Friday, September 9, 2011

The Bridge Case: Redux

Dear Brother Sam,
You’re standing on a bridge over a train track. Next to you to stands the very large pastor of a mega-church. A quarter-mile down the track you see a van get caught in a chain-reaction collision with several other vehicles and stuck on the track with all fifteen of its passengers trapped inside. A quarter-mile up the track a runaway train is speeding toward the van and will have to pass under the bridge before reaching it. Your choice is whether to watch as the train hits the van and kills the fifteen passengers, or push the pastor onto the track in front of the train, in the expectation that his immense bulk will stop it. You yourself are clearly not massive enough to even slow, let alone stop the train. So jumping is out of the question.  
Do you (A) do nothing, and see fifteen people get killed, (B) Push the pastor, who, aside from his heft, is healthy and in the prime of his life, onto the track in order to stop the train, or (C) call your cousin Ray who has never see a train wreck? 
Sister Dinah Moe Humm

Dear Sister Dinah, 
Ah. A variation on the old “Bridge Case,” familiar to anybody who’s taken a college ethics class or done much reading on the subject. Most folks find it hard to choose. But that’s where the additional information about the large fellow next to me comes in handy. Knowing him to be a pastor, I take a hundred dollar bill from my pocket and toss it into the air. Naturally, the pastor cannot keep from lunging for it. He falls to the track, done in, not by me, but by his own godliness. The train smears to a stop well in advance of the van. The fifteen people get loose and drive over and take my hundred bucks before I can get down to it. And that’s what comes from trying to be moral. I’m out a hundred bucks.   
Brother Sam