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bicklevov
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Okay, Ive searched for a thread made about this already and I hope I am not making a duplicate....

I bet you have heard this scenario before:

You live in a small village and your wife has some terrible disease and will die in a day. A doctor has a medicine that can cure it, but raises the price of it so high that you cannot (and the village entirely) afford it.

Although the doctor created it and it is his medicine, and he has the right to govern the prices of his products..... would you steal the medicine and save your wife's life? or would you let her die because this doctor would not sell it to you?

I honestly don't really know what I would do. Any suggestions? I find it tough to fully understand Ethics...

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I honestly don't really know what I would do.
I don't know either, what you would do. I have some questions that you can think about, and maybe the answers can lead you to discover what moral principles you are assuming in your life.

1. Suppose you want to go to a lovely lake in the mountains for a couple of days, but there is no bus, you don't know anyone who will drive you, and you don't have a car. You see a car with keys: what would you do?

2. Suppose you have negotiated a very important business deal that will, if actually concluded, yield a profit of $500,000 and if not concluded, will cause a loss of $500,000 and push you into bankrupcy. You must sign the contract by noon, in 10 minutes. There is no bus, you don't know anyone who will drive you, no taxi is available, and you don't have a car. You see a car with keys: what would you do?

3. Suppose you have a liver disease that will kill you in a week. As it happens, Smith is a compatible donor, but he is unwilling to donate a portion of his guts. There is a crow-bar in the corner: what would you do?

I think your scenario sucks totally because it is framed is totally irrational, emotional terms. Here is a rewrite of the scenario which should halp you understand your problem:

You live in New York, your uncle has a fast-acting terminal disease and will die in a day. A poor country doctor in a small peasant village doctor has discovered a cure, and want $50,000 for it, and you don't have $50,000. Does this give you the right to steal the medice -- does your need obliterate his right? Is your need a valid claim on another man's life?

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That seems like a good answer. Yes, I do believe that it was a very emotional appeal, (I did not think of this question myself, it was asked of me in my "gifted" class last year)

And I obviously misstepped there...I didn't think of it as an issue regarding need over achievement...

Now, would that man be anti-life? (evil) if he had, say, deliberately raised the prices because he hated my wife, would that be an anti-life stance, and therefore make it evil? (or am I misunderstanding here)

also, one more question: If you had to drink 3 cubic light-years of orange juice, would you do it?

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Now, would that man be anti-life? (evil) if he had, say, deliberately raised the prices because he hated my wife, would that be an anti-life stance, and therefore make it evil? (or am I misunderstanding here)

Not as such. He could have a perfectly rational reason for hating your wife. Or he may have an irrational reason for hating your wife, but not be evil. Or he could hate your wife and be evil. The two may often coincide, but hatred of a person doesn't necessarily mean that the hater is anti-life.

also, one more question: If you had to drink 3 cubic light-years of orange juice, would you do it?

For more on counterfactual hypotheticals, see the AR & Counterfactual Hypotheticals thread.

-Q

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Now, would that man be anti-life? (evil) if he had, say, deliberately raised the prices because he hated my wife, would that be an anti-life stance, and therefore make it evil?
I don't know if a man can accidentally raise prices because he hates your wife, so I think we can drop the "deliberately" part. Did you marry Jiang Qing (Mao's last wife, evil leader of the Cultural Revolution and leader of the Gang of Four)? Hating her would be quite just and I would not support any effort to prolong her life.
If you had to drink 3 cubic light-years of orange juice, would you do it?
If you can find me a glass that size, sure.
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That seems like a good answer. Yes, I do believe that it was a very emotional appeal, (I did not think of this question myself, it was asked of me in my "gifted" class last year)

Actually the question is so-called Heinz dilemma which was used by psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg to study moral development. Something more about it is here.

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Does the fact that the question was used by a professional necessarily make it a good question? I don't like hypotheticals of this nature because of how much they leave out/ignore and how they are often structured poorly. The first question I always want to ask is: how did you wind up in this situation in the first place?

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I bet you have heard this scenario before:

You live in a small village and your wife has some terrible disease and will die in a day. A doctor has a medicine that can cure it, but raises the price of it so high that you cannot (and the village entirely) afford it.

Although the doctor created it and it is his medicine, and he has the right to govern the prices of his products..... would you steal the medicine and save your wife's life? or would you let her die because this doctor would not sell it to you?

Easy. I would steal it.

You have described an emergency situation. And you can't base your ethics upon emergency situations. Ethics is for normal, everyday life.

