The Instigator
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The Contender
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11 Points

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

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 11/3/2008 Category: Society
Updated: 8 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 6,450 times Debate No: 5877
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Okay, so I'm a novice LD debater and after finishing debating this topic, I decided to try it out on here. Here I go!

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

First I offer the following definitions:

Morally permissible is defined in Ethics in the First Person, Deni Elliott, professor at Montana University. "A moral system differentiates among behaviors that are morally prohibited, those that are morally permitted, those that are morally required, and those that are morally encouraged…Permitted means behavior that is within the bounds of the moral system. What is morally permissible is what is in a way morally indifferent, and it is the subject of legitimate freedom, while what is morally impermissible can absolutely not be tolerated and its tolerance (by others) would mean abandoning the basic principle of moral evaluation in oneself." Something that is morally permissible can be considered distasteful or disagreeable but is still considered moral. In order to be permissible, we must look at the circumstances that surround the action and determine if they influence the action taken. The resolution creates a situation in which lives will be taken on both sides. Thus, the morally permissible action is the action that harms the least. Affirming does this and saves more lives.

Observation 1: The resolution forces us to choose between one life or many lives. There is no other option.

Innocent is defined by dictionary innocent as: "free from guilt or sin especially through lack of knowledge of evil".

Kill is defined by as: "to cause the death of".

My value for this round is social good, defined by terms as a "service that benefits the largest number of people in the largest possible way". The best way to achieve this is through the criterion is utilitarianism, defined by Jeremy Bentham as "the greatest good for the greatest number of people". People will die either way. The lesser of two evils must be chosen through utilitarianism to achieve social good.

Contention 1

In utilitarianism, everyone is equal. utility
"This means that we reject egoism, racism, sexism, speciesism, and other forms of unfair discrimination. It does not mean that we deny that there are differences between individuals or between groups of individuals (some individuals are cleverer, taller, stronger, more emotional etc than others), just that there is no logically compelling reason for assuming that a difference in ability justifies any difference in the consideration we give to their interests." Each person is treated the same no matter the differences between them in utilitarianism. Because each person is considered to be worth the same amount, a single life, three lives are worth more than one life. In the resolution you are given the choice between saving one life or many lives. To achieve the criterion, you would choose many lives, thus having the greatest good for the greatest number of people.

Contention 2

Utilitarianism saves more lives.
Eric Rakowski, Taking and Saving Lives. Columbia Law Review, page 1071

"Killing somebody in a way that makes him a direct instrument for saving one or more persons is permissible. The number of lives saved or the good achieved has to be very much greater than using somebody as the means of killing him. Achieving some worthy goal in a way that will inevitably, regrettably, but inessentially harm somebody is less bad. Regardless of its vice, the action is necessary and preferred over not doing anything at all." Here they are referring to teleology, in which the ends justify the means to the ends. The action of killing someone is balanced out against the fact that it brought about a greater good. Thus, utilitarianism is the best way to go, in order to achieve social good.

Contention 3

There is no moral difference between killing and allowing someone to die.
Eric Rakowski, Taking and Saving Lives. Columbia Law Review, page 1096

"Strangling innocent enemy children with one's bare hands to induce surrender might seem more horrible than dropping bombs on babies from several miles in the air, but the evil of the two actions is, if not equivalent, then nearly so. Whether you do it directly, or indirectly, the babies are still dying." Because the resolution forces us to choose between either one death or many deaths, inaction is technically not a third option, because indirectly, you are allowing more people to die. My criterion is utilitarianism and thus, to take action to save more people would support that.


I thank my opponent for this debate.

My opponent's resolution is that it is morally permissible to kill one innocent person to save the lives of more innocent people. She supports that by contending that every life is equal in value and that therefore three lives (as an example) are worth more than one. She further contends (her Cont 3) that to let a person die is morally equivalent to killing that person. She claims that her resolution forces us to choose between one and many deaths and therefore inaction is the indirect killing of more people. Therefore what she's really contending is not that it is permissible to kill one person to save more but that it is in fact impermissible NOT to do so. It is morally required to kill one to save more.

