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Would You Kill the Fat Man?: The Trolley Problem and What Your Answer Tells Us about Right and Wrong Hardcover – October 6, 2013


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (October 6, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691154023
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691154022
  • Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 5.5 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #212,325 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2014

"A lucid account of a famous thought experiment in moral philosophy."--Editors' Choice, New York Times Book Review

"[J]aunty, lucid and concise. . . . In Would You Kill the Fat Man? David Edmonds . . . a seasoned philosopher, tells the story . . . with wit and panache."--Sarah Bakewell, New York Times Book Review

"[E]legant, lucid, and frequently funny. . . . Edmonds has written an entertaining, clear-headed, and fair-minded book."--Cass R. Sunstein, New York Review of Books

"[E]legantly written . . . Edmonds's book is especially valuable for the way in which it embeds his introduction to the trolley problem in a story of the social reality that produced it."--Hallvard Lillehammer, Times Literary Supplement

"David Edmonds's vastly more ambitious Would You Kill the Fat Man? has the cartoons--and just about everything else you could want in a thoughtful popular treatment of [the trolley problem]. A marvel of economy and learning worn lightly, Mr. Edmonds's book ranges pleasurably back to Aquinas and forward into the future of robots, who will of course need an ethics just as much as people do. Perhaps best of all, Mr. Edmonds recognizes that the origins of 'trolleyology' are at least as interesting as the many philosophical writings, academic exercises and parlor games that have sprung from the original trolley paper, published in 1967 by an English philosopher named Philippa Foot."--Daniel Akst, Wall Street Journal

"An accessible, humorous examination of how people approach complex ethical dilemmas. . . . Written for general readers, the book captures the complexities underpinning difficult decisions."--Publishers Weekly

"Informative, accessible, engaging and witty, his book is a marvelous introduction to debates about right and wrong in philosophy, psychology, and neuro-science. . . . In the hands of a lucid explicator like David Edmonds, trolleyology is, at once, serious business (relevant, among others things, to preferences for drone strikes) and lots of fun."--Glenn Altschuler, Psychology Today

"This is a rare treat--a serious, thought-provoking book on ethics that is also witty, funny, and entertaining. Not to be missed. . . . David Edmonds has taken the well-known trolley car problem and breathed new life into it, examining it from different perspectives and using it to shed light on the ethical theories of Immanuel Kant, Jeremy Bentham, John Rawls, Aristotle, and others. If you think philosophy has to be ponderous and difficult, you haven't read this book. . . . What's intoxicating about this book is that every time you think you know what you think, Edmonds tosses out a new element. . . . There's lots more to enjoy and learn from this book, a real gem and one of my new favorites."--Mark Willen, TalkingEthics.com

"[H]umans seem hard-wired to draw a distinction between a foreseeable side effect that sadly results from doing good (switching the tracks) and purposefully harming another, no matter how noble the cause (pushing the fat man off the bridge). Edmonds's exploration of why this is so is at the heart of his thoroughly delightful book."--Brian Bethune, Macleans

"[A] fascinating and important field. The light it throws on the moral institutions of human beings is its own reward, and this book will make its readers think."--Richard King, Australian

"This provocatively titled tract opens with a burst of drama that proves philosophy can be exciting."--David Wilson, South China Morning Post

"Edmonds enjoyably traces the ever-expanding sub-genre of trolleyology through debates about language, abortion, cannibals, war, and a complicated love quadrangle involving the novelist Iris Murdoch and the philosopher Philippa Foot, offering insights on ethics, politics, and sex along the way."--Katherine Mangu-Ward, Reason

"[A] fascinating book. Edmonds uses the problem of the fat man as a jumping-off point for a fairly wide-ranging exploration of morality and ethics, and he asks us to consider carefully how we would respond. It's a big subject packed into a relatively small book, and we leave the volume with perhaps more questions than answers, but isn't that the point here--to make us find our own answers?"--David Pitt, Booklist Online

"[I]mpressive. . . . [A] walking tour of moral philosophy organized around one of the most well-known thought experiments of the last half century. . . . By weaving together abstract principles, biographical sketches, historical examples, and trendy research in this just-so way, Edmonds has figured out how to illustrate the dimensions and consequences of moral decision-making without sacrificing entertainment value. . . . [A] carefully executed book."--Robert Herritt, Daily Beast

"This is a witty and informative discussion of the trolley problem in philosophical ethics by Oxford University researcher Edmonds. . . . Through a highly informed yet not technical discussion, readers get an excellent introduction to some main lines of 20th-century moral philosophy."--Choice

"Edmonds does an outstanding job of introducing the reader to the historical emergence and subsequent development of trolleyology, explaining its significance for both moral philosophy and moral psychology, and responding to a number of substantive criticisms of the field. Edmonds's expertise is clearly on display throughout the text, and he largely succeeds in producing a work that is informative and sophisticated without being overly technical."--Eli Weber, Metapsychology

"Rich in anecdote and example and wide-ranging in scope, Would You Kill the Fat Man?, is by turns fascinating and unsettling."--Gabriel Carlyle, Peace News

"David Edmonds bravely attempts to make possible the impossible, offering us this well-reviewed book on the sanctity of life. His story is enlivened with biographical details, anecdotes, curiosities, pictures and jokes. Short of setting passages to music it is hard to see what more could have been done. There is something here for everyone."--Christopher Miles Coope, Philosophical Quarterly

From the Inside Flap

"Lucid, witty, and beautifully written, this book is a pleasure to read. While providing an introduction to moral philosophy, it also presents engaging portraits of some of the greatest moral philosophers from Thomas Aquinas to the present day, and it makes the case for the relevance to ethics of the new experimental moral psychology. It is a tour de force."--Kwame Anthony Appiah, author of The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen

