Thursday, September 23, 2010

Doctrinal Quiz Show! Moral Reasoning 101 (Or, What All Christians Used to Know)

Welcome once again to DQS!!! This Quiz Show is a bit different from the others. First, there are only two possible answers (but explanations may vary). Second, there is no holey soap prize!! That's right... even though a couple of sleuthy bloggers found a retail source for the exfoliating cleanser, I have decided that its plenitude would only serve to diminish the magic of receiving what used to be a rare and precious gift. However, the impressive and coveted Bubble Awards will still apply.  :)

My daughter is a sophomore in high school. A question came up in her Humane Letters class recently which caused quite a stir. Admittedly, it is an outlandish example that would never happen in real life, but it's a good academic exercise nevertheless. Give it a try:

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?

*PS and off-topic: I am worn out from everything that's happened on the blogs lately. I know many of you are, too. I pushed ahead with a new post because there's so much that I want to cover (and, my daughter has been asking me for a while to get this particular post published). But if it takes me a day or two to get back with the answer, please understand that I am decompressing. And processing. :)


  1. I'm going to go with "no". To do so would be to use only utilitarian logic, and utilitarianism is not a good basis for morality. To commit cold-blooded murder on an innocent person is intrinsically evil, regardless of what "good" may come of it.

    I'm going to quote Gahndi (Can I do that now that I'm turning Catholic?): "I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent."

    But I'm anxious to hear what the official response is!

    Also, this is an interesting article about the trolley analogy and morality.

  2. I can't morally push the button, KNOWING that I would be ending an innocent life. That would be taking an action that would directly lead to death. In this case, I think the omission of an action at least has the potential to save lives. Plus, do you really want to trust a terrorist?

    Hopefully the hostages and I could rise up and overwhelm those pesky terrorists... with hundreds of us, we're likely in the majority. :)

    This is one of those situations where you hope you could do the right thing, and have to pray to have the strength and grace to live it.

  3. p.s. I love living in Europe, as I usually get first go at the comments. :-)

  4. No because each life is precious. :)

  5. No--because then you are in control of ending a life. If you don't push the button and the terrorists do kill the whole group, then have taken the control and the grave sin is theirs.

    Okay, I'm going to nerd out here, and ask if anyone has seen The Dark Knight--there's a similar scene toward the end of that movie where there are two ferry boats, one with convicted criminals and one with regular people. The Joker gives each boat a detanator and says he will blow them both up by midnight if neither boat has used the detanator to blow up the other boat by that time. But if one boat blows up the other before midnight, then that boat gets to live. Very interesting. This reminds me of that.

  6. no. One can never willfully and purposefully take an innocent life. The ends don't justify the means. This is not the same as if the police go in and a hostage is killed while the terrorists are being subdued. The intent in that instance is to subdue the terrorists, not kill the hostage.

  7. sew - is your blog going private for good or just until the dust settles?

  8. No-it would not be morally acceptable to kill an innocent hostage to save the rest. This would place our lives over the value of this hostage's life. And place the NUMBER of lives above the respect and dignity and worth of an individual human being.

    It would, however, be acceptable to kill the terrorist, if possible. Since he is the one causing so many people harm and responsible for the danger the hostages are in. I can't articulate better why this is ok-explain this in your answer!

  9. No- You cannot place the value of one life over another. Or many in this case.

  10. You can't do anything at all. You can't make any decision b/c either one would take a life. Whether it's taking 1 life or 100 doesn't matter.

  11. No. You can't use ends (saving lives) to justify immoral means (ending life). If you start doing that, it becomes a slippery slope. We can only control our own actions, so we must make sure that those are in line with Church teaching. That means I can control only if I push the button and kill someone. I can't control what someone will do if I don't push the button. That is on their conscience. I will not be made an accomplice in that way. I have to do what I can live with, and I can't live with saving my own skin and harming others, even if it means saving others as well. There are worse things than death-such as an eternity in hell! Anyway, I have to be right with God in my actions is what I am saying, and I can't be responsible for killing even just one life, even if it is to save others.

  12. My first instinct would be to say no because every human life from conception to natural death is valuable, and the end can never justify the means if the means include taking a human life.

    However, I know that intent should also be taken into consideration. If your intent is to save the group not kill the person then it might be morally acceptable.

    A priest once gave the example of a casualty of war who was fatally wounded but still alive, and his fellow soldier had administered the highest dose of morphine possible without it being fatal, but the injured soldier was still in unbearable pain. So the other soldier was faced with a decision. If he upped the dose of morphine to relieve the pain, the soldier would surely die, but if he didn't the pain would continue to be excruciating.
    With the intent of relieving his fellow soldier's pain, the soldier administered the lethal dose of morphine, and the soldier died. However, since the intent was to relieve pain and not to kill, the soldier was not morally culpable for killing his friend.

    Ugh. This is why everyone needs to carry a priest around in a pocket...

    I'm going to go with no it is not okay....

  13. I'm going to say NO! It's not ok to end one life for the sake of others. You would still be murduring an innocent person for your own selfish reasons. Killing is wrong no matter what the reason is.

