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Teaching Ethics


published on November 25, 2014

Michael McGowan
DOI: 10.5840/tej2014111915

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Revamping the Trolley Car Problem for Use in Today's Ethics Classes

In this essay, I propose an update to a well-known pedagogical device many ethics professors utilize—the “Trolley Car” problem. I argue that by substituting older scenarios with ones from cutting edge and emerging technology the professor is better positioned to more fully engage today’s college students. Google’s self-driving car provides not only a fine substitution for the Trolley Car; it also acts as a mini-introduction to many of the other issues an introductory class on ethics will cover. Although it has typically been used to delineate consequentialist and anti-consequentialist moral reasoning, the Google car also can also be helpful to explore feminist ethical reasoning, planetary issues, the nature of justice, wealth distribution, and the limits of individual liberty.