Sunday, December 15, 2013

Bang, Bang, Bang Goes the Trolley

It had not occurred to me before, though it should have.

The trolley problem, which obsesses philosophers like a new shiny rock, even though it is a contrived and intentionally artificial example, does have SOME real world analogs.  The Google Driver will have to have an answer, either implicitly or explicitly ("The road is icy, you are skidding, and then change direction but can't stop.  There is a school tour ahead, with 12 children in the crosswalk.  On the sidewalk there is one old man.  Where do you steer?")

Here are some interesting thoughts.

Anyway, here is what had not occurred to me before.  Economists make everything euvoluntary by assuming perfect competition, with many equally good alternatives for all choosers.  Philosohers make nothing euvoluntary, by eliminating all of the alternatives and forcing people to choose under duress.  It could be Kant's "murderer at the door," forcing choice by threat of violence.  Or it could be the "trolley problem," forcing choice by circumstance. 

But most choices are not made in either conditions of perfect competition or in conditions of extreme duress.  So why do economists and philosophers say they want to study choice?  I'm afraid the Austrian economists have this right.

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Do you have suggestions on where we could find more examples of this phenomenon?