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Brendiggg User avatar
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Michael F. Patton, Jr.
Syracuse University

Consider the following case:
On Twin Earth, a brain in a vat is at the wheel of a runaway trolley. There are only two options that the brain can take: the right side of the fork in the track or the left side of the fork. There is no way in sight of derailing or stopping the trolley and the brain is aware of this, for the brain knows trolleys. The brain is causally hooked up to the trolley such that the brain can determine the course which the trolley will take.

On the right side of the track there is a single railroad worker, Jones, who will definitely be killed if the brain steers the trolley to the right. If the railman on the right lives, he will go on to kill five men for the sake of killing them, but in doing so will inadvertently save the lives of thirty orphans (one of the five men he will kill is planning to destroy a bridge that the orphans' bus will be crossing later that night). One of the orphans that will be killed would have grown up to become a tyrant who would make good utilitarian men do bad things. Another of the orphans would grow up to become G.E.M. Anscombe, while a third would invent the pop-top can.

If the brain in the vat chooses the left side of the track, the trolley will definitely hit and kill a railman on the left side of the track, "Leftie" and will hit and destroy ten beating hearts on the track that could (and would) have been transplanted into ten patients in the local hospital that will die without donor hearts. These are the only hearts available, and the brain is aware of this, for the brain knows hearts. If the railman on the left side of the track lives, he too will kill five men, in fact the same five that the railman on the right would kill. However, "Leftie" will kill the five as an unintended consequence of saving ten men: he will inadvertently kill the five men rushing the ten hearts to the local hospital for transplantation. A further result of "Leftie's" act would be that the busload of orphans will be spared. Among the five men killed by "Leftie" are both the man responsible for putting the brain at the controls of the trolley, and the author of this example. If the ten hearts and "Leftie" are killed by the trolley, the ten prospective heart-transplant patients will die and their kidneys will be used to save the lives of twenty kidney-transplant patients, one of whom will grow up to cure cancer, and one of whom will grow up to be Hitler. There are other kidneys and dialysis machines available, however the brain does not know kidneys, and this is not a factor.

Assume that the brain's choice, whatever it turns out to be, will serve as an example to other brains-in-vats and so the effects of his decision will be amplified. Also assume that if the brain chooses the right side of the fork, an unjust war free of war crimes will ensue, while if the brain chooses the left fork, a just war fraught with war crimes will result. Furthermore, there is an intermittently active Cartesian demon deceiving the brain in such a manner that the brain is never sure if it is being deceived.

QUESTION: What should the brain do?

[ALTERNATIVE EXAMPLE: Same as above, except the brain has had a commisurotomy, and the left half of the brain is a consequentialist and the right side is an absolutist.]

Copyright, 1988 by the American Philosophical Association

Spot of Borg User avatar
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*flips a coin*

Okay right brain it is. (Isnt that the arty farty side?)

How many did I kill?

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LightBringer User avatar

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The answer is to do nothing.

Do nothing and do no harm.
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Chard User avatar
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Of the two I'd consider the "better" choice would be taking the right path. Here's my reasoning...

By not choosing left path the worst that can happen is Hitler and while that's bad, we already know how that bit of history plays out and the Good Guys win. The best that can happen with not choosing the left path is cancer gets a cure, saving far more lives than were lost in WWII to begin with.

By not choosing the right path we end up with a worst case of an unknown tyrant that will make good men do bad things, but we're getting that anyway with the left and we know who that tyrant is and what will happen. The best case is we get a philosopher and lets face facts here, the world needs more philosophers like it needs a thermonuclear war breaking out. Oh, and pop top cans, which I can honestly live without as everyone know that good beer always comes in green or brown glass bottles you need a bottle opener to take the top off of, and it's a fairly obvious concept anyway that someone else would end up inventing anyway.

By not choosing either patch you're doing more harm than good by adding another unknown tyrant on top of the known tyrant and the only positive gains over choosing the right path would be easy open beer cans and someone with a glorified liberal arts degree.
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eris of borg User avatar

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In my opinion you have failed to address the real question here.

That being, what brain would be so idle and flatulent as to pose such a question.

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