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Ok, so here's another rigged, extreme, impossible hypothetical

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To live, without straws attached. I don't understand what reasoning leads one to embrace a 50% chance of death over a closer to 100% chance of life.

You have to realize that the scenario says nothing about which of the two of you is stronger or in a better position to kill the other. Being the first to attack certainly gives you an advantage, but depending on the size, reflexes, etc. of the other guy, your chance of winning will still be somewhere between 0 and 100%, with no guarantee of being close to the latter. If he is a 7-foot tower of muscles and you're a 12-year-old little girl, you might be better off trying to mooch him into giving his life for "a cause greater than self," or whatever. Whatever the case, since the scenario disallows it, you won't be dealing with the other guy using reason--so all you are left with is force and intellectual fraud.

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What a disturbing thing to say. Would I do the same thing? No. Why not? Because that would be murder. I will not choke the life out of someone whose only crime is having the misfortune of being trapped with me in a disabled sub. I value my own survival, but not at any cost.

Your options are

- kill the other guy and live

- be killed by the other guy and die

- die alongside the other guy

- 50+% chance of death, 50- % chance of life, as you draw straws

How the hell arent you gonna choose "kill the other guy and live"? You say you value your own survival, but still you would choose an action that is detrimental to your survival? If you, and another person "have the misfortune" of being trapped in a disabled sub, then why the hell would you value his life as much as your own? Actually you value the other persons life more than your own, as you have no way of knowing if he will kill you, but you know you wont kill him.

Yes, the fact that you killed the other guy may leave psychological scars and you may need some time to get over it, as killing another man is not something that a man does normally, but at least you would live.

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What a disturbing thing to say. You have that little interest in your own life? You are willing to sacrifice your life for that of a stranger? Why would you do that?
I am not willing to sacrifice my life for a stranger, but I am not willing to sacrifice his life for mine either. I wasnt aware that when faced with death, Objectivists behave like savages. That is good to know. Were I ever unfortunate enough to be in such a scenario, I would hope my sub-mate thought the way you, and others here, do. I wouldnt murder you to insure my survival, but I would have no problem killing you if you came at me first.
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I am not willing to sacrifice my life for a stranger, but I am not willing to sacrifice his life for mine either. I wasnt aware that when faced with death, Objectivists behave like savages. That is good to know. Were I ever unfortunate enough to be in such a scenario, I would hope my sub-mate thought the way you, and others here, do. I wouldnt murder you to insure my survival, but I would have no problem killing you if you came at me first.

But dont you get it, that there are three alternatives:

You live, he dies

He lives, you die

You both die

Howcome you dont choose the first one? How can you claim that his life is of equal value to you than your own? What good does it do to you, that you die and he lives?

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This scenario reminds me of an anecdote. I've forgotten much, so it's probably a little distorted:

A reporter asks an astronaut how he would spend his last few hours in a shuttle with a failed engine that was on a decaying orbit -- Would he listen to his favorite songs, contact his family, pray, etc.? The astronaut replies, "I'm pretty sure I would use the last few hours trying to fix the engine."

The point is that the human mind can ALWAYS choose to think, even if his last hours are spent thinking in vain. But, since the consensus seems to be that we should accept this as true but argue the arbitrary anyway...

But dont you get it, that there are three alternatives:

You live, he dies

He lives, you die

You both die

Howcome you dont choose the first one? How can you claim that his life is of equal value to you than your own? What good does it do to you, that you die and he lives?

Actually, the alternatives are different and more numerous:

  • You become a murderer, he dies and goes to Sto-Vo-Kor. You live a life knowing that you are a murderer, and die with a corresponding level of dignity.
  • He becomes a murderer, you die and go to Sto-Vo-Kor. He lives a life knowing that he is a murderer, and when he finally dies it is with a corresponding level of dignity.
  • You both die, possibly with a small measure of dignity, each incapable of saving a life. You are both denied entry to Sto-Vo-Kor.
  • The two of you come to a consensus as to who should die and at what approximate time, possibly by way of duel. You both die as men, with dignity for all, but no Sto-Vo-Kor (unless you've agreed to duel).

A further wrinkle in the "let's murder each other" approach is this; when you are rescued, you'll have to live with the social consequences of being a murderer. If you are a Klingon, that means you get to celebrate over some Gagh, blood wine and violent sex. If you are human...

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Gentlemen, you have obviously never tried to kill a man. :P ... Well neither have I, but from what they tell me, it isn't a matter of just deciding to kill him and poof, he's gone. Chances are he might resist. He could kill you and survive himself, you could both die, you could live but be more or less injured, or indeed you might be able to kill him and remain intact yourself from your heel right up to the topmost hair on your head. It depends on the circumstances.

