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Kill the fat guy or not thought experiment post?
October 17, 2011 3:15 PM   Subscribe

Hey, anyone remember that Metafilter post about a thought experiment involving a fat guy and whether you should push him off a bridge or front of a train to save a bunch of other people? If so, what's the link to the post? I searched under "thought experiment" and "philosophy" but couldn't find it.
posted by Brandon Blatcher to MetaFilter-Related at 3:15 PM (60 comments total)

Was it this one?
posted by vespertine at 3:17 PM on October 17, 2011


The search term is "trolley problem."
posted by gerryblog at 3:21 PM on October 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


This features in a post I did.
posted by grobstein at 3:24 PM on October 17, 2011


Maybe you're thinking of the "Morality" episode of RadioLab.
posted by sambosambo at 3:24 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Was it this one?

Close, but it was the first "Previous" comment that linked to the post I was thinking of.

Maybe you're thinking of the "Morality" episode of RadioLab.

Barbara, my memory may be bad but I am able to tell media tv stations apart.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:27 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Trolley problem (works best if you speak Mancunian)
posted by Abiezer at 3:33 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


You need to talk to me about something, Brandon?
posted by Edogy at 3:40 PM on October 17, 2011


Edogy, stop trying to lure people to the bridge.
posted by iamkimiam at 3:51 PM on October 17, 2011


I don't know what is going on, but honey, call me tonight. I hope it is our night. I've lost track of your spouses.


xoxo
- YOUR babby.
posted by babbyʼ); Drop table users; -- at 3:53 PM on October 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


"I've lost track of your spouses."

Like a runaway train, that Brandon Blatcher.
posted by iamkimiam at 3:55 PM on October 17, 2011


iamkimaiam,
I still cry every night because you haven't spoused me back.
xoxo.
- babby
posted by babbyʼ); Drop table users; -- at 3:57 PM on October 17, 2011


OK, one mor e Martini at sfo and I will not be able to operate this devil machine.
posted by babbyʼ); Drop table users; -- at 3:59 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm still on the damn bridge. What are you people waiting for?
posted by Splunge at 4:22 PM on October 17, 2011


Jump.
posted by spitbull at 4:27 PM on October 17, 2011


Don't jump, FLY.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:28 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


pull the train
posted by pianomover at 4:42 PM on October 17, 2011


I lost my fat spouse on some tracks. Hope pls?
posted by Eideteker at 4:42 PM on October 17, 2011


It's a standard freshman morality and ethics question, meant to spark thinking about utilitarianism, for what it's worth. Although 'fat' has never been a part of the standard formulation, that I can recall.

Perhaps that's the MeFi twist.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:42 PM on October 17, 2011 [4 favorites]


Although 'fat' has never been a part of the standard formulation, that I can recall.

For some reason 'fat' has been in all the formulations I've seen. I think the theory is that someone has to weigh enough to derail a train. Which would be impressive, really.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 4:46 PM on October 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


Screw you all. I'm going home.
posted by Splunge at 4:54 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Don't jump, FLY.

The Boy Who Could Fly has haunted me for years. I can't even remember why; guess I need to re-watch it.
posted by curious nu at 4:56 PM on October 17, 2011


When you hit ground again Babby, you will see that we are so spoused. Forever.
posted by iamkimiam at 4:56 PM on October 17, 2011


What if the fat guy is holding a kitty? Two kitties? What if they've been declawed?
posted by villanelles at dawn at 5:10 PM on October 17, 2011 [4 favorites]


Although 'fat' has never been a part of the standard formulation, that I can recall.

The standard formulation just involves different numbers of people on different tracks. So, either the trolley kills, say, four people or you can switch the track and it will kill just one person. The majority of people, under these situations, will choose to switch tracks.

The "fat man" case is slightly different, and it is noteworthy because the majority of people wouldn't choose to push him. You have the same number of deaths: one vs. four. You just have a different method through which that one death is caused. It's common, but not as common as the standard story. There are other variations, as well.