"This is a splendid work. You shouldn't expect it to resolve all your trolley problems but you can look forward to a romping mix of fine humor, intriguing anecdote, and solid argument. It's a sheer joy to read."--Philip Pettit, Princeton University and Australian National University

"David Edmonds has a remarkable knack for weaving the threads of philosophical debates into an engaging story. Would You Kill the Fat Man? is a stimulating introduction to some key ethical issues and philosophers."--Peter Singer, author of The Life You Can Save: How to Do Your Part to End World Poverty

"David Edmonds's new book, Would You Kill the Fat Man?, is both highly informative and a delight to read. Written in a clear, engaging, and witty style, it succeeds admirably in making various fascinating and important debates in philosophy and psychology accessible to a broad readership."--Jeff McMahan, Rutgers University

"This is a highly engaging book. David Edmonds's reflections are full of insight and he provides fascinating biographical background about the main players in the history of the trolley problem, in a style reminiscent of his very successful Wittgenstein's Poker."--Roger Crisp, University of Oxford

Customer Reviews

This book is so easy to read yet so insightful I highly recommend it.
Amazon Customer
The most noted person for this approach is Immanuel Kant and his formulation of the Categorical Imperative.
John Martin
There are a number of historical cases and examples in the book which are very well chosen and presented.
Timothy E. Kennelly

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By John Martin on November 9, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Would you Kill the Fat Man? by David Edmonds is a must read for anyone interested in moral philosophy or just what is the right thing to do. The title is based on a famous hypothetical situation in moral philosophy. There are various versions but the main one is as follows: 1. You are standing beside a trolley track. An out of controll trolley is speeding down the track. At the other end are five people who are tied to the track and will be killed by the oncoming trolley. But beside you there is a switch that will put the trolley onto a spur. At the end of this spur is one person tied to the track who will die. Do you switch the trolley onto the spur? 2. Now you are on a footbridge under which there is a trolley track. Again you see a trolley hurtling down the track toward five people tied to the track who will be killed. But alongside of you is a fat man who if you push him over will land on the track and stop the trolley. Of course he will be killed, but the five other people will survive. Do you push him over?

These two situations correspond to basic moral positions in philosophy. The first is utilitaritarianism as proposed by John Stuart Mill. Someone espousing this approach looks at the consequences of an act before deciding what to do and acts to maximize happiness or minimize pain. Such a person would not hesitate to throw the switch or push the fat man over since killing one person is less painful than killing five. The second approach is deontology which says that acts are right or wrong in and of themselves regardless of the consequences. The most noted person for this approach is Immanuel Kant and his formulation of the Categorical Imperative. Advocates of this approach would not push the fat man over because killing someone is wrong regardless of the consequences.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By E. Bukowsky HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 19, 2013
Format: Hardcover
David Edmonds demonstrates that philosophical discussions can be fun and entertaining in his provocative new book, "Would You Kill the Fat Man?" Edmonds presents a number of thought experiments that pique our interest, stimulate our curiosity, and "test our moral intuitions." Although some of Edmonds' scenarios may seem far-fetched, they motivate us to ponder complex ethical issues. The author includes intriguing anecdotes about Winston Churchill, Grover Cleveland, and Harry Truman, all of whom had to make controversial decisions. In addition, Edmonds provides fascinating background information about Thomas Aquinas, Immanuel Kant, Ludwig Wittgenstein, John Stuart Mill, and Jeremy Bentham, as well as such lesser known philosphers as Philippa Foot (Grover Cleveland's granddaughter) and Elizabeth Anscombe.

One of Edmonds' central themes is "trolleyology." Is it justifiable to steer a train, tram, or trolley away from five people who are tied to a track when, as a result, a sixth person tied up on a side track will likely perish as a result of our actions? Is it acceptable to bring about the death of one man in order to save five innocent lives? Another scenario involves pushing a large man off a footbridge to block a runaway train that is hurtling towards five people tied to a track. There are other variations, some of which are complicated (the author includes illustrations to help us visualize them). The trolley question and its variants have spawned "a mini-academic industry" and continues to spark heated debate to this day.

"Would You Kill the Fat Man?" is a pleasure to read. Edmonds never talks down to us, nor he is ponderous or pretentious. He explains and illustrates technical terms such as the "Doctrine of Double Effect" clearly and concisely.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By PAmato on June 16, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Having never heard of the Trolley Problem before and with no Philosophy- I thought this would be a good introduction to both. In general it was a satisfying read. However, by inserting the extended bios of the various participants in the debate right into the main text it gave the book a disjointed quality. The discussions of the many iterations of the Trolley Problem and the philosophical theories applied to it over time were fascinating and illuminating. Unfortunately without all the bios this might have been more of an extended paper rather than a book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Leon Lerborg on May 26, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book is about ethical dilemmas, especially trolleyology. It is very informative, entertaining and easily comprehensible - also if you're not a philosopher (I suppose). I highly recommend it. Sometimes it gets a bit too biographical, and I don't agree on the systematic negative attitude towards utilitarianism - but all in all it's an easy introduction to trolleyology.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By John Andrews on December 28, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I think that P. Foot's original question is answered ( as much as it can be) in the "Trolley Problem" . This extended discussion would probably be enjoyed more by students interested philosophy or maybe even law. The nice thing is that both books offer an endless source of discussion of moral and ethics. maybe a 41/2 stars.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Roslyn C. Parker on December 17, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is a superb review and discussion of this famous philosophical and ethical problem. This sort of dilemma comes to plague all of us, whether we hold positions of great responsibility - should Truman have permitted the use of the A-Bomb attacks against Japan - or simply have to make difficult choices in our private lives.
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