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Another Paradox of Deontology
What if you accidentally flip the switch in the trolley problem?
Imagine one thinks that it’s wrong to flip the switch in the trolley problem. While we’ll first apply this scenario to the trolley problem, it generalizes to wider deontological commitments. The question is, suppose one accidentally flips the switch. Should they flip it back?
It seems that the answer is obviously not. After all, now there’s a trolley barreling toward one person. If you flip the switch it will kill five people. In this case, you should obviously not flip the switch.
However, there’s a very plausible principle that says that if an action is wrong to do, then if you do it by accident, you should undo it. Deontologists thus have to reject this principle. They have to think that actions are wrong, but you shouldn’t undo them.
This problem can also apply to the footbridge case. Suppose you accidentally push the guy. Should you pull him back up? No — if you come across a person who is going to stop a train from killing five, you obviously shouldn’t preemptively save him by lifting him up, costing five lives.
This also applies to the organ harvesting case. Suppose you harvest the guys organs and put it in five other people. However, you can take the five organs out of the people, killing them, and put it back in the original person, saving him. Should you do that? Of course not!