This video discusses both cases.
posted by meese at 5:14 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Although 'fat' has never been a part of the standard formulation, that I can recall.

I've seen it occasionally used in order to add a cultural aesthetic component to the base ethical problem. The discussion in comments here goes into that a little bit (consequentialism vs. utilitarianism). Sometimes it's formulated as "you, a thin person, can jump into the trolley path, or someone else, a fat person, can jump into the trolley path; who should jump?" to make this variant a little more explicit. Emotivism deals with these kinds of preferential meta-ethics to some significant degree.
posted by Errant at 5:24 PM on October 17, 2011


Why does Brandon want to push me off a cliff?
posted by cjorgensen at 5:38 PM on October 17, 2011


Why does a cliff want to Soviet Russia pushing in Brandon you?
posted by kaibutsu at 5:41 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh, the trolley problem is a thought experiment? Oops.
posted by FishBike at 5:55 PM on October 17, 2011 [6 favorites]


Although 'fat' has never been a part of the standard formulation, that I can recall.

For some reason 'fat' has been in all the formulations I've seen.


It may be that the trolley problem got mixed up with a very similar thought experiment by Kai Nielsen, from "A Defense of Utilitarianism." In it, you and some others are in a seaside cave and the tide is coming in. The entrance to the cave, however, is being plugged by an overweight man. You have to choose between letting yourselves all drown, or blowing up the man with a stick of dynamite you happen to have handy.

Moral philosophers are fucked up.
posted by Beardman at 6:01 PM on October 17, 2011 [7 favorites]


The 'fat' thing comes from the specific 'fat man capable of stopping a runaway train if you push him onto the track ' in the (alleged) 'Experiments in Philosophy' site linked above, which is best summed up in this comment from that post.

Being as the site appears best to condone torture and at worst to have been set up explicitly in order to justify it, any business you may have over whether the 'fat' thing is questionable must be seen in that context.

Nasty little place. Reminds me of the career "philosophers" I met at university, who mostly seemed vaguely charming over a few drinks - if saddled with some fairly strange opinions and somehow prematurely middle-aged - but who then largely went on to work for right-wing think tanks.
posted by motty at 6:01 PM on October 17, 2011


If the fat man didn't want to be pushed in front of the train, he'd exercise more and put down the ho-ho, amirite?

/troll
posted by klangklangston at 6:05 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Moral philosophers are fucked up.

Yes. Yes.
posted by meese at 6:07 PM on October 17, 2011


I think the version I heard in a course involved actually cutting your way through a fat man.

Or maybe that was in a review of a Saw film.

I swear there was a Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal comic about this
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 6:19 PM on October 17, 2011


Oh, the trolley problem is a thought experiment? Oops.

So I take it my model train set didn't "get stolen by burglars" when you were house sitting, and my gerbils didn't "get out somehow"?
posted by cortex (staff) at 6:19 PM on October 17, 2011 [9 favorites]


Guys, a mod is onto us!
posted by cjorgensen at 6:25 PM on October 17, 2011


HURF DURF TROLLEY DERAILERS
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 6:28 PM on October 17, 2011


Flagged as derail.
posted by bleep at 6:37 PM on October 17, 2011 [8 favorites]


What do these filmmakers have in common?
Errol Morris, Ethan Coen, Terrence Malick, Wes Anderson, Michael Haneke, Pavel Pawlikowski
Philosophy educations.

Morris's advisor for awhile was freakin' Thomas Kuhn. They didn't get along.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 6:51 PM on October 17, 2011 [6 favorites]


You know, if you time it right, you move the switch so the trolley's front truck goes down one branch, and the second truck goes down the other. The trolley will promptly derail.

