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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Abstract

In this book chapter I argue that, contrary to what is said by Paul Guyer in his book 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 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.

Author's Profile

James Mahon
Lehman College (CUNY)

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