Why doesn't anyone ever frame the scenario in reverse: if you were the doctor with the cure, would you raise the price so high that the husband couldn't afford it and might decide to kill you for it, or would you just sell it to him for a reasonable price?

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Easy. I would steal it.

You have described an emergency situation. And you can't base your ethics upon emergency situations. Ethics is for normal, everyday life.

Why is the answer easy? Is there also an easy answer to my 3rd case involving a fatal liver disease, an unwilling potential donor, and a crow-bar?
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Why is the answer easy? Is there also an easy answer to my 3rd case involving a fatal liver disease, an unwilling potential donor, and a crow-bar?

Actually, yes, because trying to remove someone's liver with a crowbar is just going to result in the death of both of you. Unless you meant to stun him by whacking him over the head and cart him off to a black-market physician, but even then it's not a very good option.

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Why is the answer easy?

While I'm sure Misterswig will answer for himself but my response would have been the same as his so... I will answer you as well.

What has been presented is clearly a lifeboat situation. You may take issue with how the question was framed but given the information provided the facts are pretty simple. The love of your life (your wife) is dying and there is only one thing which can save her and it is something you cannot afford. If my wife's death is imminent, concern about being a moral person takes somewhat of a back seat. It seems pretty obvious that one should choose life over death. Were my wife dying and I had one opportunity to save her (that being the theft of medicine) I would gladly act to save her. Though I guess you would be contemplating philosophy and merely let your wife die because stealing is immoral.

As far as your option 3 I think the purpose of this exercise is to find out how far someone would go. Personally, I probably wouldn’t kill someone to save my wife (it depends upon the circumstances). Murder is a more evil act that theft. So if your question is, “where’s the line?” I don’t know I haven’t thought about it enough. But it would be ridiculous to lose such a high value because you can’t bring yourself to steal.

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While I'm sure Misterswig will answer for himself but my response would have been the same as his so... I will answer you as well.

What has been presented is clearly a lifeboat situation.

I am hoping that Mr. Swig answers for himself, though if he wants to simply sign on to you opinion, that's fine, I just want to hear it from him. I'll address your response independently. I would like you to explain in what way it is clear that this (what? theft of medicine, I assume) is a lifeboat situation. It is metaphysically normal that people die of disease. My question is fundamentally, at what point does a loss of value become so great that the concept of "living by principle" is impossible? This is not analogous to the lifeboat.
If my wife's death is imminent, concern about being a moral person takes somewhat of a back seat. It seems pretty obvious that one should choose life over death.
Something's missing here. Suppose for example my son is dying; would it be right for me to "do anything I possibly could" to save his life? (Or, if you're saying that moral evaluation isn't possible, are you saying that you'd "just do it"?). Would you kill another innocent person in order to save your wife from disease? Would you do that for your son? Or your father? Sister-in-law? Dog? Would you steal or kill to save the life of your son, father, sister-in-law or dog? Or a rose bush (which can die)? It seems to me that you're position reduces to saying "When death is involved, principles have to give way".
As far as your option 3 I think the purpose of this exercise is to find out how far someone would go. Personally, I probably wouldn’t kill someone to save my wife (it depends upon the circumstances).
I find that response incomprehensible. You are utterly correct that my purpose is to see whether people feel that once you invoke death, then all principles are cancelled. Now what I don't understand is why you would be willing to steal, but not kill, to save your wife's life. You say that murder is a more evil act that theft, but is that a reason? If you grant that theft is fundamentally evil, and murder is fundamentally evil, and if loss of a value allows one to override principles about not doing evil, then why would you not murder just as easily?

I am suggesting that you ought to think about the question; if you don't have a rational answer right now, then you can work on it. However, simply saying that "it's ridiculous to suffer a loss when it is possible to prevent the loss" seems to me to be a fairly thorough repudiation of the notion of "living by principle". Right now, it's just about whim -- whether you will kill or steal to save your wive, son, dog. That is, man survives by reason, until he can't get what he wants and then force is okay. Surely you wouldn't endorse that, but I can't see why you wouldn't.

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I am suggesting that you ought to think about the question; if you don't have a rational answer right now, then you can work on it. However, simply saying that "it's ridiculous to suffer a loss when it is possible to prevent the loss" seems to me to be a fairly thorough repudiation of the notion of "living by principle". Right now, it's just about whim -- whether you will kill or steal to save your wive, son, dog. That is, man survives by reason, until he can't get what he wants and then force is okay. Surely you wouldn't endorse that, but I can't see why you wouldn't.

