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Violence is Wrong

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 1/25/2014 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 6 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 3,053 times Debate No: 44606
Debate Rounds (5)
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This debate is probably best described as an ongoing philosophical discussion between sdavio and myself regarding the nature of politics. Sdavio began his existence on this website with a staunchly moral libertarian position that not only advocated the non-aggression principle, but saw it as a means to decrease violence on aggregate, violence being considered immoral in his world view.

I understand my position in this debate can easily be considered either an extreme devil's advocate position, or something that is prima facie immoral. I aim to convince audiences otherwise. I will do this by divorcing violence from moral considerations.


Violence is Wrong

(CON aims to prove that violence is neither necessarily right nor wrong)


I think both PRO/CON would appreciate leaving the definition of violence as debatable, so I will not post a definition as a necessary, binding condition for accepting this debate. I expect much of this debate to explore exactly what it means to be violent.

Wrong - Immoral


My standard boiler-plate:

This will be a NO SCORING debate. I am far less concerned with the scoring mechanism of this website, and much more interested in furthering constructive dialogue on this matter. I see the scoring mechanism as being extremely politicized and subject to all manners of corruption, and also see it as an inhibitor to constructive dialogue as many people who vote simply do not want their vote challenged or discussed.

Anyone and everyone is more than welcome to make a decision on this debate, declare a victor, and leave (hopefully) an insightful RFD, I merely ask that no one score this debate.

I will make exception to the scoring of conduct. Any forfeited rounds, ad hominem attacks, or breaching of the rules of this debate will merit a conduct point against the offender. Otherwise, no scoring, thank you.

I really don't expect there to be any issues...sdavio is generally the paragon of good conduct here, lol.


Burden of proof (BoP) is shared.

5 rounds
1st round: CON: introduction and debate parameters, PRO: opening arguments
2/3/4 rounds argument and rebuttal
5th round: CON: closing arguments, PRO: "This round left blank."

This will allow for 4 full rounds of debate by both sides.

6,000 character rounds.

I look forward to a very interesting debate!


In this debate, I should set out to convince you of the proposition that violence is wrong according to a moral standard. While I hope my arguments apply generally, I shall also hope to rebut and circumvent my opponent's previously elaborated tactic regarding violence, characterised by the famous line, "life is violence."

What is violence?

First of all, I agree to leaving the definitions somewhat open; there is no 'absolute definition' for any word, however, it is important to understand at least the common threads among most or all definitions of the word 'violence', if I am to tie the concept to morality in a solid, meaningful way.

Let's start with the definitons provided by Wrichcirw in his debate on pacifism:

"1. exertion of physical force so as to injure or abuse
2. injury by or as if by distortion, infringement, or profanation
3. intense, turbulent, or furious and often destructive action or force
4. undue alteration (as of wording or sense in editing a text)"

I would summarise a basic definition, for this context, as; a being causing harm to a being (either another or itself). I will propose a few common threads among these definitions:

- It is always undesirable for the victim.

- It, in itself, applies only to the negative effects caused to a victim, not to anything surrounding that.

- It describes a facet of an action. An act is not 'only, entirely violent'.

Are all acts (equally) violent?

This third point is in a sense responding to Con's common strategy of proving that violence is amoral, which generally runs as follows;

- If an act causes harm to a being, it is a violent act.
- All acts, followed far enough along the deterministic chain of events, cause harm to another being.
- Therefore, all acts are violent acts.
- Therefore, no distinction regarding violence can be made, and moral principles based on violence are meaningless.

This seems, as I have admitted in the past, quite a convincing tactic. It seems to follow that no actual distinction in violence can be made, we cannot avoid or reduce violence, and the only difference lies in how direct or indirect an act is in causing harm.

However, on further consideration, it also seems counter-intuitive. Is it true that no distinction can be drawn between, say, if right now I stay in my room and read a book, or go outside an stab someone? Perhaps the paper used in the book, the electricity used in the light, the sunlight I do not get by not going outside, the new experiences I miss out on by doing something new; all these things might contribute to their own harms against beings. Indeed, Con has often commented that the only way to avoid violence is to commit suicide, but even this doesn't do it, because it in itself is a very violent act. Despite this, we almost all feel that, not only is there a definite distinction between the two acts (reading a book or stabbing someone,) but that one is intrinsically more favorable as a choice. Not Con though, as while perhaps he does accept that there are factors which must come into play in making a decision, he certainly cannot hold whether harm will come to others as a result of it, as one of those factors.

