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Is it OK to steal/kill to save the life of your child?

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sharke
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One of the facts of life is that it's going to end. You can't ignore this fact and use it as a justification for force. You aren't choosing non-existence - you're accepting existence as it is, death and a lot of other potentially terrible side effects included.

That everyone is going to die someday is irrelevant to the question of whether anyone must necessarily perish today. True, before too long, we're all going to meet our maker — so what? The fact of eventual death is no moral criteron; if it were, there would be no reason for anyone to live morally under any circumstances.

It's interesting to see so many people putting forth what amounts to a fatalist view of moral action. Reality never dictates that anyone must suffer and die; no one is obligated to "accept" a given situtation just because things happen to be that way.

I have to wonder how some of you would put your views into practice, should you ever find yourself in a crisis where your own life or the life of someone you love was on the line. Would you hesitate to use a cell phone which is not yours to call for help — on the grounds that using somebody's minutes without permission violates property rights? Would you refuse to break a window and sieze medicine which could save my precious, irreplacable life — even though, I'm telling you now, I'd gladly repay the owner 10 times over and take whatever legal heat might follow? Just how far would you not go to save the lives of those you claim to be important to you?

Do please spell out your answers to this in as specific detail as you can. I need to know which of you I must avoid befriending!

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I need to know which of you I must avoid befriending!

Trust me, I don't want to be within 100 miles of you when you decide that you're going through a personal life and death "emergency". Friends living by principles like that are worse than enemies.

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Your position is that adherence to moral principles means that we must sometimes refrain from acting to rescue the lives of those we love.
A man's right to act according to his own judgment to gain and keep value is not absolute: it does not conflict with and infringe on another man's right to act according to his own judgment to gain and keep value. That means that you do not have the right to force a man to sacrifice his values for you. Men's rights are not contradictory. The assumption that there is such an absolute right implies that existence qua man (living by reason, not force) is impossible. Presumably we don't have to debate whether that would be an absurd conclusion.

One crucial element of the lifeboat hypothetical is that a man is faced with the impossibility of value, because he will be dead. In this child-sickness scenario, life is still possible for you if you make the moral choice. Questions of whether it's in some sense "okay" to initiate force against another in order to preserve your actual highest value (your existence) could be discussed, but here we are not talking about your highest value. As Rearden's unpleasant mother and wife established, relatedness does not constitute being an automatic to someone, so the fact of someone being a child does not confer an automatic cancellation of morality and does not create a right to someone else's life. At best, you might conclude that if a man values something enough, he may end up doing desparate and immoral things to keep that value, be it a child, a house, a car or a favorite photo.

Consider the absurdity that would result from concluding that a man has a right to use force to keep any value that he is threatened with the loss of. I could kill a man so that I could feed my wife and sone, if I were out of a job and threatened with starvation; I could hold up a bank to get the money to pay for medicine for my dog; I could trespass on my neighbor's property and chop down their tree which casts a shadow on our back yard and makes it impossible to grow tomatoes.

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That everyone is going to die someday is irrelevant to the question of whether anyone must necessarily perish today. True, before too long, we're all going to meet our maker — so what? The fact of eventual death is no moral criteron; if it were, there would be no reason for anyone to live morally under any circumstances.

The fact of imminent death is no moral criterion either. Death is never a moral criterion.

It's interesting to see so many people putting forth what amounts to a fatalist view of moral action. Reality never dictates that anyone must suffer and die; no one is obligated to "accept" a given situtation just because things happen to be that way.

Not all situations are 'given' in the same way and some are to be accepted because they preclude moral action. I urge you to re-read Ayn Rand's article "The Metaphysical vs. The Man-Made." In the hierarchy of Objectivist principles, metaphysics come before ethics and value judgements. This is why if an emergency situation is going to change what you think is ethical, it had better be a metaphysical emergency, a situation that makes the existence of man in accordance with his identity impossible and originates in nature not in other men's deliberate actions. Even during an emergency the identity of man's nature does not change.

