Problems in Philosophy

Browsing PhilPapers, an online philosophy research source, I see they conducted a survey of 3226 professional philosophers last November, the results of which have now been posted on their website.

Among other questions, the philosophers were asked if they were, or tended toward being, atheist. The answers are perhaps not too surprising. 72.8% accepted or leant towards atheism while only 14.6% leant toward a theist viewpoint.


Somewhat confusingly, 12.5% of those surveyed answered “Other”. Quite what sort of “Other” they may have meant is sadly left to the imagination.

What struck me most about the survey was the very first line, before I even got to the results.

The PhilPapers Survey was a survey of professional philosophers and others on their philosophical views, carried out in November 2009

Professional philosophers!

Not only are there people walking around this world who are paid to think, there are at least 3226 of them!

And, the best bit is, they don’t even need to agree on anything! What a sweet gig.

I’m going to get some practice by cogitating on this classic philosophy problem… The Trolley Problem

A trolley is running out of control down a track. In its path are 5 people who have been tied to the track by the mad philosopher. Fortunately, you can flip a switch, which will lead the trolley down a different track to safety. Unfortunately, there is a single person tied to that track. Should you flip the switch?


"Help! Is anyone on board a philosopher?!?!?!"

There doesn’t appear to be a “right” answer but our philosophy experts divided up this way…

Accept or lean toward Switch: 68.2%

Accept or lean toward Don’t Switch: 7.6%

Other: 24.1%

Again… no clue as to what “Other” may mean in this context (and “leaning toward” the switch is hardly helpful to those tied to it)


12 Responses

  1. If I’d go finding the nearest pub asap, I’d probably feel guilty for doing nothing. So If this trolley business would happen, I’d surely go for a drink anyway, no matter the conclusion… therefore, I’d leave the drink for the end.

    If I pull the lever in order to save five people, it means nevertheless that I’m deliberatly choosing to kill someone (tied to the ‘safe’ track). I’d probably feel guilty for that as well.

    If I don’t pull the lever, it could be said that I deliberatly chose to let five people be killed. However, I can answer that that was in fact the initial situation, and I could have not been there in the first place, so it’s all the madman’s fault, really. What if I wasn’t there? But I’d probably feel guilty for allowing five people to meet their doom, anyway…!

    Therefore, no matter what lever I’d pull (if any), I’d let the philosopher (professional or not) know that I was going to kill him afterwards. I’m assuming he’s on board, or close by, and that I know who he is.

    But why would I do that? Well, because 1) he was in no such position to put me through this horrible dilemma; and 2) since most solutions would lead me to feel guilty for letting people be killed, I might as well kill the “firestarter”, and I’d probably feel good about that one. At least he’d know that he’d never survive his “trolley venture” – a high price he’d pay for his dreadful experiment.

    Well, that’s all I can think for now.

    Upsetting, Dr Throttling…
    …this calls for a drink.

  2. Yes, this has happened to me several times in the last few years as there is a lot of madmen and trolleys round my way.

    The first time I pulled the lever because in that instant I thought I was saving four lives. What I didn’t realise was that the single man on the tracks who died was on the verge of curing all cancer and through my act vital research knowledge was lost and thousands more people died unnecessarily.

    Now I just stay in my seat and make sure I’ve paid my fare.

  3. I have to say I’d probably be a lever puller but the problem doesn’t adress the potential legal ramifications…
    I suspect, should you get involved, you’d probably be the target of a number of lawsuits.
    There was a variant on the Trolley Problem which had the five folk strapped to the track and you standing next to a fat person on a bridge.
    If you pushed your chubby companion of the bridge it would stop the trolley and save the five. Apparently the answers to this one are a direct revers of the former problem. (Although, with such hysteria surrounding obesity, I suppose you could claim you saved five peoples lives plus an unnecessary burden on the health system… that might work)

  4. in as much as there is no “right” answer to this, there is also no wrong answer. make your choice, make your peace with yourself and go on, not looking back.
    I would say that personally I’d go with numbers. One persons friends and relatives hunting you down is obviously better odds than five’s worth, should retribution be something to take into account.

  5. Cancer? Chubby? Numbers? Argh. About that drink: make it double!

  6. Might I have a seat at this bar? Thank you. Might I be so bold as to give my humble opinion? I think it would be best to just have everyone be calm… loosen any restrictive clothing…. lean forward and firmly place their head between their knees and ….. kiss their @$$ good bye….. :} …… and I come here and have a nice Gibson…or two….. I’m not going to let someone mess up my day….lol…as a matter of fact I’ll have that Gibson now please barkeep…… please….. :}

    • You couldn’t find a more effective panacea… Gibson it is…

      • Well when thinking about all the poor souls that are going to take a turn for the worse when they run over all those poor souls on the tracks…..those tasty cocktail onions are just so darn scrumptious! It takes away all my woes….. then again it could be the Gin…lol…

  7. […] Speeding Ticket: Is this fair? Posted on January 12, 2010 by Duffster Ok, while we are on the subject of philosophising, consider some of the questions that arise from the following news article: A millionaire motorist […]

    • interesting….when you look at where this can lead you then I think same fine across the board based on the persons record not income….but look at what just happened with Tiger Woods. He was fined strictly by the laws and everyone hit the roof…..demanding that he got special treatment…..and if the police did what the general public and press wanted…. he would have been punished more then what the law allows. It seems that those with less than what others have…. want the others to be punished more just so that they are not punished less……lol….so I say IT’S A NO WIN NO HOW NO WAY……so …..I’ll have some champagne with breakfast……

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