Synopses & Reviews
A trolley is careering out of control. Up ahead are five workers. On a spur to the right stands a single individual. And you're a bystander holding a switch that could divert the trolley. Should you let events unfold and watch as the trolley plows into the five? Or intervene — pull the switch, killing the one? This ethical conundrum — based on British philosopher Philippa Foot's 1967 thought experiment, the Trolley Problem — has inspired decades of lively argument around the world. Simple, provocative, even a little whimsical, it's a perfect conversation starter.
Now Thomas Cathcart, coauthor of the New York Times bestseller Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar, brings his sharp intelligence, quirky humor, and gift for popularizing philosophy to the Trolley Problem. Framing the issue as a possible crime that is to be tried in the Court of Public Opinion, Cathcart explores right and wrong, philosophy and ethics, intuition and logic, and more. The book is short but meaty, a lighthearted, informative, and completely compelling approach to thinking about big issues. There's the prosecutor's argument, and that of the defense. A professor's analysis, a brief from a bishop, a psychologist's opinion, and what the jury has to say. And along the way we learn about the Utilitarianism of Jeremy Bentham, Kant's limits of reason, St. Thomas Aquinas's fascinating Principle of Double Effect, and WWND (What would Nietzsche do?).
So the question is: Would you — should you — pull the switch?
"Unflaggingly engaging, witty, and completely true to the underlying philosophical issues." Robert Paul Wolff, author of About Philosophy
"Stop! Before you throw anyone off the bridge or under the bus, grab this witty, intelligent, and fast-paced treatise on ethical reasoning and chuckle your way to fresh moral insight. With Tom Cathcart as guide, you'll discover the pleasure of ethics without the sermon."Marvin M. Ellison, ethicist and author of Making Love Just: Sexual Ethics for Perplexing Times
"Cathcart's probing exploration of the complex nuances of moral reasoning takes you on an intellectual journey both stimulating and educational. This riveting little book is grounded, relevant, and fun. If you enjoy wrestling with ethical challenges, it's a must read." Gregory Stock, author, The Book of Questions
"Clang, clang, clang goes the trolley problem! Join Tom Cathcart on a wild ride through the various permutations of this philosophical puzzle, as he picks up such disparate passengers as Jeremy Bentham, Immanuel Kant, Thomas Aquinas, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Peter Singer along the way. While there may be blood on the tracks, Cathcart will guide you to a thought-provoking final stop." Tim Madigan, Associate Professor of Philosophy, St. John Fisher College and columnist, Philosophy Now Magazine
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 trolley s path. And you re standing next to a really fat man .
This ethical conundrum based on British philosopher Philippa Foot s 1967 thought experiment has inspired decades of lively argument around the world. Now Thomas Cathcart, coauthor of the New York Times bestseller Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar, brings his sharp intelligence, quirky humor, and gift for popularizing serious ideas to the trolley problem. Framing the issue as a possible crime that is to be tried in the Court of Public Opinion, Cathcart explores philosophy and ethics, intuition and logic. Along the way he makes connections to the Utilitarianism of Jeremy Bentham, Kant s limits of reason, St. Thomas Aquinas s fascinating Principle of Double Effect, and more.
Read with an open mind, this provocative book will challenge your deepest held notions of right and wrong. Would you divert the trolley? Kill one to save five? Would you throw the fat man off the bridge?
About the Author
Thomas Cathcart graduated from Harvard with a degree in philosophy, studied theology at the University of Chicago, and embarked on a “checkered career” (his words) from college teaching to hospice management until, at the age of 67, he started his writing life by coauthoring Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar with Daniel Klein. Mr. Cathcart and his wife live in New York City.