A Tangled Loop by Kerah Gordon-Solmon
That is my sketch of the trolley track in Judith Thomson’s loop variant of the trolley problem. The thing that looks like a lollipop is a trolley track. The thing that looks like a wonky musical clef is a trolley. Outside the frame, there is a switch for operating the trolley.
The trolley is heading toward the loop, bearing left. It is on course to circle the loop over and over, in a clockwise direction. But, if someone flips the switch before the trolley enters the loop, the trolley will bear right, to circle in a counter-clockwise direction.
Now we can add some people! Five small people are at 9 o’clock. One large person is at 3 o’clock. Whichever group the trolley hits first will stop it, preventing it from hitting the other group.
What is the rationale for turning the trolley? The one large person will stop the trolley, preventing it from hitting the five.
What is the rationale against turning the trolley? The five small people will stop the trolley, preventing it from hitting the one. Notice that, if the five wouldn’t stop the trolley, you’d have to turn it. The one person would die regardless, in almost the same moment; there would be nothing you could do for him. Turning the trolley, you would at least save the five.
Is it permissible to turn the trolley? If you turn it, you’re exploiting the presence of the one to save the five. If you don’t turn it, you’re (passively) exploiting the presence of the five to enable the one to survive. From the point of view of the Doctrine of Double Effect — or any principle that discriminates against treating people as means in ways that lead to them suffering harm — it’s a wash. The remaining moral considerations are doing vs. allowing, 5 vs. 1, etc.
The upshot: suppose it is permissible to turn the trolley in the loop case. This is compatible with the view that it matters, in doing or allowing harm, whether one is using one’s victim (as a tool, as an exploitable opportunity, etc.). Contra, Thomson, the former is not a true counter-example to the latter.
— Quinn, W. (1989). “Actions, Intentions, and Consequences: The Doctrine of Double Effect,” Philosophy & Public Affairs, 18/4: 334-351.
— Thomson, J.J. (1985) ‘The Trolley Problem’, Yale Law Journal, 94: 1395–415.