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The moral mathematics of letting people die

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Imagine that, while walking along a pier, you see two strangers drowning in the sea. Lo and behold, you can easily save them both by throwing them the two life preservers located immediately in front of you. Since you can’t swim and no one else is around, there is no other way these folks will survive.To throw in just one life preserver would be to save one person while allowing the other to die pointlessly. That would be morally wrong. Though you’d have saved someone you could have allowed to die, that does not make it permissible to let the other person die. You would be morally blameworthy, not praiseworthy, for throwing in one rather than both life preservers.Now imagine you are in a different situation. Again you are on a pier. There is one stranger drowning to your left, and two others drowning to your right. You have no life preservers to throw in, only a single life raft. You can easily push the raft into the water to your left, saving the one person, or to your right, saving the other two. There is no other way any of these folks will survive, and, tragically, there is no way all three will.Suppose that, in full awareness of the situation, and without prejudice towards anyone in particular, you decide to help the one stranger over the two – you are an “innumerate altruist” in that you simply want to help someone, but without regard for who or how many. In saving the one over the other two you are not letting the two die pointlessly. You are saving someone who would have died if you had instead saved the two to your right.What you do is nonetheless wrong. Since you cannot save all three strangers, you must balance their competing claims to your help. The left person’s claim to be helped is balanced by one claim on the right, leaving one other claim on the right unbalanced. You are thereby morally required to save those on the right side of the pier, and are morally blameworthy for failing to give due weight to each person’s claim. Even if your heart is in. . .

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News source: OUPblog » Philosophy

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