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Q: moral murder? ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   23 Comments )
Subject: moral murder?
Category: Miscellaneous
Asked by: jeraboo-ga
List Price: $30.00
Posted: 28 Oct 2006 11:13 PDT
Expires: 27 Nov 2006 10:13 PST
Question ID: 777814
If you accept Bill Gate's premise that $100 can save a life in the
developing world, and if you subscribe to the conventional morality
that it is justifiable to take a life in order to save many lives,
would there be anything wrong with killing your old aunt, inheriting
her million dollars and donating $300 of the money to the Bill and
Melinda Gates Foundation?
Subject: Re: moral murder?
Answered By: pafalafa-ga on 28 Oct 2006 15:32 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Oh, all right, jeraboo-ga.  I'll answer your @$#%*& question, though
I'm rather expecting a fairly lengthy round of clarification requests.

>>tell me if you would give the kids the life preserver<<

If the life preserver were mine to give, then I'd probably toss it to
the kids, rather than to your aunt.

But if your aunt had the life preserver, and you're asking if I'd yank
it away from her to save the kids, then....yikes!  I expect that I
wouldn't, unless the three kids were my kids, in which case all bets
are off.

But in truth, I don't know what I'd do.  It's that kind of 'Sophie's
Choice' sort of situation where (a) there are no good choices, and (b)
a person's moral compass doesn't offer much help, and (c) one never
knows quite what they'd do until they're forced with confronting the

>>why my analogy is flawed?<<

Up to now, I haven't said your analogy is flawed.  I merely said you
would be committing murder, and would undoubtedly be arrested, tried
and convicted of doing so.

But since you asked, then, yes...I think your analogy is quite flawed.

I think the main flaw is this:  If you feel that more money from
wealthy people should be redistributed to poor people to save lives,
then there are numerous morally teneable options to pursue to bring
this about, other than killing your aunt:

--you can redistribute your own money, instead of frittering it away
at Google Answers

--you can advocate for social changes, such as new taxes, or more
foreign aid, or changes to policies at the World Bank, instead of
offing your aunt (an option which potentially leverages billions
rather than just a few hundred dollars)

--at the very least, you could have stolen $300 from your aunt and
made your donation, rather than taking her life in the process.

A second flaw is that you seem to have reduced morality to a mere body's OK to trade X lives for Y lives, as long as Y>X.

The moral calculus is generally more complex than that.

There are many other things that many other human beings consider
important, valuable, moral and good.  Among them are the rights of an
individual to live their life, and the right to ownership of private

You've rather cavalierly dismissed these as morally minor items, next
to the moral righteousness of saving lives.

But I would say it's hard to morally justify the taking of an
individual's life -- or even the forceful taking of their property --
even when it could mean saving other lives.

And the things that make it morally untenable are the things I
mentioned already -- there are other options to pursue, and other
moral goods to consider.

Jonathan Swift once suggested we feed the poor people of the world by
killing the *other* poor people, and serving them up as meals, and end
poverty in the bargain by making the children's flesh a marketable

And what's the flaw in that, you may ask...?

Let me know your thoughts on all this.


Request for Answer Clarification by jeraboo-ga on 28 Oct 2006 15:47 PDT
If the life preserver were yours to give, you'd give it to the kids.
So the determining factor morally is who has property rights over the
floaty? Last clarification request.

Clarification of Answer by pafalafa-ga on 28 Oct 2006 15:55 PDT
>>So the determining factor morally is who has property rights over the

No.  There is no single determining factor.  Instead, there are a host
of factors that all get weighted and considered in what I had earlier
termed a 'calculus' of moral decision-making.

Property rights isn't quite the issue here.  If the 'floaty' were in
someone's house, and not mine to give, I'd smash the window without
hesitation, steal the floaty, and save someone who was drowning,
property rights be hanged.

>>Last clarification request<<

No need for that.  It's a quiet evening, and my earlier whining aside,
I'm sort of enjoying this.