Singling out violence

Now, how do we avoid the painting of all acts unilaterally with the label 'violent act'? To do so, I will begin with an example:

Let's say I am eating a piece of food, and that for some reason - it doesn't matter why - I find this act (eating the food) funny. And let's say that at that same time, I have a small, almost unnoticable, irritation, say an itch. What kind of act am I engaging in? Is it a 'nourishing' act, a 'humorous' act, or an 'irritated' act? The answer seems obvious; it is all of those. But not only that, it is more humorous than it is irritating. Now, let's say we want to comment on the positivity (to myself) taking place in that act. We should not say, "This is a completely negative event, because there was a small itch, and itches are negative". Because the overall emotion of the event is positive, we regard the 'net emotion' to be a positive one.

Applying principles

Now, what if we want to judge the pleasurable-ness of itches as a principle? Is the itch positive simply because the net outcome of all emotions experienced was positive? No, we can say that, insofar as a feeling is itchy, it is not pleasurable.

Similarly, insofar as violence exists, it is not desirable for living beings.

This is because while any act has many facets, and can be labelled in multiple ways, each still can be applied to principles, according to the corresponding implications.

All other variables being the same, in a choice between the more or less violent action, it is always preferable for the totality of people involved that the less violent choice takes place. It might be objected; "What if violence is a means to an overall more desirable end?" This does not affect the principle of the issue, because it is not a desirable means; it's in that case a 'necessary evil', and if the same end could be achieved without violence, or with less, we should always prefer the least violent option.

According to whose morality?

I don't believe it is necessary in this context to justify any elaborate moral theory to substantiate the 'wrong' element of my claim. Any moral theory must differentiate between 'right' and 'wrong', 'desirable' and 'undesirable', and be so for living beings; so if a type of action is defined as 'undesirable', it is by definition morally wrong on principle. It doesn't matter which particular moral standard is applied, as long as it's applied to all players involved, and is not so completely contradictory as to be senseless.

This concludes my Round 1, thanks for reading.
Debate Round No. 1



I thank sdavio for his presentation and for flattering me with so many references to my prior arguments, lol. =)

As it is, I will be presenting my own case before proffering a formal rebuttal. My case will be substantially different from my prior iterations. I reserve the right to properly rebut sdavio's case in future rounds.


First, I will provide my own moral framework.

Second, I will elaborate on the "nature" of violence.

Third, I will demonstrate how violence fits (or rather does not fit) into this moral framework, and how it actually lies outside this framework.

Moral Framework

For morality I will be using a utilitarian framework with a foundation of rational self-interest. This frames morality as a subjective quality that varies with each individual, with the key determinant of morality being the weighing of the desirability of one particular decision over another.

Although rational self-interest may seem to preclude teamwork and other social elements, the opposite is actually true. It may be very rational and fully within one's self-interest to work in a group to accomplish tasks that one cannot accomplish alone. All members of this group thus benefit from the project's completion - this is commonly known as "win/win" scenarios and are prevalent in business environments. I will be using this teamwork element of my moral framework liberally, albeit in the negative, destructive rubric of violence.

The "Nature" of Violence

The definition of violence that sdavio proffered can be broken down into two main constituents:

A) Destructive acts irrelevant to human causality found in the environment (#3, 4 in his list), and
B) Actions taken by humans to injure other humans (#1, 2).

I will note that #B is very relevant to morality, whereas #A is not.

I want to make this distinction clear because it is very easy to conflate the two. In fact, I did exactly this in my pacifism debate, because that debate did not deal with morality at all, which left me free to frame violence as either/or A/B, hence my conclusion in that debate that "life is violence" - after all, our own digestive systems are "destructive acts found in the environment", and so our very being is "violent" by such a broad definition unconstrained by morality.

In this debate, I will be dealing with strictly #B. After all, morality deals with human action and not causality found in nature...and this debate is strictly about the morality of violence.

Violence is Irrelevant to Morality

With this framework for violence and morality, I will now illustrate cases where the violent acts that we perpetrate against each other are both moral and immoral...this will demonstrate that violence is not strictly immoral, and that violence as a category falls outside the realm of moral judgment.

First, the immorality of violence is easy to comprehend. Just think of any sadist that derives continual pleasure in killing other people...each life taken weighs as much on a moral basis as the sadist's own life, meaning that the moment s/he takes more than one life, the utilitarian calculus would necessarily deem this sadist to be immoral. Such violence is clearly wrong.

