fionn delahunty

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killing one person to save two people, is it ok?

i was just thinking, if you HAD to kill one person but in killing that person you were going to save two people, ( equal age, etc) is it ok? any ideas?

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    Jun 1 2011: No it is not right to kill. You can not say (with 100 percent certainty) that your inaction will cause the death of the other two in any feasible situation. While hypothetical situations can be interesting I think it is more useful to frame our answers in reality.
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    Jun 6 2011: Let's take a tridimensional look at this case: FACT - VALUE - NORM

    Fact: you killed someone in order to save two people.
    Norm: you can not kill other people, that's a crime. Let's say that the laws do not mention cases like this, so no matter what happens, if you kill someone you're supposed to go to jail.
    Value: You saved two lifes and killed one person. If you didn't kill that one, all of them would be dead. 2>0.

    So we can't just look at the fact and at the norm (laws, beliefs, etc) to decide, we also need to look at the action's value. 2>0 (sometimes it's not that simple, imagine if the one you had to kill were a child and the ones you were going to save were very, very old and they would die soon anyway, what would you do?)

    Since you stated equal age, I believe it is ok.
    I suggest you all to take a look at a book called "The Case of the Speluncean Explorers".
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    Jun 3 2011: I think one of the problems in an exercise like this is you have to reduce people to abstractions. The person you are killing is only a number as are the people you are saving. Once you dehumane a man or woman then you can do what ever you want to them, because at some point there will be a positive reaction from derived from the act.
  • May 31 2011: Well, it depends whether you're a deontological thinker or a categorical thinker.

    If you're categorical, then you'd say "Yes. Two is obviously greater than one; therefore, it would be in greater interest of human happiness to keep two people alive versus one.

    A deontological thinker would argue that, "No matter what the instance is, the principal of the matter remains that murder is wrong, no matter what the outcome may be; consequently, even if it saves 1, 2, or 60 people, the killing of a person is wrong."

    Personally, I tend to lean toward the side of deontology, but I struggle with the concept of choice. For example in the trolley car problem ( is the conscious choice to NOT act a form of murder (ie. inaction causing murder). Like I said, I still haven't sorted it out and found a satisfactory conclusion. It's an interesting problem though.
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    Jun 6 2011: i wounder how people whould act in that time, some would, some would not, it would be interesting to find out what differnent people would do,
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      Jun 6 2011: I wonder why people do not understand scenarios like this that happen in reality are beyond rare. A trillion to one chances of this becoming a real event....

      The point of these questions is to see how you would answer, if you cannot answer, perhaps you cannot dis-attach yourself from reality enough to use imagination and creativity.
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        Jun 6 2011: Nicholas, an alternative perspective on people's take on the situation is that many of us face tough choices in real life and inviting more is not as much fun as it once might have been. Life and death decisions for others is not as comfortable a game when you have faced your own in real life. You are wrong that they are rare. They are just more mundane and less obvious.

        Since you, my trusted friend, suggest that it is lack of imagination I will answer your question not the one posed from a stranger.

        In the moment of decsion, especially as Harvard Prof. Michael Sandal poses it, (see his whole series on legal ethics on the Harvard site - with the run away train) there is no chance to know more about the who or the wherefore. You must make a descision of life or death/ act or do not act/ steer or do not make a choice - about the lives of many. It is simple for me and obvious for me but I am aware after many years of study in Psychology/ Neuroscience/ Religion/ Business that the decision is born out of my own value system.

        I am one who makes the hard decision and lives with it. I choose more life over less even if I have to steer the train. But do not put me on the overpass(as Sandal extends the quesiton) for I will not kill actively or intentionally even to save life.

        I face this question in a more fundamental way and ask you: If the Nazis had arreseted you as a collaborator (freedom fighter) and promised you that you and your family would be safe if you gave up just one freedom fighter what do you do? The answer in my mind is that you give them nothing for anyone willing to torture and kill others has no capacity to honour a promise. Hence my answer below.

        A long time ago, I realized that whenever we step over the line and join forces with what is really wrong we put our weight against all the good people of the world who are trying to hold back the darkness.
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          Jun 6 2011: Debra when I mean they are rare I was referring to the question at hand.

          "If you had to pick one or two people, what would you do?"

          When do people face this question on a personal direct basis?

          As I read your answer however.. I take the philosophy of heaven and hell as well God and the devil...

