Deadly Thought Experiments

06 February 2017

Consider the now-famous philosophical thought experiment, the trolley problem. An out-of-control train is barrelling into five railroad construction workers, and as an onlooker, you notice a lever that you could pull to divert the train to a track with only one worker. Do you pull the lever? Should you pull the lever?

Putting aside substantive answers to these questions, philosopher Julian Baggini writes on Aeon about drawbacks and insights from using thought experiments that put hypothetical lives on the line. People worry about violence in video games normalizing violence for children and teenagers. Should we avoid repeating such thought experiments to children and teenagers for similar reasons? Why does it sometimes feel like no matter which option you choose in the thought experiment, you're not really quite satisfied? Could the unsettling nature of these thought experiments reveal something about why we value life in general?

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