In the TV series “The Good Place”, a deceased philosophy professor called Chidi tries to help his fellow residents of a non-denominational afterlife to become better people by introducing them to problems that moral philosophers worry about. This includes a classic ethical thought experiment called the “trolley problem”:
“Imagine you are driving a trolley when the brakes fail and on the track ahead of you are five workmen that you will run over. Now, you can steer to another track, but on that track is one person who you will kill instead of the five. What do you do?”
Unfortunately for him, Chidi’s efforts are rather undermined when he is immediately placed in the situation of really driving a trolley with failed brakes and has to decide what he will actually do (spoiler alert – he can’t).
As the show points out, people who study ethics, like me and Chidi, love to think about hypothetical situations but can be totally unprepared to make ethical choices in practice. As Michael, another character in the series, puts it: “This is why everyone hates moral philosophy professors… it’s just that it’s so theoretical, you know.”