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Jane Lake and Hypothetical Questions!

Everyone likes to play "What would you do if" games until they come down to the two tough basic questions.

1. Would you sacrifice your life to save your (mother, father, sister, brother, husband. wife, child, friend, stranger)?

2. Would you kill 1 person to save 10? 5 to save 100? 100 to save a million?

I will try to tackle these now.

The first question needs to be clarified. If it were a matter of pushing someone out of the way of an oncoming car, I feel instinct kicks in. You don't know for sure if you will be killed. I think if I were related to or knew the person my instinct would be to try to save them at my own risk. I'm not sure if it were a stranger,I would do anymore than yell "watch out!"

If it were the scenario of someone saying choose who dies you or the other person, I would refuse to answer even if that meant my own death. I would not be able to live with choosing the other person and I would feel choosing myself was tantamount to suicide.

The second question is the tougher one, but more clear cut from my perspective. I don't believe there is ever a justification for killing as one life is just as valuable as 100 lives. This is the hypothetical scenario that is used to justify wars, stem cell research, and a host of other evils. Nobody ultimately benefits from this as we have sold our souls to the devil to attain what we believe is a good result. Abortion is the extreme case of this as a life is sacrificed not to even save another life, but to just prevent a difficult or untimely situation.

Those are my answers and I hope I never have to make any of those decisions in my lifetime, but I feel it is always good to know in the back of your mind what your answer would be.

I entered this in the Philosophy Blog War. Pleases vote for my entry here:


Everyone likes to play "What would you do if" games until they come down to the two tough basic questions.

1. Would you sacrifice your life to save your (mother, father, sister, brother, husband. wife, child, friend, stranger)?

answer: I would not even blink an eye for my family, so YES without thought!
As for a stranger, NO!

2. Would you kill 1 person to save 10? 5 to save 100? 100 to save a million?

answer: NO, but I would kill to save my family.............again without thought!


you sound very smart...

seen your post on craigslist...

coffee sometime?


I really appreciated your answer to the first question. Distinguishing between actually trading your life for that of another, and merely risking your life for someone else is a major separator. I would risk my life for just about anyone, i.e., the stranger about to get hit by a car. On the other hand, my personal self-sustenance would not allow me to trade my own life for anyone other than my offspring or spouse.

The other question you pose I was less in agreement with. I think saying simply that these instances are fabrications of war is a notion of naivety and rose-colored glasses. I think the crux of the matter is whether those being sacrificed are doing so of their own volition. I would give my own life to save 50 or 100 people, any day of the week. Stem cell research and abortion are unfortunate links to this topic, which truly is, "What is for the greater good?", a question civilization's been asking since the dawn of time.

I think the first choice is as you say instinct - if we had time to think about it, It would come down to our own feelings about our family members and our own sense of self worth. Thus it would be totally personal. For me I would for some, but not for others. But I also don't beleive in an either or, so I would rather use whatever I had available to find another solution rather than me or them. Better to have a chance that you either both die or both live.

The second question really comes down to not a question about the value of life, but whatis best for the most people. If giving my mother an experimental treatment that would either be the cure for cancer or her untimely death, it might be a toss up. In a "real" war where it is either death or enslavement or something similar, no cost is too great. Rather to go down fighting than to life a dead life. Everything else fals in between and it would really be case by case - but then I'm a relativist so there you have it.

These questions are some that most that I hope no one is ever faced with. My wife and my child, well someone would have to take my life in order for harm to be brought to them.
As far as killing 1 to save 10 or so on. Well that depends on the situation. I would not kill a innocent person for no reason.
As far as the abortion thing and the stem cell research. I agree with you whole heartidly.

Quite frankly, Jane, your repsonses seem like a vague, safe way out of making a decision about either situation. Wishy-washy, non-commital, intentionally neutral.

Would I put myself in harms way and maybe die to save a loved one? Yes, despite built-in instincts for self-preservation. For a total stranger? I'd try to help but not to that degree.

Would I sacrifice one person to save a hundred -- such as eliminating a man who holds dozens of others hostage -- certainly. This shouldn't even be a question.

All this blathering about stem cell research isn't even germane to the basic theme.

This has been done SO many times before. It's called "The Trolley Problem," you know... Judith Jarvis Thompson.

I guess the whole rehashing of thought experiments gets a little old after a while. There's practically no explanation or insight on the issue of killing or letting die that hasn't already been thought of/published already.

Sorry. Completely not meant to be an insult to you, just sort of a peeve.

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