The Instigator
Pro (for)
0 Points
The Contender
Con (against)
3 Points

'defense of others' is too limited in practice, bob the serial killer should be killed in this hypo

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 7/20/2014 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 7 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 823 times Debate No: 59224
Debate Rounds (3)
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'defense of others' is too limited in practice, bob the serial killer should be killed in this hypothetical

bob is a serial killer on the run and's shown every reason he'll continue killing. you see him by chance at a state park. a high reason to think if you try to call authorties he will get away. u have a gun- moral to kill him?

remember, 'defense of others' as a legal and moral system is often said to be only permissible if the pending harm to another is 'imminent' which usually is said to mean 'right about to occur'.
here we are talking just about morality.


Unfortunately, I've only been provided 3 rounds to do this, so I'll have to make them count.

I accepted this not because I agree with this side, but because I was bored. So here goes.

1. Morality as categorical

As Kant argued, it only makes sense to think of morality as universally applicable in terms of its principles. Pro obviously sees the act of ending a human life as reprehensible, evidenced by the position that it would be morally permissible to end the life of Bob because he will kill again. Pro places value on the lives of these individuals and views saving their lives as a moral imperative. Yet, Pro does not apply this same moral calculus to the actor in the hypothetical. If it is wrong to, as Pro implies, end the life of another, then it must be wrong to end the life of the serial killer. The act of ending another's life in and of itself is what's morally reprehensible; the moral rightness of the action isn't contingent upon the character of the individual.

Pro will make the argument that, in this scenario, it is ok to kill because the act of killing actually saves lives, but Pro must first refute the notion that killing in and of itself is wrong without damaging the claim that these lives should be saved.

2. Weighing Moral Principles

Even if you don't buy the argument that killing is categorically impermissible, we must assess when it's ok to kill. The principle of "imminent danger" to another's life is important with regard to western liberal legal history. It respects the ideal that everyone has a moral right to be tried for his/her crimes rather than being judged arbitrarily by park-going vigilantes. Pro doesn't even provide evidence that this person has committed the crime. We are forced to assume some sort of transcendental knowledge of the crimes committed, an uncanny ability to identify such a killer, etc. Even if we can be sure that this is indeed Bob, we shouldn't deny him of a fair trial. A sense of security in society is achieved b/c we know that, no matter what we're accused of or how much others wish to invoke personal retribution by taking matters into their own hands, we have the opportunity to defend ourselves in court and present evidence to fight the prosecution. It is in defense of this fundamental principle of a right to a trial that forbids us from killing based upon mere speculation.

It is not a defense of homicide to claim that Bob will probably continue killing. Morality isn't a game of probability. It is categorical, or at least principled in its founding. Few modern philosophers will take a utilitarian approach to moral issues & fewer still will claim to be act utilitarian. This goes beyond that. This is utilitarianism based upon the probability of preserving external moral rights of speculative victims w/o full knowledge that your conscious act to murder someone will actually have the desired effect, namely saving lives. If there is a principle to rule in this situation, it is "do not end the life of another human being, especially when unprovoked".

The reason that the principle "only when imminent danger is present" exists is to defend the immediate rights of those threatened by someone like Bob. If we can effortlessly observe such a situation which presents a clear and present danger to the life of another, it is ok to intervene. Otherwise, we cannot be said to have enough information to be able to come to the conclusion that killing in an act of vigilantism is the best possible way to resolve the situation. Better than calling the cops even though he might get away. Better than not killing someone because it's likely that he'll kill again. Better than aiming for Bob's legs rather than killing him. This is information that we as imperfect beings can never have access to. We can not make value-claims based upon probability with such imperfect information.

But a thought experiment to more accurately envision a brighter line between the principle of acting when someone is in imminent danger and acting when someone will be in danger would be in order. I'll remove the history of murder as to remove biases from readers, and I'll lengthen the timespan, though I won't diminish or augment certainty on the part of the actor.

Suppose there is a young boy named OJ. You are quite certain that, within the next few decades, OJ will kill his wife. He will do so deliberately and, if you kill him now, you can stop this from happening. Why do we intuitively think that it is wrong to do this? It appears as though it is the timespan between our actions and OJ's potential actions. But, as Pro would argue, it is preferable that we end the life of OJ now so that this event does not occur rather than seeking one of many alternative routes. Even if there were none, societal morality would be a difficult framework under which to reconcile the principles of proportional punishment/justice through the system and the notion that we believe this person will kill eventually is enough to kill them. It's borderline thought crime in the sense that someone is served retribution not for their actions, but for what actions may or may not occur in the future. For the same reason that the government can't search your car because you are a known stoner and have smoked before, the government can't kill you because you are a known killer and have killed many times before. Conceding that arbitrary citizens have that moral right as well? It's beyond a long-shot.

The bright line exists between what you can prove in a sensory manner (e.g., literally watching Bob aim a gun to someone's head) and what you extrapolate from past actions. Imminent danger is always a good principle, as it prevents a past mental state or action from having any bearing on what rights you have in the future. Killing someone is not something to be taken lightly. It is a punishment of infinite proportions. This is why we ought only allow such a killing morally in the most extreme and certain of circumstances.

3. Obligation to Obey the Law

In hard cases such as these, we must still default to our obligation to obey the law. This is indeed a moral obligation, as we trade many liberties to protect certain rights that we deem fundamental. The United States & other western liberal democracies are founded upon, in part, the principle that the state may not strip you of any further rights without a reason to do so & that this must be determined in court by a legitimate arbiter, namely a judge. We benefit greatly from the notion that others respect our negative rights by carrying out their correlative duties unequivocally. In a hard case such as this, where one's right to a fair trial is placed on the scale against another person's right to life and a speculative threat to that life, we default to the principle that the government ought to have a monopoly on coercive force as to ensure that only a state which is sanctioned by the people may act to limit the liberties of the people.

What we ought to do in any given situation depends on the balance of moral considerations. The fact that we may already have a moral obligation to do something does not mean that, from the point of view of morality, nothing is added when the same action is made the subject of a legal obligation. In a situation in which we are confronted with conflicting moral obligations, the fact that we are under a legal obligation to choose one particular line of action may, from the moral perspective, without regard to the sanction imposed by the law, tip the balance in favor of that particular line or action."[1]

Even though we are speaking of the morality sans legality of killing Bob, the legality of an action is so inextricably linked to its morality that it is not something we can ignore. This adds additional weight to my argument as well as tipping the scales in my favor should the case be too hard to judge otherwise.

Debate Round No. 1


con argues if bob killing people is wrong, then killing bob is wrong. that's not true at all. if it's okay to kill in self defense or defense of others, as long as a death is imminent, then we can see that con's logic can't be taken at face value. i mean, perhaps con doesn't view self defense and defense of others teh same as everyone, but that's on him, a huge outlier to everyone else on this issue.
and, if we assume the defense point.... all i'm doing is tweeking 'imminency' to mean not just 'about to occur' but 'will occur soon enough'.

con continues giving practical cosiderations about uncertainty. one might almost assume without those practical consierations, con might view it as permissible to kill bob.
it would probably be a case where tehre is some uncertainty, sure. but my only point is that it is not inherently immoral to kill bob, at elast without uncertainty. perhaps the person who saw bob was the brother and neighbor of two different victims killed different times, and he saw them both. and the person saw other videos and is highly knowledgeable. i realize this is not very likely as a hypotheritcal, but it's possible, and it makes my main pint that it's not inherently wrong to enact vigilantism.

even if there was "some" uncertainty as to his idenity and his past, or "some" uncertainty of his future in killing. it is still "highly likely" the right thing to do. when considering all the outcomes and various morals, a very hgh probabliilty is sufifcient. indeed, it would be very possible even though he'd be a vigilantee, that the vigilantee knows 'beyond a reasonable doubt' all that has and would occur. what more could you expect? and it's not even like the vigiliantee is doing things the public doesn't like by taking it upon himself... cause everyone agrees killing in defense is okay, it's jut an issue of how imminent, imminent has to be.

con makes a point about shooting bob's legs. perhaps if it is possible, that would be the best solution. whatever is most mitigatory leading up to and including death, though.

con argues that the government is who should have the duty to enact these punishments or deterrences. but why does it have to be the government? in this case, the government will not stop the murderer from murdering again, but the guy at the park can.


It is almost as if Pro ignored the entirety of my argument, or at least oversimplified it in a manner that evinces lack of a full grasp on the points I was making.

1. Morality as Categorical

On the first point, Pro offers no rebuttal. I state that there is no moral difference between killing Bob and Bob killing his victims. Pro has not refuted this in a warranted manner, merely asserting that this is "not true at all". "If it's okay to kill in self-defense or defense of others" is the only premise that warrants Pro's assertions, yet there is no reason to believe that this premise is true. My later points should be taken as arguments against the notion that killing Bob is ok even if it is not morally impermissible to kill altogether.

