Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Dark Knight Dilemma

  1. May 6, 2009 #1
    Two boats are with explosives and 1000 and 500 people respectively. Each boat has a detonator to the other boat's bomb. Both boats will be blown up in one hour unless one boat blows the other boat up first.

    Will it be immoral of the captain on the boat with 1000 people not to blow the other boat up?
  2. jcsd
  3. May 6, 2009 #2


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    No. In one case, he is killing people, in the other case someone else is killing people. Open & shut.

    As far as what will or won't happen, it would be immoral to take action basedd on the word of the mastermind who has already taken them hostage. Who is to say he won't blow them up anyway?
  4. May 6, 2009 #3
    This is similar to a thread I made called morality of passive/active. I was trying to argue that it would be moral to blow the boat with 5000 up and ultimately save 1000 peoples lives. This is a utilitarian perspective, which most people here disagreed with. I would personally say that it is selfish to not blow up the boat with 5000, as you are simply trying to relinquish yourself of the blame of being personally responsible. In the end you will have cost an extra 1000 lives in the process. Another classic question involves choosing whether or not to smother a crying baby in order to save a group of people being heard and killed.
  5. May 6, 2009 #4


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    The point I'm making is: don't commit a crime. Full stop.

    This acknowledges that philosophical conundra do not exist in a vacuum; they exist in the real world, where there is a perpetrator who is reponsible for taking these people hostage and you have no idea whether he will blow anyone up or blow everyone up.

    Hard as it may be to do, the captain will have to recognize that no one has been killed until and unless he presses the button. And that would make him a murderer. So don't.

    The way to lose the least when playing against a madman is to not play by his rules. (That's one of the reasons why modern slasher movies have to be so ridiculously contrived - the antagonist has to be arbitrarily omnipotent in order to always be several steps ahead of the victims. He cannot leave the smallest crack in his labrynth throuigh which an escape from the game is possible.)
  6. May 6, 2009 #5
    I disagree. He is in a situation in which people will die no matter what. It will be immoral not to choose an action to minimize the number of dead people. He is not killing people. He has to choose between killing 500 and 1500.

    I agree with madness. It is selfish not to blow the other boat up. Yes, maybe the captain would get a feeling of guilt by taking an active role in the deaths of the 500 people, but they will die anyway! And a feeling of guilt isn't worth 500 lives anyway!

    I honestly don't understand how most people can disagree with me here. Maybe it's an ethical illusion?

    This is a theoretical situation, of course. IF we knew that someone would have to die no matter what, there is absolutely no doubt that the correct choice is to try to minimize the number of deaths.
    Last edited: May 6, 2009
  7. May 6, 2009 #6
    Regardless, it is both. Either boat is legally justified in defending themselves by detonating the other. The ultimate responsibility belongs to the individual (the Joker) no matter what happens.
  8. May 6, 2009 #7
    Which ethical system do you use to justify that?
  9. May 6, 2009 #8


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    There's a similair one we ask (smug) new medical students.

    Q>Is it better to save one life or six?
    A>Six, they all parrot.
    Q>So if you see a healthy jogger go past the hospital you should kill him and use heart/lungs/kidneys/liver to save 6 patients?
  10. May 6, 2009 #9
    This one is not similar, but very different. If people risked getting killed by doctors, they'd loose their confidence in them and stay at home when they got sick, and more people would die.
  11. May 6, 2009 #10
    I believe that once people have been put into such a situation, regular morality no longer applies. At that point, one person's morals are as good as the next's.

    Then again, I'm not a huge fan of objective "morality" even in the best of times, so...
  12. May 6, 2009 #11
    "This one is not similar, but very different. If people risked getting killed by doctors, they'd loose their confidence in them and stay at home when they got sick, and more people would die."

