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Trading lives and innocence/guilt

  1. Nov 18, 2003 #1
    Let's say that there are innocent people who are going to die if you don't do anything. You can save them, but it requires the killing of an innocent person. Is this ethically good or acceptable?

    Now let's say that there is a terrorist holding people captive. If you don't rescue them, they will die. You can rescue them, but it requires killing the terrorist. Is this ethically good or acceptable?

    Would your answer be the same under the belief of "free will" and under the belief of determinism? If yes, what would be different?

    (In the above, you can replace die/killing with suffer severely/cause severe suffering...would that change your answers?)
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 18, 2003 #2
    I can kill the terrorist without hesitation...sacrificing one innocent for several would be much more difficult.
  4. Nov 18, 2003 #3
    first of i would not kill an innocent to save others. I would try to figure a way so that the innocent can be spared even if trying to think of a way get the others killed. See you kill the innocent to save others still make you a killer. But not being able to save the other innocents just makes you a failure. A failure i can live with.

    But i would hurt an innocent if it fit my plans to tricking the terrorist that i'm on his side so i can get close enough to stop them. But after it's over i would do great apologies to the person i hurt and hope they understand the reason of my attack and accept if they don't forgive me.
    Last edited: Nov 18, 2003
  5. Nov 18, 2003 #4
    Dissident Dan, I assume that your questions are purely philosophical, in that the situation can only turn out one of the two ways that you allow for, right?

    Under that assumption...

    It is not acceptable to me, but that is a matter of personal opinion. You see, allowing others to die is different from killing a person directly. As THANOS said, I can live with failure, but not with being a killer.

    Again, I would not kill a terrorist, or anyone else. The terrorist is not "innocent", therefore it can be said to be "ethically good" to kill him to save innocents, but I could not do it.

  6. Nov 19, 2003 #5
    What about the distinction of innocence and guilt? It a deterministic world, does such a distinction make sense? Should it make a moral difference in one's actions?
  7. Nov 19, 2003 #6
    Well with something as black and white as your example, it's an obvious choice. As the terrorist would kill the innocents, you loose more lives through your inaction then by taking action.

    As Mentat said, if you're talking about sparing innocents by sacrificing one innocent, then it becomes more gray, but ultimately the goal would be the most lives saved, unless you're talking about sacrificing somone very important to you.

    This was dicussed a few months ago.
  8. Nov 20, 2003 #7

    Another God

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    "Ethical Dilemma" => This is value theory!
  9. Nov 20, 2003 #8

    Another God

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    There is a very famous version of this ethical dilema. Its known as the Box Car Scenario.

    http://philosophy.arts.unsw.edu.au/students/resources/lecture_notes/PHIL1008/PHIL1008Lecture%20Fiv.pdf [Broken]

    Basically it goes:

    CASE 1
    There is a box car traveling down some tracks towards a crowd of people who don't know the boxcar is coming (lets say they are all unconscious and laying on the tracks...they will all die). Between the boxcar and the crowd is a fork in the tracks, and you standing near the lever that operates it can change the tracks so that the car doesn't hurt anyone. DO you flick the switch?

    CASE 2
    Same scenario, but this time there is a lone person on the side track. If you do nothing, many people will die (lets say 10), if you do something, 1 person will die. What do you do?

    CASE 3
    Same scenario as 2, except this time the one person is your mother. If you do nothing, 10 people will die, if you act, you will kill your mother. What do you do?

    CASE 4
    This time your mother is on the main track, and the crowd is on the side track. Do you flick the switch to save your mother, and kill the crowd?

    This scenario is very well known in the philosophy world: It is basically the root ethical dilema scenario, setting up people to rationalise out the one for the good of many decision, making people deal with ethical responsibility in terms of action and in terms of inaction. Does inaction remove your responsibility? If you don't flick the switch in scenario two, are you ethical responsible for killing 10 people? Are you responsible for killing 10 people if you don't flick the switch in scenario 1? It also bring into the picture the influence of knowing people vs nameless faces... This is an important human condition.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 1, 2017
  10. Nov 20, 2003 #9
    I will save the most people even if it changes my destination. But the reason why i save the most people isnot because it's best to save more lives then one. But i want to find out who the hell gave me this sadistic choice and get revenge for innocent lives or my mothers (not that she isn't innocent) hehe. And the most chances of finding out who did it would be to ask a group questions instead of just one person. Now the question is what would i do to the guy if i found him? Justice by law or by me?
  11. Nov 20, 2003 #10

    Another God

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    You wouldn't save your own mother? (if you don't like your mother, then change the scenario for your father, your partner or your child...whatever is most appropriate)

    If it was me, put any arbitrary number of people on a train track and i'd let them die before I let my mother die.

