University of California Irvine Trolley and Time Travel Problem Essay


Write an essay of about 4 pages (or 1000 words). Your Essay 2 is due at 11am on Thursday, February 25 , 2021.

Writing in your own words, address the following instructions.

In this essay you consider two very different types of “paradoxical” situations. The Trolley problem poses a moral dilemma: what should one do when moral intuitions seem to conflict? The Time Traveler problem poses a metaphysical quandary: how shall we understand whether time travel is really possible when intuitions about space-time seem to conflict? In both cases we reason by thought experiment.

Part A. Choose one of three scenarios we have studied: (1) the trolley Driver, (2) the trolley Bystander, both from Judith Jarvis Thomson’s “The Trolley Problem” (1985), or alternatively (3) the Tesla Driver, from our variation in Lecture, where a human Tesla Driver is in charge. Does this scenario pose a moral “paradox” where two principles are in moral or practical contradiction? If you find two conflicting moral principles, briefly explain each, and how they conflict.

Part B. Consider a scenario drawing on David Lewis’ “The Paradoxes of Time Travel” (1976). Suppose a traveler leaves a place in 2021 and arrives by time travel at a place in 2016, where she meets herself and has a conversation with her prior self about whether to go to UCI or UCLA in 2018. Consider Lewis’ metaphysical principle that this traveler S is really a “streak” through time: a person S enduring through time and composed of temporal parts S-at-2021 and S-at-2016. Now, as we live our lives it seems rather that “I” (S in the first person) am meeting a different person “I” at an earlier time in “my” life. Does this self-conversation scenario pose a metaphysical “paradox” where these two considerations are in contradiction about reality? Is time travel possible?

Part C. Very briefly: Should we think of the Trolley puzzle and the Time-Travel puzzle as varieties of “paradox”? If so, what kind of contradiction is involved in each?

SOURCES: Use ONLY the assigned texts, Professor’s Notes, and your TA guidance.

The aim is to think about these styles of paradoxes. There is a huge amount of literature on all these themes, but you may get confused or even misled by reading around, and the aim here is NOT a “report” but an exercise in your own thinking carefully about the issues raised in our Lectures and Discussion sections in relation to just these sources.


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