After years combing through the details and knotty issues of the Trolley Problem, Judith Jarvis Thomson has come up with what she says is a novel solution. In a new article appearing in the journal Capillus, she first irons out what the problem is:
A trolley is speeding down the track towards five people who are stuck to it and will be killed if the trolley hits them. However, the trolley can be redirected before it hits the five onto a different track on which one person is stuck, and who will be killed if hit by the trolley. No matter what happens, the hairdos of the passengers will be ruined, owing to the windiness of the open-air construction trolley car.
Several elaborate solutions had been offered in the literature. The so-called Doctrine of Double-Aquanet, for example, was once popular, particularly amongst New Jersey philosophers, but has been deemed inadequate owing to the problem of closeness to the window. A range of solutions offered from the so-called Aussie school were criticized for being too inflexible.
“And then it hit me,” said Thomson during a recent interview, quickly clarifying, “Not the trolley, but the answer!” She continues:
When I first suggested the solution it seemed like it came right off the top of my head, but in retrospect I must have in some sense known it all along. I mean, look at me! The answer is very simple: a short hairdo. There is very little the wind can do to this, so the problem is averted.
Not everyone is convinced. Consequentialist Alastair Norcross, for example, is on record saying “I don’t even think it’s a real problem. I ride trolleys all the time, and I am never left with a messed up hairdo.”