          We all have the ability to be a God on earth to create a heaven in which we place ourselves and those around us. We have the power to create success and happiness for those we love and hold dear to us.

          We all have the chances to be a devil and to create a hell in which we place strangers, ourselves, others we love, and even the ground in which we stand on.

          All people have the power to make "evil" and "good" choices, it is based on our amount of knowledge and how much we reflect on that knowledge if we are able to comprehend our own actions.

          Those bankers and marketers on Wall Street who make a profit when this stock goes up or down... while that stock is actually how much loaning is being done, when that stock goes up more people are in debt involving money. They are "slaves" to those banks and the governments in which protect those banks rights. Working to pay back money that has been slammed with interest.... all while these bankers and marketers are happy taking in the money...

          I say to your response, simply, if you have the power to do greater good to prevent more evil... I say play God.

          If you think there aren't people in this world who can/do put a price on human life, then you do not know the evil that does take place in this world. Whether it is direct or indirect is the question. When I look at what "money profit - margins" do to the world, and then you ask me about what if a few people will die? It is no hard question... someone is dying right now from starvation when there is enough tech, science, and resources in the world to prevent such... that is evil to me, ignorance...

          Ask me whether to kill myself over 2 people, that is a challenge.
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        Jun 6 2011: I think the world is in good hands with a man like you working so hard to figure things out and live a positive life. In response to your question I can give you a couple of examples: (let me know if they represent equivalent decisions.)

        When we were afraid that the last flu would have been a serious global epidemic and that we knew would not have enough ventilators for critical patients, groups of infection prevention specialists had to decide who would get the ventilators that would mean life or death for individuals (often categorized by groups). That came down to some agonizing choices that, thank God never needed to be implemented but the decisions were made on which lives to support and which lives not to support.

        Example 2: Women who through in vitro fertilzation sometimes have to choose which of their children to abort to ensure that one or more have viable lives.

        I am not as confident about my final example: who gets the organs and skin grafts from a single motorcycle accident victim with irreversible brain damage.
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          Jun 6 2011: Your examples are valid and good to consider, now an additional question.

          Would it not be better to have foundations in which practice/understand morals and ethics as apart of the educations prior to making these decisions?

          I mean if we taught children basic philosophy, psychology, humanity-related, and any other cognitive science viewpoint involved with critical thinking disciplines. Roughly, if we were educating children to make good ethical decisions, these questions of moral dilemmas would have people who are better prepared to handle them behind answering them...

          I fear most of the worlds decisions are being made on what is profitable and not what is better for every human on the planet... global unification is something I am really pessimistic about. If there is ever a global epidemic... who ever can afford to buy the vaccine will live and who ever is going to spend extra money for others will be the saints.

          I can easily argue governments are private business in today politics as they stand.

          I believe we are going off topic now and should continue on Tim's conversation. Respond there.
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    Jun 5 2011: but if yuo just put ever man or women into a number, it would be so easy to do bad,
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    Jun 3 2011: 1st-- i understand to do this you must just make all people a "number" which is very hard to do, but if done you could do millions of thing, good or bad,

    2st, is there any prof that the death penalty lower rate of murder? i belive there are much worst thing then death, but also i see whta your saying, that the person die in hope they will not kill or other people will kill again, but once a person has murder how can you tell if they will again or if they are sorry,
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    Jun 3 2011: In the United States, and such countries, they execute murderers.
    I'm guessing this is for a number of reasons?
    - Satisfaction for loved-ones of the murdered
    - Deterrent
    - To stop the murderer killing again...
    I wonder what the weighting is of these different components, eg: is like 50% to stop them killing again, or 10%, or whatever?
    Is this an example of killing one person, so that others (potentially) are not murdered in the future by the executed?
    (By the way, I am strongly against the Death Penalty, largely because I am not sure who would have the right to enforce it. Doesn't really seem to me to be the thing a "government" should do, when their principle purpose is to defend the people not kill them... Seems a bit weird).
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    Jun 2 2011: thank you very much,

    i understand what your saying and i think it right ,
    my answer would be i would guess some family would be ok, nowing the fact they saved 100"s of people but some people who for some reason may not belive in " saving 2 by killing 1" would it be fair for THEM to die if they didit belive in it? ( im making all up, i belive fully then killing 1 to 2 is the right thing to do, i just wanted to see what other people might think)
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    Jun 1 2011: what i ment was all of the people are the same, they lived the same, had the same crimes all equal,

    if you do kill 1000 people but save 10000 people , what will you tell the familys of the 1000 people?
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      Jun 2 2011: I like this debate and will continue to bump it up.

