Musical Trolleys - a study in ethics

Many of my fine atheist and skeptic friends  - and doubtless others - will be familiar with The Trolley Problem, the study of ethics through hypothetical scenarios first introduced by philosopher Phillipa Foot*.

The problem is most commonly known from the scenario of a branched train line. Several workers are on the main line, and one is on a siding. You can divert the train using a switch, and you describe whether you would throw the switch or not. The scenario is then varied, to find the points at which you would take action to divert the train. Sometimes there are loopbacks. Sometimes the choice is passive, as in not diverting the train. Sometimes there are fat people.

I have a variation on the trolley problem, which I use to examine and measure the relative worth of various musical works and personalities.

For instance, I recently tweeted the following, to some positive response:

Similarly, I would drive, onto the train tracks, a bus containing Justin Beiber, Bono, James Blunt, Janet Jackson and the entire cast of Glee if it would save Neil Innes from having a slightly sore little finger.

But then, wouldn't everyone?

Stilll, I have a feeling this nascent science could have a great impact in the important, yet rarely studied crossover between musical taste and ethics. I invite readers, for instance, to ponder the following.

  • How many of the Wu Tang Clan would have to be in a bus before you would definitely push it in front of a moving train, thereby saving Delta Goodrem's contribution to music?
  • If there were 300 My Chemical Romance fans on one siding, and 300 Jimmy Eat World fans were on the main line, would anyone care either way?
  • If Cher is on the train track and Celine Dion is sitting on the edge of a bridge, can you find a way to get both to fall under the train?
  • When, indeed, is the next train, and can you get both Michael Buble and Simon Cowell here in time?

 Feel free to use the comment area to enrich this marvellous new viewpoint into empirical ethical reasoning


* try saying that five times with a mouthful of cream crackers

posted @ Friday, August 5, 2011 3:22 PM


Comments on this entry:

# re: Musical Trolleys - a study in ethics

Left by RipleyP at 8/9/2011 3:09 PM
This dilemma is usually solved in the case of the Striesand/Dion by consideration of the Morris Dancer* and Accordion player* question.

In this you have a car and a Morris dancer and an accordion player. The question is who to hit first. Of course it should be the accordion player as one should always attend to business before pleasure.

The issue we are faced with is what is the greater moral wrong in taking inaction in that both are business and pleasure. As to not take out either Striesand or Dion is of course to subject humanity to a potential come back tour.

I wonder if these questions are responsible for my hair. The heat generated is too great for a cranium to contain and as such there are side effects on my hair.

* please replace with your undesirable option of your choice.
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