Posts tagged ‘situational ethics’

November 30th, 2015

A few lives for a thousand… What do you do?

by Max Andrews

Suppose you go back in time to 1941 Germany or anywhere occupied by the Nazis. You have the same memories and knowledge that you have now. You are capable of disabling or shutting down a concentration camp but the only way of successfully doing so requires the 5 Nazi soldiers and doctors must die. Do you kill the Nazis or let them murder the prisoners?

Remember, these soldiers are executing people regularly and these doctors are performing human tests and forced sterilisation at best. However, if you do kill the Nazis, it’s still likely that the prisoners will still die whether it’s because they die of exposure out on their own or they’re killed by others in the near future. It seems you have four choices:

  1. Kill the Nazis and save the prisoners
  2. Do nothing
  3. Help the Nazis
  4. Try to change the laws so the prisons are illegal (it may take decades)

July 11th, 2012

At Least on Average, A Human Life is Good

by Max Andrews

Reblogged from Alexander Pruss.

A stranger is drowning.  You know nothing about the stranger other than that the stranger is drowning.  You can press a button, and the stranger will be saved, at no cost to yourself or anybody else.  What should you do?

Of course you ought to press the button.  That’s simply obvious.

But it wouldn’t be obvious if at least on average a human life weren’t  good, weren’t worth living.  If on average, a human life were bad, were not  worth living, you would have to seriously worry about the likely bad future that you would be enabling by saving the stranger.  It still might well be right to pull out the stranger, but it wouldn’t be obvious.  And  if on average a human life were neutral, it wouldn’t be obvious that it’s  a duty.

So our judgment that obviously a random stranger should be saved commits us  to judging that at least on average a human life is good (or at least will be  good).

Now suppose we get exactly one of the following pieces of information:

  • The stranger is a member of a downtrodden minority.
  • The stranger is currently a hospital patient (and is drowning in the bathtub of the hospital room).
  • The stranger’s mother did not want him or her to be conceived.
  • The stranger is economically in the bottom 10% of society.

None of these pieces of information makes it less obvious that we should save the stranger’s life.  This judgment, then, commits us to judging that on average the life of a member of a downtrodden minority, or of a hospital patient or of someone whose mother did not want him or her to be conceived, or of someone economically in the bottom decile is at least on average good.