For clarity I will attempt to relate this thread back to the original Rand essay "The Ethics of Emergencies". In that essay it was concluded one ought to render nonscarificial aid to others in an emergency. Here the question is, "if I am the one in an emergency, and others do not render aid, I have the right to kill them and take what I need. I can disregard others judgements of what is nonsacrificial aid for them, even though I would expect them to honor mine." I hope this draws out the hypocrisy clearly enough for everyone to see.

"God grant me the serenity to accept things I cannot change, courage to change things I can, and wisdom to know the difference."

This remarkable statement is attributed to a theologian with whose ideas I disagree in every fundamental respect: Reinhold Niebuhr. But—omitting the form of a prayer, i.e., the implication that one's mental-emotional states are a gift from God—that statement is profoundly true, as a summary and a guideline: it names the mental attitude which a rational man must seek to achieve. The statement is beautiful in its eloquent simplicity; but the achievement of that attitude involves philosophy's deepest metaphysical-moral issues.

The faculty of volition gives man a special status in two crucial respects: 1. unlike the metaphysically given, man's products, whether material or intellectual, are not to be accepted uncritically—and 2. by its metaphysically given nature, a man's volition is outside the power of other men. What the unalterable basic constituents are to nature, the attribute of a volitional consciousness is to the entity "man." Nothing can force a man to think. Others may offer him incentives or impediments, rewards or punishments, they may destroy his brain by drugs or by the blow of a club, but they cannot order his mind to function: this is in his exclusive, sovereign power. Man is neither to be obeyed nor to be commanded.

What has to be "obeyed" is man's metaphysically given nature—in the sense in which one "obeys" the nature of all existents; this means, in man's case, that one must recognize the fact that his mind is not to be "commanded" in any sense, including the sense applicable to the rest of nature. Natural objects can be reshaped to serve men's goals and are to be regarded as means to men's ends, but man himself cannot and is not.

In regard to nature, "to accept what I cannot change" means to accept the metaphysically given; "to change what I can" means to strive to rearrange the given by acquiring knowledge—as science and technology (e.g., medicine) are doing; "to know the difference" means to know that one cannot rebel against nature and, when no action is possible, one must accept nature serenely.

In regard to man, "to accept" does not mean to agree, and "to change" does not mean to force. What one must accept is the fact that the minds of other men are not in one's power, as one's own mind is not in theirs; one must accept their right to make their own choices, and one must agree or disagree, accept or reject, join or oppose them, as one's mind dictates. The only means of "changing" men is the same as the means of "changing" nature: knowledge—which, in regard to men, is to be used as a process of persuasion, when and if their minds are active; when they are not, one must leave them to the consequences of their own errors. "To know the difference" means that one must never accept man-made evils (there are no others) in silent resignation, one must never submit to them voluntarily—and even if one is imprisoned in some ghastly dictatorship's jail, where no action is possible, serenity comes from the knowledge that one does not accept it.

One never accepts injustice but what nature does to you is not unjust or evil.

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The fact of eventual death is no moral criteron; if it were, there would be no reason for anyone to live morally under any circumstances.

The fact that death is no moral criterion means we must act morally in every circumstance. Even the ones that might involve death.

The thing about living qua man is that a life earned by deliberately killing someone who is no threat to you simply because you can and want to is not better than death. Even if you want to because you want to avoid death.

It's interesting to see so many people putting forth what amounts to a fatalist view of moral action. Reality never dictates that anyone must suffer and die; no one is obligated to "accept" a given situtation just because things happen to be that way.

A fatalist view would say that there is no point to life because it must eventually end in death. I am saying that there is so much value in life that to destroy that value (by destroying that value in someone else, by killing them when they haven't done anything to you except do the best they can to exist) is to negate your own life.

I have to wonder how some of you would put your views into practice, should you ever find yourself in a crisis where your own life or the life of someone you love was on the line. Would you hesitate to use a cell phone which is not yours to call for help — on the grounds that using somebody's minutes without permission violates property rights? Would you refuse to break a window and sieze medicine which could save my precious, irreplacable life — even though, I'm telling you now, I'd gladly repay the owner 10 times over and take whatever legal heat might follow? Just how far would you not go to save the lives of those you claim to be important to you?

