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Would You Kill the Fat Man?: The Trolley Problem and What Your Answer Tells Us about Right and Wrong Hardcover – 17 Sep 2013

4.4 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (17 Sept. 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691154023
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691154022
  • Product Dimensions: 1.3 x 14 x 21.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 85,267 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description

Review

One of "Choice"'s Outstanding Academic Titles for 2014


Honorable Mention for the 2015 PROSE Award in Philosophy, Association of American Publishers

One of "Choice"'s Outstanding Academic Titles for 2014


"[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"

"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"

Honorable Mention for the 2015 PROSE Award in Philosophy, Association of American Publishers
One of "Choice"'s Outstanding Academic Titles for 2014

"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

"David Edmonds bravely attempts to make possible the impossible, offering us this well-reviewed book on the sanctity of life. His story is enlivened with biographical details, anecdotes, curiosities, pictures and jokes. Short of setting passages to music it is hard to see what more could have been done. There is something here for everyone."--Christopher Miles Coope, Philosophical Quarterly

"Edmonds should be congratulated on his grand undertaking, and what I take to be his successful illumination of an important problem."--Joel Dittmer, Philosophy in Review

Honorable Mention for the 2015 PROSE Award in Philosophy, Association of American Publishers

One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2014

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

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Customer Reviews

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
David Edmonds has once again written a philosophy book that is engaging, witty and beautifully written.

Would You Kill the Fat Man takes you through the history of the trolley problem, giving an insight into moral philosophy, covering some key ethical issues and introducing you to some of the greatest moral philosophers.

A very agreeable read indeed. I urge you to stick it on your Christmas list.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a serious philosophy book that is also an easy read. The book deals with the moral problem of whether it can be right to kill someone for the greater good: in particular, whether it is right to deliberately push a man off a bridge to stop a run-away tram, which otherwise would kill many others.

In dealing with the ethical issues that this raises, the author takes the reader through the views of Aquinus, Bentham, JS Mill, Foot, Anscombe, Singer and many other past and present philosophers. Later in the book, the author shows how neuroscience, psychology and behavioural economics are playing an increasing role in ethics.

As with all of Edmonds' books, you finish reading it feeling better informed about an important and intellectual subject. Yet he has the ability to keep the reader engaged throughout the book.
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Format: Hardcover
The non-philosopher need not fear being derailed by big words such as "deontology" or "consequentialism": David Edmonds is the kind of philosopher who uses technical terms only when necessary and with sufficient gloss to make sure the general reader doesn't get lost. Unlike some of his professional colleagues, he's neither afraid of clear thinking nor of writing readable prose, and the title of this book sums up the simple moral question at the heart of trolleyology: is it ever acceptable to take one life to save five?

Imagine a train running out of control, heading towards a length of track to which five people are tied. They will be killed unless the train can be diverted (for the sake of argument, there's no way of stopping it). Imagine also that you're standing by the track next to a lever that could switch the points and send the train down a spur, thus saving the five people. Unfortunately, to this second track is tied a sixth person, who will be killed if you pull the lever. What do you do?

Most people would pull the lever, but what if, instead of pulling a lever, you have to push a fat man off a footbridge to prevent the train from killing five people? Setting aside the practical difficulties (this is a thought experiment, after all), what should we do? This time, most people would prefer not to push the fat man.

This is the trolley problem, which "involves conjuring up various trolleyesque scenarios and taking note of the (preferably) strong moral intuitions that they elicit." Trolleyology is thus a good example of an intuition pump with many settings (see my review of Daniel Dennett's
...Read more ›
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A lovely piece of writing. Reading about philosophy can make your brain hurt. Here Edmonds has done a huge amount of heavy lifting for you, and produced a book of fascinating material on far from straightforward concepts that is never anything but a joy to read. The man is a magician of the pen.
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Fascinating history of trolleyology & summary of ethics , written in easy to read style - even has some trolley pictures - which do make some of the scenarios easier to understand !!
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