      Well then that is the information I needed to pick the two not one, but I would still hope that the two would understand life to be more precious having to sacrifice a person for them to continue.

      I wouldn't tell the families anything, I would ask them a question. "what would you have done?" Then I would listen and respond with the knowledge losing a loved one is never easy but still knowing the fact *these people died for a good reason instead of no reason or an evil one like so many do daily*

      What are your answers Fionn?
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    Jun 1 2011: The principle here is well-established, it's just the calibration we find unpalatable.
    It's often said, and I think generally supported (although I assume less so in Japan) that the 2 atomic bombs dropped at the end of WW2 shortened the war and, net, lives were saved.
    So maybe 250,000 were killed (?) to save several millions.
    So, does it matter "who" the people killed are/ or the people saved? Not really, these were largely innocent civilians. I guess it makes it easier if they're enemy civilians, maybe this discounts the ratio by 50% or something?
    It's not a particularly pleasant idea, but the idea that some must die so that others may live is well accepted (sounds a bit biblical though...), and really the only question is the ratio we find acceptable. 1 death to 2 lives seems a bit low; 1 to 100 maybe enough to overcome our natural aversion to deliberate killing.
    The REAL problem here is who do we trust to take the decision as to who must die so that another may live? Not sure I can think who'd I'd trust with this judgement.
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    Jun 1 2011: This is an ethics question.

    The point of ethics for me however in my trials of life is to understand in many perspectives and all points of view on what is going to be involved with my moral choices (as I feel everyone should do if given the time/education to do so).

    To answer your question I'll need to know some more information.

    What are their professions? What are their criminal histories? What is their family status (kids, wife, girlfriend, etc)?

    "Age etc" doesn't give me enough to make a good decision. However if I had to make the choice blindly, and didn't know any information about these people. I would pick the one person. The one person would live while two would die, yes, but now this one person would have more reason to live a better life than most will, in order for his life to live two had to die. I would imagine this one person would face reality a lot harsher and brutally than the two who would think "well one is better than two, anyone would of done that decision". Some of life's greatest lessons come from death, for any lesson to be justified as "that is what most would do" or "this happens all the time" would be little the lesson coming from death. I feel strongly this one person would live a richer life than if the two had lived.

    Edited: Interesting I am the only one who didn't dictate the moral dilemma prior to the decision. Would I feel remorse for my decision? Of course, without question. However if it is a blind choice and I have no way of knowing which was truly the better choice, I can only go on chance with my understanding of humans.

    People die all the time for good reasons, no reason, or for evil reasons. Considering if I had this choice, the greater evil would be to think about it in numbers and not humans to me. People take for granted their lives everyday, they take war for granted everyday, and they even take themselves and family/friends for granted everyday.

    Anyone reading this now, is rich in life through materials.
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      Jun 1 2011: " I would pick the one person. The one person would live while two would die, yes, but now this one person would have more reason to live a better life than most will, in order for his life to live two had to die."

      Can you apply this logic universally? Are we better off killing 2/3rds of the population so the remaining 1/3 live with for a "better" reason?
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        Jun 1 2011: No for different scenarios different logic must be implied.

        IF the 1/3 lived knowing 2/3 had to die in order for them to survive I am sure they would appreciate it more than the 2/3 if vice versa. However considering this is so many people I would be assured both decisions would have people who would appreciate the value of life significantly more.

        Again though, who is the 1/3 and 2/3 consisting of? Is the 2/3 all the religious fundamentalist in the world vs. 1/3 all the none? Is the 2/3 all the grown ups and 1/3 children? Is there more women on the 2/3 or 1/3 side? Factors need to be accounted for and listed.

        Truly to make these decisions one must be look at the decisions from many angles, perspectives, and considerations. For this scenario, blind and unaware of the people, I would have to pick the 2/3 of people hoping that I did not pick mostly males and lesser amounts of women and children.
    • Jun 1 2011: So your justification would depend on who these people are in society (1 scientist vs. 2 criminals for example)? I guess that doesn't sound okay to me because it sounds a little like playing God or a vigilante-type figure. I just don't see how you can decide that you have the moral authority to kill a person, no matter who that person is. Be it criminal or Nobel Laureate, I don't think that one person has the right to dictate whether the other should die.