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Since it's a "life boat" situation, Objectivism isn't going to give you an answer. (Check out what Rand said about a similar situation.)

Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. Those who are appalled at any of the arbitrary options presented or think that there is any point to debating the myriad of options still do not have this point. You are debating the arbitrary and no amount of deductive logic wil provide you any reason to be emotionally satisfied with one answer or another. There is no standard by which to judge one option over another, because the standard has been removed. That is the trap of these senarios.

Stop it.

"A strange game. The only winning move is not to play. How about a nice game of chess?"

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You live a life knowing that you are a murderer, and die with a corresponding level of dignity.

Is dignity an intrinsic value?

With my life being my standard of value, is immediate death more valuable than living knowing that I am a "murderer" ?

If I kill someone in self-defense, does that make me a murderer anyway? If I killed a shark trying to eat me, would that make me a murderer? Does having just bought a tuna sandwich make me a murderer? Is a lion eating a zebra a murderer? In the struggle for survival between organisms that are not in a position to survive by reason--which this scenario is all about--kill or be killed is the law of nature.

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Please focus on the first part of my post. The proper approach to this situation is to reject that you can be denied your mind. Brainlock can only occur at the hands of another, through force or fraud, and to say otherwise is accept the premise of a malevolent universe.

Is dignity an intrinsic value?
Dignity is a value that is instrumental in achieving happiness. The only intrinsic value is life.

With my life being my standard of value, is immediate death more valuable than living knowing that I am a "murderer" ?
Yes; if you wish to live as a man.

If I kill someone in self-defense, does that make me a murderer anyway?
Of course not! But, breathing communal air that nobody had the foresight to stake a claim on ahead of time of isn't the innitiation of force. Nor does your need of that air constitute a claim on the other man's life.

If I killed a shark trying to eat me, would that make me a murderer? Does having just bought a tuna sandwich make me a murderer? Is a lion eating a zebra a murderer?
Let's not be silly. One cannot murder an animal. In the case of undersea combat, as in all combat, only the person who initiates the violence is guilty of abandoning human behavior.

In the struggle for survival between organisms that are not in a position to survive by reason--which this scenario is all about--kill or be killed is the law of nature.
My case depends on the accuracy of the thread's title, "rigged, extreme, impossible hypothetical." You always have your mind (barring human intervention). Lifeboat scenarios are designed to retreat in the face of solutions like Kirk Cameron in the face of scientific evidence. The purpose of the retreat is to attempt to prove that altruism is necessary for living life normally.

This point is important, so I will address it again; lifeboat scenarios are an attempt to prove altruism is the basis of morality. Once this is done, the person presenting the scenario will expect you to hold that altruism is the basis for normal ethical behavior.

If you have access to a copy of the Virtue Of Selfishness, please go back and re-read the ethics of emergencies (as I have). Rand's point is that you cannot draw conclusions from emergency situations and apply them to normal life; not that you cannot apply ethics to emergency situations. In this case, to concede that you would attack is to accept the validity of the hypothetical, the prudent predator principle and altruism. On the other hand, to deny there are any situations where you must abandon your mind to nature serves to expose the hypothetical as arbitrary. I'll grant that it is cheating, but Kendall pointed out that the game is rigged; you have to cheat to win.

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How the hell arent you gonna choose "kill the other guy and live"?

Easy. Who's the other guy?

Maybe he's your lifelong navy buddy who has perhaps saved your life on one occasion. Maybe he's your brother. Maybe he's your wife's borther. Maybe he's your son. Maybe he's someone you hold in high esteem for one good reason or another. Maybe he's the guy who will work out a universal cancer cure (no more contrived than the scenario).

So it depends a lot on who the other guy is, doesn't it?

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Please focus on the first part of my post. The proper approach to this situation is to reject that you can be denied your mind.

Man's mind is powerful, but not omnipotent. Think of the people who jumped out the windows on 9/11, for example. They had a choice between staying inside and suffocating, or jumping out and being crushed to pieces. This was the result of a terrorist attack, of course, but the same thing could have happened as a genuine accident. It's not a normal occurrence in life, nor a remotely likely one, but it can be hypothesized.

What this scenario adds is a twist of you being able to save yourself by killing someone else. I don't know how realistic that is; as I said, the whole thing is very unlikely even without that twist, so there is little point in pondering it very much--except to do what I have done, and use it to point out how the life of mindless brutes is different from that of the rational animal.