Next move is up to you.

jeraboo-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars

Subject: Re: moral murder?
From: tisme-ga on 28 Oct 2006 11:58 PDT
Conventional morality that it is justifiable to take a life in order
to save many lives? I think this might be more accurately interpreted
as the use of force to protect others from harm. I think your
interpretation bends the commonly accepted principle of justifiable
homicide. Also, how do you know the aunt wouldn't have given her
million dollars to save 10,000 people the next day after the supposed
murder was to have taken place? It all comes down to your personal
standards but I don't buy that you have a valid argument here.
Subject: Re: moral murder?
From: jeraboo-ga on 28 Oct 2006 12:07 PDT
Would you agree that the use of lethal force to protect others from
death is generally acceptable? In this case, the use of lethal force
is against the aunt in order to protect children in the 3rd world from
death. Morally, is there anything worse here than the President
ordering the air force to shoot down a 737 full of innocent passengers
heading towards the world trade center? Also, the aunt was going to
leave the money to her cats.
Subject: Re: moral murder?
From: tisme-ga on 28 Oct 2006 12:18 PDT
There is a big difference with shooting down a 737 full of innocent
passengers heading toward the world trade center to save thousands and
intentionally killing an innocent aunt. One aspect of this difference
is that other options are available.
Subject: Re: moral murder?
From: jeraboo-ga on 28 Oct 2006 12:25 PDT
But by killing my aunt and saving 3 lives (or a net 2 lives) haven't I
made the world a better place that someone who doesnt kill their aunt
but lets those two kids die of smallpox?
Subject: Re: moral murder?
From: usrhlp-ga on 28 Oct 2006 12:44 PDT
You don't seem to like your aunt very much, perhaps a bank robbery
might be a better idea?

Subject: Re: moral murder?
From: keystroke-ga on 28 Oct 2006 12:52 PDT
Let's say $100 can save a life. 

But is it a good life?  Maybe your aunt was a philanthropist.  Maybe
she was a piano teacher who had 3 or 4 little kids that she gave
lessons to every week whose lives she really affected and would be
devastated by her murder.  Maybe there were even just a few people she
saw every week who were happy to see her face on a weekly basis. Out
of the particular kids in Africa that are saved from smallpox by that
$300, maybe one of them grows up to be the president of that African
country and turns around and kills thousands of people in a mass
genocide.  Did you really save anyone? Even if  one of those kids
turns around and kills only three people, you're down for the count in
the numbers game.

You could just convince your aunt to donate $300 to the Gates
Foundation, or "adopt" one of those children for $30 a month. That
might be a bit easier and get the job done just as well!

Also, if this was done, you'd have to prepare yourself for someone
coming along and killing you for your money to donate $300 to the
Gates Foundation.
Subject: Re: moral murder?
From: jeraboo-ga on 28 Oct 2006 13:21 PDT
keystroke-ga, if you were given the choice to increase or decrease the
rate of vaccinations for smallpox in Africa, which would you choose?
If you choose to decrease it, you must agree that the $300 donation
would be desireable. Even without being able to predict the unintended
consequences, I'm sure you'd still consider the donation desireable
right now. If your philosophy is that the results of any action cannot
be predicted because of the unintended consequences factor going off
into infinity, then killing my aunt would have no more moral
signifigance from a utilitarian standpoint than changing the channel
on my tv set or brushing my hair. BTW, the aunt in question is a
bitter old codger with no friends, universally despised by her family.
In addition, her quality of life is very low. While $1 million brings
her very little pleasure, it could make all of my dreams come true and
solve all of my problems. I'd be adding net happiness into the world.
And helping the kids of course. Will my self enrichment bother those
saved children?
Subject: Re: moral murder?
From: barneca-ga on 28 Oct 2006 13:38 PDT
i assume that after you pull this off, you would agree that someone
else would have a moral right to kill you, steal all your money, and
donate another $300 to bill gates?

Subject: Re: moral murder?
From: jeraboo-ga on 28 Oct 2006 13:44 PDT
i agree this is true whether i killed her or not.
Subject: Re: moral murder?
From: pafalafa-ga on 28 Oct 2006 13:52 PDT

With everyone else sounding off, I figure I might as well add my 2 cents as well.

You seem to be looking for some indisputable argument for or against
your proposition.  But morality doesn't work that way.

At one time or another, all sorts of things considered reprehensible
have been routinely accepted by societies -- slavery, murder,
persecution, genocide, torture (the last of which seems to be making a
comeback!).  What eventually made these things immoral was the
collective judgement of society.

That same collective judgement is pretty unambiguous when it comes to
you killing your aunt.  It would be deemed murder most foul, and you
would be arrested, tried, convicted, and locked up for a good long

Might that social judgment be different in, say, a hundred years?  

Perhaps.  Our morality changes all the time...just think about the
acceptability/unacceptability of things like apartheid, abortion,
capital punishment, gay marriage, euthanasia.

Who knows...we might one day look back on our meat eating days as the
height of moral outrageousness!

But as things now stand, the answer to your question seems quite
clear.  Your scenario is murder, plain and simple.

