Friday, September 24, 2010

Answer to DQS, Moral Reasoning 101! The ends don't justify the means.

Wow! This may be the first Doctrinal Quiz Show where everyone got more or less the right answer

The dilemma was this:

Terrorists are holding you and hundreds of other innocent people hostage. You are told that if you press a button that will kill just one of the innocent hostages, you and all the others will be released unharmed. If you don't press the button, the terrorists will kill you and all of the hostages. Morally speaking, may you press the button? Why or why not?

I don't know if I can say it better than all of you did, so I am just going to pick out one of the answers and repost it. How 'bout... Sarah's:

Can't push the button. Human life is sacred. Every single life is as sacred and valuable as the next. You cannot make decisions on stats and numbers. It is utilitarian to do what would be best for "most people" if it means the destruction of even one. Now, it would be different if one person volunteered to die in place of the others. That is a heroic sacrifice. But the minute I push that button is the minute I kill a human being, I take their inherently valuable life, a life that was not mine to take. 
Some may say my refusal to push the button "killed" 100 people. No, if the terrorists go through with their threat, they are the killers.

Exactly! The end (saving lives) doesn't justify the means (murder of an innocent). 

In other words, we can never do an evil in order to bring about a good. 

Remember, outcome is not our concern. God will take care of that, in His way. We simply do the will of the Lord in all things, and we leave the outcome and the judgement to Him. If a mass murder happens, the terrorists are culpable for that horrible crime. As Wheelbarrow Rider said, there are worse things than death.... And as Lowly beautifully quoted from Aristotle: It is better to have injustice done upon you, than to do an act of injustice upon another!

(The question of "double effect" is for another post, another day, but thank you to Lowly again for rightly pointing out that Megan's example was an example of double effect and did not apply to this case. Double effect would also apply in the case of an ectopic pregnancy. Also, this is not a case of self-defense, as the person to be killed is not the aggressor.)

As Sarah mentioned, a person could volunteer to sacrifice his own life for another (or others). This is what Christ did for us on the Cross, and we know from Scripture that "greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." Such an act is not suicide but heroic virtue, and thanks to Ann for pointing out that St. Maximilian Kolbe did that very thing for a fellow prisoner at Auschwitz. 

Your answers are a great consolation to me, as almost everyone in my daughter's class answered the question the other way. 

In fact, one Christian mom (a good woman) told her daughter later that it would be immoral not to push the button! I wanted to give her another scenario to see if she still felt the same way: What if the terrorists told all the men to torture and rape the women, and they would all get to live? Would it be moral for the men to do so? What if the terrorists told you to kill all the small children and the rest of the group would be set free? Would that be a moral act? Or any other nightmare scenario you can dream up. Hopefully you see that we are not permitted to do evil, monstrous things even to bring about a great good.

Okay, enough of killing, rape and torture! On to Bubble Awards!!!

I can't award a Grand Prize because it was a huge tie!

So, some lesser awards, but still worth a place on your mantle:

The How'd She Do That?! Award goes to Lowly, for pulling a perfectly relevant Aristotle quote out of her head, clarifying a double effect scenario for another contestant, and profoundly declaring that "utilitarianism is yucky" all while working with a broken right shift button!

On the other hand, Lowly also gets the Laziness Is No Excuse For Bad Grammar Award! Congratulations, Lowly, I believe yours is the first "Double Bubble"!

The I Thought It Was M*A*S*H And Not Ann Frank....Could Someone Clarify That? Award goes to Beth and Brenda! (Actually, that is not really an award as much as it is a question from me. Anyone know for sure?)

The Ex-Patriot In The Swiss Timezone Early Advantage Award goes to Monica! With extra points for going from deist to Catholic catechumen in 0 - 60 days! 

And, finally, the You People Are Really Stupid Award goes to Jenny, for reminding us all that there is more than one way out of a terrorist hostage situation anyway!

Thanks for playing along, and I'll see you all for the next installment of Doctrinal Quiz Show!


  1. Laughing so hard....Tell the woman that told her daughter yes, that it was her daughter that was to die, and not just "somebody else".

  2. YES! I'M RICH, I'M RICH! Oh no wait, that's not how this works...

  3. It was reward enough to actually come up with the right answer for once and even be quoted! Okay, sort of. I still want a gold star, but whatever :) Thanks for the interesting convo I could actually participate in!

  4. Whoo hooo! I'm sure the iPhone has an app for situations just like this!! He he!

    I was really going to say what Megan said... we were at the same talk by two of out favorite priests in the diocese. :)

    I think the biggest award really goes to Monica!!! Way to become Catholic!!!!!!!! Super whooo hooo!!