Or even further in this direction, would you trespass on someone else's land if you ha to cross it to get water? I suggest that it would usually be the right thing to do so long as you are willing to suffer the consequences. I would disrespect property rights and then willingly turn myself in and pay all civil and criminal costs the courts saw fit. Same with stealing I suppose. Cortland in The Fountainhead is similiar in this regard. Circumstances might be such that a court would see it as justified.

That said, I don't think I woulf kill a stranger randomly to harvest his heart. Not sure why it is different though.

Edit: Actually, it just occurred to me why I differentiate. Its because I think compensation can be reasonably made for crimes short of killing. I don't think there is any way to make up to someone their being dead. Fundementally the same reason I am against the death penalty. You can't really say, "oops", and pay them for their time when you fry them by mistake like you can with wrongful imprisonment.

Edited by aequalsa
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Actually, it just occurred to me why I differentiate. Its because I think compensation can be reasonably made for crimes short of killing. I don't think there is any way to make up to someone their being dead.
Now you've identified a principle regarding rights violation. I commend this move; there are obviously other questions to be raised, but this is a good outcome.
I suggest that it would usually be the right thing to do so long as you are willing to suffer the consequences.
However, this smells too much to me like prudent predation -- the risks of getting caught on occasion are enough to justify a life of crime, principles be damned.
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Now you've identified a principle regarding rights violation. I commend this move; there are obviously other questions to be raised, but this is a good outcome.However, this smells too much to me like prudent predation -- the risks of getting caught on occasion are enough to justify a life of crime, principles be damned.

I don't think of it as the same. I mean to commit the crime, turn yourself, plead guilty with an explanation of circumstance and then willingly pay for any damages, fines, fees, and jail time.

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Why is the answer easy?

I considered the question easy because it did not involve doing anything comparably worse than watching my wife die. The basic choice is: watch my wife die or steal some medicine. Depending on the specific situation I might even be willing to kill an innocent in order to save my wife. So you can see that stealing a bottle of medicine is nothing. All I'm doing is violating some guy's property rights. And, besides, the way the situation was described, the doctor sounded like a jerk. Would a real doctor raise the price of the medicine so that I couldn't even afford it? What's the point of doing that other than to be a heartless jerk.

Is there also an easy answer to my 3rd case involving a fatal liver disease, an unwilling potential donor, and a crow-bar?

Your third case is:

3. Suppose you have a liver disease that will kill you in a week. As it happens, Smith is a compatible donor, but he is unwilling to donate a portion of his guts. There is a crow-bar in the corner: what would you do?

This is not so easy, because it involves having to kill somebody to get what you need. That is a much graver violation of rights. There are also several complications to the scenario. Did I cause my liver disease? Even if I kill Smith, do I have a doctor lined up to extract the guy's liver and put it in me? Where am I? Why should I expect to receive the liver of a guy I murdered? In any case, I wouldn't kill an innocent simply so I could have their liver. Unless, maybe, if it was O.J. Simpson.

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I considered the question easy because it did not involve doing anything comparably worse than watching my wife die. The basic choice is: watch my wife die or steal some medicine.
Alright, so it seems that your this is based on the comparison of two bad paths, death versus theft, and the judgment that the former is very clearly bad, compared to the latter. This judgment is compatible with two principles of what's more important -- life (over property), and wife (over strangers). So when you say
Depending on the specific situation I might even be willing to kill an innocent in order to save my wife.
depending on those details, it looks to me as though life over property can't be the principle for you. Where I am puzzled is that you later say w.r.t. the idea of killing an innocent to save your own life
In any case, I wouldn't kill an innocent simply so I could have their liver.
it looks to me like there a complex interaction between "life vs. property" and "wife vs. others", where you value your wife more than you value your own life, so that you might be willing to kill to save her life, but not your life. That seems kind of backwards to me, although chivalrous.

I'm trying to understand the answer to this problem in terms of principles (and to understand your moral intuitions in terms of principles), and I am skeptical about the possibility of there being any general balancing of principles. The closest that I can come is the principle that you would do anything for your wife as long as the rights violation is not worse than the bad that you are trying to avoid befalling your wife. So death beats theft, death (of wife) beats death (of stranger), but death (of stranger) beats pain (of wife). I'm predicting that you would be willing to steal to get the pain medicine for your wife, but not kill. You can let me know if my surmise is correct. In addition, it seems based on the "when would I kill" consideration, you value your wife's life more than your own. Dunno if you really meant that.

