Terror is a courtroom drama, written by one of the most successful German contemporary writers, Ferdinand von Schirach. The play questions the idea of a means justifying an end and warns against quantifying human life. The audience serves as a jury at the trial of a fighter jet pilot. He is accused of killing 164 passengers off a commercial airplane, hijacked by terrorists, heading towards a soccer stadium with 70,000 people. The end of the play depends on the verdict of the audience. Theatre tickets are available for purchase now.
Ferdinand von Schirach is a German lawyer and writer. He was born in 1964 in Munich, Germany. Von Schirach became an attorney in 1994, specializing in criminal law. He gained public attention in 2008 due to his involvement prosecuting the BND (German Federal Intelligence Service) during the”Liechtenstein Tax Affair”. He published his first short stories at the age of forty-five, and soon became one of Germany’s most successful authors. His books have been translated into over 35 languages, and have sold millions of copies worldwide. Ferdinand von Schirach remains active in criminal law. His stories are often inspired by his experience and expertise as an attorney.
The core of the play is based on a moral dilemma, one of the problems discussed within the play is the infamous Trolly problem. To explain a bit more, Imagine a runaway trolley barrelling down a railway track. The trolley, loaded with heavy goods, is heading towards a small station where a passenger train is waiting. In mere moments the runaway trolley will crash into the station and kill hundreds of people. You are standing next to the tracks and have a chance to divert the trolley before it reaches the station. You can pull a lever next to you and switch the trolley to a sidetrack. However, on that sidetrack are five workmen. If you divert the trolley to the sidetrack, you will kill the five workmen, but you will save the hundreds at the station. What will you do?
Now imagine the same runaway trolley is heading towards the station, but now you are nowhere near that lever. Instead, you are on a bridge overlooking the tracks. Next to you is an extremely large person. If you push them off the bridge onto the tracks below, their body will be large enough to slow down the train. You would kill the large person by pushing them onto the tracks, but save the passengers. What will you do now?
On average, when faced with the first scenario, most people decide to save the passengers and kill the five workmen. But when faced with the second scenario, when presented the choice to push a man to his death to save hundreds of people, most people are uncertain.
You’ve probably heard this famous philosophical question before, or a version of it.
“The Trolley Problem” coined by English philosopher, Phillipa Foote in 1961, is a well-known ethical dilemma. In 1951, the German philosopher of ethics, Hans Welzel, described this problem, which was later amended by American moral philosopher, Judith Thompson, in 1967, by adding the extremely fat man.
There have been multiple versions of “The Trolley Problem” presented over the years, each with their own twist. Another popular version of this dilemma involves deciding between saving the passengers or a loved one.
A professor of Law at Harvard University, Roger Fischer, has proposed a real-life version of “The Trolley Problem”, to deter U.S. presidents from engaging in nuclear warfare. According to his proposal, the nuclear codes would be placed in a little capsule. The capsule would be implanted next to the heart of a volunteer. The volunteer would carry a big, heavy butcher knife as they accompanied the President everywhere they went. If the president ever wanted the nuclear codes, they would need to kill the volunteer with their bare hands in order to access the codes. In March 1981, Fischer wrote an article explaining his reasoning in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, “He [the president] has to look at someone and realize what death is—what an innocent death is. Blood on the White House carpet. Its reality brought home.” Fischer hoped that this experience of killing another with one’s own hands, would deter future presidents from engaging in warfare by forcing them to experience the cost of violence first-hand.
As automation advances, “The Trolley Problem” has been used to discuss the moral dilemmas of self-driving cars. For example, in the case of a deadly car accident, does a self-driving car have a responsibility to protect its passengers or the passengers in the colliding car?
Is there a right answer to the “Trolley Problem”?
According to Utilitarianism: Yes!
What is Utilitarianism?
Utilitarianism is a moral philosophy which states that actions are right if they are a means towards an end and produce good for the majority.
If you were a utilitarian philosopher solving the “Trolley Problem”, you would divert the train to the side-track. You would also push the large person onto the track below. This action would benefit the most amount of people by minimizing the number killed and maximizing the number of survivors.
Do all philosophers agree that this is the correct solution? No!
A Deontological philosopher would disagree. Deontology is the moral philosophy which argues that the morality of an action should be judged by whether its right or wrong regardless of the consequences of the action. In other world the ends do not justify the means. According to Deontology the act of killing a person no matter the reason is intrinsically immoral.
If you are having trouble deciding the correct solution to “The Trolley Problem”, don’t worry. The point of “The Trolley Problem” is not to find the right answer, but to question our moral consistency. The Trolley Problem highlights how our morality, our ideas of right and wrong, can be easily swayed according to the circumstances we face. As much as we like to think we are reasonable people, we are not as reasonable as we’d like to be.