Of course not! But, breathing communal air that nobody had the foresight to stake a claim on ahead of time of isn't the innitiation of force.

Being made of meat is not an initiation of force on the zebra's part, either--but the lion still eats it, in defense of its life. This is why the lion's action cannot be considered murder. The initiation of force is only wrong within the context of the interaction of beings who are capable of surviving by reason.

This point is important, so I will address it again; lifeboat scenarios are an attempt to prove altruism is the basis of morality. Once this is done, the person presenting the scenario will expect you to hold that altruism is the basis for normal ethical behavior.

If you have access to a copy of the Virtue Of Selfishness, please go back and re-read the ethics of emergencies (as I have). Rand's point is that you cannot draw conclusions from emergency situations and apply them to normal life; not that you cannot apply ethics to emergency situations. In this case, to concede that you would attack is to accept the validity of the hypothetical, the prudent predator principle and altruism. On the other hand, to deny there are any situations where you must abandon your mind to nature serves to expose the hypothetical as arbitrary. I'll grant that it is cheating, but Kendall pointed out that the game is rigged; you have to cheat to win.

I am not sure which of my positions you would like me to change and in what way.

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Easy. Who's the other guy?

Maybe he's your lifelong navy buddy who has perhaps saved your life on one occasion. Maybe he's your brother. Maybe he's your wife's borther. Maybe he's your son. Maybe he's someone you hold in high esteem for one good reason or another. Maybe he's the guy who will work out a universal cancer cure (no more contrived than the scenario).

So it depends a lot on who the other guy is, doesn't it?

Well, i think we have already established that it is a complete stranger we are talking about. And i dont get how it matters whether the other guy may work out a universal cancer cure?

And yes, this has ZERO to do with objectivism, as KendallJ said. Still, i find it baffling why you would rather see the other person live, than yourself.

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What this scenario adds is a twist of you being able to save yourself by killing someone else.
It does not. The twist it attempts to add is that there is an environmental condition that changes man's fundamental nature and the identity of murder. This fails because no external condition (that isn't force or fraud) can deny you the use of your mind or change the facts of reality.

If you do choose to murder someone, you will forever be a murderer, and the rest of your life will have been the direct result of homicide. If you choose to benifit from human predation, you do so not as a man. This type of murder should perhaps be viewed a little differently than other kinds, but it remains murder.

I don't know how realistic that is; as I said, the whole thing is very unlikely even without that twist, so there is little point in pondering it very much--except to do what I have done, and use it to point out how the life of mindless brutes is different from that of the rational animal.

Actually, what your position erroneously confirms is a similarity between humans and animals.

Being made of meat is not an initiation of force on the zebra's part, either--but the lion still eats it, in defense of its life. This is why the lion's action cannot be considered murder. The initiation of force is only wrong within the context of the interaction of beings who are capable of surviving by reason.

Of course it isn't; The lion initiates force, not in defense of its life but in pursuit of its life. There is no parallel here for proper (even for a short amount of time) human-human interaction. The men on that sub are still capable of remaining men by choosing not to engage in barbarism.

I am not sure which of my positions you would like me to change and in what way.

The position I aim to change is this: that you cannot apply ethics to emergencies (you can) - and by extention, the idea that there is a scenario that makes murder ok (there isn't).

The Ethics of Emergencies serves to show what action is appropriate in an emergency, and that emergencies should not be used to derive principles about how to live. The essay most certainly does not justify murder in special cases. Check out the selection for emergencies here.

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Well, i think we have already established that it is a complete stranger we are talking about. And i dont get how it matters whether the other guy may work out a universal cancer cure?

Becasue your wife's dying of cancer and his continued existence is your only hope. That's the trouble with these scenarios. Once you've accepted an impossible situation, why not pile other impossibilities on top?

And yes, this has ZERO to do with objectivism, as KendallJ said. Still, i find it baffling why you would rather see the other person live, than yourself.

It has nothing to do with anything. Supose you're the guy about to cure cancer. Wouldn't it be selfish of you to give your life for the other guy, seeing it through an altruistic perspective?

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I have a real problem with this line of thinking as it perpetuates the idea that value, and ethics still exists in situations where the meta-ethical basis, i.e. the founding need for ethics has been removed. If the problem is so impossibly constrained that reason is out the window, then so is ethics. There is no "should" in these situations. Anything goes.
While it is true that you cannot construct a code of ethics based upon emergency situations, why cant an existing code of ethics guide your behavior if you are confronted with an emergency? Maybe its just me, but I would expect a man who lives his life guided by certian principles, particularly Objectivist principles, to behave differently in an emergency situation than someone who has lived his life as an unprincipled creep. I would expect if it were an Objectivist trapped in the sub, he would say something to the effect of: "We have an hour and a half to fix this damn thing or we're both dead. Now lets get to work." I would not have imagined an Objectivist looking for the nearest blunt instrument to use to bash in the skull of the other person trapped with him, or booting a woman and her child off of one of Titanic's lifeboats to make room for himself.

