The Instigator
Con (against)
14 Points
The Contender
Pro (for)
0 Points

It is morally permissible to kill one innocent person to save the lives of more innocent people.

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 10/4/2008 Category: Politics
Updated: 9 years ago Status: Voting Period
Viewed: 3,584 times Debate No: 5635
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (1)
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Because this is an LD case, I will let my opponent start first if he accepts. I look forward to this and good luck.


"It is the greatest good to the greatest number of people which is the measure of right and wrong." It is because I agree with this quote by Jeremy Bentham that I urge an affirmation of the resolution, Resolved: It is morally permissible to kill one innocent person to save the lives of many innocent people.
For clarity to the Resolution, I pose the following definitions,
Morally permissible: conforming to a circumstantial standard of right behavior.
Kill: to deprive of life in any manner.
Innocent: not causing physical of moral injury; harmless.
Save: to rescue from danger or possible harm, injury, or loss.
Many: a larger quantitative amount

For analysis of the resolution, I pose the following observations.
1. According to the resolution, it is asking if killing an innocent to save the lives of many innocent people is morally permissible, not morally normative. The difference is that a morally permissible action changes to each circumstance while a morally normative action is in a sense absolute and is action that we are obligated to take if faced with the issue.

2. The resolution implies action vs. inaction. Therefore, my opponent must prove why inaction, which will end up in more deaths, is morally sound in comparison to action, which would save more lives. Abraham Lincoln once said, "Action and inaction are both conscious choices and are equally praiseworthy or blameworthy if their outcomes are the same." To take Inaction is to cause of the death of a larger group of people, thus inaction is immoral.

3. The resolution implies that all other options for saving every person in the Resolution have been exhausted.

The affirmative values moral permissibility since it is the clearest value indicated by the resolution. The value of moral permissibility is upheld by my criterion of moral proportionality. Moral proportionality is defined as the weighing of consequences in determining a morally permissible action. When faced with a moral dilemma in which killing and condemning to death are the only options, the outcome of a specific act ought to be evaluated in determining the permissibility of that action.

I have three contentions to further prove the Affirmative side of the Resolution.
Contention 1: Positive consequences
A) Maximizing the protection of life. On both the affirmative and negative's side of the resolution, some type of life will eventually be lost. To uphold moral proportionality, the action, which yields the greatest amount of life, would ultimately be morally permissible. By killing one innocent, a larger number of people are being saved, thus maximizing the most amount of life possible. By not acting, the negative is condemning a greater number of people to death, thus acting immorally in their decision. For morality to be achieved, protecting life is pinnacle. The affirmative better maximizes the protection of life thus upholding a morally permissible action.
B) Reducing negative right violations. Since the negative will eventually lead to a greater loss of life, a larger amount of rights are being violated. Violating the right to life of all these people is the clearest right violation, however it stretches farther. All rights are dependent on the right to life. Without life, it is impossible to do anything. Life is necessary to pursue happiness, own property, speak freely, etc. The negative will ultimately end up in a large amount of deaths, thus a large amount of right violations. By violating these rights, the negative is acting immorally. Therefore, the affirmative better protects the rights of a larger number of people.
C) Reducing collateral damage. Essentially, a morally permissible action is one that reduces collateral damage. The affirmative prevents collateral damage from occurring, by killing one innocent person to save many innocent people. For something to be truly right in action, the action must not create widespread death or destruction. The negative ends up with many people dead, which obviously ends with greater collateral damage. To achieve moral permissibility, reduction of collateral damage is essential.
D) Utilitarianism. "The greatest good for the greatest number." Ultimately, the greater good should be protected to make an action morally permissible. The affirmative is maximizing the amount of social happiness by saving the greater number of people. Utilitarianism demands that an action should reap the greatest amount of happiness possible. The affirmative in comparison to the negative protects more people thus creating a greater amount of social happiness. John Stuart Mill writes "actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness. By happiness, is intended pleasure, and the absence of pain; by unhappiness, pain, and the privation of pleasure." Mill is saying that moral actions promote the general happiness and reduce pain in society. The more pain that is brought to society, the more immorality is spread. To reduce pain, and thus greater deaths, one sacrifice is necessary.

Contention 2: Situational Ethics
According to situational ethics, when deciding a moral action, two things are necessary: 1) The action itself and 2) the outcome and consequences of that action. However, situational ethics go further. When faced with a moral dilemma, such as the one implied by the resolution, the outcome should be foremost. Since there will be some amount of death, the permissibility of an action is determined by the outcomes. To save the larger amount of people, killing one innocent is necessary. The negative violates these ethics on the fact of inaction. By not acting, more people will die, which makes it immoral. John Stuart Mill again writes: "A person may cause evil to others not only by his actions but by his inaction, and in either case he is justly accountable to them for the injury." Life must be saved in this case, according to situational ethics. Since the outcome is much better on the affirmative, situational ethics demand that we take the action of killing one to save the greater number.

Contention 3: The Harm Principle
According to the Harm Principle, as stated by John Locke and John Stuart Mill, an action is morally permissible if it prevents a greater harm to people and society. Since people are members of a larger society, we must insure the greater protection of it. As individuals, our actions must protect society from a greater harm. Mill writes further: "The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant." By sacrificing the innocent to save more innocent people, a greater harm to society is being avoided, thus making it morally permissible.

