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Sides and utilitarianism

Mon 16, April 2012

A “simple” moral dilemma:

“Two persons are infected with a virus, both are quarantined in a building and there is a single-use cure that will save (and immunize) anyone infected with the virus. One of the persons is 80 years old; all his family died, hasn’t got children or even friends and works alone in an office doing meaningless paperwork; but the other person is 30 years old; has a big and loving family, has got three children and hundreds of good friends and recently has been researching a cure for the cancer that is almost over. Which one should be cured?”


This is a ridiculously exaggerated utilitarian dilemma. A child with nothing in his head than logic will say almost instantly “the second”, and most adults with little common sense, after pondering a little the situation will say “the second”.

And, as you see, is logical that; if there is only one cure and no way to cure both (unfortunately) is better that the second person, with a long life ahead; with a family, three children and many friends that will cry in his death; with an “almost over” cure for the cancer that will save the life of millions of people… remain alive while the other, unfortunately, die because of the virus.

Yes, it’s a very cold decision, but it makes sense; OR MAYBE NOT, because:

“Do you have the right to decide which one will live?”

“Do you think that you are doing a good action saving that person if you’re killing another?”

“Can you look into the eyes of the person that will die and say that he will be sacrificed for save another person with the same right to live than he?”


These three arguments are the most common, here’s the analysis:

1st argument–>This is based in a premise “nobody should decide about the life nor death of anyone”, this is also common sense, if all we were able to decide who should live and who should die, all we will end dead. But one question, it’s not worth to risk that if we are going to save at least one of those two people, save many tears to his family, children and friends and possibly save the life of millions of people because of his “almost over” cure for cancer?.

2nd argument–>This conflicts the cornerstone of the utilitarianism “it’s worth to do a bad thing if due to that bad thing we are doing something good; always that we are doing more good than bad”. Don’t says the bible (or the catholic/protestant church, I don’t care too much about theology) that is a good thing that a poor man steal bread for feed his starving family? And the huge majority of the legal systems don’t let someone kill another if that another is about to kill a lot of people? In the first case the victim is innocent although don’t dies, in the second case the victim is culpable although dies. If we mix both we get “it’s good that someone kills another, although the another is innocent, if killing that another lets that someone save the life of many people”, although we have to omit a lot of variables (like if that man has family or not, if the people who will save are potential assassins etc etc). The dilemma exposed is a little milder, because is not about kill or not kill but about save the life of one or another person.

3rd argument–>In fact, almost nobody has a heart as cold as that, but this is clearly sided. Because if you don’t kill he, you are killing the other, that is as innocent as he, why you see his eyes and not those of the other? Why you don’t see the pleading eyes of all the family, children and friends of the researcher? Why you don’t see the even more pleading eyes of all those millions of people with cancer that will die without his cure? Why?


I’m open to discussion and criticism, but before saying anything please see if your arguments are of the 1st, 2nd or 3rd type.

And above all, remember that the philosophical dilemmas exclude a lot of variables, don’t say things like “maybe his cure for the cancer will kill us all” because that’s a variable that hasn’t to deal with this dilemma, this dilemma about if it’s worth to decide about the life and death of others.


From → Philosophy

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