Friday, July 22, 2016

The Trump Trolley

There is a problem in morality commonly called "The Trolley Problem." It goes like this:

There is a runaway trolley going down the tracks and it is going to run down five children playing on the tracks. There is a lever you can pull that will switch the trolley to an alternate track. There is one child playing on that track, who will die if you pull the lever. Should you pull it?

At first glance the answer would seem to be "yes" but on the other hand if you pull the lever you are killing a child, whereas if you do not 5 children die, but not by your action. So maybe yes maybe no - but let's analyze the problem.
Time to talk about double effect. The principle of double effect was worked out by St. Thomas Aquinas, and goes something like this.  If an action has two effects, one which is good and desirable (like saving the five children) the other evil (like the death of the other child), how do you decide the ultimate morality of your action?
While one should never do evil even intending that good will come out of it, one can do morally neutral actions even knowing that evil may come from it, provided 4 conditions are met:
  1. that the action in itself from its very object be good or at least indifferent;
  2. that the good effect and not the evil effect be intended;
  3. that the good effect be not produced by means of the evil effect;
  4. that there be a proportionately grave reason for permitting the evil effect
By the principle of double effect you could pull the lever because.
  1. pulling a lever is morally neutral
  2. You intend saving 5 lives, not the death of a child
  3. The five children are not saved by the death of the one child, they are saved by the trolley not hitting them.
  4. The proportional reason is saving multiple lives
On the other hand, you are not OBLIGATED to pull the lever. If you do not, five children die, but it is not your fault. In other words, either choice is permissible, and it is a prudential decision as to what action to take.

Now change is up slightly. There is no lever, but you are standing next to a fat man, and if you push him onto the tracks, he is so fat that the trolley will derail when it hits him and the children will be saved. Should you push him? Some would say yes because it is the same result. However, the result is not always what matters. According to double effect
  1. pushing a man in front of a train is morally wrong
End of story. The action is morally wrong even if the other three criteria are met.

What does this have to do with Trump?

There are people who are saying "In order to stop Hillary you are OBLIGATED to vote for Trump - otherwise you know all the Bad Things™ that will happen." On the other hand some are saying "the lesser of two evils is still evil - you CANNOT vote for Trump, even if the alternative is Hillary."

But the truth is, this is a trolley problem. Yes, perhaps five children will get hit by a trolley (or be dismembered by an abortionist) if I don't vote for Trump and Hillary wins, but if I vote for Trump, the other child will die (in the ensuing wars). Morally speaking I CAN vote for Trump intending to stop Hillary, but I am not OBLIGATED to.

So get over it people and stop bullying others with your political views. In other words, vote your conscience, people!

[N.B. I am not advocating staying home - VOTE your conscience, don't sit home and do nothing. I am talking about when I do vote, do I have to vote for Trump, or can I vote for a candidate I believe in who is NOT Trump, even knowing that I am not voting "against" Clinton.]


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