The morality of violence is much harder to initially comprehend...but is actually also quite intuitive. The perennial utilitarian "trolley dilemma" is one distinct case where a violent act is a moral act:

"You are walking near a trolley-car track when you notice five people tied to it in a row. The next instant, you see a trolley hurtling toward them, out of control. A signal lever is within your reach; if you pull it, you can divert the runaway trolley down a side track, saving the five — but killing another person, who is tied to that spur. What do you do? Most people say they would pull the lever: Better that one person should die instead of five."

Pulling the lever is a violent are deliberately killing the man by redirecting the trolley towards his direction instead of the other five people. This violent act is moral act, whereas inaction, which results in the other 5 people dying, is immoral.

This trolley dilemma can easily be extended to various real life scenarios:

1) 10 researchers are in an underground facility when their air supply and access to the surface is cut. They have exactly 100 man-hours of oxygen left, enough to sustain the 10 researchers for 10 hours...or 5 researchers for 20 hours. Their radio works, and they are told it will take at least 15 hours for the rescue crews to get to them. What do you do? If no one commits any violent acts, all 10 researchers will die. If they instead kill a few of themselves off, the rest may be able to survive long enough to get rescued...this is where my prior note on "teamwork" comes into play, although this is anything BUT win/win.

2) 5 survivors from a shipwreck find themselves on a lifeboat with limited supplies. Some of the survivors are hurt. The cook gets the idea that these cripples may constitute a new source of sustenance, noting that killing them will also extend the lifespan of their supplies as well...

What drives people to such violent acts? As we can see, in a utilitarian calculus, it's for the greater good. You necessarily kill off some people in order to save the greater whole. Similarly, you amputate a limb infected with gangrene in order to save the patient. Both are unquestionably violent acts, yet people do not recognize the inherently violent act of amputation to save a patient's life as being immoral in any sense. Such violence is moral. Such violence is right.


I have demonstrated cases where violence is right. Such cases negate the resolution.

It may not be the case that every violent act is right. Indeed, most are not. However, by demonstrating cases where violence is right, we must conclude that violence is not necessarily wrong.




To begin my second round I will first comment on the nature of my argument; although my points might seem to be abstract and to lack emotional weight, what I am attempting to do is to create a fundamental, almost semantical tie between violence and immorality; this argument subsuming the 'life is violence' position and precluding all of the common arguments which attempt to divorce violence from immorality. In this round, through my rebuttals, I hope the links between my arguments, and the overall idea I am communicating, will become more clear. To reiterate, the pillars of my argument are:

1. Violence refers only to harm caused.
2. Violence is a facet of an action, and as such there are degrees of violence.
3. All other variables being the same, we should prefer the least violent course of action.
4. Since morality refers to 'good and bad actions' for humans, referring to humans in general as an abstraction, and violence refers specifically to a bad thing caused to a human, it is directly tied to immorality.

"Rational Self-Interest"

A brief word on the 'rational self-interest' position: Although self-interest philosophy generally states that one should work with others only because it benefits itself, in order to work with moral philosophy sensibly (due to the abstract nature of it, applying to all living beings,) it's argument, for consistency, must work in reverse in the moral context; it is in your interest to do what is in your rational self-interest, but it is morally preferable for society to do so because it is best for everyone. It would not be morally preferable for society if it only helped one specific person.

The trolley dilemma

To make clear what's going on here, let's reduce this example to it's essential components. We have situation where, presumably for the sake of argument, we have two possible courses of action (cop outs like stopping anyone from dying, etc, are out of the question.)

- Action A causes harm to five people.
- Action B causes harm to one person.

Con has said that Action B is innately, in itself the preferable choice. Why? Not because of any rational self-interest, that hasn't come into it at all. Simply because the lesser amount of harm is caused.

The way Con tried to get around this was by calling Action A "inaction", but this inaccurate. The only being capable of "inaction" is a dead person. Otherwise, any course of action is a choice. What the person who chooses Action A is doing is knowingly, purposefully choosing the course of action which causes more harm. By calling Action B the more moral, Con has accepted the very paradigm he purports to debunk.

The underground facility

Once again, we find a situation where Con states that the preferable solution is the one where all beings cause the least harm possible to each other, this time in the form of stopping breathing, because using the air is causing harm to the other researchers. Note also, that this seems almost diametrically opposed to the rational self-interest idea, because the best course of action would presumably be for some of the researchers to voluntarily give up their lives. In that case, they are causing harm to themselves, but only in order to minimize the overall amount of harm caused.

The lifeboat example falls by exactly the same principles.

Further responses

"What drives people to such violent acts? As we can see, in a utilitarian calculus, it's for the greater good."

