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’

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

28 Pages Posted: 1 Sep 2010 Last revised: 12 Oct 2012

Alec D. Walen

Rutgers School of Law; Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey - Department of Philosophy

David Wasserman

Center for Ethics at Yeshiva University

Date Written: March 7, 2011

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.

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

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: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1669641

Alec D. Walen (Contact Author)

Rutgers School of Law ( email )

NJ
United States

Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey - Department of Philosophy ( email )

106 Somerset St
5th Floor
New Brunswick, NJ 08901
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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