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The Trolley Problem, or Would You Throw the Fat Guy Off the Bridge?: A Philosophical Conundrum

3.76  ·  Rating details ·  636 ratings  ·  90 reviews
A trolley is careering out of control. Up ahead are five workers; on a spur to the right stands a lone individual. You, a bystander, happen to be standing next to a switch that could divert the trolley, which would save the five, but sacrifice the one—do you pull it? Or say you’re watching from an overpass. The only way to save the workers is to drop a heavy object in the ...more
Hardcover, 144 pages
Published September 10th 2013 by Workman Publishing Company
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3.76  · 
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 ·  636 ratings  ·  90 reviews

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Nov 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Everything is what it is and not another thing. -Bishop Joseph Butler

Perhaps you are familiar with the moral dilemma known as “The trolley problem”. If not, it goes something like this:
You are standing near some railroad tracks. On one track there are five people, who for reasons unclear are unable to get off the track. On another track stands a single man, also unable to extricate himself. A trolley is approaching the five people and will certainly hit and kill them. Next to you however is a
Nov 24, 2013 rated it really liked it
I began this book feeling a certain why about whether or not Daphne Jones was guilty. Based on the arguments presented throughout the book, I found that my stance changed. On the surface, the issue at hand seemed simple and like a no brainer. But this is truly a multi-layered issue. This is a good book that challenges you about your beliefs and why you believe what you do.
Wayne McCoy
Jul 02, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
'The Trolley Problem' takes a philosophical problem and expands it out into a clever way to explain some philosophical ideas. The trolley problem is a question that has been asked for a while. A trolley is out of control. On the track ahead are five people, who for whatever reason, are unable to get out of the way. You are standing by a switch that can divert the trolley to a side track, but there is a lone person on this track who will be killed instead. Do you throw the switch to save the five ...more
Jul 23, 2013 rated it really liked it
The Trolley Problem poses an interesting philosophical dilemma. If faced with having to choose between leaving a runaway trolley car on course to kill five people, or taking an action that will divert the trolley and only kill one, what would you do and why? Would your actions make you a good person or a bad person.

Cathcart presents the problem as a trial in the court of public opinion with a woman on trial for homicide for diverting the trolley. Is she guilty of manslaughter, or simply making
ashley c
Sep 11, 2016 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: philosophy beginners
Shelves: philosophy
Quick little read that took me 2 hours while I was waiting for my parents at the library. This book presents a fictional real-life scenario where a woman actually had to make a decision to pull the level on a runaway train - thus either doing nothing and letting 5 people die, or kill 1 person - and she actually did pull the level and kill someone. From the perspective of the prosecutor, the defense, and the jury, as well as the public, such as university students, we see a variety of ethical con ...more
Pau Cevasco
Dec 28, 2015 rated it really liked it
I quite liked this book, not that there is any surprise there. I read most of the books by this philosopher/author and love the way he applies philosophical doctrines to everyday life, common situations and events we face daily.
In this particular case, I also liked the was the different school of thought and fields of study were presented in the High Court of Public Opinion. I think it portrays an interesting overview not only at the way we judge and make decisions, but also at how those options
Dec 21, 2013 rated it really liked it
Premise of the book is a familiar one - the trolley problem. Using it as anchor, it brings forth the various schools of thought for ethical reasoning. A good book to get a crash course on the prominent philosophical schools of thoughts and an exercise in critical thinking. The format in which it is presented is also very accessible.

An easy yet elucidating read.
Mar 28, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: adult, philosophy
What we have here is neat way to communicate some concepts of moral philosophy in the form of a series of discussions about a hypothetical moral dilemma. Along the way we are treated to some of the more thoughtful work of great thinkers and some modern research into what constitutes a sense of right or wrong, good or bad for human beings.

There is some specific terminology and jargon from the philosopher's bag of tricks, but they are carefully explained in such a way that "utilitarian" and "cate
Wallace Grace
Nov 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing
A great read for anyone who loves stretching closely held beliefs or ways of reasoning/rationalizing on which you lean to wade through murky ethical or moral challenges. I found that the Utilitarianism Philosophy, as it was presented in this book, really resonates with me, for better or for worse. Anyway, I give this book five stars because it's engaging, accessible and caused me to stretch my thinking.
Doug Clark
Dec 31, 2013 rated it it was amazing
In the November 24, 2013 issue of The New York Times Book Review, I read a review of two books dealing with an ethical, moral and philosophical issue that has become known as the Trolley Problem. The issue basically is the following situation: a trolley car is speeding unchecked along the main track. Ahead, also on the main track, are five people. Unable to stop, the trolley with hit and kill all five. However, there is a side track the trolley can be diverted onto. Unfortunately, there is a per ...more
Feb 19, 2014 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Fans of Philosophy, Debate
I never knew about the Trolley problem until I read this book and didn't know how involved people really were with this conundrum. The Trolley story is one that everyone can relate to in someway because it deals with the moral and ethical issue of one person's action against another or a group of people.