Con calls it a ultilitarian calculus, but really in this context it is a calculus of least harm caused by beings to other beings. This 'greater good' idea also seems to contradict the rational self-interest moral standard Con supposedly subscribes to.

"Similarly, you amputate a limb infected with gangrene in order to save the patient."

Does this cause harm to the patient? Perhaps in some ways, but nowhere near the amount caused by refusing to do it altogether.

"I have demonstrated cases where violence is right."

In all examples presented, the violence was wrong, but was simply less wrong that other possible courses of action. In order for an example to prove Con's point, it must be a case where violence is preferable solely because it is harmful. To propose we choose a violent action only because it's less violent than the alternative, undermines Con's own argument in itself.

Thanks for reading my round 2.
Debate Round No. 2



PRO lays out a clear argument, that "we almost all feel that, not only is there a definite distinction between [reading a book or stabbing someone,] but that one is intrinsically more favorable as a choice," because stabbing someone deals with "the negative effects caused to a victim," by one person injuring another.

Recall that specifically for this debate, I have made a clear distinction between natural violence (#A), and human-to-human violence (#B), because for the purposes of morality, we can only be held accountable for #B. This distinction is not only central to my opening arguments, it will also become critical in all of my subsequent rebuttals. Whatever harm results from book-reading (oxygenation in cells leading to death by aging, thirst, hunger, etc) is clearly a case of #A, whereas the stabbing is clearly #B.

I warned in my opening that it is very easy to conflate #A with #B. I will demonstrate that PRO is combining and conflating #A with #B on numerous occasions when it is inappropriate in a discussion about the morality of violence, since #A is not in any way relevant to a human standard for morality - we are simply not responsible for the violent acts of nature, even though we seek to mitigate its effect upon us. I will isolate instances of #A in PRO's arguments and demonstrate how an increase in #B can easily be deemed moral.

The Trolley Dilemma

PRO conflates #A with #B most clearly in his analysis of the trolley dilemma. He cites:

"- Action A causes harm to five people.
- Action B causes harm to one person."

He is incorrect in his conceptualization of this scenario. There IS NO "Action A". Action A is an act of nature (#A), not of human action (#B) - thus, what PRO deems to be "Action A" is actually natural violence and inaction by humans. It is nature that causes those 5 deaths (#A), not the action of any one individual (#B). Indeed, it is HUMAN INACTION that causes those deaths (neutral #B, increase in #A).

It is only through violent human action (increase in #B), that those five people are saved (greater decrease in #A). In this specific case, non-violence actually results in more deaths. (neutral #B, increase in #A)

In a utilitarian calculus, all else being the same, fewer people dying is desirable and conforms to rational self-interest. So, in this utilitarian calculus for this specific dilemma, the more violent solution (increase in #B) is the moral solution, because it leads to fewer deaths (greater decrease in #A).

This reasoning also applies to all of my derivatives of the trolley dilemma, i.e. the research lab, the lifeboat, and the doctor/amputee. In every one of these instances, non-violence through inaction actually results in more death (neutral #B, increase in #A). That death is caused by nature.

Thus, I find PRO's charge that "By calling Action B the more moral, Con has accepted the very paradigm he purports to debunk," to be false, because Action B mitigates death by nature to a greater degree than the death caused by human action (increase #B, greater decrease in #A) and is thus the moral course of action.

Utilitarianism and the Greater Good

PRO has doubts about the greater good thesis, as he states that it "seems to contradict the rational self-interest moral standard Con supposedly subscribes to."

This is incorrect; there is no contradiction. My thesis accepts that nature may do us great harm, and that sometimes, it is appropriate to "fight fire with fire." What may be at times the most utilitarian course of action is for humans to inflict greater harm against each other (increase #B) in order to counter-act the inherent natural violence against humans (greater decrease in #A). This results in the greater good.

Nature has instilled violent, self-destructiveness (#A) in our very being. If we do not eat, we starve. If we do not breathe, we suffocate. In order to counter-act this natural violence, we must do violence to our environment in return, sometimes against other individuals (#B). To feed ourselves, we must destroy plant or animal life. To prevent suffocation, we must breathe air that would otherwise be needed to sustain the lives of others. The latter is most clearly illustrated in the research lab example...all of the researchers realize the necessity of violently killing off some of their own (increase #B) in order to provide enough air to save the rest (greater decrease in #A). Non-violence would actually result in all of their deaths (neutral #B, increase in #A). This is very similar to the concept of a controlled burn to fight a forest fire, i.e. "fight fire with fire". All of this is consistent with rational self-interest, because it's in none of the researchers' interests to have them all die.

