I Asked ChatGPT for Its Take on the Trolley Problem

Nolan Clarke
2 min readDec 3, 2023

I sat at my desk, contemplating the trolley problem, a moral dilemma that had puzzled me for a long time. I decided to ask ChatGPT for its take on the issue, curious to see what an AI’s perspective might be on such a deeply human ethical question. The trolley problem, in its essence, asks whether one should take action to divert a runaway trolley onto a track where it would kill one person instead of five. It’s a question of action versus inaction, where both choices have grave consequences.

ChatGPT’s response was not what I expected. It didn’t directly answer the question but instead provided a nuanced perspective that I hadn’t considered. The AI emphasized the complexity of human life, stating that every life is a unique tapestry of experiences, relationships, and potential. It suggested that quantifying lives in such dilemmas is an oversimplification of moral values.

Then, it introduced a thought-provoking angle — the impact of our choices on the moral fabric of society. It questioned the long-term implications of choosing one life over others and how such decisions shape societal norms and ethics. This made me ponder not just the immediate effects of the choice in the trolley problem but also the ripple effects of such decisions on our collective moral stance.

ChatGPT also discussed the concept of moral responsibility, highlighting the difference between active and passive choices. Choosing to divert the trolley is an active decision that directly results in someone’s death, whereas not diverting the trolley, though leading to more casualties, is passive. The AI suggested that the weight of direct action might carry a different moral weight compared to inaction, even if the consequences are more severe.

This perspective was intriguing. It didn’t provide a clear-cut answer but rather expanded the scope of the dilemma, inviting me to think about the ethical implications of our actions in a broader, more societal context. ChatGPT managed to turn a philosophical question into a meditation on the nature of morality and the complexity of ethical decision-making.

As I reflected on ChatGPT’s response, I realized that the trolley problem wasn’t just a theoretical exercise. It was a lens through which we could examine our values and the principles guiding our decisions. The AI’s response didn’t give me a solution, but it offered a richer, more layered understanding of the moral landscapes we navigate in our lives. In a way, ChatGPT didn’t just provide an answer; it gave me a new set of questions to ponder — questions about our collective morality and the future we’re shaping through our choices.

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Nolan Clarke

Hi, I'm Nolan Clarke! I'm passionate about life's nuances, and I explore societal, tech, and mental intricacies through my writing.