Philosophy on the big screen


A runaway train is heading toward a group of five immobilized people stuck on the tracks. You, the conductor, have the ability to divert the train onto another rail, but doing so would kill an innocent bystander who is unaware of the approaching train. What should you do in this situation?

In “The Problem of Evil,” a new film premiering in Austin this week, UT philosophy professor Daniel Bonevac explains that most people would have no problem choosing to take one life in order to save five.

But when you change the circumstances, even slightly, the correct choice becomes much less clear. The thought experiment above is known as the trolley problem, and Bonevac shows how quickly it can reveal the barrier between our intuitive and rational thoughts about moral questions.

This is not the first time a UT philosophy professor has made it to the silver screen to explain philosophical concepts to the public.

In 2001, Richard Linklater’s film “Waking Life” featured three UT philosophers who spoke about human existence and the nature of the universe.

The late Robert C. Soloman spoke about the relevance of existentialism, the late Louis H. Mackey about human potential and current philosophy chair David Sosa about free will.


These comments on timeless philosophical problems are both enlightening and digestible for the public. Taking interesting academic topics and relating them to the everyday moviegoer is a wise strategy for the film world to pursue.