I dont agree with the idea that "anything goes" when it comes to emergencies, How one behaves in an emergency tells you alot about that person. For example, if you learned that someone had survived the sub scenario by murdering the man trapped with him, would you view him as some sort of hero? Some sort of villain? Or would you withhold judgement? I would view him for exacly what he was--a murderer. How grim the situation may have been is no excuse in my mind. People do get confronted with unexpected emergencies. Some people emerge from those ordeals as heroic figures. I suspect that most of those who do so, simply adhered to the same set of principles during the emergency that they adhered to beforehand.

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While it is true that you cannot construct a code of ethics based upon emergency situations, why cant an existing code of ethics guide your behavior if you are confronted with an emergency? Maybe its just me, but I would expect a man who lives his life guided by certian principles, particularly Objectivist principles, to behave differently in an emergency situation than someone who has lived his life as an unprincipled creep. I would expect if it were an Objectivist trapped in the sub, he would say something to the effect of: "We have an hour and a half to fix this damn thing or we're both dead. Now lets get to work." I would not have imagined an Objectivist looking for the nearest blunt instrument to use to bash in the skull of the other person trapped with him, or booting a woman and her child off of one of Titanic's lifeboats to make room for himself.

I dont agree with the idea that "anything goes" when it comes to emergencies, How one behaves in an emergency tells you alot about that person. For example, if you learned that someone had survived the sub scenario by murdering the man trapped with him, would you view him as some sort of hero? Some sort of villain? Or would you withhold judgement? I would view him for exacly what he was--a murderer. How grim the situation may have been is no excuse in my mind. People do get confronted with unexpected emergencies. Some people emerge from those ordeals as heroic figures. I suspect that most of those who do so, simply adhered to the same set of principles during the emergency that they adhered to beforehand.

The entire line of reasoning begs the question. You want there to be an ethical standard in such situations and so you imply it in your reasoning.

I too think how a man behaves in an emergency tells you a lot about his character, but mostly it tells you if he really believed his ethics all the rest of the time. It is because we operate in the regular world 99.999% of the time that our moral evaluation has a difficult time understanding the difference in context. That is part of the trap of the hypothetical. You want desperately to use your moral judgement for the rest of the time to evaluate this situation, you naturally gravitate toward it. The person posing this hypothetical to you is banking on that. What one would do tells me something, but not as an ethical evalaution of that situation. This is exactly what Rand said. Please see Snerd's link.

Moral outrage at any course of action in unwarranted here. Certainly it is our first response and since it is us positing a different context onto the situation, I would be worried if an Objectivists first response wasn't outrage. However, that does not make it a correct analysis of the situation.

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It does not. The twist it attempts to add is that there is an environmental condition that changes man's fundamental nature and the identity of murder. This fails because no external condition (that isn't force or fraud) can deny you the use of your mind or change the facts of reality.

I stopped reading your post right there. I had just pointed out to you that an airplane accident can make it impossible for you to survive by using your rational faculty.

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Roland, I have re-read your posts on this thread in an effort to see if I missed anything, as at first I didn't remember you bringing up an airplane accident. I assume you referred to 9/11 when you mentioned one.

The events on that day were an example of the initiation of force and not an accident. Additionally, the example doesn't address whether or not it is moral to murder somebody during an emergency. Your posts on this thread are an attempt to prove that morality gets thrown out the window during an emergency, thus shielding all actions from moral judgment. Had you read my last post and followed the link at the end of it, you would have seen a very short entry written by Rand that explains emergencies. Here is a brief part:

It is important to differentiate between the rules of conduct in an emergency situation and the rules of conduct in the normal conditions of human existence. This does not mean a double standard of morality: the standard and the basic principles remain the same, but their application to either case requires precise definitions.

I have no idea whether or not you followed my earlier suggestion to re-read The Ethics of Emergencies. If you haven't I'll again suggest you re-read it. The essay never hints that there is a situation where morality withdraws, murder stops being murder or that it is ok to murder. On the contrary, the essay showed that only in emergency situations should one go out of one's way to help others, and that afterward things revert to normal. Rand specifically states that there are rules of conduct in an emergency.

