“It’s my right to go wherever I want, whenever I want.”
“It’s my responsibility not to go wherever I want, whenever I want.
The Trolley Problem can be subjected to countless mutations by tinkering with the parameters. Here’s a version I cooked up as a flash fan fiction during an earlier iteration of this website. In every variant of Trolley World you’re the driver confronting a moral dilemma:
Should I run over this person in order to save someone else, someone perhaps more worthy of living? Does killing someone with intent incur the same level of responsibility as allowing someone to die?
These are dilemmas of responsibility. It’s possible to imagine an alternative set of Trolley scenarios:
You’re driving the trolley and you see a group of Nazis gathered on the track ahead. Is it your responsibility to run them over, even if you could warn them or switch the trolley to a sidetrack? Is it your right to do so?
When I was back there in seminary school, I wrote a master’s thesis titled Rights versus Duties: Reciprocity Orientation in Moral Judgment. In the research I found that people who tend to resolve conflict by “moving toward” others in a cooperative gesture were significantly more likely to frame moral decisions in terms of conflicting responsibilities. In contrast, “moving away” people, who resolve conflict via confrontation, tended to regard moral dilemmas as a matter of conflicting rights.
Are rights-oriented people more aggressive and assertive, whereas duty-oriented people are more passive and reactive? Not necessarily. Soldiers do their duty; so do ICU medics.
After the service y’all are invited to join us for food fun and fellowship via Zoom. Before we close in prayer, let’s all join in on the corona hymn: