The Instigator
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8 Points
The Contender
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10 Points

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

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 9/30/2008 Category: Society
Updated: 9 years ago Status: Voting Period
Viewed: 4,738 times Debate No: 5590
Debate Rounds (1)
Comments (4)
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"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.


I'll present my own case then refute my opponents.

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

For clarity I pose the following definitions.
1.Morally permissible: conforming to a normative standard of right and wrong.
2.Innocent: free from the action or intention of moral or legal crimes.

[Topical Observations]

For analysis of the resolution I pose the following observations.
1.According to the resolution, it is asking if an action is moral. Morality is normative. Normative is defined as absolute, not relative or circumstantial. Therefore, the affirmative must prove that killing complies with morally normative standards.

2.The resolution implies morality versus necessity. Killing an innocent may be necessary to save more lives, however that does not make it moral. Killing must be proved moral rather then a necessity. The negative concedes the idea that it is necessary to save more people, but the negative does not concede the idea that killing an innocent is moral.

3.Morality is achieved on an individual basis not collectively. If morality is dictated by collective needs, then the human worth of each individual is pushed down to nothing. If society adopts a morality based on collective need, then all individuals are threatened by the majority.

[Value and Value Criterion]
The negative values Morality, since it is the clearest value indicted by the resolution. The value of morality is upheld by the criterion of Maintaining Justice. Justice is a necessary element of morality. Justice requires that society recognize the equal value of each individual life. Killing one innocent to save many, contradicts the societal duty of equality of human worth between all people. Furthermore, protecting individual rights that are guaranteed to each individual is a main component of upholding justice. Undermining the equal worth of each individual undermines justice.

To prove my position I would like to offer 2 points of contention.

Contention I: Killing one innocent person to save the lives of more people undermines the equal worth of all individuals.

For something to be just and moral, the action must be fair and equal. A moral and just society must see each innocent individual as equal. They all have the same human worth. By affirming the resolution the ethical position has been created that one innocent can be killed for the sake of other individuals. This blatantly undermines society's duty to protect and maintain the equal human worth of all people. Jeff McMhan explains that "To kill a person, in contravention of that person's own will, is an egregious failure of respect for the person and his worth. It is to annihilate that which is irreplaceable, to show contempt for that which demands reverence, to assert a spurious authority over one who alone has proper authority over his own life, and to assume a superior position." It is never morally permissible to quantify the amount of human worth to degrade an equally worthy and innocent person. Meaning that morality cannot be achieved based on a sole number; it must be achieved by the human dignity of each individual. All lives are equal, and therefore they must be weighed equally.

A)Dehumanization. By killing one innocent to save more people, you have made a person a means to an end. This is dehumanization because the worth of one individual has been reduced to that of an inanimate tool. Humans are ends in themselves, and should not be seen as a means to an end. Immanuel Kant explains "Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, always at the same time as an end and never merely as a means to an end.

Contention II: John Locke's Social Contract

A)Inalienability. Inalienability can be defined as that which can not be forfeited. According to John Locke these rights are: Life, liberty, and property. These three rights cannot be forcefully given up, either by the government taking them away or by another member of society. John Locke explains "All mankind, being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty or possessions." Any member of society, no matter what the circumstances, does not have the morally permissible right to take these rights away. By killing an innocent you have violated their right to life. From this you have violated all rights, since all rights come from the right to life.

B)Protection of individual rights. As individuals we are guaranteed the protection of these 3 inalienable rights. A morally permissible action must defend these rights. The affirmative is condoning the action of right violation of an individual. In a just and moral society this is impermissible because it undermines the very core of a society. The rights we are guaranteed can not be infringed upon by any other member of society. It is the duty we have between each other as members of a society to not directly, and by our own hand violate the rights of another person. This is exactly what the affirmative is doing, and thus is violating morality.

Because there is only one round, posting a rebuttal seemed unfair and unjust. I would like the voter's to weigh these two cases and decide which one they find to be more convincing.
Debate Round No. 1
4 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 4 records.
Posted by jdwooch 9 years ago
lol i think it's funny that these are cirro's cases
howd u do at yale?
Posted by CiRrO 9 years ago
Yup, I already debated it at a local tournament, and at the Yale Invitational.
Posted by 1994bookworm 9 years ago
Am I right in guessing that you are in speech and debate and have received this topic as your Lincoln-Douglass debate issue?
Posted by CiRrO 9 years ago
lol, both my cases...
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