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Trolleyology

October 9, 2010

This is pretty cool, albeit not entirely new, and a pretty kooky overview of the trolley problem. But hey, if more people take an interest in philosophy because of this, the better for everyone. However, what the hell is up with Jeff McMahan and tea?

One of them is Jeff McMahan of Rutgers University. McMahan is a good liberal, open to debate on any topic—except tea. Green tea is sent to him every two months from the Indian estate where it is grown. His cup of tea has to be brewed in a certain way: steeped for precisely six minutes in distilled water.

More seriously, I think the author of this article does a hatchet job on the trolley problem, and seems fundamentally to misunderstand the purpose of raising trolley style questions. The point isn’t straightforwardly to identify what we’d do in trolley-like scenarios, but to try to get at the underlying moral intuitions. Why is it that we feel the tension between fat man and spur, between spur and surgeon? These are difficult questions, and if we work reflectively to iron out how the two scenarios differ, we may gain clarity on the intuitions that very often guide us.

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