If my cell phone were lying somewhere where someone was about to die if they didn't use it, then I hope they wouldn't wait for my permission before calling 911. If I didn't want something like that to happen then I shouldn't leave my stuff lying around. Be realistic. Using the resources at hand to deal with a situation you find yourself in is NOT the same as killing some other child so my child can live, when the only justification for it is that it is MY child.

Your life may be precious and irreplaceable to you, but from my perspective there are billions just like you. If my kid is sick and you come sneaking in through the window at night to steal his medicine so your kid can have it instead, well you're asking to die right there basically.

Do please spell out your answers to this in as specific detail as you can. I need to know which of you I must avoid befriending!

Sure, if you hate having friends who will respect your rights and plan for emergencies ...

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The fact that death is no moral criterion means we must act morally in every circumstance.

This is context-dropping. There is no commandment which says: "Thou shalt act morally."

Morality arises in the context of a human being with options struggling to achieve life. This necessarily includes biological life — if I'm dead, no values, no choices, nothing is possible to me. A morality of life will never say to you: "In order to remain moral, die — and/or permit your innocent loved ones to be killed." Egoist ethics always provides you with the option of choosing life — your own life, or the lives of those you care about.

Be realistic.

That's what I'm trying to do with my questions. As I mentioned earlier, deciding whether to kill somebody to save another's life is not too likely a scenario; having to use/and or dispose of property which is not yours in an emergency is something which any of us might well encounter.

When I was a teenager, I took a driver's ed class which was truly excellent. At one point, the instructor described some hypothetical traffic crises; one was having the brakes go out in one's car while traveling downhill at a fair rate of speed. He asked the class to name ideas as to what one might do in such a situation.

After a few tepid responses, the instructor suggested sideswiping parked cars as a means of bringing one's own car to a stop. This agitated several members of the group: That's destruction of property! But you'd pay for the damage, the instructor countered. It didn't matter. He raised the stakes: "You're facing imminent death if you don't do it." They wouldn't budge. To these young people, respecting property rights was an out-of-context absolute — a moral commandment to be followed regardless of circumstance.

I'll never forget the part-mystified, part-amused look on our instructor's face as he listened to these teenagers' reproaches. He never did succeed in convincing them that banging up a few strangers' cars is a tiny price to pay for continued existence. I feel a sad kind of kinship with him now.

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When I was a teenager, I took a driver's ed class which was truly excellent. At one point, the instructor described some hypothetical traffic crises; one was having the brakes go out in one's car while traveling downhill at a fair rate of speed. He asked the class to name ideas as to what one might do in such a situation.

After a few tepid responses, the instructor suggested sideswiping parked cars as a means of bringing one's own car to a stop. This agitated several members of the group: That's destruction of property! But you'd pay for the damage, the instructor countered. It didn't matter. He raised the stakes: "You're facing imminent death if you don't do it." They wouldn't budge. To these young people, respecting property rights was an out-of-context absolute — a moral commandment to be followed regardless of circumstance.

Damaging parked cars to protect ones own life is one thing, and it would not free you from the responsibility of compensating the owners of those cars for the damage you caused. That being said, would you advocate plowing into a crowd of pedestrians in order to bring your own car to a stop?

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Kevin, under your interpretation, what would prevent someone from refusing to work--and then, when he is about to starve to death, justifying stealing his food?

Don't confuse selfishness with parasitism. The kind of person you describe is totally immoral — not because of his choice to steal, but in the way he conducts his life.

If someone wants to claim that principles are irrelevant, that he can get along in life somehow without them, the rest of us should take him at his word and leave him to perish accordingly. If he initiates force against another person, he cannot claim justification for his actions. What — he miraculously transformed into a thinking egoist ten minutes before death by starvation? Ten seconds after his belly is fed, you can be sure he'll be back to his non-thinking, non-productive, looting and mooching ways.

