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

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

Do you like this debate?NoYes+3
Add this debate to Google Add this debate to Delicious Add this debate to FaceBook Add this debate to Digg  
Post Voting Period
The voting period for this debate has ended.
after 1 vote the winner is...
Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 3/2/2010 Category: Miscellaneous
Updated: 6 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 4,176 times Debate No: 11254
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (22)
Votes (1)





September/October 2008 LD Topic. Opponent agrees to a modified LD style debate (no crossex). For those not familiar, LD style is as follows:

Affimative Constructive (Round 1 Pro)
Cross Ex (Skipped)
Negative Constructive + Rebuttal (Round 1 Con)
Cross Ex (Skipped)
First Affirmative Rebuttal (Round 2 Pro)
Negative Rebuttal (Round 2 Con)
Second Affirmative Rebuttal (Round 3 Pro)

Thus the Round 3 Con should be blank. Cases must have a value and value criterion and must support them with their cases. Last rebuttal for each side typically includes Key Voting Issues (key reasons they feel they should win).




"Anticonsequentialists point to the inhumanity of people who will sanction killing of the innocent, but cannot the compliment be returned by greater inhumanity, conjoined with evasiveness, of those who will allow even more death and misery and then excuse themselves on the ground that they did not intend the death but merely forbore to prevent it?" - Kai Nielson Professor of Philosophy, University of Calgary

Because I believe consequentialism is the key to morality, I must affirm today's resolution, "Resolved: It is morally permissible to kill one innocent person to save the lives of more innocent people"

V – Morality

Morality is defined as "normatively to refer to a code of conduct that, given specified conditions, would be put forward by all rational persons" by the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Because the resolution specifies "morally permissible" morality must be the value of today.

V/C – Consequentialism

There are two ways to determine whether an action is moral, deontology and consequentialism. Under consequentialism "whether an act is morally right depends only on the consequences of that act" (Standford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). I will show throughout my case that consequentialism is the only way to achieve morality.

Definitions (sourced from Merriam-Webster dictionary):

Permissible – that [which] may be permitted

Innocent - free from legal guilt or fault

Observation 1: The affirmative does not have to prove that in every situation killing one person to save the lives of more innocent people is morally correct. The affirmative burden to to affirm the resolution as a general principal.

Contention 1: Consequentialist thinking is key to achieving morality.

The only alternative to consequentialism is that of deontology. Deontology holds that "choices cannot be justified by their effects — that no matter how morally good their consequences, some choices are morally forbidden." (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

This is quite ridiculous. Let us take the case of the innocent fat man referenced in the book "Absolutism and its consequentialist critics". In this situation, a group of people go into a cave. A large fat man is last in. He blocks the entrance. Nobody can get out and the cave starts flooding. Either they can kill the fat man and leave, or they can all drown and not kill anyone.

Under deontology killing is never permitted, no matter what the outcome. Under consequentialism, the outcome of more people being saved outweighs the outcome of everyone dying to not kill someone. I think the choice is quite obvious what should be done.

While this may seem morally callous, Kai Nielson (Professor of Philosophy, University of Calgary) says it is not so: "This does not reveal a callousness toward life, for the people are caught in a desperate situation in which, if extreme action is not taken, many lives will be lost and far greater misery will obtain."

Under consequentialism this resolution is fairly cut and dry. The consequence of killing an innocent person in this resolution is to save more innocent people. Thus the consequence of not killing that innocent person is to take the lives of more innocent people.


Stanford Encyclopedia Of Philosophy:


The Definition of Morality

Deontological Ethics

Merriam Webster Online:



Kai Nielsen - Absolutism and Its Consequentialist Critics


Since Pro defines morality as a code of conduct put forward by all rational persons, then perhaps we must know what a "rational person" is.

"Rational" is having reason or understanding. (

But reason? Understanding? On what do we judge this...? If it's based on conditionals and truth values, then that can only apply to less subjective concepts than Morality. We can reason that "All men are mortals, Socrates is a man. Therefore Socrates is mortal". On the other hand, can we say all rational people should vote Obama? It's opinionated. Can we assign numerical values to reasons for and against voting Obama, and then make a rational choice? Only if we believe these things can be quantified, that the quantification and using of mathematics is a valid way to conclude rationality, et cetera. Even with quantification, a man could put 100 points on "I don't like Obama's name" for against and have all the for-Obama points add up to 99. Who's the judge?

