Beware the Trolley Zealots


  • Gil Eyal Department of Sociology, Columbia University, UCLA



Trolley problem, utilitarianism, bio-ethics, coronavirus, Covid-19, pastoral power, frames


This essay draws on Mary Douglas' theory of institutional styles of thinking to analyze the debate about how and when the Coronavirus crisis can be brought to an end. The dominant approach, I show, frames the problem in utilitarian terms, akin to what is known among philosophers as "the trolley problem." I point out the pitfalls of this framing and contrast it with a counter-frame taken from the Judeo-Christian tradition of pastoral leadership. The lacunae of this institutional style of thinking are pointed out as well, in order to develop the critical distance necessary for a reasoned intervention in the crisis.


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How to Cite

Eyal, G. (2020). Beware the Trolley Zealots. Sociologica, 14(1), 21–30.



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