All I'm doing is violating some guy's property rights. And, besides, the way the situation was described, the doctor sounded like a jerk. Would a real doctor raise the price of the medicine so that I couldn't even afford it? What's the point of doing that other than to be a heartless jerk.
We didn't have any information about the motives, so I assume that he needed the money so that he could pay the ransom and save his own wife's life. Plus, this was a one-of-a-kind medicine; he knew there were hundreds of potential customers who would pay much more than the $10,000 that he was asking for. So I hadn't thought that he was a jerk. Maybe the problem is that doctors are presumed to be self-sacrificial and not motivated by profit, and this scenario is phrased in terms of a doctor raising the price. Drug companies do frequently raise the prices of medicine with the result that whole villages are unable to afford to buy the drugs. I don't think that they raise the prices just to be jerks, but when you live in rural Tanzania and the entire village can cough up at best $50, it is simply bound to happen that people can't afford to buy fancy drugs.
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...Where I am puzzled is that you later say w.r.t. the idea of killing an innocent to save your own lifeit looks to me like there a complex interaction between "life vs. property" and "wife vs. others", where you value your wife more than you value your own life, so that you might be willing to kill to save her life, but not your life. That seems kind of backwards to me, although chivalrous.

I'm trying to understand the answer to this problem in terms of principles (and to understand your moral intuitions in terms of principles), and I am skeptical about the possibility of there being any general balancing of principles.

I think Swig's main underlying point that morality does not apply here, i.e. that it is an emergency situation. See a reference to similar (but not same) example asked of Ayn Rand, at the bottom of the first post here.

So, I think this is one of those cases that raises the question: what exactly is an emergency situation? or, more specifically, what are the characteristics of situations where we say "there's no moral choice here", or "morality does not apply". (Earlier emergency situation threads here and here.... there are others too.)

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I'm trying to understand the answer to this problem in terms of principles (and to understand your moral intuitions in terms of principles), and I am skeptical about the possibility of there being any general balancing of principles.

Like SN, I consider these situations to be emergencies. Emergency situations are outside the realm of normal ethics. Ayn Rand actually said that "morality ends where a gun begins." Thus, it is going to be extremely difficult (or impossible) to formulate guiding principles for such situations.

I think the guiding idea should be that you act as swiftly as possible, and you do what you personally think is reasonable. We are talking about emergency life and death situations here. It's you versus whatever threatens your highest values, be that your own life, your wife's life, etc. You should rationally consider your known options, and pick the action that you think is going to be most effective, and that you think you can live with for the rest of your life.

Edited by MisterSwig
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Like SN, I consider these situations to be emergencies.
How would you characterize an emergency? For example, if a person if going to die in a month, is that an emergency? Is certain death an essential feature of a true emergency? It is sufficient that it be someone's death, or does it have to be your own death?

What bothers me about an appeal to the concept of emergency is that I don't see how that does not become an automatic escape hatch for rights violations (indeed, it's common in politics to invoke "emergency" in order to justify violating rights). If some person were holding a gun to your wife's head and demanding her liver or her wallet, that is clearly a case where morality should not stop you from protecting her. What I would like to see is evidence that Rand actually held that it was okay to violate rights in case you have an emergency. This is not a lifeboat situation or a flood or fire, so it is in the realm of the metaphysically normal for man.

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Like SN, I consider these situations to be emergencies. (emphasis added)
It's not too important, but I was actually explaining your viewpoint rather than expressing my own.

Perosnally, I have not chewed the concept -- emergency -- enough. When someone asks me the typical question about me holding a track-switch with a train hurtling to the option of killing 1 stranger versus 2, I find that an easy concrete to classify in the "ethics weren't designed for this" (a.k.a. "choose whaever you want personally, there's no moral principle") bucket. The lifeboat too.

Next, come concretes like starving in the middle of a Katrina flood, and wondering whether to break in to a store. Again, to me, the nature of the emergency is clear; but, I find it to be a different type. I can still take a moral approach, even if it might be an illegal one. The few days worth of food is something I can repay; the store was trying to sell it anyway; the supplies will probably be lost to spoilage anyway... they all add up to a clear moral alternative. In an example like this, I'm clear about the applicability of morality. While this is an emergency in the "rare event one has to deal with" sense, I cannot convince myself that it is a situation of the "morality does not apply" type. Importantly, I can act with confidence.

Now, I take that concrete to the next step, still in the midst of a Katrina-type event. I imagine there is no store available, only a neighbor. However, he has not abandoned his home. He is there with his two days supply of food, while I have none. I ask him to give me some. He says he's sorry, but he needs it for his own family. Now what?

