Murderer at the Switch: Thomson, Kant, and the Trolley Problem

In Charles Tandy (ed.), Death and Anti-Death, Volume 19: One Year After Judith Jarvis Thomson (1929-2020). Ann Arbor, MI, USA: pp. 153-187 (2021)
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In this book chapter I argue that contrary to what is said by Paul Guyer in Kant (Routledge, 2006) Kant's moral philosophy prohibits the bystander from throwing the switch to divert the runaway trolley to a side track with an innocent person on it in order to save more people who are in the path of the trolley in the "Trolley Problem" case made famous by Judith Jarvis Thomson (1976; 1985). Furthermore, Thomson herself (2008) came to agree that it would be wrong to throw the switch, just as it is wrong to push the person off the bridge to stop the trolley (1976; 1985). In changing her mind about this case, Thomson came to agree with Kant as well as with Philippa Foot (1967) who argued in her original paper that a negative duty not to harm one healthy patient outweighed a positive duty to give aid to five other patients by transplanting the healthy person's organs.

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James Mahon
Lehman College (CUNY)


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