All of the examples discussed so far in this thread involve innocent victims of circumstance; people caught in severe emergency situations through no fault of their own. The person in your example is not innocent, nor is he technically experiencing an emergency: His whole life is a crisis, owing entirely to his evasions.

[W]ould you advocate plowing into a crowd of pedestrians in order to bring your own car to a stop?

I wouldn't advocate it, because no one can prescribe specifically what a person should do in such a dreadful situation. Assuming there was no other available option (you must either hit the pedestrians, or risk being killed yourself), one couldn't judge the actions of someone unfortunate enough to find himself in that position.

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Damaging parked cars to protect ones own life is one thing, and it would not free you from the responsibility of compensating the owners of those cars for the damage you caused. That being said, would you advocate plowing into a crowd of pedestrians in order to bring your own car to a stop?

LOL :D Awesome counter-example. This is what the thread is about, not mere property damage. Restitution for property damage can be negotiated after the fact, restitution for murder is not possible. Technically this would be a type of manslaughter not murder but there would definitely by charging and judging.

Edited by Grames
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This is context-dropping. There is no commandment which says: "Thou shalt act morally."

By "must" I meant: if you're going to act morally at all, introducing a natural death into the situation doesn't change anything. Obviously there's no commandment, and there doesn't need to be.

Morality arises in the context of a human being with options struggling to achieve life. This necessarily includes biological life

Well there's no other kind of life that I know of ...

— if I'm dead, no values, no choices, nothing is possible to me. A morality of life will never say to you: "In order to remain moral, die — and/or permit your innocent loved ones to be killed." Egoist ethics always provides you with the option of choosing life — your own life, or the lives of those you care about.

No, because reality says to you that sometimes you don't get a choice. Morality isn't a tool that you use to make your life better. Morality is recognizing that reality exists and you can't just choose to ignore reality in situations you don't like. Well - of course, you can choose to, but only by acting irrationally. Are you saying that you're committed to acting rationally except in situations where your very highest values are at stake?

I don't know why you think you will always have the option to extend your own life? Cause I hate to break it to you ...

That's what I'm trying to do with my questions. As I mentioned earlier, deciding whether to kill somebody to save another's life is not too likely a scenario; having to use/and or dispose of property which is not yours in an emergency is something which any of us might well encounter.

Well in that case I think it has already been covered: You do what you have to do and make restitution to the property owners later. In the car example below, there's a good reason why people have car insurance. That's what it's for. Even in that case, though, you have to act rationally - for example by keeping your brakes in good repair in the first place, by not doing any more property damage than you have to, by steering into a parked car instead of a crowd on the sidewalk, etc. If you live ethically in daily life then you'll have lots of practice using your reasoning skills in lots of different situations and that practice will really help in an emergency.

In a situation with a sick child, if you want to act ethically in the first place (I'm beginning to wonder whether you do, considering that you seem to want to chuck morality out the window whenever something unexpected happens), you have the same responsibility* to act rationally. Have health insurance, keep your credit healthy, have friends, find a charity, mortgage your house, something.

In Atlas Shrugged, isn't there a part where Galt or Francisco tells Dagny that because she has acted irrationally for so long, she's only got two irrational choices left to her, but that doesn't free her from the responsibility of choosing? So maybe the answer you're looking for is that if you get yourself into a situation where you only have irrational options, that it's ok to be irrational. Well I wouldn't say it's okay. It's still irrational and therefore immoral and therefore still your fault if something bad happens - if you have to pay or go to jail there's no ethical loophole to get you out of it. Is that what you mean?

*Not a responsibility because of god or authority or anything like that. A responsibility in the sense that you're the one who will have to explain to your kid why he's alive but probably still sick and now you're in jail and can't work and things are actually going to get a lot worse. That's another reason to be ethical: because being ethical means being rational, and being rational means making the best decision for yourself and usually when you makes rational decisions you'll be right (in the sense that you'll make things better, not worse, at least in the long term). Even in emergencies, when you're really emotional and want to do something drastic. Isn't reality great? :D

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I discern two differences between this scenario and a typical lifeboat scenario. First, only one party (you and your child) is in danger. There is no general large scale disaster or predicament making life impossible for your neighbors.

