In Tom Stoppard’s play Darkside, which magically lets Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon speak its implicit ecological philosophical content, a cynical philosophy teacher explains the famous trolley problem. If there are lots of people on a train heading over a cliff, it is ethical to switch the points to divert the train, even if the train runs over a single person stuck on the track onto which the train diverts.
When a sensitive student asks the teacher about the experiment (“Who was on the train?” “Who was the boy?”), the teacher insists that it’s merely a thought experiment, that there’s no point in knowing. Yet this perceived irrelevancy is normative: it is what generates the utilitarianism in the first place.
The girl student, dismissed as insane, asks the teacher, “Who was on the train?” The teacher responds, “We don’t know who was on the train, it’s a thought experiment.” The humor compresses an insight: this nondescription of Easy Think passengers implies an unexamined thought that gives no heed to the qualities of the people on board. Only their number counts, the fact that they merely exist. Existing is better than any quality of existing, according to axiom (3). It doesn’t even matter how many more people there are. Even the sheer quantity of existing is treated as a lump of whatever. Say there were three hundred people on the track and three hundred and one people in the train. The train should divert and run over the people on the track. More to the ecological point, imagine seven billion people on the train and a few thousand on the track. This represents the balance (or lack thereof ) between the human species and a species about to go extinct because of human action. This amazing pudding of stuff isn’t even a fully mathematizable world. Counting itself doesn’t count. For a social form whose new technology (writing) was so preoccupied with sheer counting, as surviving Linear B texts demonstrate, this is ironic.