  14. No! Principalism, principalism, principalism! We work on moral truths; murdering one to save a hundred is not morally acceptable, it is murder. It is utilitarianism.

  15. No. You cannot destroy a life to save another one. Just like the idea with ectopic pregnancy.

  16. Hebrews - The Dark Knight was the first thing that popped into my mind! (It's one of my favorite movies!)

    And Leila - I agree with the consensus, no, it is not morally ok to kill one to save the others.

  17. No - thou shalt not kill. I think that says it all.

    However, it would be a difficult situation to be in. I think people would have a hard time rationalizing if I kill one person, all these people would live and I would live.

    Instead of killing someone else, if you were allowed to sacrifice yourself to save all the others...I wonder what the consequences would be?

  18. MTA: I believe Maximillian Kolbe did that - offered HIS OWN life in the place of another man's who had a family (concentration camp).

    No to the main question.

  19. Nope. This makes me think of the diary of Anne Frank when they were hiding in the room and the nazis came in. The Baby wouldn't stop crying so the mother smothered it to death to save the rest of them. That still gives me nightmares.
    But no, you can't make the decision to go against a commandment of God for a potential "lesser evil."

  20. no, like everyone said, that would utilitarianism, and utilitarianism is yucky.

    as to megan's priest's example...that would actually be the principle of double effect which doesn't apply in this case. the morphine produced double effects, that is 1. alleviation of pain and 2. death. the inent was for the alleviation of pain and the death just happened to happen so to speak.

    in our "dark knight" problem that we have here the double effect principle doesn't apply. even if your intent was to save the 100, killing the innocent 1 does not directly result in not killing the 100.

    on a related note, let's not forget what aristotle tells us: it is better to have injustice done upon you, than to do an act of injustice upon another!

    *sorry for no right shift button is broken and i am too lazy to use the left one*

  21. I too am tired. But here is my answer: 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.

  22. I'd pull out my iPhone and call 911!

  23. Oh man, Beth! I had forgotten about that until you said it! The Anne Frank thing, I mean.

    And I think they did that on a MASH episode too. :)

  24. I think I know this one!! Because it's not doctrine, it's more "logic" than anything :)

    Here goes:

    No, you cannot press the button. The reason is because you cannot ever INTENTIONALLY cause the death of another human being, even if the goal is to save 500 others. By pressing that button, YOU become responsible for the death of that one person, even if someone else pulls the trigger.
    In the end, if the whole group of people is killed, while it is a tragedy, you have morally done the "right thing." You did not INTENTIONALLY CAUSE the death of the whole group of people... because that is the free will of the terrorist to kill the whole group or not. (And, you never do know for sure, he just may NOT kill the whole group after all.) While, it is up to YOUR free will whether or not to kill the one person.

    It is a similar logic behind why a mother cannot choose to abort her baby if she is told her life and the baby's life are in danger and both will die if she does not abort. In the end, both may NOT die... but if she makes the choice to abort, the baby definately WILL die and that is intentional.

    Good question!

  25. No, morally speaking, it is not right to push the button... I would know that I'm killing an innocent person. It's not in my hands to make the decision to end someone else's life.
    And heck, a miracle could happen and the terrorist could change his/her mind - what if I'd already killed someone?!

    I have an extension to this question (And I honestly don't know the answer to this..?) - if I knew the button would kill ME and everyone else would live, would that be suicide or martyrdom? I'm guessing suicide...but if I told the terrorist to take me and he agreed to kill me and no one else, wouldn't that be martyrdom? Wow I am off on a tangent :-D

    I agree about the soap, by the way - you don't want to turn it into something where "everybody wins" and it loses it's glory ;) but darn it I wanted some of that soap!

    What a fabulous question!

  26. PS - AFTER I wrote my answer, I went back through and read the other answers, and I noticed that (gasp!) several people were reading each others answers before writing their own! HEY! That's cheating! haha ;) Just teasing!!!

  27. I saw the same thing, Mary!!!

    I think we should have half a hole of the holey soap to share for being the only honest ones :)

  28. we're not supposed to read eachother's answers?...?....?...oh, i get it...because it is a "quiz." well, sadly, it wouldn't be the first time i cheated.

  29. I don't blame you for being worn out, Leila. I don't blame you one bit.

    Love relating this to Maximilian Kolbe, Ann. Well done!

    And No. I agree with everyone else.

  30. No for all of the other reasons that I, gasp, have read! We are only accountable for ourselves. If the terrorists kill everyone because of something we did or didn't do, the onus is still on them.
    Sending you my love, 'see you in the a.m.!

  31. p.s. Check your spam folder again, because I think there are comments you refer to in the answer post, that are not here?


PLEASE, when commenting, do not hit "reply" (which is the thread option). Instead, please put your comment at the bottom of the others.

To ensure that you don't miss any comments, click the "subscribe by email" link, above. If you do not subscribe and a post exceeds 200 comments, you must hit "load more" to get to the rest.