The purpose of this paper is to examine Robert Hallborg's paper, Comparing Harms, The Lesser Evil Defense and the Trolley Problem. Hallborg analyzes a series of scenarios, all of which involve a choice of evils, in an attempt to understand our limited acceptance of the lesser evil defense in criminal law. He holds that our intuitive judgments in the cases show that the lesser-evils defense can be used as a justification for killing innocent people but only in cases where the acting agent had a choice between commensurate evils. Hallborg begins with Phillipa Foot's original problems and utilizes many of Judith Jarvis Thomson's scenarios. He examines and rejects theories put forth by both Foot and Thomson in favor of his theory of commensurate value. Here I will examine again their theories as well as Hallborg's, finally offering my own theory as to why we come to seemingly paradoxical conclusions about the permissibility of acting in the various lesser-evil situations.
The first section of this essay will discuss the origins of the original Trolley Problem, Trolley Driver, as well as the doctrine of the double effect. There are many proponents of the doctrine of the double effect (herein called DDE) who claim it as a moral guideline for action. In fact, Trolley Driver is first discussed in an article written by Foot in which she analyzes the DDE and its application by Catholics who use it to support their views on abortion. Although Foot ultimately rejects the application of the DDE to her case in favor of a different guideline, the doctrine's importance remains both in understanding the history of the problems and an analysis of the remaining cases.
Although I too discard it, the doctrine ought to be used on each of the given cases simply for illustrative purposes: it may not give us an answer to our explanations but it goes a long way in helping us understand why these intuitions appear. The second section is a description of some of the Trolley Problems Hallborg utilizes. There are several variants of these cases but I choose not to discuss them in this section. The cases themselves are puzzle some enough and I prefer the reader to have a clearer idea of the cases themselves before throwing any variations in. For some of the cases, I will bring in a variation to illustrate that either Hallborg or Thomson's intuitions are misguided, but this will not be until section three where I examine their responses to the questions posed by the problems. I have organized the paper in a different fashion than Hallborg.
He gives cases and then answers to the questions and an analysis of these answers one at a time, case by case. I prefer to give the cases first, followed by a section on the various responses. The third section is an effort to give these responses and analyze their consistency throughout the different scenarios. I start here with an examination of the DDE, followed by Foot's theory. I then go into Thomson's intuitions and finish with Hallborg.
The fourth section arises because of a fundamental disagreement between myself and Hallborg regarding one of the cases. This disagreement leads us to come to different conclusions as to the factors involved in our intuitions in the cases as a whole. I will discuss the disagreement fully and attempt to show that the de ontic approach I take is more fitting to these cases than his theory of commensurate evils. I do not believe Hallborg's to be completely wrong, nor do I believe that Foot and Thomson's approaches are completely incorrect. I argue that, with the exception of the very brief discussion utilitarian principles, each of the theories presented here goes a long way towards our understanding of the perplexing nature of our responses to these problems.
Here I will again bring in some variations of the trolley problems in an effort to bring my point home. The final section will be a discussion of what I believe to be the governing force in making these difficult moral decisions. It is strongly Kantian in nature, however I will not hold to the strictest of de ontological principles. Each of the authors brings up Kant in their discussions but ultimately rejects his Categorical Imperative as insufficient. The authors believe there is more to the difference in intuitions here than is allowed by the Categorical Imperative. I argue that they are mistaken and in cases as difficult as these we are best to keep things as simple as possible.
This can, I believe, be done using Kant and without serious altering of his theory. One last note before I continue. Throughout the paper I use the term "our" to refer to Foot, Thomson, Hallborg and myself. In many, of the cases, the four of us are in agreement as to which actions are permissible or impermissible for the agents. I do not use the term to signify the entire realm of moral beings. Unlike Hallborg and Thomson, who claim to have found few people who disagree with their intuitions, I have found several who are in complete disagreement with my intuitions.
This is the cases even when my intuitions mirror those of Hallborg and Thomson. Perhaps that is what I deserve for bringing these problems to the attention of people untrained in moral philosophy. This is the intent of Hallborg, however, in as much as he is seeking our gut reactions to these cases. In his words, "no deep thought; stay at pre-philosophical intuitive thinking... We need to see these cases through the eyes of 'ordinary' persons". Arguably it is a noteworthy intention, however, as I will point out in regards to his view on Thomson's theory, simply because a moral system and its underlying principles and reasoning is difficult, we should not, for that reason alone, discard it.