Well actually the parties in danger are your child, the person you are thinking of stealing the medicine from, and the other child that won't get the medicine because you steal it. Would the whole world have to be in danger for it to constitue a lifeboat scenario? Even in the model "lifeboat" situation the only people in danger are you and the other person. By your critera, being in a lifeboat would not be a lifeboat scenario.

Second, although the illness is time-limited, unlike a lifeboat scenario the story is not going to be resolved after you save your child's life. Oh no, you aren't out on the raging main or on a trackless mountainside, this story takes place in the middle of civilization. The other child will have relatives, lets say a father who will want vengeance. Being a poetic sort he doesn't kill you, he kills your child. Of course, you kill him. Now three people are dead and you are imprisoned. This is where blind irrationality can take you.

If you are in a lifeboat and you kill the other person in the lifeboat in order to survive, won't that guys family find out eventually? Or the coast guard will arrest you when they rescue you? Once again, you are inventing non-essential critera for something to constitute a lifeboat scenario.

An emergency where the only means of survival is the violation of another man's rights is a lifeboat scenario. Period.

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Egoist ethics always provides you with the option of choosing life — your own life, or the lives of those you care about.

No, because reality says to you that sometimes you don't get a choice.

Reality doesn't talk to people: it doesn't order anyone to bear misery and defeat merely because he happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Existence exists: at times a person might find himself in situations where there are literally no options — the boulder is rolling toward him, for example, and he just can't leap out of the way in time — but these are not moral issues. Morality is only relevant where man faces alternatives: Should I choose X, or should I choose Y? If "X" stands for continued existence, and "Y" means lights out for you, an egoistic ethical system can never require man to choose the latter.

Morality isn't a tool that you use to make your life better.

My morality most definitely is a tool to make my life better; it is the means by which I am able to enjoy myself and live.

What fundamental principle is your morality based on?

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My morality most definitely is a tool to make my life better; it is the means by which I am able to enjoy myself and live.

Yup, at the expense of others.

"that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine."

You must be forgetting the 2nd half of that. Or do you want to make that "... live for mine... most of the time."

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Morality is only relevant where man faces alternatives: Should I choose X, or should I choose Y?
This is wrong in a fundamental way. Morality is a code of action designed to guide a man in reaching his fundamental goal: his existence. When his own existence is literally and metaphysically impossible, then morality is irrelevant. But you are not talking about actual cases of morality being irrelevant, where there is no choice between actions leading to his ultimate goal. You are ignoring the fact that when a spouse, child or pet dies or is injured, you do not die. You are allowing the existence of others to dictate your actions; but that is the moral code of altruism, not egoism.
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Reality doesn't talk to people: it doesn't order anyone to bear misery and defeat merely because he happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Existence exists: at times a person might find himself in situations where there are literally no options — the boulder is rolling toward him, for example, and he just can't leap out of the way in time — but these are not moral issues. Morality is only relevant where man faces alternatives: Should I choose X, or should I choose Y? If "X" stands for continued existence, and "Y" means lights out for you, an egoistic ethical system can never require man to choose the latter.

My morality most definitely is a tool to make my life better; it is the means by which I am able to enjoy myself and live.

What fundamental principle is your morality based on?

Egoistic ethics doesn't "provide" you with options, either. You're using anthropomorphic language and then dismissing my replies because I echo your anthropomorphic language.

The fundamental principal my morality is based on is, like Kevin said, "that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine". This is because I recognize the reality that if I disregard another's rights and initiate force on him, I am undermining my own existence and inviting retaliation. There is no situation where violating another's rights is going to improve my life - even if such an action extends it.

If you don't agree with that then what do you think the point is in living rationally in any situation?

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You are ignoring the fact that when a spouse, child or pet dies or is injured, you do not die. You are allowing the existence of others to dictate your actions; but that is the moral code of altruism, not egoism.