    Actually, that doesn't make any sense. What smart people would do is stay in constantly poor health so the doctors never kill them. In fact, the more time spent in the hospital, the better.
  13. May 6, 2009 #12
    But can you really call abstaining from murdering a healthy jogger "Saving" them?
  14. May 6, 2009 #13
    Saving the patients by killing a jogger. I think it's wrong because few people would like to live in a society where doctors were allowed to kill healthy people.
  15. May 6, 2009 #14


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Healthy jogger is a bad scenario. A better one is where 7 people are all terminal and only one person has enough healthy parts to save the rest of them.
  16. May 6, 2009 #15


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    That's not the problem you were presented. :tongue: It's easy to solve any moral dilemma if you're allowed to change the problem!

    There are two separate interesting questions:

    (1) What to do if you're in the presented scenario

    (2) What to do if you have some amount of confidence (but are not completely certain) that you are in the presented scenario

    The opening poster asked (1), not (2).
  17. May 6, 2009 #16
    How would a doctor catch a healthy jogger? He would have to be pretty healthy himself to keep up. People might get ideas. Did anyone ask the teacher if he was healthy? I mean, he could save 6 people by killing himself in that case. But I guess that doctors are solely responsible for the quality of a person's life so they should be immune to their own ethics.

    I agree with Dave. If someone presses that button they become, in part, responsible for the outcome. People might push the button for fear of their lives and then make an ethical excuse later to justify their actions to themselves and others. A less cowardly person wouldn't submit to the whims of a maniac. It only reinforces their behaviour.

    That was the point in the movie where I lost interest and was thinking more about how my butt was achy from sitting in the seat and now would be a good time to empty my bladder than I was about the storyline of the movie. The movie could have been cut in half and it would have been twice as good.
  18. May 6, 2009 #17
    The person with the healthy parts should sacrifce himself. I don't think we're justified to kill him, terminal or not.
  19. May 6, 2009 #18
    The difference he makes is that he saves 1000 lives that would otherwise die.
  20. May 6, 2009 #19
    Are you a healthy jogger? I'm sure there are multiple people dying in hospitals right now that we could distribute your organs to. How could you live with yourself knowing that your body could be used to save all those lives?
  21. May 6, 2009 #20
    I don't know how, but I can live with it. You can certainly argue that I should sacrifice myself. Maybe it's the right thing to do. I'd only save those who haven't ****ed up their health themselves, though.
  22. May 6, 2009 #21
    Of course, the convenient exceptions. It's easy to say someone else should sacrifice themselves as long as it's not you. :rolleyes:
  23. May 6, 2009 #22
    This is not about what I would have done, this is about what one should do. Personally, I'd feel more comfortable dropping an atomic bomb over a city than killing my family with my bare hands. If I had to choose between the two, there is no doubt that the latter is the lesser evil, however.
  24. May 6, 2009 #23
    Unless you can include you while determining morals, then anything you say becomes irrelevant. It then becomes what everyone else should do to be moral but with you being the exception.
  25. May 6, 2009 #24
    I'm in total agreement with DaveC, and there are many points of view that can be taken to come to this conclusion. Assuming that the person that has both held hostage and loaded with explosives two groups of people is telling the ultimate truth isn't a dilemna, it's stupid. Playing by the arbitrary rules that are set in a situation like that makes one no better than the criminal. Even if you somehow know for an absolute fact that both boats will be detonated should neither flip the switch, you do nothing. The responsibility lies with the criminal, our society and morals are founded upon placing the responsibility on the bad, to suggest that simply the boat with more people is somehow more valuable is immoral. It's definitely a testing scenario but I feel that no matter how you justify your decision, if you were to flip the switch then you're the one that's choosing to kill those other people - what gives you the right to decide that your lives are worth more than theirs?
  26. May 6, 2009 #25
    "Unless you can include you while determining morals, then anything you say becomes irrelevant. It then becomes what everyone else should do to be moral but with you being the exception."

    That's a classic logical fallacy. I forget the name... the "practice what you preach" fallacy, I think, maybe a form of ad hominem, but I'll look it up if you'd like.

    Basically, saying that someone's argument is false on the basis of their behavior reflecting their professed beliefs is not logically sound.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook