Present Implications Of Phillipa Foot’s “Trolley Problem”/ Self-Driving Cars – Yes Or No?



This WebQuest is intended to have learners use collaboration, creativity, and internet resources to see the present implications of a philosophical problem.

“I’m extremely confident that level 5 (full automation of self-driving cars) or essentially complete autonomy will happen and I think will happen very quickly. I remain confident that we will have the basic functionality for level 5 autonomy complete this year.”, Elon Musk at the opening of Shanghai’s annual World Artificial Intelligence Conference (WAIC).

So in 1885, Karl Benz invented the automobile. Later that year, he took it out for the first public test drive, and -- true story -- crashed into a wall. For the last 130 years, we've been working around that least reliable part of the car, the driver. We've made the car stronger. We've added seat belts, we've added airbags, and in the last decade, we've actually started trying to make the car smarter to fix that bug, the driver.”, Chris Umson, Director of Self-Driving Cars at Google in his TED talk(

Congratulations, folks! 🙂 You are a team of engineers in one of the world’s leading technology companies Tesla, Inc. Being a part of a great company means a lot of work to do. You have to discuss an ethical problem and present some possible solutions regarding the development of self-moving cars to the owner of your company, Mr Elon Musk. However, he is well-known for taking in mind the opinion of his employees. Every member of the company will vote and decide whether the company should continue to Level 5 automation. It is an important decision since it concerns the company’s most ambitious project and the team has already faced a lot of problems concerning its autopilots safety.

So, put on your seat belts. Your high-speed Tesla is starting its engine! …and you have to decide to turn the autopilot ON or OFF.

In this WebQuest, we will be exploring the well-known “trolley problem” of the philosopher Philippa Foot originating in 1967 and see why this ethical problem is so important in the age of new technologies.

But before that, here are a few things you will need to know:


The goal of this WebQuest is to help you discover the importance of discussing ethical problems and philosophy as a foundation for further decisions. You will have to explore the philosophy of Philippa Foot having in mind also the ideas of Immanuel Kant and Jeremy Bentham.

The learners should work in groups of 5 to 10 people. Each one of them should explore the history of the “trolley problem” and prepare a PP presentation (or other multimedia) listing pros and cons concerning the company’s autopilot project. The information should be well organized, factual, and well-formed. It is important to demonstrate a good level of internet and technology use. Then the group presenting Tesla company members should decide if they should further develop self-driving cars to 5. level of automation or not.


At this step, each learner needs to use the online resources for this Webquest and research what is the history of this ethical problem. 

They can read this article: presenting the original version of the “trolley problem” and then watch the following video that further information:

Watch this video stating Mr Musk’s ambitions:

How far should go the “march of 9s” he is talking about regarding safety? Is there a difference between one vs. five (as stated in the original Foot’s “trolley problem”) and one vs. millions?
Explore the philosophical background of your answer by watching this TED lecture:

… and further reading on Kant and Bentham’s ethical philosophy.

The happiness of a community is a sum of the happiness of its members. If more people stay alive, we are happier as a community and this is the right choice. However, do you agree?

So, “act in such a way you treat humanity always as an end, and never simply as a means”. You cannot kill a man turning him into a means to save the other five…

Based on everything you found about the problems of self-driving cars, think if engineers had programmed the right outcome in situations, such as the following. “Do you remember that day when you lost your mind? You aimed your car at five random people down the road. By the time you realized what you were doing, it was too late to break. Thankfully, your autonomous car saved their lives by grabbing the wheel from you and swerving to the right. Too bad for the one unlucky person standing on that path, struck and killed by your car. Did your robot car make the right decision?”


Use multimedia (PowerPoint, Prezi, other tools) to present your arguments stating should engineers continue working on the complete automation of self-moving cars. Please, take into consideration the fact that, as Mr Musk stated in the video above, autopilots are safer than drivers. That means that if engineers continue working on this problem that saves lives. However, level 5 automation also means that engineers take action setting algorithms who should die in specific situations.

Come on now, Mr Musk and his team are waiting for your arguments to make their decision.

At this stage, learners representing the team of Tesla’s engineers should listen to a presentation. Each of the learners should comment on whether they agree or disagree and argue their answer.


What is the “trolley problem”? 

Kant’s moral philosophy and Bentham’s utilitarianism as a base for solutions to the problem., 

level of automation 

Tesla’s autopilot and its future development. 

Software 2.0. 


Through this WebQuest, you experienced the fact that philosophy is the ultimate base for our future development. There is no right answer to the “trolley problem” and philosophy is not able to provide final statements. However, every person and every society has to think over its fundamental ethical principles and this is the only way to continue ahead.

Tesla (maybe quite intentionally) does not step into the “trolley problem” debate. Indeed, that is the best thing they can do. Although that Foot’s original solution to the problem tends towards saving 5 lives instead of 1, it seems that the “trolley problem”, just like most philosophical ones, is, rather, intended to provoke thought. However, that is most needed now, in the age of rising artificial intelligence.

