I studied Philosophy in college. Philosophy is what you study when you’ve decided that no other discipline really interests you enough to pretend to devote four years of your life to. Philosophy is much more interesting than, say: economics, political science, the rest of the humanities, all sciences except for physics, and everything else under the sun.
Oh, except math. Philosophy, math, and physics all tie.
But, hell. My interests in math and physics are mainly philosophical, anyway. (I’m pretty into string theory and/or the multiverse at the moment. Even though the former is untestable for the foreseeable future. Nerd alert.) I suppose I’m just a would-be philosopher who didn’t go to grad school and is therefore slowly forgetting the details. And in philosophy, that’s blasphemy because the details are important, damn it. Which means what have you…I’m losing it.
Anyhow. Here’s a poll (via) taken of one thousand or so philosophers (academics and grad students) on their various opinions on various hot-button issues in philosophy. And here’s my favorite question and answer:
Trolley problem (five straight ahead, one on side track, turn requires switching, what ought one do?): switch or don’t switch?
Accept or lean toward: switch 635 / 931 (68.2%) Other 225 / 931 (24.1%) Accept or lean toward: don’t switch 71 / 931 (7.6%)
The “trolley problem” in question goes something like this: you’re at a train switch, for no apparent reason, when all of a sudden a train comes barreling wildly down the tracks. On one of the tracks, the one that the train is currently barreling down, there are five people who cannot possibly get out of the way. (I forget why. Maybe they’re tied up? Anybody?) Moving on. So five people are on track maybe-tied-up and about to get smooshed, and you’re at a train switch. And you, the reader, are all like, “Well, shit, dummy: pull the switch!” Aha! Tricked you! The problem is, there’s a person on the other track, too. Equally tied up. Or whatever.
So what do you do?
Do you pull the switch and “actively” kill one person to save the five? Or do you leave it alone, save one, and “passively” let five people die?
It’s my favorite question-and-answer because 24.1% of philosophers never get around to making a decision–or decide instead that there is an alternative to the options on the table. In the meantime, the train has run over those people.