I will now advance the point, as well, that the act of killing in and of itself is worse morally than letting another die. Frances Kamm analyzes this in her work Intricate Ethics rather extensively. I no longer have that book, but I'll advance a simplified version of the argument. When letting die, you merely refuse to act, introducing no new danger to the situation. When killing, you introduce the cause of death that would have otherwise been absent sans your presence. This is important as well even if killing Bob, as you should only reserve the right to kill when your own life is at stake, if at all, because otherwise we are left with the killing/letting die quandary. If Pro cannot form a theory of the ontology of inherent value in human life that argues in favor of victims have greater value than perpetrators, I win this point. However, take my point about killing being categorically wrong before you jump to this point, as the earlier point must be refuted first.

Pro advances an ad populum fallacy as argument when asserting that I am an outlier in my beliefs. No work is done to refute my argument, only a reference to me as an "outlier". This is poor argumentative practice.

2. Weighing Moral Principles

Pro offers an argument suggesting one of two things regarding my uncertainty challenges. Either (a.) we are quite certain in this case or (b.) the hypothetical isn't about certainty. In either case, Pro should lose the debate.

(a.) Once again, no matter how certain you think you are, you do not know both that Bob is the killer and that this is Bob in the park. This is information added post facto to make Pro's case seem stronger, but this sort of certainty should have been assured before the debate in round 1, not in the middle after Con has made a challenge. This style of debating is abusive and Pro is at fault for not anticipating such a challenge before the debate began.

(b.) The hypothetical doesn't include this information initially. It is added post facto that we are certain in this case of all these relevant factors. Either certainty is impossible, which grants us reasonable doubt and no moral footing for murder, or the hypothetical has been altered, which is rather abusive and unsportsmanlike.

Pro tackles none of my arguments, as if they weren't even read. Pro defaults to probability of being right, but ignores my entire subpoint about morality NOT being a game of probability. Then Pro asserts that society would see it as ok too. Not only is this second point unsubstantiated, but it is also totally irrelevant. Ad populum is a fallacious appeal to majority, not an argument. Morality isn't democratic.

A near-concession on my point about going for the legs. Not sure that a defense is offered of the original resolution here, that Bob should be killed by the actor. If shooting in the legs is viable, then the phrase "Bob should be killed" is nullified and Con wins on that alone.

Now for dropped points.

Pro does no work to show that the right of everyone in a western liberal democracy (especially ours) to a fair trial before retribution is null in this scenario. I stated that we all have the right to be tried in front of a jury/judge rather than being judged by a park-going vigilante, and that this right to trial is foundational to our democracy. No response from Pro on this. Security and general knowledge of such security is foundational in our democracy, and it would be immoral to strip others of the knowledge that, no matter what they are accused of, they will see their day in court. But according to Pro, even if you aren't in the process of committing a crime, we should view your death as moral. This destroys a foundational facet of security in our state.

I then go into why immanency is the superior principle. Morality, as I stated, isn't a game of probabilities. Our roles as citizens isn't to assess situations and calculate the highest possible utility of each of our actions. Our role is to respect the negative rights of others and only encroach upon these rights to defend our own when we can clearly see that our rights are in imminent danger in a sensory manner. This mean you see a gun being pointed at you, or you are being beaten to a pulp by a mugger. Extrapolation based upon past actions is no way to judge a guy you see in the park and arrive at the conclusion that he is worthy of death. If we have imperfect information we cannot even begin to conceive of a situation which warrants murder as more valuable than all others options.

No response to the thought experiment either, where I increased certainty and timespan to show that murdering a child isn't justified by another murder decades in advance. I state that it is borderline thought crime in this situation, to punish proportional to possible future actions. But at least with dystopian thought crimes you know what the convicted is thinking.

Death is infinite, which is why we must set standards of certainty and immanency far higher than seeing a probable future killer in the park. Political morality does not permit past actions and mental states to have a bearing on what rights you have in the future.

Without addressing these points about the roots of a principle of immanency and its justification, Pro cannot hope to salvage this debate.

3. Obligation to Obey the Law

This point goes mostly unresponded to. The ONLY thing Pro offers is "but the govt. won't stop him, so you should". This is a rather perfunctory rebuttal. My point is not that the government will be successful in this case, but that it is, in principle, the only institution with the power to arbitrate regarding your rights without a clear and present danger to one's own right to life (which, as Hobbes argues, is the only right you can't give up in a social contract).

Every person has an inherent right to life and various liberties. Is it right for Bob to take that from others? Of course not. But is it rights for you to strip Bob's liberties because of a speculative threat to the lives of others who aren't even present at the time? Of course not. This is my point. Because we concede certain rights when gaining the protection of the government, we gain certain securities and more powerful defenses of other rights. This is why vigilantism is almost always immoral and why the state should have a monopoly on coercive force.

