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Title: The Trolley Dilemma and the Art of Making Judgments on Concrete Situations
Author(s): DUBBINK, Wim , SLEGERS, Roos
Journal: Ethical Perspectives
Volume: 29    Issue: 3   Date: 2022   
Pages: 313-334
DOI: 10.2143/EP.29.3.3291668

Abstract :
Trolley cases are widely used in both ethics research and teaching. We investigate the use of trolleys as ‘cases’ i.e. in guiding reflection on right and wrong in individual and concrete – albeit hypothetical – choice situations (so-called dilemmas). There is something elusive about judging individual cases and we argue that important intricacies are overlooked when trolley cases are used. We claim that reflection on so-called dilemmas using trolley cases is methodologically flawed (in ways worse than the familiar complaint that using trolley cases is ‘abstract’). This flaw also affects the use of trolleys as ‘problems’, i.e. in philosophical research comparing and making sense of the various intuitions people have when reflecting on trolleys as cases. We distinguish ourselves from other critics of ‘trolleyology’ by placing our criticism on using trolleys in the context of a philosophical understanding of the intricacies of judging singular cases. Our philosophical understanding is grounded in the works of Kant and Ricoeur. Following Ricoeur, we demonstrate that proper judgment of concrete cases involves a complex interplay of two different kinds of judgments: a normative judgement and a judgment on the narrative. Proper judgment of cases therefore also critically depends on constituting the case as a narrative. Using trolley cases in this kind of reflection obstructs this possibility and thus affects the art of judgment. In developing our position, we distinguish between casuistic and demonstrative use of cases. We argue that reflection on cases should be casuistic, while trolley cases can only be used demonstratively.

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