The problem consists of whether someone, when put into a situation of action, should decide on the fate of a group of people or a single person. What I really enjoyed about the structure of this
István Márton
Jul 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing
after talking about decision making and responsability with one of my friends -16 years old teenager- he suggested me a book: The Trolley Problem by Thomas Cathcart. (i wish i would read books like these at the age of 16!)
he actually prescribed it to me. yes, doctor E., i will take my book medicine! – i promised him.
so did i and here i am, finding this book worth of reviewing it, but before i actually do that, let me add a short comment: this book and the theory behind is mind blow!

the main id
Jan 05, 2014 rated it really liked it
When I finished The Trolley Problem, I had a headache...and I concurrently gave the book four stars.

As the author Cathcart notes, the trolley problem has been explored thoroughly for years, perhaps most popularly by Michael Sandel (see his book Justice). So what's new with this book?

Cathcart employs a clever device, a trial complete with prosecutor, defense attorney, psychologist, clergy member, judge, and jury. Through the many voices, the book explores the various ways to consider the trolley
Brandon Milton
Sep 16, 2015 rated it really liked it
If there is anything this author is good at, it's making the concept of the trolley problem and "trolleyology" extremely interesting. Previously, I've had exposure to the problem, but lacked interest. Cathcart makes the problem extremely interesting within the first few pages.

I believe that Cathcart's primary goal is to deliver the problem in such a way that readers are able to deeply think about the problem and form their own opinions about it. It's a nice concept, and Cathcart definitely deliv
Feb 16, 2014 rated it it was ok
Well this is the first in a battery of books I have received from the University in the fields of science, environment, social studies and health, and plan to read over the course of the year.

So that being said, for a quick read on the moral/ethical landscape of the needs of the few versus the needs of the many this book was okay. The book is structured in such a way that the "trolley problem" (killing one to save five) is framed as some sort of fictional (although never explicitly stated) court
Tom Romig
May 18, 2015 rated it really liked it
Thoughtful and thought provoking (and fun!) investigation of the classic trolley problem, which, briefly, asks whether it's morally acceptable to perform an act that would result in the death of one person but would save five people. Yes, chances are excellent that you'll never have to make a moral decision about an errant trolley, but every day we do make decisions that have mixed results, or such decisions are made in our name. Think of drones and what's euphemistically called "collateral dama ...more
Carlos Mueses
May 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This book reads more like a compilation of different perspectives, but I think it works great. I like the fact that it doesn't really matter if you think Daphne is guilty or not, is all about your argument and well and compelling you can make it. Is about highlighting the flaws in the opposite arguments and using that in contrast to the strengths of yours. We use sound logic to justify certain actions and shy away from that same logic in other situation just because it doesn't suit our interest. ...more
Am Y
Dec 09, 2014 rated it really liked it
The book takes a famous philosophical conundrum and presents it as a court case. We hear the prosecution's argument, defence's argument, and perspectives from various other people (e.g. bishop - religious viewpoint, professor - intellectual viewpoint, etc). The presentation format was interesting yet practical. Language was also very concise and easy to understand.

At the end of the book, the jury delivers its verdict, and we also get to read each juror's individual thoughts on the case, which i
Nanci Woody
Oct 07, 2015 rated it really liked it
The Trolley Problem or, Would You Throw the Fat Guy Off the Bridge, was an exercise in thinking. Oh, geesh, I know books are supposed to be entertaining. Well, The Trolley Problem was entertaining, too, and it makes one think of impossible situations you might get into and how you would make a decision you think is morally correct. Think of the Syrian Refugee Crisis.

Here's a moral dilemma from the book. "A trolley is careering out of control. Up ahead are five workers; on a spot to the right sta
Apr 17, 2014 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Will by:
This popular account uses the engaging device of a trial where we are all jurors in "the Court of Public Opinion" to examine the "trolleyology" scenario with variations, and how/why we actually make ethical decisions. What is the role of emotion in our decisions? Should there be one?

