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Thread: Hard question from my friend

  1. #1

    Hard question from my friend

    Hi every one...

    One of my friend gave me this question to me. And I want hear your opinion to this question.

    "If you're in the situation, that you have to kill one man, but you can save a thousand persons from death...
    will you kill or not kill that man?

    If you kill that man, than you infringe the precept 'not to kill'.
    If you don't kill that man, a thousand persons will die.

    What will you do?" :shock:

    Gassho, Shui Di

  2. #2

    Re: Hard question from my friend

    Hi,

    Hopefully, I wouldn't have time to think and would just respond at the time.

    If I had time to think then I would want to know the names and histories of all the people so I could sum up and judge the best choice.

    If the one person was my one of my close relatives or friends and no one in the thousand were then it would make it a no-brainer.

    Cheers,

    Paul

  3. #3

    Re: Hard question from my friend

    Hi,

    We have had this question come up a couple of times in the past, so I will point to some threads on the issue. I wrote this:


    My simple perspective is the case where the taking of one life (even an innocent life) may be necessary to save 10, 100 or 100,000 lives (A true situation I recently heard about involves some of the US soldiers who must accept a certain number of 'civilian collateral' in order to kill a 'high profile target'). Some people insist that there is always ONE right course of action for any situation, but I disagree. Many actions have both harmful and beneficial effects. All we can do, sometimes, is stick our finger in the wind and make the choice we believe the best at any moment.

    If you fail to kill directly the one, you may be killing indirectly 100,000.

    I believe that the following is in keeping with views that I have heard the Dalai Lama express in the past. He is a very wise human being wrestling with these same dilemnas:


    Dalai Lama reserves judgment on whether Iraq war was justified


    By SCOTT LINDLAW, Associated Press

    (Published: September 10, 2003)

    WASHINGTON (AP) - The Dalai Lama said Wednesday that the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan may have been justified to win a larger peace, but that is it too soon to judge whether the Iraq war was warranted.

    "I think history will tell," he said in an interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday, just after he met with President Bush.

    "In principle, I always believe nonviolence is the right thing, and nonviolent method is in the long run more effective," said the Dalai Lama, who after the Sept. 11 attacks had implored Bush to avoid a violent response by the United States.

    The exile Tibetan leader, awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989, said the Vietnam War increased suffering and was a "failure." But, he said, some wars, including the Korean War and World War II, helped "protect the rest of civilization, democracy."

    He said he saw a similar result in Afghanistan - "perhaps some kind of liberation."

    "The people themselves, I think, suffer a lot under their previous regimes," he said. But he was adamant that the United States not lose sight of rebuilding Afghanistan.

    The Dalai Lama urged Bush, in a letter on Sept. 12, 2001, to "think seriously whether a violent action is the right thing to do and in the greater interest of the nation and people in the long run."

    Asked whether the Iraq war was just, the Dalai Lama said the situation there is "more complicated" and will take more time before he can judge.

    http://www.adn.com/24hour/iraq/story/99 ... 5161c.html
    There are consequences from our words, acts and thoughts. Some may be surprising. An act of violence can often have unexpected good results along with the bad (I see this in Japan, where much good came out of a prior war). But, overall, harmful acts can be expected to increase the quotient of harm in this world. We should avoid them.

    And, I think, if we are ever in the situation where we must take a life to save 100 ... then we should feel that weight within us, and carry that person with us always throughout life ... even as we probably "did what was necessary" (I have a friend, a policeman, who was placed in this situation. He acted in a way that was right and proper by all standards, yet he carries it with him).

    I am sorry ... as you know already, there are not always 'easy answers', and the universe does not show us one clear and pure path sometimes.

    I oppose all wars ... I am no supporter of the current war in Iraq (although I honor and respect the soldiers who must serve there). Some war may be necessary. I believe that, after 9-11, the vast majority of Buddhist teachers in the West supported some form of military action as necessary to save lives (although generally all opposed the war in Iraq).

    Gassho, Jundo

    http://www.treeleaf.org/forum/viewtopic ... cept#p3646

  4. #4

    Re: Hard question from my friend

    Quote Originally Posted by Shui_Di
    Hi every one...

    One of my friend gave me this question to me. And I want hear your opinion to this question.

    "If you're in the situation, that you have to kill one man, but you can save a thousand persons from death...
    will you kill or not kill that man?

