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Agents, Impartiality, and the Priority of Claims over Duties: Diagnosing Why Thomson Still Gets the Trolley Problem Wrong by Appeal to the “Mechanics of Claims” *

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Judith Jarvis Thomson recently argued that it is impermissible for a bystander to turn a runaway trolley from five onto one. But she also argues that a trolley driver is required to do just that. We believe that her argument is flawed in three important ways. She fails to give proper weight to (a) an agent¹s claims not to be required to act in ways he does not want to, (b) impartiality in the weighing of competing patient-claims, and (c) the role of patient-claims in determining agent-duties. All three of these failures can be understood in terms of what we call the Mechanics of Claims, an approach we develop for identifying and balancing competing claims in determining rights. Using that framework, one can see both why Thomson’s most recent argument is mistaken, and how to think more clearly about deontological choices generally.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Philosophy, College Avenue Campus, New Brunswick, NJ 08901, USA & Rutgers University School of Law – Camden, 217 North 5th Street, Camden, NJ 08102, USA, awalen@philosophy.rutgers.edu ; 2: Center for Ethics, 917 Belfer Hall, 2495 Amsterdam Avenue, New York, NY 10033, USA, dwasserm@yu.edu

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