Created by Philippa Foot and developed by Judith Jarvis Smith, “The Trolley Problem” is a classic moral dilemma used as a thought exercise in intro-level philosophy courses around the world. The meat of the question is this: 

You’re driving a trolley (a.k.a. a train; Foot was British), and up ahead you see five workers repairing the track. Then the trolley dips into a valley, but its trajectory is such that when it comes back out of the valley, it will strike and presumably kill those workers. There isn’t enough time to get them off the track, but when the trolley rises out of the dip, you spot another track veering off…but there’s one guy working on that track, and if you choose that option, you’ll kill him.

It’s a lose-lose situation—someone will die at your hand. So, is it more morally correct to kill five people or one person? How you approach the Trolley Problem is supposed to reveal your conscience.


John Ford: A sheriff (John Wayne) rides onto the tracks on his horse, and the horse rears up on its back legs, and that makes the trolley grind to a halt.

Wes Anderson: The trolley kills all the workers in slow-motion. A lost British Invasion classic plays.

Quentin Tarantino: The trolley engineer says “look up, buttercup” through an old-fashioned microphone before killing all the workers. A forgotten ‘70s soul classic plays.

Federico Fellini: A stylish man drives the trolley through the beautiful Italian countryside.

Tim Burton: The trolley seems like a monster, but it is just misunderstood, and accidentally kills all the workers anyway, but it’s, like, really sad about it.

Robert Altman: The workers all talk over each other about how the trolley is going to kill them. Maybe the trolley comes.

J.J. Abrams: The trolley plows into the group of workers when the driver is blinded by lens flares.

Sam Peckinpah: The trolley kills all the workers one by one and they bleed out of every orifice in each of their bodies. It is oddly glorious.

Michael Bay: The trolley explodes. The workers dramatically dive to avoid the flames.

Peter Jackson: The trolley problem is needlessly split into three separate trolley problems.

Aaron Sorkin: The trolley gives a lengthy monologue about how the whole trolley system is broken and corrupt. The workers listen on admiringly and applaud thunderously.

James Cameron: The trolley costs $400 million.

Sergio Leone: The trolley stares at the workers. The workers stare at the trolley.

Woody Allen: The trolley is extremely old and nervous and kills the group of workers. The act is witnessed by the attractive, 22-year-old worker on the adjacent track. She falls in love with the trolley because she says he’s “a real mensch,” because that’s how 22-year-olds talk.

Francis Ford Coppola: A bag of oranges sits by the track before the trolley kills the workers.

Steven Spielberg: Tom Hanks is the trolley driver.


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