In this sense, both PRO/CON agree that "insofar as violence exists, it is not desirable for living beings" - however, the key difference between PRO/CON and why I advocate for human violence not necessarily being morally wrong is that I believe in an overall decrease in violence against humans found in nature (#A) AND humans (#B), even if that requires an increase in violent human interactions (increasing #B) to accomplish such a goal - PRO however sees all human violence as immoral, and that is where he is mistaken. The increase in #B serves to counter-act the inherent natural violence against humans (i.e. decrease #A by a greater amount), and is thus a moral application of violence.

Keep in mind that humans are not responsible for and largely have no control over natural violence (#A), which is why only human-to-human violence (#B) is considered when it comes to morality.


PRO is correct in that this topic is quite abstract. I hope my presentation has clarified upon the moral nature of violence, and how in certain situations, human-to-human violence may very well be moral and desirable. Such a stance negates the resolution.

I understand I did not rebut all of PRO's points. I reserve the right for further rebuttal.


The environmental / human violence distinction

Larry made a promise to his girlfriend that he would eat a salad every day. She even makes a salad in the morning of the first day, and leaves it in his fridge. When his girlfriend arrives back at his house, to find the salad still in the fridge, Larry replies "I didn't cause the salad not to enter my digestive system! It was an act of nature; the laws of physics, gravity, are what held the salad in it's spot in the fridge."

It is in the trolley problem, that a major point of contention between Con and myself becomes clear. Does 'Action A' (leaving the trolley controls alone, and allowing five people to die) constitute 'inaction'? I will reiterate my argument regarding inaction from Round 2, that consciousness is by definition action, so any conscious being is always engaged in action, never inaction. Following from that logic, every choice is an 'active choice', and if something is within a person's power to change, but they choose not to, they have (when talking in terms of morality, rather than physics) 'caused' it not to change. There is no important distinction between 'Action A' and 'Action B'.

Con himself made the distinction that morality dictates that we look at things purely in terms of human choice. It then follows that we should look at problems like the trolley example through that lens. The person clearly has two choices, one leading to five deaths, the other leading to one. I contend that both are equally 'active', since there is a negligible difference in the effort involved to enact them, and the person is fully aware of the consequences of either choice. If it were, for instance, very difficult to pull the lever to change tracks, blaming the course of events on nature might be more convincing.

To remind us of the distinction Con made, it is this:

"A) Destructive acts irrelevant to human causality found in the environment (#3, 4 in his list), and
B) Actions taken by humans to injure other humans (#1, 2)."

For this to be valid, Action A must be totally irrelevant to human causality; here I have argued that it is not. Whether the five people die directly depends on human causality. In fact, the very fact that the dilemma is presented in terms of a 'moral choice' implies that human causality is involved in either outcome. Otherwise, it would not be a choice.

To reiterate my conclusion regarding this section, both choices are violent action, but the preferable one is the less violent.

The greater good versus rational self-interest

Con posits that there is no contradiction between his advocation of the 'greater good', and the rational self-interest philosophy which supposedly forms the standard by which all morality should be measured.

In the trolley dilemma, for example, Con advocated that the less people dying should necessarily be the more moral choice. However, how can this be, if there is not necessarily any difference in personal utility between the two choices? The answer should not be whichever causes the least deaths, but whichever option the guy at the controls gains the most profit from. There is no distinction of personal utility even made in the first place in that instance, so by making a moral distinction at all, when personal utility is irrelevant, Con is contradicting his rational self-interest stance.

Is living more violent than self-destruction?

Con characterizes life in such a way that makes it seem that we're choosing a more violent option by continuing to live;

"In order to counter-act this natural violence, we must do violence to our environment in return, sometimes against other individuals (#B)."

Indeed there is some harm done by continuing to live, to others through pollution even just by breathing out, and to nature by eating plants, and so on. However, this is an extremely small amount of violence, while the violence involved in self-destruction is devastating. By continuing to live, we are opting for the less violent option.

Sacrificing '#B' for '#A'

Con implies that humans must sometimes use violence against other humans, and that this will somehow counteract violence done by nature against humans;

"...I believe in an overall decrease in violence against humans found in nature (#A) AND humans (#B), even if that requires an increase in violent human interactions (increasing #B) to accomplish such a goal'

Con's logic is clear; in the trolley example, nature is about to cause violence against some humans, and a human comes along and turns it into human/human violence, but also drastically reduces the amount of 'net violence' involved. I will show further issues with this logic below..

What is 'nature'?