    If you kill that man, than you infringe the precept 'not to kill'.
    If you don't kill that man, a thousand persons will die.

    What will you do?" :shock:
    This is an old conundrum in Utilitarian philosophy that I have seen in various forms. It is a philosophy that advocates (roughly) trying to achieve the greatest good for the greatest number. Philosophy abounds with these hypothetical thought experiments. The best way to deal with them IMO is to tell people to ignore the imaginary and hypothetical and concentrate on performing the right action in real life situations that are never as simple, clear cut and uncomplicated, or amenable to cut and dried solutions.

    Gassho,
    John

  5. #5

    Re: Hard question from my friend

    Who is the person I'm killing? Who are the people I'm saving?

    I'd like to point out that it is impossible to save anybody from death. The best you can do is postpone it.

  6. #6

    Re: Hard question from my friend

    This question has too many variables, I think.
    Let me suppose that we don't know anything about these people. The single person could, in the future, find a cure for a lethal disease, and so choosing him for death could not be the best thing.
    At the same time, among the thousand person group, there could be a future crazy dictator, and saving him could be a disaster too.

    Who are we to decide a so dramatic thing?

    The only thing i can say is that I don't consider the killing of the single man an infringement of the precepts in such a situation, because if you don't kill that man you, indirectly, would kill the others.

    Just a remark: in a situation like this, would I have the courage to sit for a long time and then take the final decision on my own, or would I be a coward taking the apparently more logical decision of killing the one man to avoid to be charged of something from the others? ops:

  7. #7

    Re: Hard question from my friend

    I agree with John about the limited usefulness of hypothetical questions such as these. Some of them are useful for illustrating simple points, but for the complex world of reality, hypotheticals are not so good, I think. Sort if like saying, "If I had been there, I would have done X, Y, or Z" but experience tells me that the complexity of an issue can only be appraised by folks fully involved in the situation. A bit like Dietrich Bonhoeffer's ideas about such things (without the Christian theology).

    Gassho,
    Bill

  8. #8

    Re: Hard question from my friend

    Just to chime in..........I have dealt with a number of ethical issues over the year in the healthcare sector. Unfortunately, very few solutions are self evident and often decisions are reached after a great deal of soul searching. These days medical ethics is taught at many Medical Schools to ensure that healthcare professionals are as well prepared as they can be.

    Best wishes

    Jools

  9. #9

    Re: Hard question from my friend

    What will you do?"
    I don't know

    Gassho, Alberto

  10. #10

    Re: Hard question from my friend

    Hello Shui Di and others posting here!

    A hard question, indeed. Your friend sounds like a zen master.

    I'm thinking, what if I am the one man whose death will mean the lives of 1000 are spared.
    I'm not happy to die, but wouldn't I die happy--knowing that 1000 will be safe now?

    What if I am the person who kills this man--what if, in the act of killing this man I, too, am killed--so now two people died to save the 1000. Would I change my mind about killing this one man if I knew I'd be dying in the process?

    What if I am one of the 1000? We 1000 all agree that this guy has got to go because we want to live! But none of us wants to kill him...

    Isn't this the koan of war? That we kill some people in order to save the lives of other people?

    Speculation is entertaining, but there is no way to know until you are in the moment.
    That Moment.

  11. #11
    Senior Member Martin's Avatar
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    Re: Hard question from my friend

    I have no idea what I would do. But I do think that "not acting" or "not choosing" to kill the one, is just as much an action and a choice as acting or choosing to kill the one. Don't know if that makes sense.

    Gassho

    Martin

  12. #12

    Re: Hard question from my friend

    Quote Originally Posted by Martin
    I have no idea what I would do. But I do think that "not acting" or "not choosing" to kill the one, is just as much an action and a choice as acting or choosing to kill the one. Don't know if that makes sense.

    Martin
    Does to me Martin.

    G,W

  13. #13
    Senior Member kirkmc's Avatar
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    Re: Hard question from my friend

    This is a pretty classical thought experiment used in the study of ethics. There are variants, but they all come to the same thing. One problem is that, with this precise example, you can't know whether those other thousand people will be killed. It's like the Hitler example; we know after the fact that he was evil, but not before.

