[I don't like blog software's treatment of comments. Reading through a comment thread is like reading a series of footnotes to footnotes, not a conversation. So my practice will be to try to include good comments in the main body of the blog where they get the attention they deserve.]
I dunno, the distinction between (directly) preventing the deaths vs. causing them to be prevented (by someone else) strikes me as a bit artificial. But in any case, I don't think it tracks the standard Trolley intuitions. Consider the loop case: (8) You can pull a switch to divert the trolley onto a loop which connects back onto the main track where 5 victims await. Normally this wouldn't help, but fortunately there's a fat man tied to the rails in the loop section, who will bring the train to a halt if it hits him. Should you pull the switch? Presumably anyone who would divert the trolley in the original case would also do so in the loop case. But you would say it's the fat man, rather than the switch-puller, who directly prevents the 5 deaths in this case. So directly preventing the deaths cannot be the grounds for pulling the switch. An alternative candidate explanation would be to appeal to whether Jones brings about the one death (saving the five) by acting on the victim (e.g. pushing him), or by indirect means (pulling a switch). Perhaps our intuitions reflect the principle that only the latter (i.e. indirectly causing death) is permissible.
Thanks for your comment!
Let’s spell out the relevant cases:
DIVERT: A runaway trolley is coming down the tracks. It will hit five people if it is not diverted down a different track, but there is one person who will be killed if the trolley takes that route. Seeing this, a bystander throws a switch which diverts the trolley. The one is killed; the five survive; the trolley continues on its way.
PUSH: A runaway trolley is coming down the tracks. It will hit five people if it isn't stopped. A bystander pushes a fat man onto the tracks. As the bystander intended, the trolley hits the fat man, killing him but stopping the trolley before it hits the five.
LOOP: A runaway trolley is coming down the tracks. It will hit five people if it isn't stopped. A bystander throws a switch which diverts a trolley down a siding. The siding loops back to the main line and is still headed for the five, but there is a fat man on the siding track who is struck by the trolley, killing him, but stopping the trolley before it hits the five. All as the bystander intended.
Thomson’s LOOP case is a kind of parlor trick that flummoxes everyone when we first encounter it but I think its significance is generally misunderstood...
Now I know people say that "people will say the same thing about the loop as in the original switch case" but I have never actually met anyone who will say that. Everyone I've ever talked to about it thinks, on reflection, that LOOP is morally equivalent to PUSH: that it is as bad to throw trains on fat men as it is to throw fat men under trains.
In any case because we're doing philosophy (and not Experimental Philosophy) it's not enough for anyone to just report their "intuitions" and turn in their questionnaire: they will have to defend their judgments . And anyone who thinks there is moral difference between PUSH and LOOP has their work cut out for them to explain what that difference is.
I don’t think your “direct vs. indirect" will do the job for them. You are going to have to give us an account of the "direct vs. indirect" distinction. Do I "directly" act on the fat man if I push him with a stick? A barge pole? How about a Pullman car? What if I push a man who falls against the fat man? What if there are a string of men who fall like dominos? What if I pull a lever which activates a robot which kicks the fat man off the platform. What if I pull a lever which causes a second train to push the fat man? Direct or indirect? If you think that what the bystanders in DIVERT and LOOP do is permissible but not in PUSH you are going to have to say precisely when the "indirection" is sufficient to make that moral difference.
So if you really think there is a moral difference between throwing trains on Fat men vs. throwing Fat men under trains I think you have to go back to the drawing board to find a non-moral difference that explains it. But I suspect that you don't really feel that way. It's one of those intuitions that "people" are supposed to have, but never the person you are talking to.
In contrast, lots of us do think that there is a difference between DIVERT and PUSH. And in this case, I say there is a clear, non-moral distinction which explains this contrast. My explanation predicts that we will think PUSH and LOOP are morally equivalent. And don't we think that? In both PUSH and LOOP it is the fat man who prevents the trolley from hitting the five. The Fat man gets the posthumous tributes. The Bystander gets a lawsuit from the fat man's family. I suppose the bystander in LOOP could plead that he didn't *directly* kill the fat man, he just ran a train over him. Good luck with that.
This doesn't meet your objection that the distinction between preventing deaths vs. causing them is a "a bit artificial". I'm not sure what you mean by "artificial". Maybe you doubt that this difference really explains people's moral judgments on this case? Or maybe you think that, if that's the explanation, then those judgments are mistaken? Those are both sensible reservations. I do need to say a lot more.
For the moment, let me point out that elsewhere in our moral life we do treat the distinction between causing a harm or benefit and causing someone else to cause it as morally significant. There is a difference between killing someone and causing someone else to kill them. Take David Lewis's example. If I feed you some poisoned chocolates I kill you, perhaps inadvertently, perhaps not. On the other hand, when I give my hostess some poisoned chocolates and she feeds them to her guests, whether or not I killed anyone depends both upon what I knew and what the hostess knew. Why this is so is unclear and why the distinction should surface , as I claim it does, in the trolley problem is also something that needs a lot of thought. Please Stay tuned.