While Con's characterization of nature might at first seem to make sense, it is actually an obtuse amalgamation of several different concepts:

- That which is entirely irrelevant from human causality.
- 'The natural world', the universe.
- All non-human parts of the universe.

Rather than attempting to navigate such a disorienting picture of nature, I propose that nature is simply something like:

"the physical world and everything in it (such as plants, animals, mountains, oceans, stars, etc.) that is not made by people"

...and that humans are a part of nature. We therefore may end up with a much simpler distinction in moral actions, which Con's distinction is superfluous to: If a person has both the ability and knowledge necessary to change something, and does not, they are responsible for it not changing as such. This kind of distinction is absolutely necessary for any judgement regarding moral choice, as we must be able to blame someone equally for the things they don't choose, otherwise there is no variation in morality between choices.

This concludes my Round 3, thanks for reading.
Debate Round No. 3


PRO has launched a bevy of counters to my claims. I will address them in order of foundational importance.

I remind audiences of the key distinction between forms of violence:

Natural Violence = #A

Human/Human Violence = #B


R1) First, I will rebut PRO's mischaracterization of my operating definition of "nature". I have no idea from where he got his "obtuse amalgamation" - that's a strawman from PRO.

In fact, my stance is almost exactly the same as what he laid out except with one semantic clarification: "nature" is "the physical world and everything in it (such as plants, animals, mountains, oceans, stars, etc.) that is not [caused] by people".

Are we a part of nature as PRO insists? Yes...however, we are not morally responsible for what occurs outside of what we cause into being. The emphasis on morality in this debate explains my distinction between natural violence (#A) and human/human violence (#B).

R2) This framing of nature then puts the trolley dilemma in the proper framework. The person at the lever (let's call him Bob) did not cause this situation to come into being. So, Bob is not responsible for what would occur had he not been there to make that choice.

In the trolley dilemma, had Bob not been there, five people would have died due to an act of nature. This is why I do not hold Bob to be morally culpable for those deaths, because Bob's mere awareness of the situation does not change the outcome. Given the choice to save those five people while violently acting to kill one other person, the moral choice at that point becomes clear...Bob must act, and violently.

In a utilitarian calculus, what matters is a relative comparison of choices to determine relative morality. In this case, the moral choice is clear, as saving five lives is better than saving one. To act or not act otherwise would be relatively immoral by comparison.

R3) According to PRO, "consciousness is by definition action." I'm not sure I buy this at all. Is consciousness of a solar flare or a lunar eclipse actually action? This is prima facie absurd. We ACT upon such thoughts, so for example, if you wanted to see such events, you ACT by pulling out a telescope to view them. Gathering knowledge may be a conscious action, but mere consciousness is not action.

Therefore, I would conclude that PRO is correct about choice, but incorrect about action. Bob had a choice to make, but not necessarily any action. By acting, Bob increased human-human violence (#B). This increase in violence is moral. By not acting, Bob allowed for an increase in natural violence (#A) to occur. This non-violence between humans is immoral.

R4) PRO makes an interesting point about the ostensible absence of rational self-interest in the trolley dilemma. I posit several solutions to this quandary:

a) The Golden Rule - given that we all hold our own interests at heart, it would follow that, absent any conflicts, we would respect similar notions in other people.

b) The dead cannot further one's self-interest in any manner. With more people alive, more people will be thankful that Bob saved their lives (go Bob!), and may indeed express their thanks in ways that further Bob's self interest.

Both of these notions augment and uphold the principle of rational self-interest. Unless PRO can debunk the viability of these arguments, I find that they are valid, universal perspectives for this scenario. I understand this adds a bit more detail to the stated problem, but I think it's not much of a stretch to do so, and easily conforms to common experience. The simple questions are thus: What profit do we gain from others' deaths? What profit can we gain from others' lives?

R5) The final, underlined questions I asked in [R4] are relevant to PRO's discussion on living vs self-destruction. Even though I could argue that the tons upon tons of consumed meat and plant protein embody suffering beyond PRO's claims, for the purposes of this debate, PRO/CON agree that living humans achieve a greater good through their lives than their deaths. This further adds credibility towards anyone looking to save lives via the trolley dilemma, and affirms rational self-interest as a moral truism for this debate.

R6) PRO also states: "If it were, for instance, very difficult to pull the lever to change tracks, blaming the course of events on nature might be more convincing."

This is exactly true in the researchers' lab dilemma. It is extremely difficult for those 10 researchers to figure out who is going to die amongst themselves to save the rest. Imagine if the only tool they had for the task was one crowbar. If PRO requires such difficulty to be convinced, then this derivative of the trolley example should be most convincing. Or, the cannibalism on the lifeboat. Or, the doctor sawing off limbs for an amputee. If only they had it as easy as Bob...


