Wednesday, January 18, 2012

An Ethical Dilemma

I'm really hoping people will give me some of their answers to this below. I need some interaction on this one. If you don't want to leave your answer on the blog, feel free to email your answer to me. It would just help in order to give me some examples of ways people work through this problem and show the various assumptions and beliefs we have in making ethical decisions in general. So here it goes:

Imagine that a Jihadist group in Turkey took possession of a nuclear warhead and a missile capable enough to deliver it to the Eastern seaboard of the United States. It’s target area is occupied by 3,000 children. Now, we only know that the missile’s location in terms of a very broad area, so if we are to stop it, we would have to send over our own nuclear warhead to cover that entire area. Ironically, it is also occupied by 3,000 children. You then find out that there are 3,000 children that will be killed if you stop the imminent nuclear attack on the U.S. If you stop the attack, you will save the 3,000 Turkish children, but by doing so, you will sacrifice the lives of 3,000 American children. Either way, 3.000 children will die because of your decision. What do you do (and, no, you can’t come up with a different scenario in order to save both groups—this isn’t Star Trek and you’re not Captain Kirk)? More importantly, how do you reach your decision concerning what you should do? In other words, upon what basis, and by what moral imperatives, do you make your decision? Is it merely arbitrary who you choose to live? Is it based on “us” versus “them”? How do you decide? And is your decision moral or immoral, depending upon which way you go, and how you get there?


  1. well, since I'm super smart--smarter then Captain Kirk--I immediately thought of a few options that would save both groups, but since that is not allowed in your situation. I think I would say that we should send a nuclear bomb to destroy the bomb they were going to use on the United States. This is not an "us versus them" decision, but rather an "innocent" country protecting itself from an evil act. Those children and others who die as a result are not dieing due to the United States deciding to murder, but rather are dieing due to self defense. This is not less tragic, but seems more ethical to me.

    Now here's a question for you--would you steal a loaf of bread to feed your starving family? I would not steal the bread AND feed my starving family--ethical dilemma solved thanks to Dwight Schrute. :)

  2. But why would you say it's more ethical. It sounds reasonable to me, but where are you getting the ethic that Group A if attacked by Group B is more ethical in wiping out Group B than Group B is for attacking Group A?
    In other words, where does the ethic that killing the innocent in the defense of the innocent is justifiable come from? And if you do nothing, is that not also killing the innocent by way of passivity? Isn't it really that we view the Jihadist's as absolutely wrong in their beliefs and actions, and if so, how do we know they are wrong? Where are we getting this information?

    BTW, I would actually have a bear steal my bread to feed my family because bears can climb trees even faster than they run on land. Hence, they have a greater chance of getting away. Beets, Bears, Battlestar Galactica.

  3. I think of more than just the 3,000 children that would be killed in either scenario. I think of what could "likely" happen after a strike either way. There's going to be more casualties afterward, but which action will reduce the number of casualties?

    I'd obtain irrefutable proof of the eminent jihadist attack that any honest person would stipulate to and then issue the command order to make a pre-emptive strike to defend the country.

    Moral basis for decision:

    #1. As Commander-in-Chief I have the duty to save the lives of my constituents.

    #2. Self-Defense in the face of unprovoked agression is moral. (Recall that there was a teen-age married mother in Oklahoma who shot and killed an intruder to protect her baby and herself. There were no charges.)

    #3. Pre-emptive self-defense *hopefully* sends a message of deterrence that will be intelligently received by jihadists. And that such preventive measures will be done again in the future. Also, should jihadist attacks occur in the future, then guarantee that retaliatory strikes on Islamic territory will be several orders of magnitude worse for them than for the United States.

    Eg., Tell them that if Iran nukes Boston, Massachusetts, then the entire country of Iran is nuked. Harm a baby, then your entire city is wiped out.

    And if that line of reasoning doesn't work with the jihadist agressor bully, then it merely confirms that the initial decision to defend the lives of my countrymen was indeed correct.

  4. I usually try to just think: What would Jack Bauer do?

  5. He would throw himself on the nuke, it would explode, but he would then be back in the next episode when we find out he was wearing a nuke-proof vest.