Finally, you can browse this website and think about what a future self-driving car should do in the following situations: 


  • Presentation skills
  • Critical thinking
  • Empathy
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Decision making
  • Research


In addition, learners will:

  • realize that philosophy is needed in the modern world as a base for future development;
  • learn how to engage and collaborate with others;
  • communicate an idea by means of a debate or a role-play;
  • develop a sense of confidence and belief in themselves and their ideas;
  • learn how to communicate effectively (using written and spoken word, non-verbal language, electronic tools, and listening skills).

Evaluation of learning achievements

In this section we will not dive very deep into the underlying educational theories about evaluation and testing: there’s too much out there than we could possibly cover in this small project report.

Instead, we want to concentrate on procedures that enable both students/pupils and their teachers to establish if the learning goals of the Webquest were achieved and, if so, to what extent. We recommend teachers make use of a combined evaluation procedure, that consists of:

  1. Statements by learners (after being asked to do so)
    • telling what they learned about the subject (knowledge-oriented self-evaluation): now (after going through the Webquest) I know that …
    • telling what he/she learned about herself/himself (formative evaluation, in this case, diagnostic self-evaluation): now (after going through the Webquest) I know about myself that I …
      This pair of basic statements add up to a so-called learner report, in which the pupil/student reflects on what the Webquest brought him/her in terms of acquired knowledge and new personal views and attitudes concerning the subject.

    For instance:

    • ‘I learned that in medieval times the hygiene of people was hardly a concern which helped to let epidemic diseases like the Plague cause so many casualties’ Or:
    • ‘I learned the facts and I know the earth is warming, but I cannot understand why people were so stupid to pollute the world and let it warm up so much.
    • ‘I learned from the information about diseases that this subject is more appealing to me than I would expect in advance: maybe I should consider a medical career’. Or:
      ‘The Webquests confirms what I thought already: I could not care less about the climate and global warming. In fact, I thought it was all a hoax and I still do!’

    This kind of assessment seems more subjective than it actually is: in his standard work on testing and evaluation (and much more), simply called Methodology (1974), Prof. A.D. de Groot described how consistent the student’s self-evaluations appeared to be: when asked again after 5 or 10 years, their evaluation would almost be the same. De Groot advised teachers to use the learner report as a start for joint evaluations, striving for consensus between teacher and student/pupil about the learning outcomes and their value for the learner, but also compared with the learning objectives as stated in the curriculum.

  2. The learning achievements are visible in the output produced by the students: it is physical evidence: reports, answers to questions asked in the Webquest, presentations, and performance during presentations (preferably recorded). The teacher completes an evaluation grid stating clearly what the learning outcomes for the student/pupil are. The categories in the grid can be modified by the teacher to cover more precisely the content of a Webquest.

    >We advise teachers to use the grid to start a joint evaluation discussion, aiming at consensus or at least understanding between the teacher and the student/pupil about the learning outcomes: were they achieved (as planned in the curriculum and communicated before the Webquest started) and to what extent? To communicate the learning goals clearly before any learning activity starts, is a transparency requirement that is widely acknowledged in the educational community. The history of making learning objectives explicit goes back to the evaluation ‘Bible’ by Bloom, Hastings and Madaus: ‘Handbook on formative and summative evaluation of student learning’ (1971), a standard work that also served as inspiration for the earlier mentioned Prof. De Groot.


The procedure also applies when students/pupils have worked together on a Webquest. The teacher will ask questions about individual contributions: ‘What did you find? What part did you write? How did you find the illustrations? Who made  the final presentation?’

All the evidence (of learning efforts and outcomes plus joint evaluations) is preferably stored in the learning portfolio of the student, or in any other suitable storage system (folders with written or printed documents, online collection of files, etcetera ).

Changes in personal points of view and feelings are harder to value and here the consensus between teacher and student/pupil about experiences during the learning process provides essential insights.

The grid below gives an example of how the evaluation of the learning process and achievements can be shaped: what kind of reactions to the Webquest does the teacher expect and how valuable are they? Is the teacher capable to explain the value or score allocated to answers or presentations given by pupils? Does the pupil/student understand the evaluation outcomes, and does he/she agree? If an agreement (consensus is not possible, it is still the teacher who decides how to value the student’s work.

Please note that the text in the grid addresses the pupil/student directly: this is important and it is in fact a prerequisite for using such an evaluation grid: it is specifically meant to enable a discussion of learning results between teacher and student and not to communicate learning achievements of learners to others who had no direct role in the Webquest.

Evaluation Grid

Funded by
sCOOL-IT erasmus logo EN

The European Commission’s support for the production of this publication does not constitute an endorsement of the contents, which reflect the views only of the authors, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

Talk To Us

t: +357 2466 40 40
f: +357 2465 00 90

Funded by
sCOOL-IT erasmus logo EN

The European Commission’s support for the production of this publication does not constitute an endorsement of the contents, which reflect the views only of the authors, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

Talk To Us

t: +357 2466 40 40
f: +357 2465 00 90

Funded by
sCOOL-IT erasmus logo EN

The European Commission’s support for the production of this publication does not constitute an endorsement of the contents, which reflect the views only of the authors, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

Talk To Us

t: +357 2466 40 40
f: +357 2465 00 90

©2019 sCOOL-IT. All Rights Reserved.
Designed & Developed by PCX Management

Skip to content