PRO continues to conflate violence in nature (#A) with human/human violence (#B). He insists that we do so due out of considerations for consciousness, which I do believe I have debunked. Outside of that key point, I believe I have resolved any other differences of interpretation between PRO/CON.

My thesis is clear: We are morally responsible for only violence that we cause. PRO does not contest that human/human violence can at times be synonymous to "fighting fire with fire", and when it is, it is the moral solution. Because of this, human/human violence can be moral or immoral. This negates the resolution.


Nature = Outside of human causation

My opponent responded to my charge that his conception of nature was too obtuse by claiming that his definition was actually simple; that nature is anything in the universe which is completely separate from human causation.

However, what I have been attempting to argue in regards specifically to the trolley dilemma, is that within the context of morality, indirect causation is still causation. In moral terms (as opposed to talking purely about physics,) the person at the controls made a choice, and the outcome of this choice causes five people to die. Therefore it is not an act of nature. If Con disagrees with this, it's not enough to simply state that it's wrong. Con must propose a convincing conception of moral causality which only takes into account 'direct' causation. As I alluded to near the end of my Round 3, this is impossible, since morality to be functional at all must take into account the effects of 'not doing' a particular thing.

The trolley dilemma

Con states that 'Bob' "did not cause this situation to come into being. So, Bob is not responsible for what would occur had he not been there to make that choice."

If the five people do die, Bob is causing the situation of those people dying to come into being. Even barring such a rebuttal, the logic used by Con here is simply not how morality works. It is due to the decision made by Bob that the people die, and if he had chosen differently they would not have. Therefore it is due to Bob's decision that they die, it's as simple as that. It's irrelevant what would happen if Bob weren't present at all, which is a totally separate situation.

Action and inaction

Con does not accept consciousness as always being action. Perhaps I could more accurately say that a being which is conscious is always also in action (although I'd argue both statements are true.) We can analyse the respective meanings of the terms 'alive' and 'dead' to see that this is true. A completely inactive being could not be alive.

This is why I frame Bob's decision, whichever it is, as an 'active' choice. The fact that Bob was present in the trolley and had the ability to change the outcome is not something to be ignored by morality.

Rational self-interest and valuing others

I can accept Con's elaborations of the rational self-interest position, albeit it weakens the moral principles involved, because it's predicated on inductive assumptions. It's acceptable, if somewhat tenuous.

Blaming outcomes on nature

Con misinterprets my position, that "If it were, for instance, very difficult to pull the lever to change tracks, blaming the course of events on nature might be more convincing."

My point was precisely that this would not change the morality of the principles involved. We might be more forgiving of Bob, because his reason for not pulling the lever was different, but it would still be more moral if he had done so.

The very point was to show that the most moral thing in all of the examples discussed was to reduce harm caused to all parties, and that the difficulty of putting it into action does not invalidate this.

Conflating natural violence with human violence

Con accuses me of conflating the two sides of his dichotomy. I continue to hold that Con is misattributing the dichotomy, as human causality is directly or indirectly involved in all situations here discussed, so none are 'purely natural violence'.


This was my final round. Thanks to Con for engaging in the debate, I enjoyed it and I hope my arguments were clear and that the debate was productive.
Debate Round No. 4


First, I thank PRO for this debate. This debate has been most challenging especially due to its abstract nature, and I thank PRO for presenting such a cogent criticism of my position. This debate was most enjoyable.

I will first address PRO's main rebuttal, and then close with a detailed, step-by-step summary of exactly what the trolley dilemma entailed.


For his last round, PRO's main rebuttal is that "a being which is conscious is always also in action...A completely inactive being could not be alive," implying that there is no such thing as inaction for any living being, and that to be alive is to act in some form or another. From this PRO concludes that "human causality is directly or indirectly involved in all situations here discussed, so none are 'purely natural violence'."

PRO's main implication is that actions such as breathing, blood circulation, etc, all necessitate causal action by humans. I addressed this in round #2 - I will break it down in detail:

1) None of these actions are conscious actions. We do not choose to breathe, to become hungry, or to circulate blood around our body...we are normally unconscious of these actions, and so they are all irrelevant to the issue of morality, which requires a conscious choice concomitant with action/inaction.