If you are going to continue to approach the thread with a dismissive attitude, please drop me a PM so I can act in kind.

Edited by FeatherFall
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I have no idea whether or not you followed my earlier suggestion to re-read The Ethics of Emergencies. If you haven't I'll again suggest you re-read it. The essay never hints that there is a situation where morality withdraws, murder stops being murder or that it is ok to murder. On the contrary, the essay showed that only in emergency situations should one go out of one's way to help others, and that afterward things revert to normal. Rand specifically states that there are rules of conduct in an emergency.

Actually FF, I find the Ethics of Emergencies essay incomplete in this case because it specifically addresses emergencies as they relate to the concept of altruism. That is, it only discusses when it might be proper to extend help to someone in an emergency. It does not discuss more broadly how someone is to be treated in an emergency. To that end, the reference Snerd provided is more complete and comes closer to addressing this particular issue. AND it directly contradicts what you are trying to say. In fact, it says that actions under this condition are morally neutral.

I continue to argue that this entire line of discussion is a non-sequitir, and an attempt to validate an ethical standard beyond those 2 sets of questions I've already given simply plays into the trap of the question.

Pay close attention to this statement. Your answer (that a rational man would continue to search for a solution tot he problem) is contained in my answer. And NO ONE who has said they'd commit "murder" contradicts it. David has a way of stating things to bait people sometimes. The whole key to realizing this is a non-sequitir is the phrase everyone has used, "when I was certain every option had been exhausted,...". The fact is in such cases, it never is the case. Again to argue past that point in time is ridiculous. We are all saying very similar things up until that point. Beyond it, even Rand states that morality is subjective, and it is no longer dealing iwth any aspect of reality but a fantastic hypothetical.

Edited by KendallJ
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If you are going to continue to approach the thread with a dismissive attitude, please drop me a PM so I can act in kind.

I prefer public replies when what I am saying is of no private character. And I would like to ask you not to continue approaching the thread with a dismissive attitude, and please read all my posts attentively before you respond to them. I could re-quote here what I wrote about airplanes but I don't think there's a need to do so since my original post is still there. All you have to do is read it.

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Kendall, thanks for the response. The topics Inspector references are indeed more to the point of this discussion, but they don't answer all of my questions. This will likely be my last post on the matter until I read the source of the quotes he presents on that thread. I would still like to see anything you have to say.

Fear and time constraints can prevent people from taking action based on coherent thoughts. I certainly wouldn't pass moral judgment on someone who was overwhelmed in this way. But this isn't what the discussion is about - the discussion is about cases where the rational faculty functions, but the circumstances render it useless for long term survival. There is indeed a moral imperative in this situation (to restore normal conditions). I doubt you take issue with this - the disagreement we have is with a different issue.

Again, it is futile to proscribe actions ahead of time for someone who is overwhelmed by emotion and time constraints. During emergencies where rights will not be violated, I don't care to proscribe actions. Whether some actions should be prohibited depend on whether or not rights apply.

I understand what an emergency is, but I don't know where you draw the line. I assume you would not condone murder for an organ. But the only difference I see with this and the submarine hypothetical is a seemingly non-essential difference in time: In the submarine, it's a few hours for the rest of a life. With the transplant, it's a lifetime for a lifetime. In both cases there is a short amount of time where the continued existence of one person might only be possible through the death of another. Is it your position that the transplant patient is not in a state of emergency? If so, where do you draw the line? It seems to me that if you would condemn one for murder, you must condemn the other.

Death is an inevitability for everyone; at a point, it is proper for some people to resign themselves to the fact that they will soon die and focus on living the short time they have left or on being done with it. If rights apply to emergency situations - which is still in dispute - this applies to the men on the sub. If they are overcome by their emotions and resort to barbarism none of this matters anyway.

I should also say that I understand Rand made statements that seem to contradict this position. Not all of Rand's improvised answers during Q&A will be consistent with her philosophy. I'll wait until I read Ayn Rand Answers before making my final judgment.

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  • 3 weeks later...
Ok, so here's the scenario presented.

A damaged submersible, with 2 people on board. Rescue is coming in 2 hours. There is enough air for 1.5 hours for both people.

One person proposes to draw lots, and the loser will die so the winner can live.

The second person refuses to draw lots.

The question is: #2 having refused the 50/50 chance of survival, would #1 then be justified in killing #2 to save his own life?

I love these things. They threw 'em at me in philosophy classes all the time.

Number two made the choice, for himself, to die. He has no right to my life. Kill him.

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