Thank you and I am now open for cross-examination.
Debate Round No. 1


As Con all I must do to win is either prove Pro's contentions are wrong or my contentions are right. Or I simply have to prove the resolution "It is morally permissible to kill one innocent person to save the lives of more innocent people." is a faulty statement - which it is. How can one be innocent if their continued existence causes the deaths of more people? They can't be. Even if it was Mother Teresa with leprosy, she would be guilty of causing the strife of others as long as she lives. Therefore, the resolution is wrong in stating a man can be innocent, yet still jeopardize other's lives. Even further into it, Most philosophers agree that the only truly innocent person is a newborn baby until he experiences an act of evil or aggression. From that point on the baby will no longer know unconditional love and will make biased decisions based on that bad experience. This can be proved by a kid being punished for running away. The next time he thinks to run away, he'll consider what happened last time. This is why the punishment is always worse the second time someone is caught. However, if you feel this argument does not prove the resolution wrong, I will cross examine your contentions and provide some of my own.

"Contention 1: Positive consequences"
Neither A, B, C or D say why it is "Morally Permissible" to end one's life. Taking one's life is always morally wrong. It doesn't matter that saving many may be better for society. It would be an immoral way to improve society because it would be done through the act of taking one's life. In D, Pro said "Mill is saying that moral actions promote the general happiness and reduce pain in society." Again, taking one's life is immoral so this statement is more or less counterproductive for his case.

"Contention 2: Situational Ethics"
This puts forth no points that differ from ones stated in Contention 1 other than "By not acting, more people will die, which makes it immoral. John Stuart Mill again writes: "A person may cause evil to others not only by his actions but by his inaction, and in either case he is justly accountable to them for the injury."" This could not be more wrong. Here's an example: Jim drinks and drives. He ends up getting in a crash and killing Greg. Greg dies because of Jim's direct action. Where as Christy, the girl at a party with Jim, had the inaction of not taking Jim's keys. But according to Pro, even if Christy did not know Jim, the fact that she did not take a random man's keys causes her to be just as guilty as Jim for Greg's Death. That's ridiculous. Our judicial system even supports this by only punishing drunk drivers, and not the ones who didn't take his keys. There is a major difference between action and inaction, and inaction is not near as bad as immoral action.

"Contention 3: The Harm Principle"
This still states just about the same as Contention 1 and 2. It is a ridiculous concept to say that taking one's life to save more lives is morally permissible. It would be a completely unfair decision of who dies and who lives. You must take into consideration the fact that each person is an individual. And ending anyone's life is wrong, but ending one life may be even more wrong than ending another's. Taking the president's life may dramatically affect over a thousand people and give some kind of effect to the entire nation through the repercussions that would follow. So, if it came down to saving the president or killing him to save 5 homeless people, the world would make the obvious right decision of saving the president.

Now onto my contentions:
Contention 1 - Utilitarianism is evil because it justifies its actions with potential outcomes, rather than facts.
My study of Russell's version of act utilitarianism has taught me that any philosopher who promotes act utilitarianism has to concede that its classic formulation "always act to maximize the good in the world" is indefensible for two reasons. First, the actual consequences of any given action are never available for examination at the time of the action, since they have not yet happened, and so they cannot be a factor in an ethical decision. Second, it cannot make any sense to say one's actual choice is objectively a better choice than its options. Since none of the options were chosen, we cannot be sure what to compare with the consequences of our actual choice. The maxim has to be reformulated in a subjective format, as it is in "act so as to maximize the expectable good in the world." The act utilitarian has to be satisfied with intended or predicted consequences, and not actual ones.

Contention 2 - Utilitarianism allows for bean counting of human life which ultimately allows for no meaning for life.
If there are no ethical absolutes, human persons, rather than being the norm and source from which other things receive their value become simply items or commodities with a relative value - inviolable only up to the point at which hit is expedient to violate them in order to achieve an objective. It would then make no sense at all to speak of the immeasurable value of the human person. Far from being immeasurable - that is, beyond calculation - the value of a person would be quite specific and quantifiable, something to be weighed in the balance against other values.

Contention 3 - The most morally wrong actions cannot be justified even in the face of extreme catastrophe.
The following was taken out of the book "Absolutism and its Consequentialist Critics" by Alan Gewirth where a man is forced to torture his mother or a gang would start a nuclear war:
Ought Abrams to torture his mother to death in order to prevent the threatened nuclear catastrophe? might he not merely pretend to torture his mother, so that she could then be safely hidden while the hunt for the gang members continued? entirely apart from the fact that the gang could easily pierce this deception, the main objective to the very raising of such questions it a moral one that they see to hold open the possibility of acquiescing and participating in an unspeakably evil project. To inflict such extreme harm on one's mother would be an ultimate act of betrayal; in performing or even contemplating the performance of such an action the son would lose all self respect and would regard his life as no longer worth living. A mother's right not to be tortured to death by her own son is beyond any compromise. It is absolute.
This states that even if torturing his mother saved many lives, it would still be entirely immoral.


halopwns forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 2


I am sad to see my opponent has forfeited the round. I will not take advantage of this and only hope that he comes back for Round 3.

Good luck :]


halopwns forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 3
1 comment has been posted on this debate.
Posted by lhsdebate 9 years ago
wow u actually finished a debate without forfeiting and that was nice giving a chance for ur opponent to finish his debate
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