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The Trolley Problem, or Would You Throw the Fat Guy Off the Bridge?: A Philosophical Conundrum Hardcover


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The Trolley Problem, or Would You Throw the Fat Guy Off the Bridge?: A Philosophical Conundrum + Would You Kill the Fat Man?: The Trolley Problem and What Your Answer Tells Us about Right and Wrong + Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason, and the Gap Between Us and Them
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Workman Publishing Company (September 10, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 076117513X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0761175131
  • Product Dimensions: 7.1 x 5.1 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #39,340 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

“Jaunty, lucid and concise.”

—Sarah Bakewell, The New York Times Book Review


“Thomas Cathcart's charming approach in The Trolley Problem is to dramatize the dilemma by presenting… a trial in the court of public opinion, complete with arguments from lawyers on both sides as well as a psychologist, a professor, a bishop, listeners to a radio call-in show and so forth…”
The Wall Street Journal

“The extremely engaging philosopher Thomas Cathcart… explores ethical conundrums in a refreshingly innovative and humorous manner.”
The New Idealist

(Various)

Review

“Unflaggingly engaging, witty, and completely true to the underlying philosophical issues.”
—Robert Paul Wolff, author of About Philosophy

“Stop! Before you throw anyone off the bridge or under the bus, grab this witty, intelligent, and fast-paced treatise on ethical reasoning and chuckle your way to fresh moral insight. With Tom Cathcart as guide, you’ll discover the pleasure of ethics without the sermon.”
—Marvin M. Ellison, ethicist and author of Making Love Just: Sexual Ethics for Perplexing Times

“Cathcart’s probing exploration of the complex nuances of moral reasoning takes you on an intellectual journey both stimulating and educational. This riveting little book is grounded, relevant, and fun. If you enjoy wrestling with ethical challenges, it’s a must read.”
—Gregory Stock, author, The Book of Questions

“Clang, clang, clang goes the trolley problem! Join Tom Cathcart on a wild ride through the various permutations of this philosophical puzzle, as he picks up such disparate passengers as Jeremy Bentham, Immanuel Kant, Thomas Aquinas, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Peter Singer along the way. While there may be blood on the tracks, Cathcart will guide you to a thought-provoking final stop.”
—Tim Madigan, Associate Professor of Philosophy, St. John Fisher College and columnist, Philosophy Now Magazine

“Does the sacredness of our fundamental right to life trump the utility of doing the greatest good for the greatest number? If harming an innocent person was not the intention of our action but was a foreseeable consequence—as in drone strikes or as in taking medical care from some to aid others—how are we to judge this?   Cathcart’s new book on the trolley problem brings out the inner moral philosopher hidden in all of us: its gets us to think about the importance of moral reasoning by luring us into doing it.”
—Kenneth Sharpe, Professor of Political Science at Swarthmore College and coauthor of Practical Wisdom: The Right Way to Do The Right Thing

“Clearly written and dramatically presented, Thomas Cathcart’s The Trolley Problem is an excellent introduction to ethics. It's a pedagogical classic.”
—John Perry, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy, Stanford University, and author of The Art of Procrastination

“Entertaining, informative and presented in an original format. I would recommend it to anyone looking for a sympathetic route through the big moral questions of the day.”
—Robert Rowland Smith, author of Breakfast with Socrates and Driving with Plato


More About the Author

Tom Cathcart spent most of his career in health care, including directing a boarding home for people with HIV/AIDS in Portland, Maine. His old college pal, Danny Klein, enlisted him as co-author of a book about how jokes can illuminate philosophical ideas. To their shock, after being rejected by 40 publishers, "Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar" became an international bestseller. Two more joint books followed. Now Cathcart has published his first solo effort, "The Trolley Problem, or Would You Throw the Fat Guy Off the Bridge?" Tom is married to Eloise Balasco Cathcart, who coordinates the graduate program in nursing administration at NYU.

