Monday, February 26, 2007

The Wrongness of Killing

I just had my first lecture - Philosophy 1010. We got given this hypotheticals, and were asked to make a decision based on two principles - 'Sanctity of Life', in which it is always wrong knowingly to kill an innocent person; and 'Best Consequences', in which one ought to act so as to bring about the best achievable outcome.

First hypothetical: "Trolley" or "The runaway train".
- You are standing by a railway track, with a lever, which will divert the trolley or train onto a different track.
- A trolley is coming now.
- Currently, the trolley is directed to head down a track where there are five people.
- The other track has only one person on it.

Do you A) Leave the lever to let the train hit the five people, as the course is set, or B) Pull the lever, kill one person knowingly and save the five?

As terrible as I felt for playing God and choosing, it is only a hypothetical, and I chose b.

Second hypothetical: "The Spare-Parts Surgeon".
- Five patients are in need of transplants in order to save their lives.
- One other patient has five healthy organs, which could be used to save the five.
- The surgeon can kill the one such that no one knows, and such that the five others are saved. Or the surgeon can do nothing, and the five will die, but he won't have killed someone.

So A) Kill one, save five. B) Kill nobody, but know that five will die. I chose B), because maybe it was in plan for them to die anyway, and it isn't my right to purposely take the life from the one person. But that's a bit hypocritical, seeing as I chose b the first time. Argh hard and confusing.

Interested to know what you would choose.


  1. See, all those hypotheticals we played at the beach weren't in vain! Ahve you asked them animal or kid yet?

    First one I'd go B for sure, second is a lot tougher, I'd almost have to go A. I'm a bit of a utalitarian I think. Bloody tough one I reckon!

  2. I'd probably choose B & A.
    I'd feel awful no matter what I chose though, but I figure that if I willingly let people die, when there could have been a chance to save them, I am killing them in a way.

    But if you throw other things into the equation, such as the 5 people know God, whereas the 1 person doesn't, I'd save the one.

  3. Digs: haha I'll throw animals or children into the final exam. I don't really understand utilitarianism, but is it really killing if the five die? it's real hard.

    Em: God isn't allowed to come into decisions in Philsophy. They were very clear about that. But hmm, even if they didn't know God, I don't think it would change it for me. Which might be bad I don't know.

  4. Ok, so minus God & other such stuff, I'd probably choose to save the five.
    Probably. It's a really hard decision to make, and I'd feel terrible whatever decision I made. These sort of questions I often can't answer just because I really don't know what I'd do. But I like philosophy. I wanted to do it last year. Bah, silly school.

  5. I would choose B in the first question for sure. It's not playing God, it's doing your best to save do the right thing.
    The second one is harder.
    As illogical as it sounds, and as un-utalitarian as it sounds, I would go for B, letting the five die. Why? I think it is more ethical, and correct. If it was a matter of giving up your own life, that's another story, but under no circumstances, in my opinion, can you purposely take the life of one. Being helpless is different, because you are helpless to help the other five, in essence. So I would run with B, there.

  6. Em: philosophy is good. do it. you'll get to play hypotheticals. at least in the first lecture anyway.

    Jono: I agree with your bX2 choice. The second case is purposely taking a life, and I just don't sit with that. However, train track leaves you rather helpless really, so you can only hope for 'best case' scenario. If there is one.

  7. Ben,
    I would have to say B for the first scenario. I guess that I'd rather 'not choose' but refusing to pull the lever, thus killing the 5 (maybe fate will have a huge stone derail the train and all will be saved??).

    The second option I definatly will say B because in our Western world we a have a grossly warped perception of our own mortality. We spend so much time in our culture trying to preserve OUR life, thinking that we are somehow entitled to live forvever. NEWSFLASH---we're all going to die! I get really frustrated at the idea that our life is of more value than someone elses simply because of our social status. I know, I'm being hypocritical here because I take medications/healthcare to prolong my existence. But it just bugs me that our western medicines focus so much on incurable disease and we do not put as much time and research $$ into plauges of the 3rd world, malaria ect.

    Anyway, I could continue to get agitated by this hypothetical, but I wont. Thus ends my rant.