I'm curious how the commentary on LessWrong with differ from the commentary here. What do you all think?
this territory is moderated
First off, thank you for sharing this link. I love the treatment of the trolley problem Less Wrong gives and would generally agree with it. If you want where my thoughts differ, here's a few ideas.
I'd argue that the trolley problem has social value, but only as a foil with which to demonstrate to others how overly simplistic and procedural many of their formulations or reality are. Whenever my friends ask me about the trolley problem, I answer that I cannot and will not give a categorical answer to it because morality is about people and the trolley problem is about robots.
Utilitarianism might say that you should pull the lever. Deontology might say that you should not. But what it cannot say is how a human being ought to respond, since both of those previously mentioned philosophies could just as easily be automated. If virtue is automated, it isn't really virtue anymore, is it? Less Wrong's treatment of the ethical issues involved in automating morality is fantastic, but I would contend that typical answers to the trolley problem not only distract us from larger environmental problems, but from individual human ones as well.
Most people feel terrible both about pulling the lever and about not pulling it. I have friends who refuse to answer because the thought of the thing makes them feel sick. The trolley problem is a situation that we ought to feel sick about, a situation that any truly virtuous person will weep over and toss and turn in the night for months after it occurs. There is no good and right answer to the trolley problem in the way that it is typically presented, and that is because it is not a true moral choice like humans actually face. Even in war and emergency response situations where choices akin to the trolley problem must be made there is a human aspect.
It's the mechanical nature of the trolley problem that makes it a useful foil. It forces us to remember that morality is about people, not math. Virtue is not a logical problem to be deduced, but an experience to be lived. Our responsibility is to use the trolley problem to teach that to others.