2) This is where the delineation between natural violence and human-to-human violence becomes so useful. The default position for these biological actions is naturally "ON", and are not caused by human means. These actions are also inherently violent in the natural sense - our stomachs and lungs perform chemical reactions to sustain our existences, without which we die. Therefore, such biological actions are part of the natural realm, i.e. #A.

Once analyzed in such detail, PRO's point does not pass the common-sense test. Common sense would tell you that if you had the choice to fly to Japan or not fly to Japan, the former would constitute action and the latter inaction. It does not matter that you are breathing while NOT flying to Japan...that simply does not constitute what we would call human action.

This is also why in the researchers' lab dilemma, the 10 researchers have to choose between non-violent behavior (i.e. no air to breathe) and human/human violence (crowbar).


Putting it all together

This has been an exhaustive study on the most basic aspects of human life, decision, and existence. I will now run a play-by-play of the trolley dilemma from round #2 with good ol' Bob as the quarterback to see how all of my rebuttals of PRO's various objections pass muster. Recall the trolley dilemma:

[Bob is] walking near a trolley-car track when [Bob notices] five people tied to it in a row. The next instant, [Bob sees] a trolley hurtling toward them, out of control. A signal lever is within [Bob's] reach; if [he pulls] it, [he] can divert the runaway trolley down a side track, saving the five — but killing another person, who is tied to that spur. What [does Bob] do? Most people say [Bob] would pull the lever: Better that one person should die instead of five."

1) The morality of this situation will be determined by a utilitarian framework with a foundation in rational self-interest that, ceteris paribus, holds that each human life has an equal, positive value. PRO in his final round begrudgingly conceded that this framework is valid for this debate.

2) There is a difference between natural (#A) and human/human violence (#B). Morality deals ONLY with human violence and not causality found in nature. Sometimes, by consciously and causally increasing #B, we achieve a dramatic decrease in #A. This is the central thesis of my position.

3) Consciousness does not imply action - just being aware of the choice does not mean you have a moral decision to make. You must ALSO have the ability to act or not act. This refutes PRO's main round #3 contention.

4) Human life itself has a naturally violent component (#A), and also a violent component derived from conscious choice (#B). We are only concerned with the latter. We are not concerned with Bob's breathing and etc. If Bob does not pull the lever, he is not performing a human action, and thus does not cause human/human violence.


Let's now analyze the steps in a utilitarian framework:


5 people die, one person lives









5 people live, one person dies.

Thus, Scenario D2 results in most lives saved, and is the moral decision.


This breakdown shows applies the various arguments from the debate:

Scenario A does not involve Bob at all, and so the violence is wholly attributed to nature. (#A)
Scenario B involves Bob's consciousness, but not awareness of a choice, which leads to the same as Scenario A. (#A)
Scenario C involves not only Bob's consciousness, but also his consciousness of the situation and of a choice, but he cannot act upon the choice. Still #A. Bob is STILL not morally culpable for this scenario.

Only in Scenario D do we see an actual moral dilemma that compels Bob to make a conscious choice. The moral choice is to increase human/human violence (#B), and so we see that ONLY in Scenario D do we see a choice that we would actually call "violent" in a moral sense. In this specific scenario, this violence is moral. Non-violence, i.e. non-action, is immoral. This negates the resolution.

If instead you go by PRO's framework, then Gandhi, MLK, and Jesus Christ were all "violent resisters" by virtue of their breathing alone, as per PRO: "human causality is directly or indirectly involved in all situations here discussed, so none are 'purely natural violence'." PRO's position doesn't pass the common sense test.

I thank PRO again for an exhaustive study of this resolution. If all this went over your head, just remember: Larry's a stooge, and Bob's your uncle.



This round left blank.
Debate Round No. 5
5 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 5 records.
Posted by johnlubba 6 years ago
lol wrichcirw,

I noticed you asked for a no scoring debate but request points for conduct if applicable. I just find this amusing seeing as you are the Con in a debate about violence being not wrong.


I will try to read this whole debate on Sunday if I get the chance.
Posted by wrichcirw 6 years ago
lol, the obvious answer to your question is "read the debate and find out".
Posted by liam13661 6 years ago
what even is this. how do you negate
Posted by wrichcirw 6 years ago
I made a forum topic for this debate, so that the comments section doesn't get cluttered up with a ridiculously poorly formatted mess.

To the audience - please use the forum to voice your opinion about this debate, and thanks for reading!
Posted by wrichcirw 6 years ago
lol @larry...=)
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by Wylted 6 years ago
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Reasons for voting decision: I'm confused as to why someone who doesn't want there debate voted on would implement such an excruciatingly long voting period. None the less, I respect the debator's request and won't vote.

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