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Would You Shank a Fat Man to Save a Single Mother of Two Children?

"And if you decide to shank the fat man, aren't you just a sizeist piece of shit?"

The following is an excerpt from Professor Michael Sandel's latest lecture:

"See, all of modern morality can be reduced to the trolley problem. We've all heard the age-old problem: what if there is a trolley running along the tracks, and it will kill five people. However, you can pull a lever to change the tracks and have the trolley run over one person, but save the five. What is the morally correct thing to do?"

[At this point Sandel walked over to a window and began to stare through the slightly foggy glass at a developing rainstorm.]

"Every class on morality brings up the trolly problem, and over time it has gotten progressively more complicated: what if you need to push a fat man off a foot-bridge to save the five? What if the track is in a loop? But today I'm unveiling my latest version of the trolley problem, which I really see as my life's work and fully believe it will revolutionalize our notion of morality forever:

"Imagine, if you would, that there is a trolley speeding along a track, and it is going to kill five people. But there is another track with only one person. And you are standing on a footbridge overlooking the track. And it's raining. And there is a fat man next to you. And you don't like him. There is also a lever. The lever doesn't do anything but you can pull it if you like. And the first person on the track who is standing in the trolley's path is a single mother of two children, but the third is the paternal fourth cousin once-removed of Adolf Hitler. But the person on the other track lives in the Quad, so you know their life is hard. And you're not really good at pushing, so the only way to save the five is to stab the fat man with a toothbrush shank you found on the side of the street just seconds before. The winds are blowing north by northwest. Also, there is a self-driving car. I don't know how that's involved yet, but we'll just say it's driving in circles for now. You only have 23 seconds to decide. The trolley is carrying medicine and headed to the town down the road to save Balto.

"Consider this: what is the morally right thing to do? Should you shank the fat man? Should you kill Heinrich Hitler? Should you kill the self-driving car's engine? This, I think, is the real question of our time. Alright, that's all for today. Class dismissed."

© 2017