People have concerns about the psychological effects of endlessly playing shoot-em-up video games but I sometimes wonder whether doing moral philosophy is just as corrosive. A worryingly large proportion of ethical thought experiments involve fantasies of homicide, requiring you to play God and decide who gets tortured or killed, with no option for everyone to get into a group hug or have a nice cup of tea.
Here are just a handful: would it be right to torture someone in order to extract information to prevent a bomb going off, killing thousands? Is it justifiable to hang an innocent man to calm a mob who would otherwise run riot and kill many more? Should a parent take a lifeboat to a raft with five children clinging to it or to another with just their own child, knowing there is not enough time or fuel to do both? Should a doctor let a patient die, knowing that the patient’s organs can then be transplanted to save five other people? Should you divert a runaway train from a tunnel where it would crush five people into another tunnel housing just one unfortunate person? Or should you stop the train by pushing someone in front of it?