Essay: November 24th, 2016: The trolley dilemma, posed by my aunt.
November 1st, 2017: The trolley dilemma, posed by my ethics teacher.
On two very separate occasions- one during Thanksgiving dinner, the second during my Senior year Ethics class- I was faced with a fat man, a bridge, five innocent lives and the question: What would you do? When faced with the trolley dilemma, most people decide that flipping a switch to save five lives at the cost of another is worth it, but hesitate when asked to place an innocent third party in danger to save those lives. Thanksgiving of 2016, I was one of those people.
Ethics is a class where students are faced with moral dilemmas and have the opportunity to debate right and wrong in each situation. Labelled an “over-thinker” growing up, I finally found a class that reflects my eagerness to maintain an open mind.After only four weeks of this class, I can say with absolute certainty that it is my favorite class. It challenges me- not academically, not in my time management skills, but in my ability to reason and my assumptions of right and wrong.
The trolley dilemma. People argue about right and wrong blindly, becoming defensive in the face of opposition and supporting ideals they were taught to value growing up. When faced with the trolley dilemma in 2016, I was easily persuaded by my family members opinions. My aunts, uncles, and parents unanimously agreed that five lives are usually worth more than one- until that one is void of all relativity to the dangerous situation. When faced with the trolley dilemma in 2017, I was forced to analyze the thought experiment rather than simply agree or disagree with those around me. I was able to consider the value of a life and pondered whether different lives should be valued differently. If Adolf Hitler was the fat man on the bridge, would it change the ethicality of the decision to push him off to save the other lives? Next, my teacher inserted alterations, as the class had vocalized their belief that those who help society (workers) are more valuable than those who hinder society (people unable to work). My teacher replaced the five workers with five babies, then 10 babies, then one thousand babies. Babies do not help society. They are not workers. With this new twist, it seemed obvious that one thousand babies should be saved at the expense of one life, however, enthralled by the thought-provoking nature of the discussion, I played devil’s advocate. Perhaps, in this society plagued by overpopulation, the death of one thousand mouths to feed and the survival of a working man would be preferred to the alternate solution. Little did I know, I had just stumbled upon the basic principle of Utilitarianism.
When faced with the trolley dilemma posed by my aunt, I was easily swayed by the opinions of my family despite my thoughtful tendencies.
When faced with the trolley dilemma posed by my Ethics teacher, I was able different methods to further develop my sense of right and wrong.
In just four short weeks, this course has given me the tools that I need to make good decisions in life. It has given me more than just formulas to memorize or poems to analyze. This course has challenged everything that I am, every decision that I make, and has made me a better person for it. I can’t wait to be able to enter a new world where I can continue this growth and hunger for knowledge to shape my character and become the best version of me that I can be.
Tips for Writing: I struggled immensely trying to come up with a topic to write about for my college essay that I thought to be worthy of representing me. After starting six half-hearted essays based off of various CommonApp prompts, I decided to write about a class that I was taking—Ethics. It was the only class that I genuinely and enthusiastically enjoyed every day, the only one I discussed at home with my parents. The necessity to create an essay that nobody else in my graduating class could write seemed to be a dismal obligation, but the most important realization for me when writing this was that the essay didn’t have to be an individual experience, but it definitely had to be something that meant something to me. The twenty-three other students in my Ethics class experienced the same lectures, readings, and discussions as I did. What makes my essay different is my perspective on those events. The most important part of the essay process for me was being able to write about something that I was excited about and finding a prompt that fit it later.