Morality in that definition is dependent on what rational persons would do. Say we managed to define rationality, and based on that definition, we find that given specified conditions, all the rational people would eat an apple instead of an orange...say because it is that the moral behavior? Say again we managed to define rationality, and now, all the rational people think carpet bombing an island because it is estimated that some influence of theirs will result in more homicide deaths in other countries than the population of the island. rational persons all think is moral.

Clearly, "rationality" must be defined. Note that it is arguably safe to assume that an action put forward by a rational person in this context is to be considered "rational". So a moral action is a rational action. And if it is rational, it would be put forward by rational persons, making it moral. So a rational action is a moral action. Tautology? ALMOST.
The saving grace of that definition is that we are not explicit whether there can only be ONE moral action, and/or ONE rational action. Another saving grace is that we are not debating whether one action is MORE moral/rational than another, but merely if it is.

Semantics is always a tricky issue that can go on forever and we cannot argue that forever. However, it always has to be pointed out. Morality as defined by Pro is, however reluctantly, ambiguous.

If Pro can better overcome the language issues for both of us, great. Otherwise, it is unfortunate that you, as reader/voter, must always take words with both the proposed definition and your own semantic attachment to it in account. I'll continue on with language ambiguity still in the air....with one final assumption:

a morally permissible action must be a moral action.


Say the fat man in the cave. What if the fat man wouldn't die if the rest drowned, and the rest would live if they killed him? (assume his being fat and blocking the way does not constitute guilt). What does consequentialism say? Is it "morally permissable" to kill that fat man in order for more to live? For whom is it morally permissable? The ones in danger of dying, or a spectator, or both?

Let us consider the persons in danger. Is it rational (and hence if undertaken by all rational persons, moral, and therefore eligible and assumed to be morally permissible) to kill the fat man to save more people (self included)? If it is rational, is it because more people are saved, or because the self is saved, or perhap both criteria are needed?

Let us consider the spectator. Is it rational for him (or her)?

Substitute the fat man for "very important person" or "loved person" and it gets less rational. Here we are stuck, because up til now we have not discussed one moral/rational action being MORE moral/rational than another. But this is where the key really lies...

Because rationality/morality is at the moment vaguely defined, it is a subjective concept. Subjective to the Agent of the action, to the context...etc. We may choose to quantify things, but that too has no strict guidelines. We are also making less obvious assumptions - that the death of less people is more moral/rational/good goal.


Pro desires to affirm the resolution as a general principal. This is where I clearly take the Con position.
If morality is subjective, then we cannot establish such a general principle.

To more accurately express the position of Con, I will phrase it as:

"It is not true that it is morally permissible to kill one innocent person to save the lives of more innocent people"

Value? - There are no values.
Debate Round No. 1


I would like to begin by thanking my opponent for accepting my challenge.

However, I would like to point out my opponent has not provided a value or value criterion, which was clearly required in the rules "IF THE CON DOES NOT PROVIDE VALUE OR VALUE CRITERION THEY SHALL FORFEIT". Thus, the voter should vote pro. But, in the interest of not being a prick, I will continue this debate.

My opponent has begun by examining the definition of the word "moral". The thing is, this doesn't really matter.

"Say we managed to define rationality, and based on that definition, we find that given specified conditions, all the rational people would eat an apple instead of an orange...say because it is that the moral behavior?"

Yes it would be. By definition, if an action complies with a code of conduct most rational people would agree on, it is moral. Morality does not deal so much with what is moral, but rather what is immoral. If an action is not immoral, it is moral. And thus, if most rational people would not contend that eating an apple is immoral, it is automatically moral.

The way we are to determine how to weigh morality in this debate is through our value criterion. I have clearly laid out my value criterion as consequentialism. My opponent offers no alternative way to judge morality, and no solid attacks on consequentialism.

My opponent goes on to question whether the actor matters in whether an action is moral or not. In essence, no. A person's emotional attachment to another person does not make the situation any different. A person's natural urge to stay alive doesn't change the situation. The situation is pretty cut-and-dry: "Kill one person or kill multiple people".

My opponent's final argument is that a general principal cannot be established based on my definitions. What my opponent does not realize is that he could contest my definition and provide his own. In addition, he did not have to accept morality at all, he was supposed to provide his own value in order to clash with mine.