    The runaway trolley problem is easier to grasp, because you can see the results before you decide:

    http://www.open2.net/ethicsbites/trolle ... ffect.html

    Kirk

  14. #14

    Re: Hard question from my friend

    Quote Originally Posted by kirkmc
    This is a pretty classical thought experiment used in the study of ethics. There are variants, but they all come to the same thing. One problem is that, with this precise example, you can't know whether those other thousand people will be killed. It's like the Hitler example; we know after the fact that he was evil, but not before.
    Another factor with what I call "idealistic" questions is that for example in the Hitler one, it assumes that if Hitler is out of the equation all will be saved. It ignores that Hitler was but one man in a system that produced many "Hitlers."

  15. #15

    Re: Hard question from my friend

    From the trolley problem discussion:

    "....Now in the case where you push a lever that then causes a bit of machinery to go off into a side spur, of course our long evolutionary history will not have confronted us with such high tech problems, so Singer says that our evolutionary selected emotional reactions just don’t apply to that case and there we can let reason take over. Now Singer comes to the conclusion that we should actually trust reason and acknowledge that our emotional inhibitions are not going to be all that fine-grained. They’re usually reliable, because usually when we are inhibited against killing it would do more harm than good to kill, but in some unusual cases, such as the case that philosophers have arranged involving pushing someone off a footbridge you’ll actually do more good than harm by killing the one with your bare hands....."

    So the intuitive wisdom we uncover by seeing through the limitations of conceptual thought in our zen practice is itself only evolutionarily programmed? Hmm...Singer is ok on animal rights in my book but I'm not convinced by his utilitarian arguments here. I wonder if he personally would be able to actually kill someone with his bare hands if confronted with a similar real scenario? It's only direct action in actual situations that counts IMO. These bizarre thought experiments are just too divorced from the complexity of real-life situations to be in any way applicable, in my view. For instance, when he discusses bombing munitions sites - that case has the obvious extra factor that the munitions produced could be used against us. And I don’t like the doctrine of double effect:

    Problems with the doctrine of double effect
    Some philosophers think this argument is too clever for its own good.
    • We are responsible for all the anticipated consequences of our actions: If we can foresee the two effects of our action we have to take the moral responsibility for both effects - we can't get out of trouble by deciding to intend only the effect that suits us.
    • Intention is irrelevant: Some people take the view that it's sloppy morality to decide the rightness or wrongness of an act by looking at the intention of the doctor. They think that some acts are objectively right or wrong, and that the intention of the person who does them is irrelevant. But most legal systems regard the intention of a person as a vital element in deciding whether they have committed a crime, and how serious a crime, in cases of causing death.
    • Death is not always bad - so double effect is irrelevant: Other philosophers say that the Doctrine of Double Effect assumes that we think that death is always bad. They say that if continued life holds nothing for the patient but the negative things of pain and suffering, then death is a good thing, and we don't need to use the doctrine of double effect.
    • Double effect can produce an unexpected moral result: If you do think that a quicker death is better than a slower one then the Doctrine of Double Effect shows that a doctor who intended to kill the patient is morally superior to a doctor who merely intended to relieve pain.



    http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/ethics/eu ... fect.shtml


    Gassho,
    John

  16. #16

    Re: Hard question from my friend

    Don't know how I get drawn into these philosophical discussions. They never seem to produce anything but gratification for the ego, that is, if you know and can come up with clever arguments. That's why I gave up philosophy and switched to Zen. I suppose it's necessary for nurses and doctors to study biomedical ethics mostly to be able to cover themselves against legal proceedings being taken against them. In that case there is, for instance, a distinction that can be drawn between killing and allowing someone to die. But you notice that it's others' judgments of us that we are most concerned with here. But for most of us most of the time it seems more necessary to me to judge what to do from our own direct experience rather than be guided into sometimes bizarre solutions dreamed up by one person applying abstract logic to human situations,

    Gassho,
    John

  17. #17

    Re: Hard question from my friend

    The guy dies. The one guy. I'm not sure about a lot of things but I'm sure about this. Am I the only one? Seems like an obvious choice.

    (I assume the individuals were chosen at random)

  18. #18

    Re: Hard question from my friend

    It's interesting to ponder though. I thought, what if the individual was my daughter? I think then I'd have to say, "Sorry everyone, nothing personal", and deep down that exposes some uncomfortable things about myself. Sure, as a loving father I have a powerful innate need to protect my daughter at all costs, but a thousand people! I could be that selfish I think, and it's interesting to see that my choice, which is inspired by a deep feeling of love for my daughter, a desperate attachment, could in a sense create such harm.

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