    Besides, this situation isn't set up by some evil genius. Its just a horrific accident about to happen, and youa re standing besides the track, able to avert it or alter it. No one is to be blamed.
  12. Nov 21, 2003 #11
    Then why the hell would my mother be sleeping on the train track. And a group of people on the other side. Don't get me wrong i love my mother. If there's no evil genius behind everything and for some strange reason those choices came to me. I would not kill.
    CASE 1: flip the switch and i kill no one.
    CASE 2: do nothing and 10 people die. still no killing
    CASE 3: do nothing and 10 people die. still no killing
    CASE 4: do nothing and my mother dies. Sad but still no killing.

    All those choices are tragic accidents excluding CASE 1 and none are intentionly killing. If you are aware that lives would be lost if you press the switch then you intentionally ran over them.
  13. Nov 21, 2003 #12

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    So having the opportunity to save 9 peoples lives means nothing to you?

    If 9 people were on the track, and none on the side track, I assume you would flick the switch. So why then do you not care about those 9 lives when the choice is complicated a little?

    Wouldn't allowing the train to go ahead and kill 10 people, actually imply that you have actually put more importance on your own feeling of guilt than the amount of importance that you have put on 10 peoples lives? Would u admit that your own sense of self-innocence is more important than 10 lives?
  14. Nov 21, 2003 #13
    It's like asking me to murder people if i had the physic ability to see if these people were serial killers. I would not go back in time and kill Hitler before he had done anything wrong and would try not to hurt him if he had done wrong. So it's not really my innocence I'm protecting it's merely just whats truly right and truly wrong. It's the same meaning if i had caught a bomb with 10 people around me and the only place to throw it so we don't die is at 1 person. I would not throw it at the person and force him to sacrifice himself. But in that situation it would be best to take most of the blast by jumping on it. But on something as a train you wouldn't really have any last minute options to sacrifice yourself.
  15. Nov 21, 2003 #14

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    So in the Box Car scenario, it is truley right that you should let 10 people die instead of saving them at the cost of 1?
  16. Nov 21, 2003 #15
    There over six billion people in this world, why should i resort to murder just to save nine more? Who am i to judge that one person is not worthy of living and avert the track so that they other can live. For all i know one of those nine people turn out to be a serial killer. or that one person i refuse to murder turns out to save millions. But of course it could be the other way around too. So i am not to judge who is worthy of living and who isn't and i am not to move the track and murder just to save more. It just doesn't justify it for me.
  17. Nov 21, 2003 #16

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    isn't your inaction basically juging those 10 people unworthy of life?
  18. Nov 22, 2003 #17
    Those 10 people would have died if i wasn't at the buttons reach. But by averting the track that one person who would not have died ends up dead because of that action. If i could rock the box car to go off track to spare all of them i would but i will not kill someone who would have survived if no one was there to switch. You can not blame me for those deaths. But only reason why this is a complicated discussion is because the scenario isn't really realistic.
    How about thise choice. You were going to meet someone with your mother and that someone is a saviour of some sort which you look up to. He saves many lives and still does and plans to save many more. An earthquake takes him and your mother down in some crack. You end up with holding them both in each hand. You can only handle one of them and can not help them both. what do you do?

    Choice 1: Let go the man who is yet to save countless amount of lives and you can save your mother.
    Choice 2: Let go your mother and save the man is will save countless amount of lives.
    Choice 3: Fall down with them both while attempting to spare both of their lives.

    Because theirs always a choice 3. Like the box car scenario if the switch changes the track then maybe you could time and and press the switch while it's in between track 1 and track 2 and make the box car miss both tracks. But the live lost remains a question because you wouldn't know where it will crash.
    Last edited: Nov 22, 2003
  19. Nov 22, 2003 #18

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    The point of the scenario isn't to be real: It is to set up black and white ethical dillemas. You are in a hard position with ethical consequences. What do you choose to do, and why do you choose it? It doesn't have to be realistic, it achieves its aim.

    I have no problem with your choices, I was just probing them a little hoping you would think about them some more and be certain that that is what you would actually choose given the situation. If you feel better about not touching the switch, then thats fine: your choice. But where you say that you would let your mother be killed...I have trouble believing that actually put into the situation anyone would allow their mother to be killed over 10 strangers.

    Think of it this way: If I could have sacrificed my mother and stopped september the 11th from happening (ie: Saving several thousand lives.) I would not have done it. As terrible a tradgedy it was, I don't know any of the people affected, it didn't affect me, and so I can deal with it. If my mother died on the other hand, I would be devastated for years to come.
  20. Nov 22, 2003 #19
    I see your point but my values are definitely differnt then yours. I value life whether good or bad morals are within that life. I also value choice and i chose not to resort to killing to prevent the loss of more lives. You value your mother higher then you value the act of murder as wrong. I value my beliefs of murder as wrong more then i value life. Life which inclues my mother and myself. But as i said there usually is another choice and i would definitly seek it if i were really in that situation. But it may be too late and ten people will have to die for my failure to find that choice and not because i choose to kill them.
  21. Nov 23, 2003 #20

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    OK then. I think we have resolution, and the scenario served it purpose. We now know something about your ethical view of the world, and something of my ethical view of the world.

    nothing more can really be said.
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