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Agents, Impartiality, and the Priority of Claims Over Duties; Diagnosing Why Thomson Still Gets the Trolley Problem Wrong by Appeal to the ‘Mechanics of Claims’


Alec D. Walen


Rutgers School of Law, Camden

David Wasserman


Center for Ethics at Yeshiva University

March 7, 2011

Journal of Moral Philosophy 9 (2012): 545-571 (DOI: 10.1163/174552412X628959)

Abstract:     
Judith Jarvis Thomson recently argued that it is impermissible for a bystander to turn a runaway trolley from five onto one. But she also argues that a trolley driver is required to do just that. We believe that her argument is flawed in three important ways. She fails to give proper weight to (a) an agent¹s claims not to be required to act in ways he does not want to, (b) impartiality in the weighing of competing patient-claims, and (c) the role of patient-claims in determining agent-duties. All three of these failures can be understood in terms of what we call the Mechanics of Claims, an approach we develop for identifying and balancing competing claims in determining rights. Using that framework, one can see both why Thomson’s most recent argument is mistaken, and how to think more clearly about deontological choices generally.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 28

Keywords: Agents and Patients, Duties, Impartiality, Mechanics of Claims, Rights, Trolley Problem

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Date posted: September 1, 2010 ; Last revised: October 12, 2012

Suggested Citation

Walen, Alec D. and Wasserman, David, Agents, Impartiality, and the Priority of Claims Over Duties; Diagnosing Why Thomson Still Gets the Trolley Problem Wrong by Appeal to the ‘Mechanics of Claims’ (March 7, 2011). Journal of Moral Philosophy 9 (2012): 545-571 (DOI: 10.1163/174552412X628959). Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1669641

Contact Information

Alec D. Walen (Contact Author)
Rutgers School of Law, Camden ( email )
217 N. 5th Street
Camden, NJ 08102-1203
United States
David Wasserman
Center for Ethics at Yeshiva University ( email )
500 West 185th Street
New York, NY 10033
United States
(212) 960-0830 (Phone)
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