You probably know the drill: there is an out of control trolley about to kill five people on the tracks, but you have nearby a lever that you can pull to divert the trolley on a different track, where it will kill only one person. Would you do it? What if instead of the lever you have to personally push a large man off a bridge and onto the tracks in order to stop the trolley? ...The term "psychopath" is not the best term for these people, but neither is "utilitarian".
The standard understanding is that if one is a utilitarian, bent on maximizing happiness and minimizing pain regardless of who benefits or suffer, then you’d both pull the lever and push the man. If you are a Kantian deontologist you will do neither, since in both cases you would be using someone else as a means to your ends, and not as an end in itself, thus violating the categorical imperative.
Funny thing is, empirically it turns out that most people would pull the lever but also refrain from pushing the man, thus indicating an inconsistent view of morality, at the least from the point of view of the two major traditions. ...
Interestingly, there is a minority of people who always make the “utilitarian” decision: they pull the lever, but also push the large man. These subjects, a number of cognitive and social scientists have rushed to tell us on the basis of follow-up personality tests, have the psychological characteristics of sub-clinical psychopathy. The stunning conclusion, then, seems to be that utilitarians are psychopaths!
A philosopher would have to be some sort of psychopath to advocate actively murdering a man in order to maximize happiness of the entire society. Many leftists also have strange views about causing harm to people for the supposed good of society.
Self-driving cars may soon be programmed with their own algorithms to the trolley problem. They may even be programmed to kill you, if it avoids killing a couple of pedestrians.
Someday we may all be at the mercy of artificially intelligent robots, and their rules may make you expendable.
Paul Bloom tweets:
Should utilitarians devote their lives to creating sentient artificial beings who are incredibly happy? (ht: @MaxMbloom18)Yes, that is the logical conclusion of the philosopher-utilitarians.