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Teaching Philosophy

Volume 41, Issue 4, December 2018

Laura Martena
Pages 381-406
DOI: 10.5840/teachphil2018112197

Thinking Inside the Box
Concerns about Trolley Problems in the Ethics Classroom

This paper discusses the widespread use of "trolley problems" in the ethics classroom from a critical perspective. After tracing the enormous popularity of ‘trolleyology’ in recent moral philosophy, differentiating various functions these hypotheticals are supposed to fulfill in ethical discourse and carving out the underlying conception of normative ethics as a quasi-scientific enterprise, I examine how they are constructed and how they affect their recipient. Against this background, I argue that despite their popularity, the use of trolley problems in the ethics classroom turns out to be questionable for a number of reasons, most of which have already been advanced in the philosophical debate but hardly been reflected upon in the didactic context. Finally, I argue that the deconstruction of trolleyesque scenarios would be a good educational use of them. When it comes to using cases for didactic purposes, I suggest we give trolley problems a rest and develop more realistic scenarios.