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Would You Kill the Fat Man?: The Trolley Problem and What Your Answer Tells Us about Right and Wrong

3.86  ·  Rating details ·  1,133 ratings  ·  157 reviews
A runaway train is racing toward five men who are tied to the track. Unless the train is stopped, it will inevitably kill all five men. You are standing on a footbridge looking down on the unfolding disaster. However, a fat man, a stranger, is standing next to you: if you push him off the bridge, he will topple onto the line and, although he will die, his chunky body will ...more
Hardcover, 220 pages
Published October 6th 2013 by Princeton University Press
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 ·  1,133 ratings  ·  157 reviews

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Jan 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Wow! What a surprisingly good book! Seriously: this book is totally doable for anyone and everyone. I've never read a scientific nonfiction book that was written in such a way as to be so accessible to anyone, even those of us (ahem) without advanced science degrees!

Here's the trolley problem that is at the core of this intriguing book: You are standing on a footbridge over a railroad track. There is a runaway trolley barreling down the railway tracks. Ahead, on the tracks, there are five people
Jun 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
I'm not a philosophy student and never have been, so I'm approaching this as a member of the general public, and from this perspective it's a well-explained introduction to both trolleyology and to some philosophical history. The scenarios are, naturally, thought-provoking, but what I found most interesting about these thought experiments were the variables affecting the decisions: the effect of the weather, gender, geographical location or even scenario order. The overview wasn't limited to psy ...more
Sep 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Really enjoyable little book on the trolley problem. I studied this problem several times while working on my philosophy degree but there was a lot in this book I had never come across - interesting variations and most particularly, the history of the problem.

I definitely preferred the first half of the book over the second. I had hoped for a little bit more of analysis into some of the psychology of the trolley problem. Though, I suppose this is a philosophy book so I couldn't really expect th
Nov 20, 2013 rated it it was ok
The first half is great, the second half really goes off the tracks. The second half is an everything but the kitchen sink, who's who of every discipline, parade of names that are barely even trolley-adjacent. The continuity, charm, and historical grounding of the first half is completely lost in later sections, which essentially erase any illusion the reader may have acquired early on that the book had a thesis or was directed at some conclusion. It isn't. It's worth reading for the first half, ...more
Dec 21, 2017 rated it liked it

Accessible read for a novice in philosophy. After listening to Philosophize This I wanted to get more into philosophy and the man from the podcast advised by starting to read philosophy books written by scholars that are easy to understand. The book explains the classic example of the trolley case (I remember when Jenny told me about this) and arguments were well laid out to uncover the intentions behind ones decisions, various philosophers take on it and even how in the future hormones will
Jun 24, 2020 rated it really liked it
A very well written introduction to the topic of morality. In only ~220 pages, Edmonds manages to create a comprehensive and very accessible book about the state of the art research regarding the trolley problem. I liked that the book not only covered the thoughts and findings of the moral philosophy but also of more modern research regarding the trolley problem in neuroscience, psychology, etc.
In the end the topic is maybe a bit frustrating, because I think (and I think this is also the conclu
Oct 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book about different schools of philosophy, but I still don't know whether to push the fat man ...more
Elia Mantovani
Dec 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Excellent book, an amazing travel among the realms of ethics and all the disciplines that have an intercourse with it. It is worth reading both for neophytes but also for consolidated readers of philosophy who want to have a look at some important 20th century ethical doctrines.
Isabelle Bradbury
Let me tell you, this book was a PHENOMENAL read (at least for me, who is obsessed with all things philosophy and ethics right now). It was assigned reading for my favorite class, and it has taught me about so many ethical theories and new ideas while keeping me interested and engaged the whole time. No prior knowledge of “trolleyology” is needed and it is great for beginners and experienced philosophers alike. It causes the reader to examine their own morals and question why we feel the way we ...more
Mar 19, 2015 rated it it was ok
Certain points of reasoning and arguing can only be fit in specific scenarios while other philosophers would keep bringing new examples or new transformation of the experiment which have too many new factors to be considered. There shouldn't even be any extra conditions. Why does fat guy have to be an entity of such experiment? Why does the other side necessarily have 5 people but not 2, or 1? Different entities/conditions have different sentimental attachment/decision affecting power. Actually, ...more
James Klagge
This is not cutting-edge research, but a book that presents the state-of-the-art in a mostly accessible way. I am using it for my class this fall on Ethics and Autonomous Vehicles. I'm glad I selected it.
The author tries to give some background to these thought-experiments by telling us something about the lives of some of their originators--especially Philippa Foot. That was interesting to me b/c I knew her and had her for a few seminars when I was a grad student at UCLA. But I don't know how
Charles Berteau
Aug 21, 2014 rated it really liked it
I'm not much on philosophy - have never really studied it (unless struggling through a little bit of Plato counts). But this book was a fascinating study of human perceptions of right and wrong.