  5. Thanks for clearing up my confusion! I was stressed thinking about this yesterday! haha
    Jenny, they really should create a "Priest in your pocket" app!! I would get an iPhone just for that! ;)

  6. Hey Leila, I'm sure Beth is correct. But since I'm not up on my book learning, I have to refer to television:) The final episode of MASH had an incident in which Hawkeye went to the nuthouse b/c of a situation on a bus where he and the other passengers were being boarded by the Korean Army. Hawkeye sat next to a Mother and infant and of COURSE the infant was crying/making noise. The mother suffocated the child right in front of him so the soldiers wouldn't become angry or hostile and kill her or others I'm guessing.

    Good episode:)

  7. I'm so sad that the others in the class got this wrong! What is with people????

    I had a course in college that had a similar situation. The scenario was this:

    You were the king of a country that neighbored a country of savages. The savages routinely practiced sacrifices of the women and children to honor the gods. Do you send your army in to stop the brutal killing of innocent people?

    EVERYONE in my class said NO. They all said "who are we to judge another culture. If this is what they've been doing for years then we shouldn't try to stop them. It would be pompous of us to assume that our way of life (ie NOT KILLING INNOCENT PEOPLE) was better than theirs."

    WHAT?? I was literally the only one who said we needed to try and stop them. My teacher (who I think agreed with me) said, "wow-you must be a pretty black and white thinker." "Yes sir, I am!"

    Great quiz!

  8. Jenny and that iphone! She'd be so lost without it.

    Yep - that was in the last episode of M*A*S*H. Worse series finale ever (Brenda and I disagree on that). I had never heard about that with Anne Frank.

  9. I hope this comment doesn't show up twice - and wish I would have copied it before I clicked "publish your comment" ;) - but I'll try again!
    I am worried it sounded like I was asking if or implying that someone commits suicide when he/she offers up his/her life so that other people will live! I definitely didn't mean that.. here's what I was thinking of...I'll refer to "the button" as a trigger on a gun, to simplify it...
    If the terrorist gave me a gun and told me if I pulled the trigger on myself he wouldn't kill everyone, and then I did pull the trigger on myself... then wouldn't that be suicide? Wouldn't that be a "no"?... but if I said the terrorist could kill me and spare everyone else, that would be moral and even saintly..?

  10. Mary, you are exactly right. It would be suicide to pull the trigger on yourself. But if you offered yourself to the terrorists, it is on their heads if they killed you... that would be sacrificing yourself for the others, but not suicide.

    Kaitlin, that's awful! But that is what is taught in colleges today... All cultures are equally moral (except ours, which is bad). I think Gwen could speak more about that as a liberal in the social sciences.

    I remember the MASH episode. Horrifying.

  11. DANG! Look what I missed by missing just one or two days!!

    Oh, are y'all talking about the MASH episode with the chicken? (Don't you just HATE people who come in in the middle of a conversation and start asking questions, haha!)
    Man, that was a horrible (and fantastic in its message/acting/writing/directing) episode.

    I was having a discussion with a coworker not long ago about abortion. He brought up the old "save the life of the mother" chestnut.
    He couldn't BELIEVE I was against abortion in that situation as well as all others.
    I said, "So you're saying the mother's life is superior to the child's life? So, if the child is three years old, is it okay for the mother to push the child off of a sinking liferaft in the middle of the Atlantic to save her own life?" Life of the mother! Life of the mother! Eleventy!!111!!!
    And if so, WHAT makes her life superior? Her largeness? If that's so, my life is superior to the Roloff's lives, your life is superior to mine and I can be sacrificed to save you, and Shaq's life is superior to ALL of ours.
    What a morally deficient argument.

    Life is sacred, and NO ONE has the right to take it. Not the abortionist, not the cancer-stricken mother, not the executioner at the State Prison, and not the Roman soldiers on Good Friday.


  12. Woo wee I loved that rant!!!!!! It was awesome!

  13. Yep, Anne Frank. I've never seen an episode of MASH :)

  14. Yeesssss...two awards. I am so glad my shift button was broken!

  15. Cathy, yes, you are remembering right. He kept telling people she smothered a chicken to keep it quiet, but it was a baby!

    And it was kind of a heavy ending. Shouldn't they have all been having Martini's, Ann?

  16. Brenda,

    Wasn't she, like, under such duress that she actually THOUGHT she was carrying a chicken?
    Gosh, it's been a long time since I've seen that episode.
    I can't even remember what I had for lunch yesterday, much less a TV show from 25 years ago, ha!
    My dad and I used to watch MASH when it came on. Can't recall the night but I do seem to recall it was aired at 7PM.

  17. Cathy, I think it was Hawkeye that was so traumatized by it that his mind made him believe it was only a chicken. Until he finally faced the truth that it was a baby. I think that's how it went down.

  18. Thank you for covering this. This is also a huge problem in our public discourse today. Rationing of health care is justified because of the "ends justifies the means" agenda. The thinking that the ends justifies the means always leads to gulags and concentration camps if taken to the grand scale of national policy. Good job, Leila!

  19. Oh yay! My answer got a mention! I am honored! :-D Congrats to all who won an award.


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