Key Issues:

1. My opponent has not provided a value or value criterion. I clearly said this is mandatory in my first speech. And according to the rules of LD they must be given in your first speech.

2. My opponent has not contested my value or value criterion. Thus, you must look to morality and consequentialism to weigh this debate. Under consequentialism I must win because there are two consequences that can happen: one person is killed, or multiple people are killed. Consequentialism states we must choose the action with the best consequences. The best consequences occur on the Pro side (only one person is killed instead of multiple people)

3. My opponent's only attacks on my case are semantics and actor specification. Semantics don't really matter. And A Spec is easily answered by looking to a consequentialist weighing mechanism.


mcpng forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 2


My opponent has forfeited his final speech. Please extend all of my points.

I would like to thank my opponent for a good debate, and wish him good luck. But, please remember not post to in round 3 (I stated this in my first speech).


mcpng forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 3
22 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by cactusbin 6 years ago
"There, now you have cross examination on"

Yeah but crossex in spoken debate goes very differently. Usually you have a line of questioning that varies depending on your opponents answers. Also, crossex forces your opponent to think quickly on his/her feet, and you often try to catch them slip up. Whereas online they have plenty of time to think through their answers. Technically it could be done, but it seems like a pain and not really worth it.
Posted by DavidSSabb94 6 years ago
If you extended the 'number of rounds' setting and added cross examination rules to your statement it would be entirely possible to have cross examinations as in a real life LD event.

The pro presents a list of questions and the con answers them, while the con also puts his own list of questions at the end of his answers to the pro questions. The pro then answers the questions in the next round, and the con leaves his argument for that round blank so the rest of the rounds flow as normal.

There, now you have cross examination on
Posted by Danielle 6 years ago
Nails - I've never done formal debate and the terms and conditions of LD are foreign to me and many others is what I meant. The structure is also annoying. I don't see why there has to be strict guidelines as to how to argue a side but that's just me :) I don't need a formula. I'm not knocking LD - I'm just saying that I don't really have experience or knowledge on it so I'll pass on this debate as written.
Posted by TheSkeptic 6 years ago
Arg LD.
Posted by Nails 6 years ago

It's not complicated at all. There's just a ton of idiots who start incredibly stupid "LD debates" and don't do it justice.
Posted by I-am-a-panda 6 years ago
"No, the Japanese did some pretty brutal sh*t they should have been tried for as well. However, I also consider the bombs war crimes as they targeted civilians. Plus there is the factor of radiation poisoning. That lasted for generations." -- Actually
Posted by cactusbin 6 years ago
"If you want PRO to have 1 more speech than CON, then you should also make PRO's speeches shorter (smaller character limit) to give both sides equal speech time. That is also more consistent with LD format."

I don't know how to do this
Posted by Danielle 6 years ago
I'd take this if LD style wasn't so complicated. Why don't you just structure it as a regular debate? You can include values and criterion without mandating an LD set-up.
Posted by InsertNameHere 6 years ago
No, the Japanese did some pretty brutal sh*t they should have been tried for as well. However, I also consider the bombs war crimes as they targeted civilians. Plus there is the factor of radiation poisoning. That lasted for generations.
Posted by 1stLordofTheVenerability 6 years ago
"Hahaha. I consider Hiroshima and Nagasaki war crimes."

Japan chose to wage total war with no surrender. It had no qualms with massacring prisoners of war on the Bataan Death March. It had no qualms with mistreating innocents (the millions of Chinese civilians cruelly slaughtered comes to mind) or prisoners. coupled with Bushido lifestyle and suicidal charges, the Japanese made the situation impossible. In essence you're saying that it's all right for the Japanese to wage total war, but the USA must be held to a higher standard and not harm the poor, 'hapless' Japanese? In fact, if the Japanese hadn't have built primitive cities of wood, not so many would have died for several decades (until the radiation effects killed them).
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by cactusbin 6 years ago
Agreed with before the debate:--Vote Checkmark0 points
Agreed with after the debate:--Vote Checkmark0 points
Who had better conduct:--Vote Checkmark1 point
Had better spelling and grammar:--Vote Checkmark1 point
Made more convincing arguments:Vote Checkmark--3 points
Used the most reliable sources:Vote Checkmark--2 points
Total points awarded:50