The book is somewhat slanted toward introductory versions of various philosophical schools, and does not treat the subject in as much depth as Would You Kill the Fat Man?: The Trolley Problem and What Your Answer T
Tyler Jones
Apr 01, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: philosophy
The aim of the book is to get you to start thinking critically about the moral stances you take and the justifications you concoct for your actions...and inaction. As an introduction to critical thinking, I think it is very successful. I was introduced to a few new concepts (for me), such as the dangers of argument from analogy and I was comforted that even an extreme altruist like Peter Singer seems okay with drawing the line somewhere. I feel a little less upset that I'm surrounded by moral am ...more
Sep 22, 2013 rated it really liked it
A book you'll spend less time reading than thinking about. The classic ethical thought exercise ( examined as if a woman had actually found herself in that situation and pulled the switch - sacrificing one life to save five. The book follows her manslaughter trial, expert testimony, media coverage and jury deliberations. An effective and entertaining treatise on critical thinking.
Dec 16, 2013 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Dan
Recommended to Donna by: NYT Book Review
Shelves: philosophy
I love the trolley problem since Dan first explained it to me. This book takes the problem to the Court of Public Opinion in order to evaluate the decision one takes based on other disciplines such as psychology, religion, neuro-biology, etc. Fascinating.

If you want to know more about this book, stop by Maze Branch at 7:00 p.m. on January 9th to discuss "Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do?"

Started in Chicago, finished in London.
Dave Mevis
Sep 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
Quick read. As light or as heavy as you want it to be. Accessible introduction to several philosophers and their ways of thought and analysis. You will be the most interesting person at your next dinner party or cocktail hour after reading this book...and who doesn't want that? Recommended for all.
Jon(athan) Nakapalau
Sep 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: philosophy, favorites
British philosopher Philippa Foot’s 1967 thought experiment makes us question cause and effect when dealing with ethical choices.
Kelly Jackson
Nov 27, 2013 rated it it was ok
Very watered down analysis of a great philosophical debate. Dave Edmonds "Would you Kill the Fat Man" is much more thorough and still accessible to the amateur philosopher.
Jan 21, 2019 rated it it was ok
A good idea undone by mediocre execution.

I’m intrigued by the concept of looking at the well-known trolley problem (issue: is it justifiable to kill one person to save five?) through different thought and academic disciplines, ranging from legal to religious. The problem is that The Trolley Problem continually repeats the same issues and arguments for one hundred pages with little deviation. There’s no nuance, and the legal section, for example, bears very little resemblance to an actual legal
Feb 09, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's a case against moral relativism

With the autonomous cars coming, trolley problem has moved mainstream from abstraction. There's no one right answer though. That, however, shouldn't lead you to the path of moral relativism. This book encourages you to think deeply about ethical issues. Good read. I love the author anyway
Konatsu Nagai
Apr 05, 2018 rated it liked it
Been a while since I read a nonfiction book! The one I read was the Japanese translation version, which was the assigned reading for a friend of mine going into law, who had kindly given me the book after she was done with it. Though I'm no connoisseur (not even close) of philosophy, the trolley issue dilemma is one I knew of, and it was nice to be able to review through the major philosophers by looking into this issue. Goodness or rightness is something that I think about frequently, and I'm g ...more
Jun 24, 2015 rated it liked it
A decent look at one of the more famous intuition pumps to be developed by philosophers. The book dances around and you often feel thrown around from chapter to chapter which caused my main distaste for the book. It started with its effort to give real life examples of a trolley incident in San Francisco with its local muni transportation, an accident which caused the death of one person by switching the track lines to save five. The story then uses this as a springboard to discuss all the vario ...more
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Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein wrote the bestselling Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar: Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes, which will be translated into more than a dozen languages. Not bad for a couple of philosophy majors from Harvard who tried on various careers after graduation. Tom worked with street gangs in Chicago, doctors at Blue Cross and Blue Shield, and dropped in and out of ...more
“The Moral Sense Test developed by Harvard psychologists in 2003 can be found online at:” 0 likes
“You probably learned in your high school civics course, as I did in mine, that the Supreme Court is the highest court in the land. Well, I’m here to tell you this morning that this is not strictly true. The Court of Public Opinion is actually the highest court in the land.” 0 likes
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