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The Trolley Problem Challenge to Libertarian Theory

Dear Professor Block: I have another question for you. This one involves the Trolley problem.
The trolley problem is a thought experiment in ethics. The general form of the problem is this: There is a runaway trolley barreling down the railway tracks. Ahead, on the tracks, there are five people tied up and unable to move. The trolley is headed straight for them. You are standing some distance off in the train yard, next to a lever. If you pull this lever, the trolley will switch to a different set of tracks. However, you notice that there is one person on the side track. You have two options:
1. Do nothing, and the trolley kills the five people on the main track.
2. Pull the lever, diverting the trolley onto the side track where it will kill one person.
Which is the most ethical choice?


There are endless variations on this theme. I say that while it’s completely moral to do nothing, you can be responsible if you hit the switch. This is how I look at it. I had nothing to do with putting anyone in harms way therefore if I take no action I am in no way responsible. However, if I take action that kills an innocent person who otherwise would not have been harmed I am in fact guilty and can only beg forgiveness from the person or family members harmed. For instance if I tossed your wife in front of a train to save my family, (your wife’s body derails the train and it misses my wife’s car that is stuck on the tracks) I could beg you to understand but I would still be guilty of having murdered your wife. This one was brought to my attention by a person who claims that we have a moral obligation to fight the war on terror, even when it means killing innocent people. Best Regards, BS
Dear BS: I have published on this issue:
Block, Walter E. 2015. “The trolley: a libertarian analysis.” Journal Etica e Politica / Ethics & Politics; Vol. XVII, No. 2, http://www2.units.it/etica/; http://www2.units.it/etica/2015_2/BLOCK.pdf
I think my response to this challenge satisfactorily answers it. If you don’t agree, let me know, please, where you think I’ve gone off the rails (I couldn’t resist saying that.)

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