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Thought Experiment Tuesday - Innocent Threats and Laser Guns

Mercurial

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(Posting this today as I'll be spending all day tomorrow playing the new Total War game - so here's a thought experiment from the literature on the ethics of killing in war)


Most people (except extreme pacifists) believe that if someone is unjustly threatening your life, you are entitled to defend yourself, even if it means killing the Unjust Aggressor. (Your actions must be proportionate of course - if you can stop a would-be murderer by using non-lethal force, you should do so, if that would be just as easy as killing him, for example)

What is less clear is whether you have the right to defend yourself against what philosophers call an Innocent Threat. Here is an example of such a case:

You are stuck at the bottom of a well (having been trapped there by an evil philosopher). Bob is an innocent bystander, walking by the well, who hears your cries of help. As Bob peers into the well, the evil philosopher sneaks up behind Bob, and pushes him in too.

As Bob hurtles towards you, you have just enough time to consider your options:

1. You can shoot Bob with a laser gun - this will disintegrate Bob, killing him, but saving yourself.

2. You can do nothing, allowing Bob to land on you - this will save Bob, but you will die as you cushion his fall.

Do you shoot Bob, or let him land?

(The example is particularly silly, but it's also very straightforward. Philosophers use this as a starting point to consider the ethics of killing in war, where a person may have to choose whether to kill innocent threats in order to save their own life, or the lives of others)
 


Niall996

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Dec 5, 2011
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(Posting this today as I'll be spending all day tomorrow playing the new Total War game - so here's a thought experiment from the literature on the ethics of killing in war)


Most people (except extreme pacifists) believe that if someone is unjustly threatening your life, you are entitled to defend yourself, even if it means killing the Unjust Aggressor. (Your actions must be proportionate of course - if you can stop a would-be murderer by using non-lethal force, you should do so, if that would be just as easy as killing him, for example)

What is less clear is whether you have the right to defend yourself against what philosophers call an Innocent Threat. Here is an example of such a case:

You are stuck at the bottom of a well (having been trapped there by an evil philosopher). Bob is an innocent bystander, walking by the well, who hears your cries of help. As Bob peers into the well, the evil philosopher sneaks up behind Bob, and pushes him in too.

As Bob hurtles towards you, you have just enough time to consider your options:

1. You can shoot Bob with a laser gun - this will disintegrate Bob, killing him, but saving yourself.

2. You can do nothing, allowing Bob to land on you - this will save Bob, but you will die as you cushion his fall.

Do you shoot Bob, or let him land?

(The example is particularly silly, but it's also very straightforward. Philosophers use this as a starting point to consider the ethics of killing in war, where a person may have to choose whether to kill innocent threats in order to save their own life, or the lives of others)
You shoot him.
 

between the bridges

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ffs, if moi has a laser gun moi would shoot the evil philosopher and chuck him in the well, as for bob he can go f8ck himself...
 

Irish-Rationalist

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Apr 2, 2016
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3,205
(Posting this today as I'll be spending all day tomorrow playing the new Total War game - so here's a thought experiment from the literature on the ethics of killing in war)


Most people (except extreme pacifists) believe that if someone is unjustly threatening your life, you are entitled to defend yourself, even if it means killing the Unjust Aggressor. (Your actions must be proportionate of course - if you can stop a would-be murderer by using non-lethal force, you should do so, if that would be just as easy as killing him, for example)

What is less clear is whether you have the right to defend yourself against what philosophers call an Innocent Threat. Here is an example of such a case:

You are stuck at the bottom of a well (having been trapped there by an evil philosopher). Bob is an innocent bystander, walking by the well, who hears your cries of help. As Bob peers into the well, the evil philosopher sneaks up behind Bob, and pushes him in too.

As Bob hurtles towards you, you have just enough time to consider your options:

1. You can shoot Bob with a laser gun - this will disintegrate Bob, killing him, but saving yourself.

2. You can do nothing, allowing Bob to land on you - this will save Bob, but you will die as you cushion his fall.

Do you shoot Bob, or let him land?

(The example is particularly silly, but it's also very straightforward. Philosophers use this as a starting point to consider the ethics of killing in war, where a person may have to choose whether to kill innocent threats in order to save their own life, or the lives of others)
We've been pestered by 'evil philosophers' for years. Where I live is infested by them, and they're constantly trapping people in wells, then pushing innocent bystanders down into the wells too.......... Oh wait a minute. I might just be talking complete bollocks.
 