Let us now expand on my opponent's argument and its logical implications.

1. If the life of one is less valuable than the lives of several then the property of one is less valuable than the lives of several (even more so, I suggest).

2. Every day 18,000 children worldwide die of hunger (

3. Every $10 we spend on a non-necessity (that means food, not shoes, folks!) is $10 that could be spent on saving a couple (or more, depending on location and exchange rates) of children. By spending that $10, we therefore kill at least a couple of children (as per my opponent's contention 3 - letting someone die is killing them).

4. It follows that a true utilitarian is someone who lives extremely modestly, drives no car. She walks to work/school as owning even a bicycle would mean killing several children. iPods are out of the question. So is a PC (unless it is used for work to generate money to be spent almost entirely on saving starving children). In fact, a true utilitarian is someone who owns virtually nothing of any value, except for a gun. Why a gun? Point 5 follows.

5. The utilitarian has a moral obligation to save starving children. On her way to work, the utilitarian must rob as many people as she possibly can so as to maximise the number of children she saves (therefore minimise the number of children she murders). If confronted by the owner of the property she wants to steal, she must shoot him. That is because his life is less valuable than the lives of the children who she can save by stealing the victim's money. If the victim has money in the bank, she must also kidnap the victim. She must avoid detection and apprehension at all costs. That is because by being arrested she'll no longer be able to save (therefore NOT kill) children. Avoiding arrest may mean killing police officer. But before doing so, she must inquire how many lives he saves. If he saves more than she does then she must not kill him.

6. Utilitarians must be kept alive at all costs. That's because they save lives. Keeping them alive means the greater good for the greater number. It follows therefore that the life of a utilitarian is in fact more valuable than the life of a non-utilitarian. This of course contradicts my opponent's contention 1.

7. In some cases, the utilitarian is committing murder by not kidnapping a financial planner if an opportunity arises. That's because a financial planner could advise the utilitarian how best to utilise the money stolen from the rich so as to save the most lives (and kill less children). For example, instead of robbing the rich man, it might be a better option to kidnap him and make him invest his money in a high-profit scheme, particularly if his money is already in the bank and can't readily be stolen by the utilitarian. He should then be kidnapped and kept in custody so that he can withdraw money and save children whenever the kidnapped financial adviser gives such advice. Not doing so would of course mean choosing a greater evil (less saved kids/more murdered kids).

8. Since the life of a utilitarian is necessarily valued higher than that of a non-utilitarian, it is not necessarily morally permissible to kill one in order to save many. This would depend on the utilitarian value of the one and of the many. In fact, the opposite to the resolution may well be true. For example, we might need to kill 100 non-utilitarians to save one utilitarian of a particularly high income. Imagine Bill Gates being a utilitarian, spending every cent of his income to save (unmurder) dying children. It would be morally necessary (for the greater good) to kill a few thousand (if not more, depending on their own utilitarian value) people if that were the only way to keep Bill Gates alive. That's because he could save all the 18,000 children that die every day and by not keeping him alive, we'd be murdering 18,000 children. Now that's mass murder.

It follows therefore that my opponent's resolution is incorrect. It's not permissible (required, as per her Contention 3) to kill one to save many. What is required, however, is to perform a careful mathematical calculation and kill that side of the equation which is of a lesser utilitarian value.

Fellow murderers, I urge you to vote Con.

****note that starving children were just an example. In reality, we might choose to not murder adults. However, saving a child might be cheaper than saving an adult (kids eat less) and therefore we'd save more lives if we were to save only children
Debate Round No. 1


I apologize, but due to time constraints placed upon me by my actual debating, I cannot continue this round. I regret doing so, but I will forfeit this debate.


Unfortunate indeed as I as looking forward to reading my opponent's reply.
Debate Round No. 2


Kyari_Hasutto forfeited this round.


Ladies and gentlemen,

Given that my opponent has forfeited the debate, I urge you to accept my argument and vote Con.

Thank you for taking the time to read this debate.
Debate Round No. 3
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Vote Placed by JBlake 8 years ago
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Vote Placed by PoeJoe 8 years ago
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