I start, now, to ask myself how I can claim moral authority if I did not plan for the event. If I ought to have known and did not plan, can I drop that context? I think I can, in the sense of having to act with force; but, I cannot drop the context from the perspective of a moral philosopher. If I act to take some food by force, I cannot claim innocence when the moral-philosopher points me out as the bad guy. In other words, the moral philosopher might say something like: I see you had to act, but -- considering all the facts -- you're the immoral guy in this story.

The above is "thinking aloud" in the process of trying to chew the concept: emergency. I find myself searching for more concretes that fit a "bill of prior innocence", not just an in-the-moment "I've got to act now" decision.

Anyway, that's where I am, and it is incomplete. So, I have the same questions that David does about what can be used to justify my actions. The obvious example that comes to mind is poverty: can poverty be used as a justification for trying to gain something by force, when non-poverty could have solved my problem? If so, what kinds of things: life-saving drugs? but, what else? Food? Clothes? Shelter? Other concretes start to come to mind. If a loved one has a debilitating illness that will cost a few millions, does that justify stealing? and so on.

The search for the razors continues.

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How would you characterize an emergency?

I agree with Ayn Rand's definition of an emergency, as stated in her essay "The Ethics of Emergencies" in The Virtue of Selfishness.

An emergency is an unchosen, unexpected event, limited in time, that creates conditions under which human survival is impossible--a flood, an earthquake, a fire, a shipwreck. In an emergency situation, men's primary goal is to combat the disaster, escape the danger and restore normal conditions (to reach dry land, to put out the fire, etc.).

In Ayn Rand Answers (p. 114) Rand also characterized a dictatorship as an emergency situation:

Under a dictatorship--under force--there is no such thing as morality. Morality ends where a gun begins. Personally, I would say the man is immoral if he takes an innocent life. But formally, as a moral philosopher, I'd say that in such emergency situations, no one could prescribe what action is appropriate. That's my answer to all lifeboat questions. Moral rules cannot be prescribed for these situations, because only life is the basis on which to establish a moral code. Whatever a man chooses in such cases is right--subjectively.

I have given this topic considerable thought, and I don't have anything essential to add to what Rand said about emergency/lifeboat situations. On a couple threads now, all I've done is attempt to explain my understanding of Rand's position, which is a position I agree with.

If a person is going to die in a month, is that an emergency?

I can't answer that unless I have more context.

Is certain death an essential feature of a true emergency?

I would add certain enslavement, because I also consider such things as dictatorships and kidnappings to be emergencies, and you are not certain to physically die in these cases, but you are certain to be a slave.

What bothers me about an appeal to the concept of emergency is that I don't see how that does not become an automatic escape hatch for rights violations (indeed, it's common in politics to invoke "emergency" in order to justify violating rights).

It shouldn't become an automatic excuse for rights violations if you have a clear definition of emergency situations and are honest.

If some person were holding a gun to your wife's head and demanding her liver or her wallet, that is clearly a case where morality should not stop you from protecting her. What I would like to see is evidence that Rand actually held that it was okay to violate rights in case you have an emergency.

Suppose someone lives in a dictatorship, and needs a disguise to escape. If he doesn't get one, the Gestapo or GPU will arrest him. So he must kill an innocent bystander to get a coat. In such a case, morality cannot say what to do ... I don't think I could kill an innocent bystander if my life was in danger; I think I could kill ten if my husband's life was in danger.

Does that help to clear up Ayn Rand's view for you?

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It's not too important, but I was actually explaining your viewpoint rather than expressing my own.

Sorry about that. I misunderstood your reply.

... still in the midst of a Katrina-type event. I imagine there is no store available, only a neighbor. However, he has not abandoned his home. He is there with his two days supply of food, while I have none. I ask him to give me some. He says he's sorry, but he needs it for his own family. Now what?

Well, this is a true emergency, and I cannot prescribe what you should do. I would probably leave them alone, because I'm not willing to kill a family over food, even if it means that I will likely starve. But then I don't really know what I would do until I get into that situation, because one cannot prescribe rules ahead of time for such abnormal choices. If I thought I could live with myself afterward, I might do it. But thinking of it now, I don't see how I could.

I start, now, to ask myself how I can claim moral authority if I did not plan for the event. If I ought to have known and did not plan, can I drop that context?

In such a situation I would not drop this context. Given enough time, I think you should factor in everything you can, because you are about to die, and you might never get another chance to consider it.

Can poverty be used as a justification for trying to gain something by force, when non-poverty could have solved my problem?

I don't consider poverty to be an emergency, because it does not immediately threaten your life or freedom. Being poor is a relative state of living. If you are so poor that you are starving, then starvation is your emergency, not poverty.

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