The Trolley Issue

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The trolley dilemma is a one-of-a-kind example of a difficult ethical experiment. It examines the ethics and values of making decisions that affect people’s lives, as shown by other ethical dilemmas such as the transplant and the bystander at the turn (Thomson, 2017). When the same moral principles are applied to the various cases, it becomes apparent that ethical schools of thought cannot be applied to any case of the same kind. We analyze the trolley case using both the hedonistic calculus analysis and the Kantian analysis to untangle the ethical discrepancies based on moral decisions taken in different situations. The hedonistic calculus analysis suggests the application of Bentham’s procedure in estimating the pains and pleasures on egoistic hedonism. It draws its basis from the moral theory of Utilitarianism, which suggests that a given action is morally right only when its utmost utility is for the majority (The Hedonistic Calculus, 2017). In this method, Bentham suggested that 7 variables be used in the modified hedonistic calculus (The Hedonistic Calculus, 2017). These variables uniquely summarize the major factors of sensations of pain and pleasure from agent’s actions. These variables include:

Intensity (I) – The intensity of the sensations of pleasure or pain.

Duration (D) – The duration of the sensations of pain or pleasure.

Certainty (C) – The probability that the pain or pleasure will occur.

Propinquity (N) – The measure of the period in which the pain or pleasure ought to occur.

Fecundity (F) – The measure of the chances that the sensations of pleasure felt will lead to other pleasures.

Purity (P) – The measure of the chances that the sensations of pain or pleasure will give rise to other sensations.

Extent (E) – How many individuals are affected by the pain or pleasure?

The variables above are used in the hedonic calculus analysis. The variables are assessed on a scale of 0 to 10 with 0 being the indifference of pain or pleasure. The following equation will be used together with the assigned values of the variables in the application of the trolley problem. The equation for hedonistic calculus is as below (The Hedonistic Calculus, 2017):

{N [C (IxD)] + Nf [Cf (If xDf)]}

The variables with the subscript f suggest to future assignments of values. On performing a hedonistic calculus analysis of the trolley problem, the following will be achieved: The intensity of the pain felt is argued by whether it is better to let seven dies or kill one. In this circumstance, it would be better to kill one than seven. Therefore, the intensity of pain felt for killing one would be less (The Hedonistic Calculus, 2017). The duration of the action will be the same as the distance between the trolley, and the victims are equal. The certainty of the deaths is high since they are both unaware of the impending danger. The propinquity, which refers to a period in which the pain will occur is not of great significance since both sets of workers will die instantly upon impact. There is no chance for pleasure in the death and also will it lead to further pleasure, thus low fecundity. The chances are that the deaths resulting from both actions will lead to other sensations of pain and not pleasure. Lastly, the extent of the pain will be greater on killing the seven but low on the single individual.

Consequently, according to the Kantian analysis, it would be moral to save seven but kill one person. However, there should be no intent to murder. Kantian ethics argue that only accidental killings would be moral. Therefore, it follows that the intention of turning the trolley to kill one instead seven would be immoral because of the presence of intent.

Indeed, the trolley problem is a complicated one in which all moral actions are up for scrutiny. However, through analysis of the problem using hedonistic calculus and Kantian ethics, one would reach probable, but different solutions, aligning to the implied impact of the different actions. Consequently, an action would be both immoral and moral if analyzed from a different perspective. Nevertheless, it still stands that pain is the main variable of measuring the morality of the desired or chosen actions in the trolley problem.


The Hedonistic Calculus. (2017). Retrieved, from Accessed on [21st September 2017].

Thomson, Judith Jarvis. (2017). The Trolley Problem. Retrieved from Accessed on [21st September 2017].

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