David Edmonds

Would You Kill the Fat Man?

Princeton University Press 2014

New Books in PhilosophyNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books Network March 1, 2014 Robert Talisse

The trolley problem is a staple of contemporary moral philosophy.  It centers around two scenarios involving a runaway trolley.  In the first, a trolley...

The trolley problem is a staple of contemporary moral philosophy.  It centers around two scenarios involving a runaway trolley.  In the first, a trolley is barreling down a track without any brakes; off in the distance five people are tied to the track.  If you do nothing, they will be killed by the trolley.  But you can flip a switch, thereby turning the trolley onto a spur, where there is only one person tied.  In this case, most people claim that one should indeed save the five by turning the trolley, even though this means that the one will be killed. But consider the second case, which is like the first but for this difference: there is no spur onto which one could turn the trolley, but one could push a fat man onto the track whose size is sufficient to stop the trolley from killing the five.  Again: Should you push the fat man, thereby saving five lives at the expense of one? Here, most people’s intuition flips: You may not push the fat man.  But why not?  What is the difference between the first and second cases?  This is the question at the core of trolleyology.  And philosophers have explored the complexities of these (and many, many other) trolley scenarios for several decades running.

In his new book, Would You Kill the Fat Man? (Princeton University Press, 2014), David Edmonds tells the story of trolleyology, bringing into focus all of the crucial philosophical distinctions that must be made if we are to understand it and canvassing the related empirical literature about real-time moral decision-making.  This book is a work of rigorous philosophy that is also widely accessible.