Self-Sacrifice and the Trolley Problem

Philosophical Psychology, Forthcoming

14 Pages Posted: 2 Feb 2012

Date Written: February 1, 2012


Judith Jarvis Thomson has recently proposed a new argument for the thesis that killing the one in the Trolley Problem is not permissible. Her argument relies on the introduction of a new scenario in which the bystander may also sacrifice herself to save the five. Thomson argues that those not willing to sacrifice themselves if they could may not kill the one to save the five. Bryce Huebner and Marc Hauser have recently put Thomson’s argument to the empirical test by asking people what they should do in the new trilemma case in which they may also sacrifice themselves. They found that the majority judge that they should either kill the one or sacrifice themselves; Huebner and Hauser argue that those numbers speak against Thomson’s argument. But Thomson’s argument was about the dialectical effect of the new trilemma on the traditional dilemma, rather than about the trilemma itself. Here I present the results of a study in which I asked subjects first what they should do in the trilemma and then what they should do in the traditional Trolley Problem. I found that, if asked first about the trilemma, subjects then have the intuition that killing the one in the traditional Bystander at the Switch is not permissible – exactly what Thomson’s argument had predicted.

Keywords: trolley problem, double effect, self-sacrifice

Suggested Citation

Di Nucci, Ezio, Self-Sacrifice and the Trolley Problem (February 1, 2012). Philosophical Psychology, Forthcoming. Available at SSRN:

Ezio Di Nucci (Contact Author)

University of Copenhagen ( email )

Nørregade 10
Copenhagen, København DK-1165

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