I don't make too many important distinctions between the value I place on my own life, and the lives of those who are irreplaceably precious to me. Do you? (Forget pets; animals have to be regarded as expendable in any crisis involving people.)

If a man risks his life — or gives it up — to rescue the woman he loves, is that altruism? Is such a man "allowing the existence of others to dictate his actions" — or is he is driven by an intense love for values?

You have no right to command anyone to permit himself to die, even when to do so would mean sparing the lives of 5,000 innocent children. Altruism is the creed of self-sacrifice: the view that a man may not exist for his own sake; that he has no moral right to take the actions necessary to further his own life. Under normal circumstances, the interests of rational men do not clash: the attainment of one person's life does not entail the violation of the rights of another — but this can change drastically when somebody's life becomes threatened. Just as you may not prescribe that a man must sacrifice himself in a crisis, so I (or anyone) may likewise not order him to sacrifice others to himself in order to remain alive. My formal position, to state it one final time: "Lifeboat" scenarios, such as those under discussion in this thread, are outside of the province of morality. Whatever a man chooses to do in such a situation is, in effect, moral.

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I don't make too many important distinctions between the value I place on my own life, and the lives of those who are irreplaceably precious to me. Do you? (Forget pets; animals have to be regarded as expendable in any crisis involving people.)
I don't make exceptions for pets either. I may have to make a tough decision in a crisis between my spouse and my son, my daughter-in-law, my graddaughter, my brother, my aunt, my uncle, my dog or my cat, but you can rest assured that these are all values to me none of which are "dispensable" or replaceable.

You have failed to justify your "Forget" statement. Why? Your position reduces to the conclusion that the life of any human is of such special intrinsic value that concepts of morality can be discarded, if you wish, when the life of a person who you feel special about is threatened? Do you limit this dispensability of morality to just life, or would that include the health and well-being of the person?

"Lifeboat" scenarios are not under discussion here, and your repeated attempt to claim that sickness of another person constitutes a "lifeboat" scenario shows a serious misunderstanding of what such scenarios are and why they are special.

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The sense of moral righteousness that you'd get from just letting your wife die because you didnt want to steal something isnt going to keep you warm when youre alone in bed at night, nor will it prevent you from feeling any worse when you think about what youve lost and how you could have prevented it, so the argument that its 'in your best interest' to do so sounds like rationalization. I'd say beyond any shadow of a doubt that the person who relaxed his moral code to save the life of someone he loved is going to be a lot happier afterwards than the person who didnt. If you want to argue that 'not stealing' should have priority over personal happiness thats one thing, but to claim in this case that 'not stealing' would increase happiness is just wrong.

Edited by eriatarka
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You have failed to justify your "Forget" statement.

What is my "Forget" statement?

"Lifeboat" scenarios are not under discussion here, and your repeated attempt to claim that sickness of another person constitutes a "lifeboat" scenario shows a serious misunderstanding of what such scenarios are and why they are special.

A lifeboat scenario, as SkyTrooper has indicated, is a life-or-death crisis in which the survival of one person comes only at the price of violating the rights of another. "You and another man are in a lifeboat which can hold only one person. One of you must go overboard; will it be him, or you?"

Put all of the actors in the child-sickness scenario into a rubber raft and float them on the high seas — then maybe you'll get the idea.

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The sense of moral righteousness that you'd get from just letting your wife die because you didnt want to steal something isnt going to keep you warm when youre alone in bed at night, nor will it prevent you from feeling any worse when you think about what youve lost and how you could have prevented it, so the argument that its 'in your best interest' to do so sounds like rationalization. I'd say beyond any shadow of a doubt that the person who relaxed his moral code to save the life of someone he loved is going to be a lot happier afterwards than the person who didnt. If you want to argue that morality should have priority over personal happiness thats one thing (although dubious from an Objectivist standpoint), but to claim that in this case acting morally would increase happiness is just wrong.

