What follows is a summary of philosopher Philippa Foot's "Trolley Problem", a moral dilemma that gets readers thinking about ethics:
The brakes of the train that Casey Jones is driving have just failed. There are five people on the track ahead of the train.
There is no way that they can get off the track before the train hits them. The track has a siding leading off to the right, and Casey can hit a button to direct the train onto it. Unfortunately, there is one person stuck on the siding. Casey can turn the train, killing one person; or he can allow the train to continue onwards, killing five people.
Should he turn the train (1 dead); or should he allow it to keep going (5 dead)?
(With credit to http://www.philosophyexperiments.com/fatman/)
Ever been asked for your views on torture during an interview? Or been given an article about Britain's involvement in some topical conflict and asked what you think? Then - congratulations. You've been trollied.
As an interviewee, I dreaded these questions. 1) I never knew what a right answer sounded like. 2) Whatever I answered, the interviewer would play devil's advocate or try to back me into a corner. I once suggested that actually torture was a wonderful idea, thanks - not what I think at all. I was pressured into agreeing, and fell for it. Bad move.
What are interviewers aiming at with questions like these? Very simply, they are testing your ability to see both sides of an argument, evaluate each, decide on one and then stand your ground (under pressure of course).
Why? Well, this sort of thing happens in practice, for one. Even as a trainee, you'll likely find yourself on the receiving end of an angry phone call or urgent email from a client / another lawyer, and you'll need to be able to stand your ground, calmly and articulately. (In my experience this will happen at 17:25 on a Friday when your supervisor is on a suspiciously long lunch.)
Secondly, law firms like to hire trainees who can think. Questions like this, that can be asked of you whether you are second year law at LSE or fourth year yoghurt knitting at wherever, are a good way of testing that.
So how to answer? I'd suggest something like:
1. Articulate the dilemma.
2. Briefly explain each approach.
3. "Some people might argue for X because what's important to them is Y, but I feel strongly that A because B."
Frankly, it doesn't matter (for present purposes) if you end up advocating torture or suggesting that religious fundamentalism is the way to go. Just be articulate, and stand your ground through the inevitable follow-up questions.