September 26, 2016

Socialist Trolley Problem

Filed under: philosophy — Benjamin Vulpes @ 11:30 p.m.

You stand by a switch that can send a trolley careening down one of two tracks. You can't stop the trolley and you can't affect what is down the track in any way other than to throw the switch.

There are 100 people tied to track A, and 99 people tied to track B. None can escape. The switch is currently set so that the train will fly down track A, killing everyone tied to that track.


Some of the people are straddling tracks A and B, and you have no idea whether your trolley will amputate their legs or decapitate them, or how many will suffer which injuries. Furthermore, there are unknowable external effects to both throwing the switch and not throwing the switch, effects whose scale of lethality may dwarf the number of people tied to both tracks put together (both in integer deaths and aggregate micromorts). Additionally, you've never even seen these people, you just read about their existence and the risks to it on Reddit.

Do you throw the switch?


  1. At the very least, this is more nuanced than the usual Soviet-Harvard trolley idiocy.

    In any event, for your scenario, given that it's all an unpredictable and incalculable morass of externalities and unknowns, might as well throw the switch for the hell of it. Agency goes to the active - so too does the fun.

    • Benjamin Vulpes says:

      On the other hand, Pete, the more beoble egging one on to do a thing, the more lolz one can eke out of a situation from standing idly by popping popcorn.

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