of two new books about the trolley problem: David Edmonds’ Would You Kill the Fat Man? The Trolley Problem and What Your Answer Tells Us About Right and Wrong and Thomas Cathcart’s The Trolley Problem; or, Would You Throw the Fat Guy off the Bridge? A Philosophical Conundrum. Bakewell’s conclusion: moral philosophers need not worry about being out of a job.

The problem with moral psychology

You can’t learn about morality from brain scans. Thomas Nagel’s review of Joshua Greene’s Moral Tribes. Many interesting issues in the review: human rights v. the greatest happiness of the greatest number, trolleyology, moral instinct, and others.

Nagel says of Greene: “Greene wants to persuade us that moral psychology is more fundamental than moral philosophy. Most moral philosophies, he maintains, are misguided attempts to interpret our moral intuitions in particular cases as apprehensions of the truth about how we ought to live and what we ought to do, with the aim of discovering the underlying principles that determine that truth. In fact, Greene believes, all our intuitions are just manifestations of the operation of our dual-process brains, functioning either instinctively or more reflectively. He endorses one moral position, utilitarianism, not as the truth (he professes to be agnostic on whether there is such a thing as moral truth) but rather as a method of evaluation that we can all understand, and that holds out hope of providing a common currency of value less divisive than the morality of individual rights and communal obligations. ‘None of us is truly impartial, but everyone feels the pull of impartiality as a moral ideal.'”

Nagel isn’t so sure and explains why.