That’s the hypothetical scenario Professor Michael Sandel uses to launch a course on moral reasoning. After the majority of students votes for killing the one person in order to save the lives of five others, Sandel presents three similar moral conundrums—each one artfully designed to make the decision more difficult. As students stand up to defend their conflicting choices, it becomes clear that the assumptions behind our moral reasoning are often contradictory, and the question of what is right and what is wrong is not always black and white.
If you had to choose between killing one person to save the lives of five others and doing nothing even though you knew that five people would die right before your eyes if you did nothing—what would you do? What would be the right thing to do?