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Customer Reviews

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He makes us think!
STEVEN KUSSIN
It's lucid, light hearted style make it enjoyable to curl up with, and being a short book (slightly more than 100 pages) it is a quick read.
Carl_in_Richland
This is a book I'll read again and recommend to my students.
Lily Grace

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is a wonderful book. We live in times when information comes at us fast, and like drinking from the torrent of a fire hydrant, we take in too little. Our thinking then becomes shallow and sloppy. The Trolley Problem by Tom Cathcart of 'Plato and Platypus Walk Into A Bar' fame is doing something different here.
Slowly but inexorably the reader feels the pull of the book's gravity as it draws us into what might seem an arcane area of little contemporary interest. The Trolley Problem is a classic ethical dilemma. But Cathcart breathes contemporary life into it making a rich font for many daily dilemmas.
The Trolley Problem ( when, in one version, a bystander diverts a racing trolley away from five people by choosing to pull a switch that instead diverts its path to a track that will kill only one innocent bystander) Cathcart first deconstructs the classic arguments from the world of philosophers (Hume, Bentham, Kant, Aquinas and others) using his trademarked humor and clarity.. But then something happens. He makes us think! He draws analogies to 9/11, medical rationing , Obamacare, Homeland Security. Not only do we see the Trolley Problem in a new light but also these very contemporary controversies take on a new dimension . Reason, logic ethics morality and gut feelings are are examined against what is happening in the headlines today.
Increasingly morality is seen as a simple offshoot of human evolution. Using old neural pathways, brain anatomy, and the identical brain chemistry of ancient primates and mammals, human evolution puts them to new use. They allow us to live in a complex society and interact with each other in new ways.
Cathcart with humor grace and an incisive mind, presents old problems in new ways allowing us to think carefully critically and thoughtfully.
Read more ›
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By John Andrews on December 28, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I lived in San Francisco in 1967 when the original paper was published. I have fond memories of the group discussions and opinions that were offered at the time. A lot has happened since then but as far as I can tell the jury has not changed its mind on the verdict. Since I do not want to reveal the verdict and spoil the book for future readers, let me just conclude by saying that people have not changed in there basic ethics and morals and that gives me hope.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Jo A. Hopkins on December 6, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
PURCHASE REVIEW -THE TROLLEY PROBLEM - This is an excellent book with a unique subject and it is well written.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Theodore A. Rushton on December 1, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Looking for an answer? It isn't here; instead, Cathcart rephrases the basic question in a variety of combinations which leave the ethics to the reader.

About 500 years ago, Galileo and others figured out the Earth revolved around the Sun. This contradicted the Bible, and so people were burned at the stake for daring to hold beliefs that the Church said condemned them to eternity in Hell. Burning at the stake wasn't part of astronomical learning; it was to teach the spectators about the eternal fate awaiting those who rejected the wisdom of the church.

The principle is similar to the trolley dilemma; do you sacrifice one to save many? Burn one heretic at the stake to save a multitude of spectators? The church, which cites the "wisdom" of St. Thomas Aquinas and the like, answered with a flaming 'Yes!"

Unfortunately, the "trolley debate" doesn't answer such questions. If anything, it shows that absolute answers are absolutely wrong. What if the five were serial killers ready to kill again if not stopped, and the one was a scientist on the verge of a cure for cancer? What if the five were scientists on the verge of a cure for cancer, and the one was a serial killer?

This is a book to generate thought, not to provide easy answers. For those who enjoy thinking, it's wonderful.

Chatham asks if someone would sacrifice their own life to save five strangers on the trolley tracks; well, would you? He ignores soldiers who fall on a live grenade to save others but cites pilots who stay with a doomed aircraft to fly it away from residential areas. Well, what would you do?

Obviously he cannot cite all possible examples. But, he raises enough issues to delight every thinking reader. Should anyone come up with an ethical answer, modern optimism says they won't be burned at the stake for discovering an original truth. Or would they be shunned or ignored? Well, would they?
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Jack on November 30, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
An overused philosophy problem is given a new twist by a very entertaining writer. One can easily breeze through the book in one sitting or choose to read a chapter at a time and allow your thoughts to dwell and wander on the way the issue is presented differently depending on point of view. Either way, it is time well spent and great material for discussion as well as possibly writing the author to suggest other variations or approaches he missed.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By George R Forse on November 4, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I had the book sent to an 85 year old, philospher type amateur radio friend to provoke a discussion on-the-air. Since, his
receiving and reading it, our group has had many conversations about what we think each of us would do, if we had to face
the problems described in the book.
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By michael linton on January 24, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Thought provoking but left me empty in the end as any answer is the right or wrong answer unless you are a psychopath and then is oh cares who dies!
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By Lily Grace on January 18, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
What an enticing, thought-provoking little book! Thoroughly enjoyed it, had my husband read it, and we've been debating ever since. This is a book I'll read again and recommend to my students.
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