Nothing is done to tackle my quote about the morality of obeying the law. Pro may view the action as moral sans a government, but the mere notion that a law is present gives credence to the idea that this may be immoral. Our security is primarily grounded in the notion that others will respect our negative rights by carrying out their correlative duties.

We are weighing here a speculative right to life of potential victims that you most likely don't even know and the definitive, tangible right to both life and a fair trial of Bob. As Dworkin argues in Taking Rights Seriously we must default to rights that are imminently threatened when examining practices and laws rather than assessing what rights might conceivably be harmed if we don't. Even if you haven't quite bought my argument about which rights prevail, default to your moral obligation to obey the law, which goes unchallenged.

Debate Round No. 2


con wants me to be able to clearly negate him when he says killing bob is the same as the victims he killed. i don't know what else he wants me to say though. just reread my arguments. con is negating just as much as i am. i could blame him for the same things he blames me for.

for some reason con brings up that there's a difference between killing and letting soemone die. often yes, this is true in ethics. but it doesn't have anything to do with this debate. it's irrelevant.

the information was not added post facto as con argues that we have certainty of bob's ID and his overall scheme. it was clearly part of the hypo, con could only post facto add uncertainty later.
at any rate, again, it's not so much that i want to establish a rare situation where the certainties are known.... all i'm trying to show is that killing bob is not "inherently" immoral. con did nothing to argue against this, all he did was show practical points about uncertaintity.
he does later address that the governemnt should be the sole arbiter, but focuses so much on practucal points, that it seems these things should be addressed separately.

besides the 'inherent' morality point, if we just ignore this and address con's other points, we see him arguing that morality shouldn't be reduced to probability. but, that's all a court room does, 'beyond a reasonable doubt'. and, killing Bob isn't even so far fetched out of society's morality when all it requires is adjusting what it means to be "imminent killing". if we have a very high certitude of all this stuff, it's imminent enough, and bob is culpable enough, to be shot.

con says i didn't address his fair trial points. i addressed the 'government' points in my last argument, which addressed those points. i suggest con go back aand reread those arguments.

con does provide some historical sources for why he thinks the government is the only entitty eqiupped to decide matters of life or death when true imminency isnt there. but he doesn't show how it necessarily is morally superior, and pretty much must be implicitly conceding the point..... "it is better for people to die than for bob to be stopped by a shooter, as only the government can make that call". he has no choice but to concede that point. but when he does, it shows that the government should NOT be the sole arbiter of these things, such that people can not be murdered by bob, for instance.


One would be hard-pressed to grant this round to Pro for a plethora of reasons. First, I'll address the rebuttal in order of how Pro listed points in Round 3.

The first paragraph is difficult to interpret. Pro's extending arguments that he never made. Pro merely alluded before to the notion that it is in fact ok to kill for certain reasons, including self-defense & defense of others, yet, as I stated last round, there is absolutely no warrant for this notion. To prove that there is a moral difference, Pro would need a moral framework assessing the value of a human life and differentiating between killing arbitrarily and killing for a purpose, but no such attempt has been made. Because Pro literally does no work to refute my point on killing as categorically wrong, I win the round right here.

I bring up the killing/letting die argument for good reason. Killing Bob is morally reprehensible, more so than letting another die. This is imperative to my offense against Pro, as the round is framed as a question of "morality". Bob "should" be killed. Yet if what I say is true (and it is by concession), it is not morally permissible to kill Bob to save the life of another. One more reason to vote Con.

I advance the argument that, if you must, killing might be justified in cases of self-defense, as Hobbes would've argued. But the defense of another, I argue, does not warrant the same justification. No response here. Another reason to vote Con, as no attempt to prove that it is permissible to kill to save another's life is advanced by Pro.

Nowhere in the hypo was certainty mentioned. It just says "you see him by chance at a state park". Because uncertainty is necessarily a part of the human condition, it was Pro's duty to include certainty as a premise to the equation.

I argue in MULTIPLE ways that killing Bob is inherently immoral. Besides the fact that it is immoral to kill altogether, I add points about a moral duty to obey the law, a duty to respect the right to a trial and the principle that only the government may decide to strip you of rights. I compare immanency with Pro's morality using my own hypo. I advanced various and sundry points against Pro. Ignoring them isn't a valid defense. Neither is denouncing them as "practical". All of my points, even the ones about government monopoly and right to trial are grounded in political morality.