I'd say that when I'm sitting in jail for stealing medicine, and possibly murder if someone dies as a result of my stealing, and my wife is dead anyway because I stole the medicine too late or just because illnesses work like that and you can't always fix them (or even if she didn't die, and I'm now sitting in jail counting the years until I'm free to be with her), then beyond a shadow of a doubt I'd be a heck of a lot less happy than if I had acted rationally (in my own long-term self interest!) and buried my wife knowing that I am free to pick up the pieces and carry on with my life.

You're operating on the assumption that you're living in a moral bubble where as long as your wife or child or whoever lives, that will be the end of the story and you will both go back to life as always. On the other hand I'm saying that violating someone's rights to get what you want instead of earning it will not be in your best interests, because of the fact that irrational actions have consequences. I'm not saying you should blindly do whatever some system tells you to do, even when you think there is another option that would end up better for you. I'm saying that rational action is rational on the basis that it furthers your ability to live the kind of life you want to live by recognizing the facts and acting accordingly. If your child is sick and you steal medicine from another sick kid and your kid gets better, that won't ever actually BE the end of the story and you won't just go back to life as you intended with your child. In this case - because you will be caught and either go to jail or be made to pay or will have to continually look over your shoulder for an extremely angry father whose kid died because you stole his medicine.

If you think you could ever find yourself in a situation where:

1. you or a loved one is fatally ill

2. a single medicine exists that could cure the disease, but you don't have insurance/don't have savings/don't have a house to mortgage/don't have family or friends to help you/can't find a charity to help and therefore can't afford the medicine - you or your loved one will certainly die

3. you happen to know of someone else whose loved one is also fatally ill with the same disease, but they do have the medicine

4. you are able to steal it AND know, somehow, with 100% certainty, that you will not ever be caught, your wife won't get better and then leave you because she doesn't agree with your judgment (I'm thinking I would have a hard time coming to terms with the fact that someone who should rightfully have been alive is now dead because I am alive) or your child won't grow up and resent you for the same reason, causing you to lose your highest value in the end anyway, and that doing something so unjust will be no sweat off your back for the rest of your life

Then maybe - maybe! - you could justify the action by saying that this is how to make sure the situation ends up best for you in the long term. I am extremely skeptical that such a situation could arise.

I wouldn't accept the premise that your loved one could be such a high value to you that you would sacrifice your freedom or even life if it meant that loved one living. That's altruism, as I'm sure you will recognize, because you're putting a higher value on someone else than on your own life. So given that the consequence for murder (which is surely how the courts would see it when someone dies because you think you need and therefore deserve the medicine more than them, rights be damned) is a loss of freedom, there's no justification.

I also agree with David Odden that this does not constitute a lifeboat situation, so my answer above should not be construed to apply to lifeboat situations. HOWEVER, I strongly disagree with this statement:

"Lifeboat" scenarios, such as those under discussion in this thread, are outside of the province of morality. Whatever a man chooses to do in such a situation is, in effect, moral.

Of course morality still applies in lifeboat situations. Emergencies don't just give everyone the right to stop thinking. However since they are so out of the context of regular life it's impossible to judge the morality of any course of action from outside of that specific lifeboat situation. If I found myself in a lifeboat-type situation, assuming the situation does not leave me unable to think clearly, there could still be courses of action that would be immoral and better courses of action that would be moral - or possibly only a number of irrational options, and I would have to try to choose the best one - not just act randomly or erratically. However, because of the singularity of such situations and also because of the state of mind of people in them who are often really not able to think clearly (due to extreme hunger or thirst, for example), there is no way to evaluate the situation hypothetically or in hindsight to say what should have been done differently. There is also really no advantage in evaluating such situations morally, for the same reasons.

In fact the "moral loophole" in emergency situations is NOT that you can just use other people however you want: Rand's view was that only in lifeboat situations is it appropriate to try to help other people.

David - if my understanding of a lifeboat situation is incorrect, could you please explain how? The only Rand I have read on it is the entry under "Emergencies" in the lexicon, but the above is how I understand this:

"Emergencies" - Ayn Rand Lexicon]

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.

And as for this:

Put all of the actors in the child-sickness scenario into a rubber raft and float them on the high seas — then maybe you'll get the idea.

