I wonder what exactly are the differences and if I am correct with my assumptions. The trolley problem: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trolley_problem


For the utilitarian, the only morally significant factor in the trolley cases is the number of lives saved. How those lives are saved does not matter. So a utilitarian would judge that in the first case, we should pull the switch, directing the trolley away from the larger group and toward the single man. One life is lost and four are saved. The utilitarian would also say that in the second case, we should push the fat man off the bridge and into the path of the trolley. Again, one life is lost and four are saved. Since the consequences are the same, the acts are equally right.

But we have two ways...

Preference utilitarianism is a non-hedonistic alternative to classic utilitarianism is preference utilitarianism • An act is morally right if and only if that act maximizes the good • The good = the total good of all humans or even all sentient beings

Now, in this case: all humans are not being treated equally, so you don't a thing.

Immanuel Kant:

  • Pulling the lever: is okay, as it means you are not using the person
  • Pushing the fat man: NOT okay, as it means you are using the person

Classical Utilitarians:

  • Pulling the lever: is okay, as you save 5 lives, even though you kill one person.
  • Pushing the fat man: is okay, as you save 5 lives, even though you kill one person.

Preference Utilitarians:

  • Pulling the lever: NOT okay, as not all humans are being treated the same way.
  • Pushing the fat man: NOT okay, as not all humans are being treated the same way.

Or am I totally wrong here? I have read a lot of things and am very confused right now.

  • 2
    I think it's far from clear that you could for Kant pull the lever. Can you support your clam from his text?
    – virmaior
    May 14, 2017 at 11:12
  • Like here: degreeoffreedom.org/trolley-problem And what about the Utilitarian views? Are they correct? I mean, my assumptions...
    – Siyah
    May 14, 2017 at 11:17
  • 2
    I didn't read it super carefully but I strongly recommend you learn more about what maxims have to do with acts of will for Kant. It's a dramatic oversimplification to suggest that it's okay on Kant's picture as long as you don't immediately use someone as an end.
    – virmaior
    May 14, 2017 at 13:54
  • Alright, but that's just Kant. What about the rest? So what you say is that Kant wouldn't have done a thing in both situations, correct?
    – Siyah
    May 14, 2017 at 19:08
  • +1. You refer at the start to 'utiltianism' and later to 'classical' utilitarianism. The position you outline appears to be a version of act-utilitarianism. The act-utilitarian would, I agree, pull and push. It is less clear that a rule- or an indirect utilitarian would make the same decisions. It's fine if you want to concentrate on act-utilitarianism but act-utilitarianism does not accommodate the flexible posssibilities of utilitarian response.
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    May 24, 2020 at 18:36

1 Answer 1



The trolley thought experiment has a very important purpose. It is to point out the need for a moral/ethical theory. In other words, we find out that a consistent moral/ethical system is needed since our natural choice is usually inconsistent. (Many people assume anything natural is good.)

Psychology studies have shown that most people, from the first part of the text, choose to flip the switch. Then, for the next part of the text, they choose to not push that fat man. (This is inconsistent for deontology, and inconsistent for classical utilitarianism.) It's really not about Kant, Mill or a contemporary philosopher. It's about being morally consistent. Keep that in mind.

So whose preference utilitarianism? Two prominent preference utilitarian ethicists are Hare (1919 – 2002) and the popular Singer (still kicken'). Both draw upon a two-level system that safeguard individual rights--combining the best of both moral theories: two-level utilitarianism. And by combine, I'm saying deontology: On page 235, "as a moral philosopher, I am pretty confident that the best ethical theory is a combination of Kantianism with utilitarianism (Hare 1993)."

An act is morally right iff that act maximizes the good

Not quite. Instead, in/action is morally right if it maximizes the greatest number of preferences. (The good being the total good of all humans or all sentient beings--is circular.)

All humans are not being treated equally

Equality/fairness is not considered. Again, mis-presumption/interpretation here. From the brief incomplete and run-on sentences given, it feels like you're thinking some sort of communist equality. Although, justice, a type of equality is factored in if you want to think about it like that.

I was going to re-do the Kant, Mill/Bentham & Singer list for/against each action. But to prove a point, remember the main aim: consistency. Besides, the Downing Child thought experiment has a lot more substance ;)

Further reading

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