Trolleyology as First Philosophy

Teaching Philosophy 44 (4):407-448 (2021)
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Though sometimes maligned, “trolleyology” offers an effective means of opening and framing, not only classes in ethics, but indeed any introductory philosophy course taking a broadly “puzzle-based” approach. When properly sequenced, a subset of the thought experiments that are trolleyology’s stock-in-trade can generate a series of puzzles illustrating the shortcomings of our untutored moral intuitions, and which thus motivate the very enterprise of moral theorizing. Students can be engaged in the attempt to resolve said puzzles, inasmuch as they’re accessible and compelling, and their resolutions generally easy to achieve. Once thus engaged, students can be directed to the fact that they had already rolled up their sleeves and begun “doing philosophy.” In this way, engagement with trolleyological puzzles can serve as a “microcosm” for philosophy more broadly, illustrating the processes of critical thinking that are likewise the stock-in-trade of philosophers across many different domains of inquiry.

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Vaughn Bryan Baltzly
Texas State University

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