GDPR

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The experiment is really about what is called "contingent pacifism" ie that lethal force may only be used against an innocent threat if there is no other way the threat could be thwarted and the threat is indeed lethal.

Unless you can be absolutely sure that Bob will kill you, and you cant, then you have a moral obligation not to resist him if you are a "contingent pacifist".

What you should have done is to use your laser gun to chip a ladder into the stones of the well and climbed out yourself before Bob hove into view. Because people wont do any practical thinking and that is why we have wars and Bobs and evil philosophers complicating our lives.
 

Nitrogen

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Feb 12, 2016
Messages
1,016
(Posting this today as I'll be spending all day tomorrow playing the new Total War game - so here's a thought experiment from the literature on the ethics of killing in war)


Most people (except extreme pacifists) believe that if someone is unjustly threatening your life, you are entitled to defend yourself, even if it means killing the Unjust Aggressor. (Your actions must be proportionate of course - if you can stop a would-be murderer by using non-lethal force, you should do so, if that would be just as easy as killing him, for example)

What is less clear is whether you have the right to defend yourself against what philosophers call an Innocent Threat. Here is an example of such a case:

You are stuck at the bottom of a well (having been trapped there by an evil philosopher). Bob is an innocent bystander, walking by the well, who hears your cries of help. As Bob peers into the well, the evil philosopher sneaks up behind Bob, and pushes him in too.

As Bob hurtles towards you, you have just enough time to consider your options:

1. You can shoot Bob with a laser gun - this will disintegrate Bob, killing him, but saving yourself.

2. You can do nothing, allowing Bob to land on you - this will save Bob, but you will die as you cushion his fall.

Do you shoot Bob, or let him land?

(The example is particularly silly, but it's also very straightforward. Philosophers use this as a starting point to consider the ethics of killing in war, where a person may have to choose whether to kill innocent threats in order to save their own life, or the lives of others)
Firstly you are correct; The example is particularly silly, which makes me suspect that the real world utility value in any resolution to it is likely to be questionable.

Furthermore, I’m not convinced that the innocent threat scenario is necessarily relevant to the ethics of war.
The rationale behind pacifism, as I understand it at any rate, is that any killing, even that done in perceived self-defence, has the propensity to result in revenge killings, and thus a cycle of violence. But in this innocent threat scenario, the potential victim of one’s violence is not a belligerent themselves, hence the potential for escalating a cycle of violence is much reduced. That is not to say that there aren’t other ethical issues involved, eg competing right to life etc, but just that the ethics of war contain an added dimension not really addressed by this scenario.
 
D

Deleted member 17573

I would hope that I'd give my life to save Bob. Whether I would have the moral courage in such extreme and immediate circumstances is another question..

It would be great to use a laser gun though...
You can hardly make a fully informed decision unless you know that the gun works. So before you make the decision you will need to test fire it, and if poor Bob gets vapourised by the test firing, well that's tough, but it wasn't your fault because you had no other way of making a properly informed decision.
 

Mercurial

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Firstly you are correct; The example is particularly silly, which makes me suspect that the real world utility value in any resolution to it is likely to be questionable.

Furthermore, I’m not convinced that the innocent threat scenario is necessarily relevant to the ethics of war.
The rationale behind pacifism, as I understand it at any rate, is that any killing, even that done in perceived self-defence, has the propensity to result in revenge killings, and thus a cycle of violence. But in this innocent threat scenario, the potential victim of one’s violence is not a belligerent themselves, hence the potential for escalating a cycle of violence is much reduced. That is not to say that there aren’t other ethical issues involved, eg competing right to life etc, but just that the ethics of war contain an added dimension not really addressed by this scenario.
Consider, for example, a combatant who threatens your life, but only because he or she has been tricked or manipulated into believing that you pose an unjust threat to them, or because he or she has been forced to fight you against his or her will. It's plausible to think that actual wars involve many such people, who have been deceived or coerced into taking up arms for an unjust cause.
 

GDPR

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Consider, for example, a combatant who threatens your life, but only because he or she has been tricked or manipulated into believing that you pose an unjust threat to them, or because he or she has been forced to fight you against his or her will. It's plausible to think that actual wars involve many such people, who have been deceived or coerced into taking up arms for an unjust cause.
Whether their cause is just or unjust has little to do with the rationale behind "contingent pacificism."
 

