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Thought Experiment Tuesday: Jim and the Indians

Mercurial

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A relatively simple one for you this week, here is a thought experiment offered by the philosopher Bernard Williams:

"“Jim finds himself in the central square of a small South American town. Tied up against the wall are a row of twenty Indians, most terrified, a few defiant, in front of them several armed men in uniform. A heavy man in a sweat-stained khaki shirt turns out to be the captain in charge and, after a good deal of questioning of Jim which establishes that he got there by accident while on a botanical expedition, explains that the Indians are a random group of the inhabitants who, after recent acts of protest against the government, are just about to be killed to remind other possible protestors of the advantages of not protesting.

However, since Jim is an honoured visitor from another land, the captain is happy to offer him a guest’s privilege of killing one of the Indians himself. If Jim accepts, then as a special mark of the occasion, the other Indians will be let off. Of course, if Jim refuses, then there is no special occasion, and Pedro here will do what he was about to do when Jim arrived, and kill them all. Jim, with some desperate recollection of schoolboy fiction, wonders whether if he got hold of a gun, he could hold the captain, Pedro and the rest of the soldiers to threat, but it is quite clear from the set-up that nothing of the sort is going to work: any attempt at that sort of thing will mean that all the Indians will be killed, and himself.

The men against the wall, and the other villagers understand the situation, and are obviously begging him to accept. What should he do?”


For context, this example is supposed to demonstrate one of the problems of consequentialist ethics - some people have the intuition that Jim should not shoot, even if this will have worse consequences overall (because more people will die).
 


derryman

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Take the gun ask for a volunteer. if noone volunteers then draw lots if the indians agree. If they do not agree shoot the oldest.
 

Radix

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Maximilian Kolbe offered his own life...

Would you Merc?
 
D

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He must shoot one of them - can't see any argument to the contrary.
 

Socratus O' Pericles

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Killing is always wrong even if given the veneer of an excuse.
 

Socratus O' Pericles

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If you believe in evil and resolve not to be evil yourself it is imperative that you don't commit evil acts by choice.
 

silverharp

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without being picky the alternative should be to have to shoot someone not in that group rather than someone from the doomed group?
 

Socratus O' Pericles

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But the act of killing one can be viewed as an act to save 19.
Yes, the question here is if I take the utilitarian approach and do something bad is that "worse" than allowing something bad to happen.
 
D

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Yes, the question here is if i take the utilitarian approach and do something bad is that "worse" than allowingsomething bad to happen.
Is the distinction between acting and allowing an action not a false one in this particular case?
 

owedtojoy

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A relatively simple one for you this week, here is a thought experiment offered by the philosopher Bernard Williams:

"“Jim finds himself in the central square of a small South American town. Tied up against the wall are a row of twenty Indians, most terrified, a few defiant, in front of them several armed men in uniform. A heavy man in a sweat-stained khaki shirt turns out to be the captain in charge and, after a good deal of questioning of Jim which establishes that he got there by accident while on a botanical expedition, explains that the Indians are a random group of the inhabitants who, after recent acts of protest against the government, are just about to be killed to remind other possible protestors of the advantages of not protesting.

However, since Jim is an honoured visitor from another land, the captain is happy to offer him a guest’s privilege of killing one of the Indians himself. If Jim accepts, then as a special mark of the occasion, the other Indians will be let off. Of course, if Jim refuses, then there is no special occasion, and Pedro here will do what he was about to do when Jim arrived, and kill them all. Jim, with some desperate recollection of schoolboy fiction, wonders whether if he got hold of a gun, he could hold the captain, Pedro and the rest of the soldiers to threat, but it is quite clear from the set-up that nothing of the sort is going to work: any attempt at that sort of thing will mean that all the Indians will be killed, and himself.

The men against the wall, and the other villagers understand the situation, and are obviously begging him to accept. What should he do?”


For context, this example is supposed to demonstrate one of the problems of consequentialist ethics - some people have the intuition that Jim should not shoot, even if this will have worse consequences overall (because more people will die).
It is an argument between Jeremy Bentham and Immanuel Kant - Bentham was the founder of Utilitarianism, which is consequentialist, and Immanuel Kant believed in a more principled ethics.

Kant would have said that to kill was immoral because it would then cheapen life, and make killing more acceptable. What is more, if we were one of the Indians, how would we feel? Kant's ethics were in many ways an updating of the Golden Rule "Do unto others .... "

Bentham was a consequentialist, and would have held with the "Greater happiness ..." rule.

There is no right answer. In generally, I am utilitarian, but I cannot see myself carrying out the shooting. On the other hand, who knows what we might do when under pressure?
 
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Socratus O' Pericles

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Is the distinction between acting and allowing an action not a false one in this particular case?
If each time you are prevailed upon to do something because it yields the most good in those particular circumstances,even if it goes against your principles, you sacrifice your integrity.
 
D

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If each time you are prevailed upon to do something because it yields the most good in those particular circumstances,even if it goes against your principles, you sacrifice your integrity.
But is your integrity worth more than the lives of 19 men? Are you entitled to sacrifice these men purely to defend of your integrity?
 

petaljam

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If each time you are prevailed upon to do something because it yields the most good in those particular circumstances,even if it goes against your principles, you sacrifice your integrity.
That is true, you're becoming an (unwilling) accomplice to the killing.
I'm not sure though that you're not also basically just as much of an accomplice by refusing to act either. That too is an act isn't it?

Hmm.

Is the answer to this to be found at the back of the Internet please?
 

Vega1447

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For what it is worth my view is that it is never right to do the wrong thing.
The captain is attempting to use moral blackmail to induce the visitor to kill a innocent man.

A similar dilemma arose in the movie Sophie's Choice.

Of course none of us know what we would do if faced with such a decision but IMO the *right* thing to do is to refuse and (despite the stated impossibility) try to take some other action with better consequences.

Willingness to take some element of personal risk to engineer a third choice is ultimately the right action IMO. How much risk is the measure of the person.
 

Zapped(CAPITALISMROTS)

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Take the gun,shoot the captain and run like hell............ (on the basis we are all part black now as Gerry says and might have inherited some genes from Usain Bolt):rolleyes:.
 

Vega1447

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Take the gun,shoot the captain and run like hell............ (on the basis we are all part black now as Gerry says and might have inherited some genes from Usain Bolt):rolleyes:.
A much better answer than mine.. :)
 

farnaby

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Willingness to take some element of personal risk to engineer a third choice is ultimately the right action IMO. How much risk is the measure of the person.
I like this response as even in a hypothetical discussion the power of moral imagination and its agency should be considered. It is incumbent on Jim to attempt to dissuade/appeal to/negotiate with the soldiers.

Unlike you though I have to concede that in the absence of alternatives, ultimately the consequentialist approach is the right one, but only if the Indians are involved in the decision.
 

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