Subject: Re: moral murder?
From: jeraboo-ga on 28 Oct 2006 14:13 PDT
I'm not asking if killing my Aunt would be illegal or if the majority
of American's would deem it immoral. I know the answers to those
questions. I'm just asking if it would be wrong to do it. Actually,
how can you morally justify not doing it? If somebody is drowning and
you don't toss them a life preserver, that is tantamount to drowning
them yourself. Inaction has consequences. The kids who need vaccine
are analagous to the drowning swimmer. Picture 3 kids treading water
together, without much time left. Now picture my aunt (hopefully not
in a bathing suit) treading water. There's only one life preserver. My
aunt's a big woman and needs the entire life preserver just to keep
her afloat. All 3 kids can survive with it. I know what all of you
guys would do. You'd take it from her and toss it to the kids. You
just killed her to save the kids. And don't complicate this with the
"they might grow up to be Hitler" argument or by saying, "just pull
her into the boat". These are diversions to avoid the uncomfortable
realization that every one of you would kill that lady. Now tell me
how my scenario is different. Why, because the kids are thousands of
miles away. Money, like the life preserver, is finite.
Subject: Re: moral murder?
From: pafalafa-ga on 28 Oct 2006 14:26 PDT
>>I'm not asking if killing my Aunt would be illegal...I'm just asking
if it would be wrong to do it<<

But illegal acts are the codification of what we -- collectively --
deem to be very wrong acts.

If you're not willing to accept this collective moral judgement, then
whose judgement are you looking for? Mine?  If you want it, I'll glady
give it to you and collect your fifteen bucks.

Subject: Re: moral murder?
From: jeraboo-ga on 28 Oct 2006 14:28 PDT
Would you give the kids the life preserver or not?
Subject: Re: moral murder?
From: jeraboo-ga on 28 Oct 2006 14:32 PDT
OK, you can charge it. But please tell me if you would give the kids
the life preserver and also why my analogy is flawed?
Subject: Re: moral murder?
From: jeraboo-ga on 28 Oct 2006 14:37 PDT
I meant, "please charge it".
Subject: Re: moral murder?
From: czh-ga on 28 Oct 2006 14:49 PDT
Hello jeraboo-ga.

You've posed an interesting and emotionally charged question. Recently
I heard a  discussion of the brain imaging studies by Joshua Greene on
the subject of moral decision-making. I think his finding offer a lot
of food for thought.


~ czh ~
Joshua D. Greene
Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology, Harvard University

I study moral decision-making using behavioral methods coupled with
neuroimaging (fMRI).  My research focuses on the interplay between
emotional and "cognitive" processes in moral judgment.

Moral Dilemmas and the "Trolley Problem"
The moral dilemmas that I use in my experiments  are often adapted
from dilemmas devised by philosophers to probe our moral intuitions. 
The most famous example of these is the "Trolley Problem," which goes
like this:

    A runaway trolley is hurtling down the tracks toward five people
who will be killed if it proceeds on its present course. You can save
these five people by diverting the trolley onto a different set of
tracks, one that has only one person on it, but if you do this that
person will be killed. Is it morally permissible to turn the trolley
and thus prevent five deaths at the cost of one?   Most people say
yes.  Now consider a slightly different dilemma. Once again, the
trolley is headed for five people. You are on a footbridge over the
tracks next to a large man. The only way to save the five people is to
push this man off the bridge and into the path of the trolley.  Is
that morally permissible?  Most people say no.

    These two cases create a puzzle for moral philosophers:  What
makes it okay to sacrifice one person for the sake of five others in
the first case but not in the second case? But there is also a
psychological puzzle here: How does everyone know (or "know") that
it's okay to turn the trolley but not okay to push the man off the
bridge?  My collaborators and I have collected brain imaging data
suggesting that emotional responses are an important part of the
answer. (Click here to download the paper.)
Brain imaging sheds new light on decision making
New technologies reveal how the brain makes moral decisions
Brain Imaging Study Sheds Light On Moral Decision-Making
In a study that combines philosophy and neuroscience, researchers have
begun to explain how emotional reactions and logical thinking interact
in moral decision-making.
Subject: Re: moral murder?
From: jeraboo-ga on 28 Oct 2006 15:48 PDT
In response to answer: If the life preserver were yours to give, you'd
give it to the kids. So the determining factor morally is who has
property rights over the floaty?
Subject: Re: moral murder?
From: keystroke-ga on 28 Oct 2006 17:25 PDT
"Who knows...we might one day look back on our meat eating days as the
height of moral outrageousness!"

As a vegetarian, I actually do look at meat-eating as moral
outrageousness-- and murder, as do many other people.

Jeraboo didn't say whether his aunt was a meat eater. If so, I believe
a better case could be made for her death being justifiable... (Just
kidding, folks!)

