The Trolley Problem By Philippa Foot Summary

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Philippa Foot introduces the Trolley Problem in The Problem of Abortion and the Doctrine of the Double Effect. She uses it to illustrate some terms of some use to her, such as ‘double effect’, and ‘positive-’ and ‘negative duties’. As I understand it, ‘double effect’ is an originally-Catholic term that has to do with the fact that one always intends both the ends of an action and the means to the ends: both effects are taken into consideration. However, an undesirable effect of the means to an end is also desirable in that it accomplishes an end. This is the idea behind the rhetoric of ‘necessary evils’. E.g., one can say that abortion is impermissible (the end is termination of a foetus) while an operation which results in the death of a foetus but saves a pregnant woman’s life is arguably permissible (the end is saving a life, the means is the termination of a foetus). The concept of positive duty is to give aid to others. Negative duty is not harming others. We shall explore these terms further when it becomes absolutely necessary to nit-pick, but for Foot’s argument they hold. In the Trolley Problem, the driver finds his trolley hurtling towards five souls on the track. His brakes fail. He has the option of diverting the train onto a spur, but will run over a single person on this track. Since he will kill …show more content…

If he harvests the healthy person’s organs and incidentally kills him, five lives can be saved. According to Foot, this is not the same setup as the Trolley Driver. In this example, the surgeon does not have to choose between killing one and killing five, but rather between letting five die and killing one to save five. With Foot’s logic, the duty not to harm the healthy person trumps the duty to aid the five patients, because negative duties are obligatory while positive duties are permissible and commendable. This example prefaces the Train Dilemma

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