The book wraps a discussion of philosophical concepts (most of which I have already forgotten, along with their terms) around a field of study called trolleyology (any British readers, think streetcar/tram, not grocery carts). The study of trolley scenarios (and similar mental exercise) really brings up s
Dec 24, 2013 rated it liked it
I expected to learn a lot about right and wrong, but instead I learned that moral philosophy is an incredibly complicated game in which there are few solid answers. The book focuses on two famous thought experiments: a runaway trolley is moving down a track to which five people are tied. If you move a lever, you can switch the trolley to a different track where only one person is tied. Would you do it? Would you sacrifice one to save five? Alternatively, the trolley is rolling towards the five p ...more
Sep 28, 2015 rated it liked it
For 200+ pages, the author visits and revisits the classic philosophical question:

"A runaway train is racing toward five men who are tied to the track. Unless the train is stopped, it will inevitably kill all five men. You are standing on a footbridge looking down on the unfolding disaster. However, a fat man, a stranger, is standing next to you: if you push him off the bridge, he will topple onto the line and, although he will die, his chunky body will stop the train, saving five lives. Would
Jul 29, 2014 rated it really liked it
I'm going to buy this book. I really think there's a great deal to think about. The subject is what is sometimes called "trolleyology." The trolley problem is a basic moral quandary. There are many variations. This book reviews the variations, discusses them and has much else to say besides. The author has a lovely light tone that makes it a pleasure to read. I don't suppose it is the deepest consideration of the trolley problem that is out there, but it isn't intended to be. It's for the intere ...more
Dec 29, 2019 rated it liked it
I think that this book summarises a lot of the different trolleyology versions and even ties in real life cases and famous papers and stories from other disciplines quite nicely (I was in disbelief at how it somehow linked Pareto efficiency, Kahneman and Tversky's dual systems and deadass Plato's Allegory of the Cave to a trolley problem lol). However, there were times that I felt that there was no link to the examples he was bringing in, and the argument at hand (the trolley problem), but it wa ...more
Dec 09, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: kaycie
I found this book rather dull. I often enjoy non-fiction books, but this was like reading a history book. I was expecting to read about scenarios and then what each possible outcome you had to choose from would mean. Sadly, what I got was the history of the trolley problem and the variations to come from it. The first third of the book is mostly history and a couple short scenarios. It was not what I expected, and I really found the book boring.
Andrei Khrapavitski
Jun 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
“You’re on vacation on a nice beach. Word comes through that there’s been a massive earthquake and that a tsunami is advancing on the beach. At one end of the beach there is a house containing all the dictators of this world, including Lukashenka and Putin, with all their families. And at the other end of the beach there is a single democracy fighter. You have time to alert just one house. What do you do?”

