Hit by the Virtual Trolley: When is Experimental Ethics Unethical?

Teorema: International Journal of Philosophy 41 (1):7-27 (2022)
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The trolley problem is one of the liveliest research frameworks in experimental ethics. In the last decade, social neuroscience and experimental moral psychology have gone beyond the studies with mere text-based hypothetical moral dilemmas. In this article, I present the rationale behind testing the actual behaviour in more realistic scenarios through Virtual Reality and summarize the body of evidence raised by the experiments with virtual trolley scenarios. Then, I approach the argument of Ramirez and LaBarge (2020), who claim that the virtual simulation of the Footbridge version of the trolley dilemma is an unethical research practice, and I raise some objections to it. Finally, I provide some reflections about the means and ends of trolley-like scenarios and other sacrificial dilemmas in experimental ethics.

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Jon Rueda
University of the Basque Country


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