The trolley problem is a thought experiment in ethics that poses a hypothetical scenario in which a person is required to make a choice between two negative outcomes. There are many variations of the trolley problem, but the classic scenario is typically something like this: a trolley is headed toward five people stuck on the track. The driver of the trolley (or an onlooker) can divert the trolley to another track. However, one person is stuck on that track. The problem asks whether the person with the ability to act should divert the trolley to the other track (saving five people but actively causing the death of one person) or do nothing (allowing the death of five people). The trolley problem is typically understood as being intended to pose the more general philosophical question of whether it’s ethical to perform an action that harms someone in order to prevent a greater number of people from being harmed. The term trolley problem is also sometimes used more generally to refer to any situation requiring a difficult ethical or moral decision. The concept of the trolley problem was introduced in the 1960s, but awareness of the term and concept became more widespread in the 2010s when it started to be used in a meme featuring a rendering of the hypothetical scenario it presents. The meme often pokes fun at the trolley problem by presenting ridiculous scenarios involving trolleys.
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