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Would You Kill the Fat Man?: The Trolley Problem and What Your Answer Tells Us about Right and Wrong [Hardcover]

David Edmonds
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
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Review

"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

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

From the Back Cover

"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

--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

About the Author

David Edmonds is the author, with John Eidinow, of the best-selling "Wittgenstein's Poker", as well as "Rousseau's Dog" and "Bobby Fischer Goes to War". The cofounder of the popular Philosophy Bites podcast series, Edmonds is a senior research associate at the University of Oxford's Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics and a multi-award-winning radio feature maker at the BBC. He holds a PhD in philosophy.
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