As for the guy on the bridge, surely the only moral choice is for you to jump?
posted by maxwelton at 6:52 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


(Incidentally, that came from a big, painstaking analysis I did of the educational backgrounds of about 60 highly-regarded directors. After film and general MFA degrees, philosophy was the most common. And there were almost no film schools represented besides NYU and USC, with Columbia showing up a few times.)
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 7:01 PM on October 17, 2011


It's a trick question. Everyone knows a fat man can't jump.
posted by Sailormom at 7:21 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


That's why you have to push him.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:23 PM on October 17, 2011


That's a cool fact, Ivan! Is that analysis on the web or published anywhere I can refer people to?
posted by painquale at 7:23 PM on October 17, 2011


how do you tie somebody to a train track in Red Dead Redemption? I promise to record what affect it has on my morality meter
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 7:32 PM on October 17, 2011


painquale, it's not available anywhere on the net. It was something I did for research for something else. And it's not like it was rigorous—I went looking for lists of highly-regarded directors and then I did web searches (Wikipedia ended up being the most reliable source) to discover their backgrounds.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 7:35 PM on October 17, 2011


("Reliable" in that there was information available; not necessarily reliable in that it was always true. Though I find the concerns about Wikipedia overblown on most subjects. Some topics you have to be careful with, though.)
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 7:36 PM on October 17, 2011


You know, if you time it right, you move the switch so the trolley's front truck goes down one branch, and the second truck goes down the other. The trolley will promptly derail.

Oh. Well that's no fun. For a second there I thought you were working out how you could get the dudes on both branches.

(my goal as an experimental subject is to be a six sigma excursion)
posted by madmethods at 7:45 PM on October 17, 2011


The trick is to shoot all 8 switches so the train derails and explodes. If you don't, you have to fight the really annoying kite boss.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 7:49 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


The trick is to shoot all 8 switches so the train derails and explodes

Stop giving Michael Bay ideas.
posted by arcticseal at 8:00 PM on October 17, 2011


Funny, this could also refer to my most recent question about Peter Ustinov--sadly now tagged 'stumped.'
posted by yellowcandy at 8:43 PM on October 17, 2011


Oh. Well that's no fun. For a second there I thought you were working out how you could get the dudes on both branches.

That's easy. Just let the trolley hit the four dudes on one track and use their steaming entrails to smother the other guy.

Or if that sounds like too much work you could just back the trolley up, flip the switch, and have a go at the other guy.

(I'm assuming here these are all philosophy undergrad volunteers. It would be immoral otherwise.)
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:27 PM on October 17, 2011


I remember in one of these threads an outstanding comment... it included brains in vats controlling the trolley, the deaths of philosophy grads, and a bunch of other philosophy gedankeneksperiment tropes... my contribution included the death of the author of the problem. Fun times were had by all.
posted by Meatbomb at 10:19 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Following the parable of the broken window, I'm stimulating the economy by keying Mercedeses.
posted by Eideteker at 10:40 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


I assume half of Metafilter would push the fat guy, regardless of whether there was a train coming or not, and the other half would run to catch him, with the same qualifier.
posted by biffa at 4:21 AM on October 18, 2011


HURF DURF TROLLEY DERAILER
posted by flabdablet at 4:49 AM on October 18, 2011


Whoops.

Mr. Bad Example really was, it seems. Funny.

We should have a word for when that happens.
posted by flabdablet at 4:52 AM on October 18, 2011


I know! He can be my eponymuse!
posted by flabdablet at 4:53 AM on October 18, 2011


A pony mouse?
posted by arcticseal at 6:22 AM on October 18, 2011


Listen, the fat guy will never take off, irregardless of how much or how little friction is on the treadmill.
posted by Mister_A at 7:26 AM on October 18, 2011


Oh hey, that was my post! Sorry I'm so late to the party, I guess I missed all the fun. Here, I brought a little something. I hope you like ice wine, I'm not a big fan myself but someone gave it to me and I didn't want it to go to waste. Oooh! Prosciutto and melon canapes, I loooove these! Mind if I open this bottle of wine? I'll just go see if I can find a clean glass and plate in the kitchen...
posted by googly at 7:38 AM on October 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


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