Jeraboo, I don't believe that murder is wrong in all instances.  If
someone was coming at me in an attempt to kill me, I'd kill them first
with no hesitation.  Most people would agree that killing Hitler would
not be a bad idea.  The problem here is that there seem to be other
ways to accomplish what you're after-- sending $300 to the Gates
Foundation-- without killing your aunt.
Subject: Re: moral murder?
From: jeraboo-ga on 28 Oct 2006 17:34 PDT
All right, this "you have other alternatives" argument is becoming
distracting so I'll tweak the scenario. I'm going to give $500,000 of
the $1m inheritance to the foundation. And I'm not smart or
industrious, so in my situation there is no other way to get a hold of
that kind of money. Now, I'm saving 5000 kids the only way I know how.
Now how can that be wrong? Or, as I said earlier, how could I live
with myself if I didn't go through with it?
Subject: Re: moral murder?
From: myoarin-ga on 28 Oct 2006 19:46 PDT
You have returned to the example of throwing the life ring, leaving
out the active killing of your aunt, the original premise.
Czh-ga has presented other examples of the moral/philosophical
problem.  As already pointed out, you cannot make an assumption about
what your aunt might do with her money.  If you were so convinced of
your argument, you could probably threaten her with a drawn weapon
into giving you the $300 or even more.  If she still had her wits
about her, she would question your good intentions and buy you off
with a check to the Gates Foundation.
If you were truly confinced of the validity of your argument, you
would be able to persaude her to donate her money.
You can't get at her 60 million by just killing her, you can only get
the cash in the house, and you might well find that it is more prudent
to use it to preserve your own life, which you probably value higher
than that of two unknowns in the third world.  Right?
I mean, if you get run in immediately, you will never have the chance
of donating the money, but if you use it to skip the border, maybe the
cash gets used up, but you still have your good intention of donating
$300 when you happen to have them again and can then donate them. 

So why did you kill your aunt?

Incidentally, one of the major moral philosophers, Immanuel Kant, said
that there is absolutely never, NEVER a justification for taking
another person's life, even in the much simpler case of saving someone
else's life by killing the person threatening him.
Subject: Re: moral murder?
From: pugwashjw65-ga on 29 Oct 2006 01:28 PDT
The Bible can give you an answer on this. When the expensive oil was
used on Jesus, Judas Escariot thought it would be better to sell the
oil and give the funds to the poor. But Jesus chastised him and stated
that the poor would always be there, but he, Jesus, would not.

(Matthew 26:6-13) While Jesus happened to be in Beth?a·ny in the house
of Simon the leper, 7 a woman with an alabaster case of costly
perfumed oil approached him, and she began pouring it upon his head as
he was reclining at the table. 8 On seeing this the disciples became
indignant and said: ?Why this waste? 9 For this could have been sold
for a great deal and been given to poor people.? 10 Aware of this,
Jesus said to them: ?Why do YOU try to make trouble for the woman? For
she did a fine deed toward me. 11 For YOU always have the poor with
YOU, but YOU will not always have me. 12 For when this woman put this
perfumed oil upon my body, she did it for the preparation of me for
burial. 13 Truly I say to YOU, Wherever this good news is preached in
all the world, what this woman did shall also be told as a remembrance
of her.?

Was Jesus being selfish?..No. He was giving credit the the
administering woman. And she has been remembered.

Also, the poor are catered for in that they will receive a
resurrection and then can make a choice [ the judgement] whether they
wish to obey Jesus [and ultimately Jehovah God] or not.

There is a principal here. Jesus said...YOU MUST NOT MURDER.
God himself will look after those suffering in the third worlds. And
His knowledge is really getting out there. But most are taking no

(Matthew 24:37-39) For just as the days of Noah were, so the presence
of the Son of man will be. 38 For as they were in those days before
the flood, eating and drinking, men marrying and women being given in
marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark; 39 and they
took no note until the flood came and swept them all away, so the
presence of the Son of man will be.
Subject: Re: moral murder?
From: keystroke-ga on 07 Nov 2006 10:45 PST
The Bible quote I think is more of an admonition to those who would
criticize: they could sell anything they had and give it to the poor
any time they wanted and they probably hadn't, yet they were so quick
to criticize that woman for not doing the same.

We're probably all guilty of the same offense at one time or another!
Subject: Re: moral murder?
From: pavlik-ga on 10 Nov 2006 21:18 PST
What gives you the right to donate only $300 or only $500,000 of your
aunt's money? If you truly believe that it's justifiable to kill one
to save many, you should be saving as many as you can (by donating the
entire million) otherwise you're killing her just for financial profit
and using the "saving a life" scenario as a justification.

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