Moral dilemma: rescuing the miners, rescuing the babies:




The babies are not cognizant that some are being chosen to be saved, whereas the adults are fully aware of being selected. In such a circumstance the morally just action is to attempt a rescue of all the miners.


I think I would have to go for strategy 2, this gives all an equal chance and has a 50% chance of also saving 50% of them from suffering from a nasty case of survivor's guilt.


: 1. It is good to save a life. 2. You are not culpable for attempting to do something and failing (ought implies can). So it's better to choose strategy 2 over strategy 1 in both cases, because that strategy attempts to save more lives. Whether it succeeds or not, it's the better choice.

I think the 50% figure is misleading, because there's a difference between 50% of miners or babies (where it's a fraction) and 50% chance of success (where it's a probability p = 0.5).


What I think isn't sufficiently addressed in these kind of abstract moral dilemmas (the "would you kill a guy to save five others" style particularly, but this as well) is that making a conscious choice to kill a person (or let them die for sure) is kinda frowned upon, isn't it?

The "I tried to save them all" guy is still a hero even if he fails, and the "I chose death for 50 babies" guy will never be very popular at parties no matter the outcome.


The dilemma is inherently flawed, as one cannot know the certainty of any particular strategy’s success.

Also, there is no consideration of the costs of the strategies. If it costs $1M for a 50% shot at saving all of them vs. $1000 for a 100% chance to save half, that’s definitely going to enter into the CBA. These are semi-skilled workers, or in the case of the babies completely unskilled and easily replaceable.


Easy. You shoot the hostage.


Uhh... I reaaaallly hope you're joking, but in case you're not... there's this thing called basic human empathy, wherein we value a human life irrespective of its material worth.

Rescue operations place as much emphasis on preserving life and as little emphasis on tangible cost as possible, because empathy drives us to value human life at a rate far greater than (or at least incomparable to) that of money. That's not to say cost is a non-issue, but it typically is so minor a concern as to be easily dismissed.

Anyone who trades lives for resources in any situation where the presence or lack of those resources themselves does not demonstrably endanger the lives of others is acting pretty monstrously. "Sorry folks, it's too expensive to save your loved ones - we'd rather put the funds to other budgetary concerns" is a sure fire way to get removed from a position of authority and decision making.


I'd say my personal deontologist view that I have developed through careful reading of some shit on the web is that I am morally responsible for those I doom but not those I fail to save in both cases.

Strategy 2.


There isn't. In both cases your mathematical expectation is 50 saved miners (or babies).


Option 2.

It looks like most people are going for 2, so would your answer be the same if there was only a 45% chance?


This logic is faulty because it intentionally ignores the probability of success. The reason why this is faulty can be illustrated by changing the numbers in the original premise:


  • Option 1: You have a 100% chance of saving 99 of the miners (with the remaining miner certain to die).
  • Option 2: You have a 1% chance of saving all 100 miners (and a 99% chance that all will die).

Your logic ("the strategy that attempts to save more lives is better, whether it succeeds or not") dictates that Option 2 is better, but I doubt that many would agree. In short, you must consider the probability of success when making your decision.


Need more information: do all 100 babies die if you choose option 2 and fail? Or do you have a 50% chance of saving each individual baby?


By your reasoning it would be a better strategy even if, with average luck, those who used that strategy had only a 10% chance of saving 100% of the miners or the babies, and if those who used the other strategy had a 100% chance of saving 90%.


Good point. But that it's not the deciding factor at 1/99 doesn't prove it's irrelevant at 50/50. If "attempting to save lives" can seem a good reason to choose 2 in the 50/50 case, and an obviously bad reason in the 1/99 case, then it might still be a valuable consideration, just not a universal trump card. For all the people who agree with PatrickD for the 50/50 case, I'd be interested in seeing at what point they change their mind as they're presented increasingly imbalanced odds: 49/51? 45/55? 25/75? Then you'd get a good idea of how highly they value that virtue.


I'd still pick option 2.


Option 1: you save exactly half. Option 2: you either save 100 or 0.

I'm not sure 50%/baby makes much of a difference, though. It's still 50/50 whether you come out better or worse than #1, it just won't be by the full amount possible.


In light of the responses so far, it's interesting to me that I went immediately for option 1.
My logic was: option 1 guarantees lives being saved, whereas option 2 doesn't.


Here's a radical idea in the miners' case. Ask them.


Easy to agree with when people are presently trapped. But people do this all the time before the fact when they risk their own or others' physical and mental safety to cut costs. (Mining is actually a pretty good example of this.) We have to legislate and enforce safety rules exactly because a lot of people think the trade-off is perfectly acceptable.