      That said, I still do not know about this situation, because, in this scenario, INACTION is as much a choice as ACTION. This is a tricky scenario, and still haven't found a sound, comfortable answer for myself.
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        Jun 1 2011: If you feel inaction is as problematic as action then you are going to have to play God in your decisions. You do this by considering as much as you possibly can.

        Here is your ethical question from me.

        Would you kill "3 healthy people (10 percent body fat), who are rich and give to charities, but beat their wife and children" or "1 overweight person (50 percent body fat), who is on the border between poor class and middle class but still finds time to volunteer, and makes sure he attends all of his children's sporting events"

        My answer: The one.

        "I just don't see how you can decide that you have the moral authority to kill a person, no matter who that person is."

        It is indeed hard to dis-attach yourself from the fact you are killing no matter what, however that is the point of these ethical questions. They are asked to decide what type of person you are. I happen to be able to ignore the fact that I am killing imaginary people for the purpose of an experiment. the chances of this scenario coming up are beyond unlikely.
        • Jun 1 2011: Valid points, especially the fact that these situations are absurdly rare.

          My question: What is your justification for killing the 3 versus the 1?

          Thanks again. These questions are always a fun way to pick your brain and really make you question what's important.
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        Jun 1 2011: Well beating a child is the first strike against them and getting beaten by a parent is so damaging for that child's future development in pretty much every area of their developing life, to take out three adults who are beating up the future is the where I would be thinking the most. When you give to charities you get tax cuts which means you do not have to pay taxes in which help take care of the country (not the best reason, but a reason). The weight of a person should be that very last thing considered when all else is equal.

        A long life of poor choices is not equal to a short life of good choices.

        The overweight father who cares about his children will produce more benefits to the world with happy children than the 3 would with mentally tormented children, plus those children who have been beaten would be most likely better off. Thinking numerically would only be necessary in these scenarios if there was nothing to choose from.

        "These questions are always a fun way to pick your brain and really make you question what's important."

        Excellent point.
  • Jun 1 2011: This is an interesting question - with philosophical overtones. Being an ex-soldier I once said to a Priest: 'it's better that one person should die than fifty. Needless to say he did not agree with me - from the religious point view you should not kill.Surely the circumstances matter? From 1936 onward the Wermacht German Army Officers were horrified at the direction Hitler was leading them, and at the atrocities carried out by the Nazi Waffen SS his loyal Nazi regiments and body guards. Officers of the Wermacht made 40 attempts to assasinate Hitler and paid with their lives - had they succeeded millions of lives may have been saved. I can not condemn those Officers - I believe God judges motives behind the actions.What of euthanasia , assisted suicide? On a lighter note what of a person with a split personality, is the threat by one to kill the other threatened murder or a hostage situation?
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    Jun 1 2011: its a well known moral debate:

    could you pick up a gun and kill a child if it meant the world would be rid of cancer and aids?
    could you drop a bomb on a village of 100 innocent people if it meant 1000 in the next village would survive?

    i dont think i could drop that bomb or fire that gun.
    • Jun 1 2011: I understand your dilemma Davie, but none of us really knows what we will do until we actually have to make that decision at the time - then we will have to live with the outcome.
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      Jun 5 2011: Good for you Davie!
      What is the likeihood that anyone who would put you in that position in the first place would also be a person who followed through with his promises? I am betting that once your act was completed all you would get was a satified smile from the evil bugger- not a cure for cancer or aids.
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    Jun 1 2011: I have to admitt that there is a rational part of me that somehow thinks "of course, killing a personn to save two others makes perfect sense".

    But then, it's a very slipery slope. Once you've taken the step "killing is ok if you can save more than you kill", "killing is ok if you can save someone more than you kill" is not so far away anymore.

    So no, trying to rationalize / excuse killing should remain wrong.

    (@Aaron: The trolley case is a fascinating question btw. I sincerely don't know what I would do...)
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    Jun 1 2011: Absolutely. No matter what these people have done in their lives, human life has no other value besides one.

    On a more philosophical note, one could argue that death is wrong, and one could even argue that death is better for some.

    There are far too many variables.