The dilemma is the following. There's a button, if you press it, the world will get fixed by curing aids, cancer, fixing world hunger, homelessness, etc.
You will die in 6 hours and receive no credit for your sacrifice.

  • Unfortunately this is a very poor model. Take the button apart and whatever is behind it and find out how it works. I beat the trolley problem on first read, and nobody had to die.
    – Joshua
    Nov 23, 2018 at 15:02

1 Answer 1


This would be considered a variation on the trolley problem, specifically it is similar to the transplant surgeon proposed by Judith Jarvis Thomson.

The general scope of such cases is to look at when we think it would make sense to sacrifice one or more lives to save one or more lives, and the cases distinguish themselves insofar as the number or quality of the lives on each side vary. A second variable is whether someone will die anyway. A third variable is the degree to which you can be certain of the consequences of your action. A fourth variable is action versus inaction as the source of the sacrificing.

There, the basic question is whether it would be okay to kill a homeless drifter if we can use his organs to save 10 people.

I haven't seen your variation in the literature but the distinctive features versus a standard trolley problem are:

  1. The drifter/sacrifice is you.
  2. You are in this case willing (presumably).
  3. The scope of the assistance your death provides is quite high.

There may be more similar cases in the literature.

I would guess your case is slightly less interesting in terms of testing our intuitions about the general utilitarian calculus, because we would say someone can make a choice about their own life, roughly speaking. At the same time, it is interesting in that we could ask whether this counts as a heroic act or moral thing to do. (The ancient Greeks might reject that it's heroic because there is no glory; we might disagree and think there is value in doing good even in secret).

  • Your link is completely broken.
    – gnasher729
    Jul 13, 2015 at 8:44
  • @gnasher729 good find! Even better the article itself is online.
    – virmaior
    Jul 13, 2015 at 9:44

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .