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The Contender
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Resolved: It is moral 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: 10/13/2010 Category: Society
Updated: 7 years ago Status: Voting Period
Viewed: 3,740 times Debate No: 13364
Debate Rounds (3)
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Because killing an innocent person is unacceptable in a moral society, I negate the resolution. I define morally permissible as "conforming with the standards of morality" and innocent as "one who has committed no wrong." "More innocent" is defined as a quantitative measure (i.e. one person or six people). The term "more" is not used in the function of qualitatively measuring innocence.

As the resolution uses the terms "morally permissible", my value is morality, defined as "conformity to the rules of right conduct." This value is achieved by protecting the right to life, a basic human right. Infringing upon another's right to life is inherently immoral.

I offer one observation; that one example in which the resolution is proven false is sufficient to warrant a negative vote. To clarify, let us suppose the resolution were "Resolved: That fruits are sweet." By bringing up the example of a lemon, a sour fruit, the resolution is disproved. Recognizing and upholding this as a standard for debate is extremely important because the resolution is a statement of permission; if we say that it is permissible to kill one innocent person to save the lives of more innocent people, we do not know exactly what scenario the resolution presents. Therefore, it must be presupposed that all scenarios are encompassed by the resolution. The resolution must be a statement of universal truth.

My opponent will probably provide a counterexample, claiming that they do not have to prove the resolution true in all instances. They will cite an alternative analogy like "Resolved: That sports are beneficial." They might say that sports are generally good for physical, mental, and community health, and thus the resolution should be affirmed. They might argue that they should not have the burden of proving the merits of sports for every individual, claiming that it is abusive to expect them to uphold such a statement as applicable to disabled or diseased individuals. However, the flaw of such an argument lies in the nature of this resolution; an individual may be presented with the choice of killing one innocent person to save more innocent people but once (if even that) in their entire life. The infrequency of any scenario presented by the resolution in real life means that that individual must be sure that his/her action is moral in all scenarios in order for him/her to act accordingly.

Contention 1: Honorable intent does not make killing an innocent person a morally permissible action.
The resolution uses the phrase "to save". "Infinitives – such as "to save" are better used to describe "potential, hypothetical, or future events" (Frodesen & Eyring 297)". Therefore, the resolution solely establishes the intent of saving many innocent people. It in no way makes any guarantee that more innocent people actually will be saved. In fact, the only concrete the resolution asks us if it is morally permissible to kill one innocent person with the intent of saving the lives of many innocent people. The affirmative supports the arbitrary abrogation of the natural right to life without complete knowledge of the terminal result of the action.

Contention 2: Our duty not to kill outweighs our duty to save
A transplant surgeon, whom we shall call Dr. David Eisenbergersteinhoff, has five patients in dire need of new organs. Unfortunately, all five have a very rare blood type. By chance, David notices that he has one healthy patient with that very blood type. Now, he must decide if it is morally permissible to kill that patient to save the lives of the other five. Acting morally, David must allow his other five patients to die. This is because, as Judith Thomson explains, "We must accept that our ‘negative duties', such as the duty to refrain from killing, are more stringent than our ‘positive duties', such as the duty to save lives." In other words, killing one person is worse than not saving ten people. If, in numerical terms, 0 is the state of inaction, the magnitude of the vector extending into negative space is far larger than that extending into positive space. We can further explore this concept of negative versus positive duties. Our duty not to rob banks is weighed more heavily than our duty to capture bank robbers. This is because not-doing an action is inherently an act of passivity; if the individual had not been placed in that scenario, a negative action would have been committed regardless. Returning to the example of David the transplant surgeon, let us suppose that David had not had the one healthy patient with the same blood type as the diseased five. That one healthy patient was always and will always be the patient of Dr. John Smith. The result is that the five sick patients at David's practice will die; it is the status quo. David, by killing the healthy patient to save the other five, acts against the status quo by committing a negative action. No rational person would believe that David should kill the healthy patient, and so the resolution is disproven by the fact that negative duties (not killing) outweigh positive ones (saving).


ashwathc, we once debated this LD topic before – it was fun, but we never got to finish. This should be a good opportunity.

I'd like to clarify that the correct resolution is: it is morally PERMISSIBLE to kill one innocent person to save the lives of more innocent people. My opponent deleted this correction from his original post, but still defines "morally permissible." I accept the resolution, but only because it contains the word "permissible" in it.

Random House Dictionary (2010) defines "permissible" as an adjective, meaning: "can be permitted." [1] This cited definition should be preferred to the one my opponent makes up himself.

The Pro need only prove that it "can be" morally permitted to kill one innocent person to save more innocent people, not that it "must be" morally permitted. This takes out all my opponent's arguments about how the pro must prove every killing of an innocent person (when more innocent people are saved) to be moral. His fruits resolution is a perfect example, since the correct analogy to this topic is: "fruits can be sweet." Proving that lemons are not sweet does not disprove that "fruits can be sweet."

My value is societal welfare. I'll prove that my opponent's value of "always protecting human life" leads to some absurd conclusions. My opponent essentially advocates the Kantian categorical imperative: that people cannot be used as means to an end. I advocate a utilitarian morality: achieving the greatest good for the greatest number.

My opponent then twice worries, in two different paragraphs, that an endorsement of the resolution will lead to moral confusion among the listeners/debaters when/if they are confronted with the decision of killing one innocent to save many. However, if they truly endorse utilitarian thinking, they will make the right decision. If they endorse my opponent's Kantian logic, they may very well make the wrong one.

This brings us to contention 1 of my opponent's case:

My responses:

1. I accept my opponent's definition of infinitives as "hypothetical future events."

Apply this definition to "to kill." The killing is not guaranteed either. If I shoot at someone, I may miss. However, since I only need to prove the resolution true in some cases (that it "can be" permitted), I can choose to support only cases where if the killing is successful, the saving of lives is also guaranteed.

Also, by nature of him agreeing that we are debating only in hypotheticals, I can also simply assert that in my hypothetical, the killing is guaranteed to result in the saving of lives.

2. This actually turns my opponent's case.

He argues here for the philosophy of consequentialism: that actions can be judged only by their results, and not by their intentions. If this is true, then this turns his whole case. If your "intention" is to abstain from killing an innocent, because it is "morally wrong," but the direct result of your action is the unnecessary death of more innocents, then my opponent's consequentialism would judge that act immoral because the result is that innocent people died. It doesn't matter that the intention was to "protect the right to life."

His entire case rested upon the supposition that intentions matter more than results. By saying "infringing upon another's right to life is inherently immoral," he opposes killing one person on "moral grounds" (Kantian morality), even if it results in the death of everyone in the entire world. It is easy to imagine such an example, such as killing a terrorist who is about to disrupt the Earth's gravitational field, sending us all spiraling into the sun.

My opponent must pick: should an action be judged "moral" based on intentions or results?

If he picks consequentialism, I'll show how utilitarianism is just a short hop-skip-and-a-jump away.

If he picks the categorical imperative (no killing no matter what), then he must drop the argument that intentions don't matter, only consequences do.

Contention 2: the classic "murdering doctor"

First response: remember that I don't even need to defend this example, since I don't need to prove that killing an innocent to save more innocents is ALWAYS moral, just that it "can be" moral.

Second response: hypothetical, he'll die anyway

What if the patient is on life support, is brain dead, and cannot survive independently of the machines. Is taking him off life support before he dies a "natural death" really immoral, if it saves 5 lives? Utilitarianism says yes, categorical imperative (no killing no matter what) says no.

Third response: can be deemed immoral under utilitarianism

Since the murdering doctor is usually used as an objection to utilitarianism, I may as well answer this objection now. Remember, to win, I only need to prove that killing an innocent "can be" justified if it saves more innocents.

I seek to win this round by proving that utilitarianism best matches with what Habermas would call our "moral feelings." By this statement, I mean that I will prove: utilitarianism leads to killing one innocent to save many in cases where we (as listeners) "feel" it is right to do so, but not in cases where we "feel" it is wrong to do so. The murdering doctor example is only compelling because we (as listeners) "feel" it is an example of something that is "wrong."

The murdering doctor should not kill one patient to save 5 under utilitarianism because if society knew that doctors are willing to do such a thing, they would cease visiting doctors. The harms caused by all members of society refusing to visit doctors would outweigh the benefit of saving 5 lives. Thus, killing one innocent to save many can only be done under utilitarianism if society will be able to view the killing as an exception, rather than the rule. The harms of making murder "the norm" would clearly outweigh the benefits of saving a few lives in one case.

Mitigating circumstances, or "exceptions," could include "he would die anyway," "he asked me to," and "the exceptional magnitude made it necessary."

I covered some of these above. I offer more examples below.

"He would die anyway"

Joseph Nye of Harvard University cites the following hypothetical to disprove the categorical imperative: you pass through a conflict area and a rebel captain has captured two innocent villagers. The captain is going to execute the innocent villagers. You pass by and the captain, for his amusement, hands you a gun and says: shoot one villager and I will let the other go free. If you refuse, the captain will order his men to shoot both villagers. Nye asks, "Will you shoot one person with the consequences of saving one, or will you allow both to die but preserve your moral integrity by refusing to play his dirty game?" [2] Refusing to get your hands dirty is morally bankrupt, since one villager will die no matter what, especially when you expand the example to: save one doomed person to save the entire world. Arguing that "negative duties" should trump "positive duties," at this point, is an attempt to hide behind your morality (categorical imperative) and allow unspeakable and preventable atrocities simply because you refuse to get your hands dirty.

"Please kill me" (given permission)

After a car crash, on a bridge, a mother is trapped inside a car and her 4 children are trapped under the car (outside the car). If you don't act, the children will suffocate, but help will arrive in time to save the mother. The mother asks you to push the car off the bridge (and thus kill her) to save her children. Should you refuse her wishes and let her 4 children die?

Lastly, my opponent's definitions/case lead to the perverse conclusion that you cannot fight back during war, since enemy soldiers are often conscripted and forced to fight and are thus "innocent."


[2] "Nuclear Ethics" p. 18-9
Debate Round No. 1


ashwathc forfeited this round.


Extend my analysis that this is a Habermasian ethical discussion, comparing utilitarianism to the categorical imperative, designed to sway our audience by the emotional responses that our examples elicit.

My opponent drops his murdering doctor example.

Extend the "he would die anyway" example of the two innocent villagers in a conflict zone. If the rebel commander will kill both villagers unless you kill one of them, it makes little sense to refuse to get your hands dirty, since the outcome in that case is worse. Extend the Joseph Nye analysis that this becomes even more problematic when the scale increases - for example, if the rebel commander would kill an entire village unless you shot one of the villagers.

Extend the "she asked me to do it" example of the mother who begs you to kill her to save her 4 children. Permission from the innocent person makes the act morally permissible. If my opponent is correct, that people have a "right to life," then that right would entail the right to choose when that life ends.

Extend the "kill one person to save the world" example. Another example: an innocent person has an incurable and deadly disease. The only method available to prevent that person from spreading the disease is to kill him. Would you kill one person to save the world?

Obviously there needs to be exceptions to the categorical imperative's rigid "thou shalt not kill" decree. A utilitarian morality is the only way to ensure that there are reasonable exceptions.

Vote pro.
Debate Round No. 2


ashwathc forfeited this round.


I'm sorry that ashwathc and I once again didn't get to finish our debate - it would have been highly entertaining.

Extend my case. Vote pro
Debate Round No. 3
3 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 3 records.
Posted by Kinesis 7 years ago
The title is only for the topic of the debate. The resolution should be presented in the round, though usually people don't for some reason.
Posted by ashwathc 7 years ago
The real resolution wouldn't fit in the box because it had too many characters...I removed it because I didn't want to have two similar resolutions posted that contained a minor difference. I thought it'd be a source of confusion for whoever challenged me.
Posted by bluesteel 7 years ago
You just edited your speech to take out the real resolution, which contained the words "morally permissible"
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