Here’s another dilemma. You have several hours you can either spend with your family or you
John McDonald
Jul 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
As we learn more and more about how people make decisions, we learn more and more about how incongruous the reasons forming the basis of those decisions really are. Why do so few of us contribute small amounts to feed children each month saving their lives, but risk our lives and the expensive clothes we wear to jump in the lake to save one child? Why, in a study conducted at Princeton Theological Seminary, did students at Princeton Theological, sent on a mission to help the poor and homeless by ...more
Jan 13, 2015 rated it did not like it
I found the book to be extremely dull. The author spent more time giving a history on trolleyology than really delving into the issue set at the beginning of the book.
Oct 08, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm sorry for the five guys, after reading this book I still would not kill the fat man.

But what if the fat man was Stalin?
Wei Hao
Sep 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jul 31, 2014 rated it really liked it
A trolley is speeding toward five people who are tied to the trolley track, but you can stop the trolley if you push a fat man off of a bridge in front of it. One person would die, but five would be saved. Would you do it? Would You Kill the Fat Man? by David Edmonds is a whole book about this question and variations on it. Reading this book illuminates your own ethical positions while teaching you about the positions of various philosophers. Though the scenarios the philosophers present seem a ...more
Nov 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is an excellent detailing of the thought problem, and is entirely relevant to today's world. In a world where autonomous vehicles are becoming more common, it brings the problem of what lives should be given priority over others. While this is an intrinsically difficult problem with few concrete answers, this book provides a good introduction to the ways to consider the problem. For example, if an autonomous car comes upon a situation where its only options are to run over 5 people, or driv ...more
I was very pleased with Would You Kill the Fat Man? It is a very accessible overview of various principles of moral philosophy as shown by the trolley problem and its subsequent variations. Part of the problem with philosophy is that it's very easy for the discipline to get bogged down with armchair-type distractions that have little or no meaning for everyday people. Edmonds presented various theories of moral philosophy with the trolley problem, explains them simply, and discusses why their im ...more
Interesting introduction to trolleyology that is good overall but would have benefited from a few changes. There are many references that I found hard to understand due to the brevity of the comment where they were mentioned. For the ones I was familiar with, I felt the very short explanations (if present) didn't really manage to express why that was being brought up at that point. As a second change, I reacted to some (I believe, unnecessary) comments from the author that showed a humor reflect ...more
Jul 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, 2019
4.5 stars rounded down.

This was a really enjoyable book! While superficial, it provides the reader with the background of "trolleyology", as well as some of the high-level beliefs of various schools of thought (utilitarianism, deontology, etc.) and prominent thinkers (Mill, Rousseau, Kahneman, etc). I generally found it to be interesting, fun, and thought-provoking. Also, the picture of the author on the back cover legitimately makes him look like the kindest person on the planet lol. I can't g
Dec 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
It opens as a philosophers' gossip column, which turns out to be as intricate as the European royal family. And mostly dull, except for "[connecting] almost every corner of the love quadrilateral".

Then it moves onto the interesting stuff of killing people, in theory and in practice. The theory is the Trolley Problem. The practice is real-life events that closely resemble the Trolley Problem, what people actually did, and how they were judged. For added spice, there are surveys across demographi
Laythan Oweis
Jan 13, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2021-books
While interested in philosophy since high school, I've found it difficult to submerge myself in a book on the study because it often felt inaccessible. This book suited me, just about, perfectly. Each chapter I read was intriguing and thought-provoking. The stories mentioned extended my engagement and the subject's historical application and importance shined through the text. Beyond the quality of the book, the issue at hand is applicable beyond its nature as a fun thought experiment. Moral pos ...more
Peter Briggs
Sep 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing
We were only supposed to read chapter 2-5 and 9 for a class in neuroethics, but I figured, "why skip the beginning?" and read the first chapter anyway. From there it was a slippery slope and I ended up reading the entire book (starting 25 Sept. 2020 and finishing 27 Sept. 2020 in the early morning). The book is very easy to read as well as being a great mix of philosophy (as intended), history of the various people involved, and humor all over the place. Overall, it's a great starting point for ...more
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