RodShaft

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Jan 29, 2016
Messages
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(Posting this today as I'll be spending all day tomorrow playing the new Total War game - so here's a thought experiment from the literature on the ethics of killing in war)


Most people (except extreme pacifists) believe that if someone is unjustly threatening your life, you are entitled to defend yourself, even if it means killing the Unjust Aggressor. (Your actions must be proportionate of course - if you can stop a would-be murderer by using non-lethal force, you should do so, if that would be just as easy as killing him, for example)

What is less clear is whether you have the right to defend yourself against what philosophers call an Innocent Threat. Here is an example of such a case:

You are stuck at the bottom of a well (having been trapped there by an evil philosopher). Bob is an innocent bystander, walking by the well, who hears your cries of help. As Bob peers into the well, the evil philosopher sneaks up behind Bob, and pushes him in too.

As Bob hurtles towards you, you have just enough time to consider your options:

1. You can shoot Bob with a laser gun - this will disintegrate Bob, killing him, but saving yourself.

2. You can do nothing, allowing Bob to land on you - this will save Bob, but you will die as you cushion his fall.

Do you shoot Bob, or let him land?

(The example is particularly silly, but it's also very straightforward. Philosophers use this as a starting point to consider the ethics of killing in war, where a person may have to choose whether to kill innocent threats in order to save their own life, or the lives of others)
Life is more complex than this shít.

Reality (a concept you appear to have no more than a nodding acquaintance with, Mercurial) suggests that you would lie on your back feet up to try and protect yourself, or curl into a ball. Most of this decisions are left too late for rational thought, because we don't want to make a decision to kill. Therefore we react on instinct, which for most of us, is not to kill. In your example, you would still be pondering whether to shoot when Bob landed on you, because we delay such decisions until they are taken out of our hands.


Still trying to figure out why the fúck you appear to be paid for wasting everyone's time with shíte.
 

RodShaft

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The experiment is really about what is called "contingent pacifism" ie that lethal force may only be used against an innocent threat if there is no other way the threat could be thwarted and the threat is indeed lethal.

Unless you can be absolutely sure that Bob will kill you, and you cant, then you have a moral obligation not to resist him if you are a "contingent pacifist".

What you should have done is to use your laser gun to chip a ladder into the stones of the well and climbed out yourself before Bob hove into view. Because people wont do any practical thinking and that is why we have wars and Bobs and evil philosophers complicating our lives.
Well done.

I didn't think you had it in you.
 

RodShaft

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Consider, for example, a combatant who threatens your life, but only because he or she has been tricked or manipulated into believing that you pose an unjust threat to them, or because he or she has been forced to fight you against his or her will. It's plausible to think that actual wars involve many such people, who have been deceived or coerced into taking up arms for an unjust cause.
Plenty of such keyboard warriors on here.
 

GDPR

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Some people think that the justness of a person's cause affects their liability to defensive harm.
Yes they do Merc.

Which is why we scream our heads off about certain wars but not others.

Depending on whose side we are on which is of course the just side, because we are on it.

However it has little to do with Clumsy Bob or your inability to figure out to use a laser gun to get out of the well.
 

RodShaft

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Some people think that the justness of a person's cause affects their liability to defensive harm.
Or offensive harm.

It seems a Pakistan Taxi driver was killed yesterday. But that's ok, because the fare he picked up was the target of a US drone strike.

And the US is always right, as we know.


Right and wrong have very little to do with, em, right and wrong these days, it seems.


Give me an IRA lad in a flat cap any day. At least he doesn't have the protection of a uniform to justify immoral actions. Either his actions are justified, or they are not; without recourse to an imprimateur due to who he is, rather than what he's done.
 

Mercurial

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Yes they do Merc.

Which is why we scream our heads off about certain wars but not others.

Depending on whose side we are on which is of course the just side, because we are on it.

However it has little to do with Clumsy Bob or your inability to figure out to use a laser gun to get out of the well.
Some people think that you shouldn't kill Bob, even if it would mean sacrificing your own life.

Similarly, some people think that in cases of war, it is wrong to kill innocent people even if it's necessary to save your own life (or the lives of others).


The problem in accepting that we should kill Bob is that it potentially opens up more difficult cases (suppose, for example, that you can save your life by causing an innocent bystander to die, but that the bystander isn't herself a direct threat).
 

Dadaist

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As the evil Merc 'sneaks up behind Bob', you would not be able to anticipating that Bob would be cast down the well. Thus, unless you had the reactions of a fly, you would not be able to aim the laser gun in time to vaporise poor auld Bob.

Bob would therefore land on your good self and most likely not kill you, unless the well was exceptionally deep.

So, yes, it is a silly example
.
 


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