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The Trolley Problem and Utilitarianism

            Utilitarians consider an action to be morally right if and only if it brings about at least as much expected utility as any alternative action. And for most ethical situations, Utilitarians can offer a rational answer. But then again, every rational person can easily agree that actions such as rape and events such as the Holocaust are morally impermissible. But what happens when decisions aren't so clear? Can Utilitarianism hold up to the toughest of moral dilemmas? What, you may ask, is a tough moral dilemma? (Tough moral dilemmas are often found at the extremes of any given situation.) Take into consideration the extreme situation of the "trolley problem." Imagine you're the operator of a trolley on a track headed to your destination. You round the bend to find five people trapped on the track ahead. Your brakes fail, but fortunately, there is a spur in the track ahead where you can switch the car to another track. Unfortunately, there is one person trapped on that track. So, what do you do? You can leave the trolley to its course and allow five trapped civilians to die, or steer the trolley onto the other track, killing the lone trapped civilian.
             Utilitarian logic would add up the total utility for both possible outcomes and make a decision based upon the outcome with the greatest overall utility. We can figure the "calculations"" that would apply to the situation would resemble this: If I (the operator) leave the trolley on its course, the lone civilian on another track will live, but those five civilians will die. The weight of five deaths would be on my shoulders and I would have to deal with each of the five families. However, if I turn the car away from the original path, I will save five lives and only have to deal with one death. In the end, Utilitarians would calculate that the greatest amount of utility, or happiness, that could result in the situation, would be generated by swerving the trolley from its original track and killing the lone civilian to save the other five that are trapped.

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