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the end justifies the means in this hypothetical

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 5/10/2013 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 3 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 589 times Debate No: 33548
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (3)
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a train is hurting out of control at five people tied to the tracks. if you pull a lever, the train will be diverted to a track with one person, someone with highly developed cancer and two weeks left to live. there appears to be no other way to stop the train in time... your only choice is to pull the lever or not.

five lives trumps one life who will end in two weeks. proportionalism.... the ends justify the means here, because of the overwhelming favorable interests involved v small negative interests.


While there are overwhelming favorable interests, I disagree with the assumption that the means does justify the ends. I'll propose another example, similar to yours.

Suppose you're a doctor and there's been a terrible construction accident, leaving five people in desperate need of vital organs. Suppose you've got a normal, relatively healthy, 75 year-old person in the room next door whom you could easily subdue with the hypothetical pull of a lever. By taking the life of the healthy person, you'd be able to distribute his organs in order to save the five.

Would this justifiable, according to your own reasoning of proportionalism? Since the need of five outweigh the need of a single person who has already lived a long amount of time, would it be fair to promptly end the life of the 75 year-old?
Debate Round No. 1


All you have done is show that there are times when whether the ends justifes the means, is not so clear. i showed what i believe is a clear example. i am a "proportionalist" instead of a deontologist, so i to take each case on its own... but personally i would say a healthy person with organs is worth even a hundred other people. you may argue there's a slippery slope created with my methods, and i wont deny it. but i will say that there probably does exist a truth, it's just not always easy to tell which it is. truth may be relative in some sense though in some sense it's not, but it's not arbitrary. in my scenaio, the pros and cons were obvioius, in your case not so much. that's all you've shown. you haent shown how proportionalism is wrong or how the ends don't justify the means in that situation i provided.


"Truth may be relative in some sense though in some sense it's not, but it's not arbitrary."

What you conclude here seems to contradict the very meaning of proportionalism. Proportionalist theories say that it is never right to go against a principle unless a proportionate reason would justify it.(1) However, how can you define what a proportionate reason is, if not arbitrarily? By definition, an arbitrary action is one based on or subject to individual judgment or preference.(2) If you take each case as their own, as you say you do, is that not arbitrary? By becoming an arbitrator, you subject your hypothetical subordinates to your own internal bias.

"...but personally I would say a healthy person with organs is worth even a hundred other people."

"In my scenario, the pros and cons were obvious, in your case not so much."

Yet again, you have two conflicting statements of reasoning. First you state that yes, my example would be acceptable according to your personal beliefs on proportionalism. Then, you say that the pros and cons of my example were not so obvious. If you say that a healthy person with organs is worth killing in order to save the others, then the pros must certainly be obvious? This leads me to believe that you have little regard for the means if the ends are good, even if you say you practice proportionalism.

Why the Means Doesn't Justify the Ends

The principle argument behind my reason as to why this specific situation would be wrong is the fact that you cannot disregard the individual liberty of the one in order to save the five. It would be different if the terminally ill person had consented to be killed to save the rest, however, your hypothetical situation says that you must make a conscious effort to divert the track and end the life of the cancer patient without their knowledge or consent. By removing consent, you effectively become a murderer - something which is considered immoral most societies in the world.

Although your hypothetical situation does not state as to how the five came to be tied to the tracks, one may assume that they 1) knew the risks of the railroad track, and 2) involved themselves in business which they may face harsh consequences. In this case, it seems as entirely immoral to murder and involve an outside figure in order to arbitrarily save the five when the five may have been the ones that caused the entire situation in the first place.

Debate Round No. 2


you might insist it's arbitrary and in practice much might be. but i think there's a deeper truth that exists. id expect most eople know that it's just wrong to let the five die when there's a guy with two weeks left to live as the alternative. i could create even more far fetched scenarios that show that one persn should die over millions, or whatever. and if we can take that as true it simply means thee's truth that exists. and all the stuff in between, it's not that the truth doesn't exist, it's just that we don't know what it is. it's not "relative" or "arbitary" etc, just don't know.

actually i never said your example would be permissible to me. i said it'd take at least a hundred people saved to even begin wtihinking about losing one healthy innocent person. i have much concern for the means

i appreciate your concen about the consent of the person killed. it makes me think you think it's inherently wrong to kill him, which i can respect. though i disagree with it completely.
i do though not like that you went on to speculate that the five on the track had a part in being there etc... people too often tend to find ways to want to jusitfy why they should die or whatever, do far fetch loops instead of just saying "the ends dont justify the eans. period". it's as if they know what they are saying is wrong, that it's okay to let them die, so they have to find a rationalization that probably isnt even true.


pk3 forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 3
3 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 3 records.
Posted by SaintMichael741 3 years ago
What is the acceptance? What would I be debating with you?
Posted by bossyburrito 3 years ago
Is the first round acceptance?
Posted by Ragnar 3 years ago
Do you have a reason to want to kill the five?
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