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The Trolley Problem: A virtue-ethical perspective

The main reason why virtue ethicists have avoided the Trolley Debate is that it is, in a sense, "none of our business." The thought experiments are set up to test our intuitions about moral principles (e.g. is the principle, "Do not kill an innocent person" always more stringent than "Rescue people in danger"?) Virtue ethics rejects moral principles and instead focuses the attention on cultivating and exercising the virtues, and asking, "What would a virtuous person do in the circumstances?" To apply this approach to the Bystander and Footbridge cases we have to begin by considering more realistic versions of the two cases, where the available options are not stipulated at the outset. This allows us to see that there is an important difference between the two cases. In Bystander, it requires some quick thinking to realise that he has the option of turning the trolley. Given that he has very little time to make the decision a virtuous person's instincts could prompt him to turn the trolley in an attempt to save the five, or to refrain from doing so in order not to harm the one. In time, and as a benevolent person, he will probably come to believe that turning the trolley was the best thing to do. By contrast, in Footbridge, it will simply not occur to a virtuous person to use someone as a trolleystop. If someone asked him later on, "Why didn't you just push the big man onto the track?" he will reject this suggestion as an impossibility: "No ways!", for it is against the nature of a virtuous person to view and use others as objects.
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