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With regards to the famous trolley problem, I know that neuroscientists have largely found people believe it is morally wrong to flip the switch to kill one man in order to save five strangers.

I also know that they've found that the disgust centers in our brain (such as the amygdala) light up on a functional MRI based on how commissionary the act of sacrificing the one for the five is.

Thus, I am curious about the inverse: In which circumstances have they found that people are actually more willing to to sacrifice?

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    The actual question that you've asked seems more like a research science one than a philosophical one. – Cody Gray Jun 7 '11 at 23:18
  • @Cody Gray: The question is what kind of research has been done on this question. – Phira Jun 7 '11 at 23:21
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    My memory says people were more willing to kill one to save five when they just had to flip a switch (instead of pushing a fat man and all the other variations. Your question is whether there was a simple majority for acting in this or other scenarios? Well they find one for some storylines. This is more of a psychology/sociology/survey question then?! Or have I misunderstood you? – Ruben Jun 8 '11 at 0:02
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    Sam Harris gave a talk at Oxford regarding this issue recently. – boehj Jun 15 '11 at 2:16
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    I agree with Cody: the question seems not to be a philosophical question as phrased. Perhaps a more on-topic question would be along the lines of: "Ought the presence of a physiological indicator in response to an ethical question serve as a data point for determining the answer?" It's a question interesting enough that I may ask it myself at some point. – Jon Ericson Jul 6 '11 at 23:16
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The question is terribly confused, so let's unpack it.

With regards to the famous trolley problem, I know that neuroscientists have largely found people believe it is morally wrong to flip the switch to kill one man in order to save five strangers.

Well, you don't need to be a neuroscientist to find that-- a simple survey will do. But generally speaking, most people express moral qualms about throwing the switch, yes. So, this is either a sociological question (if you are quantitatively interested in people's responses) or a philosophical question (if you are attempting to analyze the ethical implications of the acts involved.) So far, so good.

I also know that they've found that the disgust centers in our brain (such as the amygdala) light up on a functional MRI based on how commissionary the act of sacrificing the one for the five is.

Here we've left philosophy behind, and moved to neuroscience. Neuroscientists have indeed found that the amgydala lights up on an fMRI when people think about disgusting things, and that the prospect of killing someone (as in the trolley scenario) is disgusting. Not a terribly surprising result, but there you go.

Now, we come to your question:

Thus, I am curious about the inverse: In which circumstances have they found that people are actually more willing to to sacrifice?

What? You seem to be asking about a hypothetical situation in which people would be more willing to throw the switch (presumably,"more willing" meaning in this case "more willing than in the standard 'kill one to save five' scenario"). If that's what you are asking, the answer is trivial: if we alter the thought experiment to be 1000 people saved (or a million, or all of humanity) we find that increasing numbers of people are willing to throw the switch. Similarly, if we alter the experiment to be, instead of a person killed, a rat, or a watermelon, we'd find more people willing to throw the switch. Or, we can keep it a person, but change the result to be one of an injury instead of death. There are lots of ways we can rewrite the scenario to get different results.

But if that's what you're asking, what does neuroscience have to do with anything?

The way you framed the question seems to imply that neuroscientists have something relevant to say on the matter, but this is at odds with the content of the question.

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This doesn't seem like a philosophy question because you are looking for empirical research, but in attempting to answer it from discussions in philosophy I run into another problem because of your choice of the word "sacrifice". You ask, "In which circumstances have they found that people are actually more willing to sacrifice?", presumably referring to sacrificing the one innocent bystander for five strangers. As I recall from my own research in this topic, most people would not kill (sacrifice?) the innocent man to save 5 strangers, just as you wouldn't kill a random person waiting in the emergency room of a hospital to save X patients who need organs to survive. However, if I conceive of a situation in which the innocent man is not innocent at all, but say, Hitler, I think most people wouldn't mind letting him stop the train of 5 strangers. But at that point, is it a sacrifice? It doesn't seem like a sacrifice because you are not losing anything.

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