Thursday, November 20, 2008

World Philosophy Day

It's that time of year again. The time to ponder life's greatest questions, paradoxes, and puzzles. World Philosophy Day.

This years it's in honor of the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, an international pact that guarantees the rights of individuals around the world.

Which leads to this little noodle cooker posted by the BBC today:


Suppose Bill is a healthy man without family or loved ones. Would it be ok painlessly to kill him if his organs would save five people, one of whom needs a heart, another a kidney, and so on? If not, why not?

Consider another case: you and six others are kidnapped, and the kidnapper somehow persuades you that if you shoot dead one of the other hostages, he will set the remaining five free, whereas if you do not, he will shoot all six. (Either way, he'll release you.)

If in this case you should kill one to save five, why not in the previous, organs case? If in this case too you have qualms, consider yet another: you're in the cab of a runaway tram and see five people tied to the track ahead. You have the option of sending the tram on to the track forking off to the left, on which only one person is tied. Surely you should send the tram left, killing one to save five.

But then why not kill Bill?

This is not merely a little mind melter to while away a few minutes, this is about the rights of the individual versus the rights of the collective. This has a dramatic effect on policy as governments wrestle with questions of when to punish groups or individuals for human rights violations. Where one stands on this question leads to different policies on a group's religious right to polygamy versus a woman's right to choose her mate, for example.

Voice your right to an opinion and let us know other instances of group vs. individual rights issues.

1 comment:

Tom said...

let this melt your mind. There are more monogamists than polygamists. and here's another scenario... Say there's one desirable man and 6 desiring women. What if his "wife" is a polyhating monogamist, but there other 5 are cool with it, do you save her marriage, or allow the other six to find joy in their marriage...


I know... it's tough to decide.
do you deny six human beings the right to choose their mates or do you allow one woman the right to restrict hers?