Monday, July 27, 2020

Which roommate would you prefer?

We think there is a moral difference between killing someone and letting them die.
However the cases may not be so different. Imagine Smith, who stands to inherit money if his six year old cousin dies. He finds him in the bathtub and drowns him.
Jones, on the other hand, stands to inherit similarly, but sees the child slip and fall, and he lets the child die. Both men’s actions are directed toward the same goal, but one of them actively causes the child’s death, and the other does not.
Rachels says there isn’t. The two people have the same intentions. The difference has to do with what opportunities each had.
However, James Wallace, my instructor at University of Illinois at Urbana, argued against this. He asked us to consider two roommates. One of them is willing to kill you. The other won’t kill you, but is prepared to let you die. Which would you prefer as your roommate? Amanda Knox? 


Starhopper said...

Not much of a choice, it seems to me.

Hal said...

I would prefer the one who would let me die. If by mischance I was placed in a situation where I needed help to preserve my life, I take it that both of them would let me die. Whereas, with the one willing to kill me I would have the additional worry that he would bring about my death.

Kevin said...

What Hal said. You can go to sleep around the one who would let you die.

Victor Reppert said...

Does it follow from this that there IS a morally relevant difference between killing someone and letting someone die?

Hal said...

My decision regarding roommates did not involve a moral judgement. It was a practical decision based on my reasoned conclusion that I would have a better chance of surviving with the one who would let me die. So I'm not sure it is applicable to the earlier scenario.

A moral agent's action can consist of doing something or of refraining from doing something. So in the first scenario I would consider both of them to be equally culpable for the death of the child.

Kevin said...

I don't really equate action and inaction.

Say three men are arrested for a theft. Johnson is innocent while Smith and Jones are guilty.

Smith knows that Johnson is innocent, so he tells this to the police. Jones also knows that Johnson is innocent, but he also knows there is video evidence of the theft, so he says nothing, knowing Johnson will be vindicated by the video.

Did Jones' inaction put him on the same moral level as Smith's action, despite both resulting in the same thing? I think not.

Interestingly enough, inaction does not look good in a moral light from multiple perspectives. Being lukewarm will get you spit right out!

Hal said...

Legion of Logic,
I don't really equate action and inaction.

I agree.

But I don't see how this negates the point I was making: a moral agent's action can consist of doing something or refraining from doing something. But the doing or not doing is only one element in moral action. One also has to consider such things as the reasons for the agent's action, his intentions, his capacity to do or not do something, the situation in which he acted, etc.

Of course, when one refrains from doing one thing then they can also be said to be doing something else. What Jones did do was keep his mouth shut. And the person who let the child die stood by and watched him die. I didn't make that clear in my earlier post. I think it would have been better if I had said that an agent's act can consist of doing or refraining from doing something.

Not sure I agree with you about being lukewarm. Would you describe the man who let the child die as lukewarm?

One Brow said...

Does having a "moral difference" allow for different degrees of wrongness? Can we say the man who lets the child die is wrong to a slightly lesser degree than the active murderer?

Starhopper said...

Dante certainly thought there were degrees of wrongness, as illustrated by his Inferno having multiple circles of increasing evil, beginning with the second circle of lust and descending to the ninth circle of treachery. And several circles were themselves divided into finer levels of depravity (especially the eighth, into ten sublevels). And even individual sinners in each circle were subjected to differing levels of punishment.

St. Paul wrote that there were differing degrees of glory (the opposite of guilt). "There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory."
(1 Corinthians 15:41)