I counter with this:

"Emergencies" - Ayn Rand Lexicon]

The principle that one should help men in an emergency cannot be extended to regard all human suffering as an emergency and to turn the misfortune of some into a first mortgage on the lives of others.

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I wouldn't accept the premise that your loved one could be such a high value to you that you would sacrifice your freedom or even life if it meant that loved one living. That's altruism, as I'm sure you will recognize, because you're putting a higher value on someone else than on your own life. So given that the consequence for murder (which is surely how the courts would see it when someone dies because you think you need and therefore deserve the medicine more than them, rights be damned) is a loss of freedom, there's no justification.

Well I doubt that most juries are going to give you a long sentence for stealing medicine to save a dying family member; youd probably get a couple of years in prison max and maybe not even that much if it was your first offence.

But the deeper problem is that the same logic could be used to argue that its 'wrong' to break laws even if those laws are immoral. For example, suppose you lived in a non-free country where it was illegal to buy drug X, yet that drug was necessary to save the life of a family member. You find someone willing to sell you it, but you know that buying it will cause you to incur a long jail sentence if youre caught. Would you say that buying the drug is immoral, purely because the risk of jail is so great? If not, then I dont think you can argue that its wrong to steal on the grounds that you risk a prison sentence.

Realistically, what happens (in both the stealing example, and the non-free country example) is that the person has to weigh up the benefits of saving the life of a family member against the risk of being caught and going to jail. But this has nothing at all to do with the morality of stealing - the theft is just as 'justified' as buying the illegal drug and the situations are basically identical from the point of view of the person who needs the drug.

I wouldn't accept the premise that your loved one could be such a high value to you that you would sacrifice your freedom or even life if it meant that loved one living.
Well I'm not sure I agree with that but it doesnt matter because youre not sacrificing your life, youre risking it. Are you saying that its always irrational for a person to risk their life to save someone that they loved? Edited by eriatarka
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I wouldn't accept the premise that your loved one could be such a high value to you that you would sacrifice your freedom or even life if it meant that loved one living. That's altruism, as I'm sure you will recognize, because you're putting a higher value on someone else than on your own life.
Your life is the standard of value, that doesnt mean it will be your highest value. I value nothing higher than the lives of my children. If it was necessary to surrender my life or my freedom so that they might live, I would do it without hesitation. I dont think that makes me an altruist.
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Inalienability

When we say that we hold individual rights to be inalienable, we must mean just that. Inalienable means that which we may not take away, suspend, infringe, restrict or violate—not ever, not at any time, not for any purpose whatsoever.

You cannot say that “man has inalienable rights except in cold weather and on every second Tuesday,” just as you cannot say that “man has inalienable rights except in an emergency,” or “man’s rights cannot be violated except for a good purpose.”

Either man’s rights are inalienable, or they are not. You cannot say a thing such as “semi-inalienable” and consider yourself either honest or sane. When you begin making conditions, reservations and exceptions, you admit that there is something or someone above man’s rights, who may violate them at his discretion. Who? Why, society—that is, the Collective. For what reason? For the good of the Collective. Who decides when rights should be violated? The Collective. If this is what you believe, move over to the side where you belong and admit that you are a Collectivist.

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The paragraphs Grames has quoted come from Miss Rand's essay "Textbook of Americanism," in which she discusses the basic political principles necessary to establish and maintain a free society. They appear under the section titled: "Does The Motive Change The Nature Of A Dictatorship?"

Clearly, Miss Rand is writing about governments and their policies, not the choices individual men might face in times of extreme crisis. (At the risk of sounding presumptuous, even my strongest critics would probably not accuse me of being a collectivist.)

One idea, though, is essential to the discussion at hand: Man always retains his fundamental right to life. This means the right to defend, protect, and work to sustain one's own existence: Man can never be required to regard himself (or turn himself into) an object of sacrifice — no matter how dire the straits, no matter what other values might be involved — "not ever, not at any time, not for any purpose whatsoever."

Once again, morality and its principles are a matter of context.

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