Pro states that a courtroom is no different that probability. However, we can clearly see that a controlled setting in which both sides present evidence and argumentation followed by a verdict is different than shooting on sight. The right to life and a trial shouldn't be, as I've argued, subject to the judgment of one park-going vigilante.

Pro makes an argument that we merely extend immanency in this case. I argued in my 2nd point that immanency should only be extended to matters where one can, in a sensory manner, be certain that their actions will prevent blatant harm to someone. No response.

I do in fact show that the government has the sole right to make decisions regarding the rights of the citizenry by arguing that, under social contract theory, we give up certain liberties to gain security in our rights, and the only way to consistently apply laws and protect external rights is if A. We unequivocally respect the rights of other unless our own are at stake, and B. we grant the government a MONOPOLY ON COERCIVE FORCE. We cannot say that coercive force belongs to the US government and also Jim from Oklahoma. That would be nonsensical and would nullify the concept of a state.

Why you should vote Con

Remember, this debate is about whether or not Bob should be killed from a moral standpoint.

1. Pro loses the debate on the categorical nature of morality
No differentiation between killing arbitrarily and killing Bob was established by Pro. This is an clear voting issue, and the mere appeals to popular morality and bald assertions regarding how obvious Pro thinks this point should be ought to be seen by voters as a concession.

2. Pro loses the debate because no effort is made to prove that killing is preferable to letting die
We are presented with a situation in which people may die if we do not kill. I asked why killing is preferable to letting die in this situation when, according to most ethicists (I warranted this earlier as well), letting die is preferable. Pro offers NO circumstantial evidence to prove that we ought to override this system of morality to save lives by ending Bob's.

3. Pro loses because no effort is made to prove that principles warranting killing for self-defense extend to defense of others
Even if we take the notion that, to protect our own rights, we may bring harm to others, as valid, we have no reason to believe that this extends to protection of others. Even if it is law that we may do so when immanent danger is present, this round is normative, not descriptive, and immanency is not a factor here.

I know this seems like a copout, but PRO CONCEDES THIS! The resolution states that Bob should be killed, yet it is OBVIOUSLY preferable that he be incapacitated/wounded, solving the issue of future victims without killing.

5. Without certainty, we cannot justify killing Bob
I established lack of certainty, and the unrealistic addition of certainty post facto by Pro should not be permitted. As I argued under a Dworkinian framework as well, we cannot deny Bob his tangible rights to defend the speculative rights of people whom we don't even know to exist at the moment.

6. We have a moral duty to respect the external rights of others
We not only view it as socially optimal, but morally imperative that each citizen be tried for his/her crimes by a judge/jury. This right is foundational. Foundational rights cannot be stripped away speculatively, no matter how certain we think we are of the impending detriments of allowing them to stand. This right, as well as the general knowledge of the populace that, unless you are in the process of harming another, you may not justifiably be KILLED is foundational as well to the general security and peace-of-mind necessary to a rights-based democracy.

7. Extrapolation based upon a past mental state is not a logical extension of immanent danger.
We cannot say that, because when someone is pointing a gun at our heads we have the rights to defend ourselves, we also have a moral duty to extrapolate based upon past actions of a criminal and utilize this knowledge to predict future actions and act upon them with LETHAL FORCE. This point is huge, and no response is even attempted by Pro. Death is infinite, as I've stated many times. We cannot justify death through extrapolation.

8. The govt. has a monopoly on coercive force
Addressed above. It is not our right as citizens to become the arbiters of life and death when our own lives aren't at stake.

9. General moral obligation to be lawful
Not even the semblance of a response to this point. Conceded, meaning that voters can accept without question the notion that a moral duty to obey codified law exists. It would be morally wrong to kill Bob when, legally speaking, Bob is not creating a clear and present danger to those around him.

There you have it folks. 9 fantastic reasons to vote Con. Almost all can stand alone as voting issues, yet here they are, all stacked together against Pro. I find it troubling that so many points were dropped, as Pro certainly had ample characters remaining to address them.

Whether by the categorical nature of morality and the moral permissibility of killing, the general principles underlying our democracy, the moral duty of each citizen to respect the rights of others, or a simple yet effective copout (shoot Bob in the leg!), no reason is provided to vote Pro. In fact, Pro doesn't provide any offense whatsoever. Visceral reactions to unsubstantiated claims that beg the question "Should we kill Bob" paired with appeals to majority further stack the ballot in favor of Con.

Debate Round No. 3
No comments have been posted on this debate.
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by bladerunner060 7 years ago
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Total points awarded:03 
Reasons for voting decision: The general moral arguments were pretty interesting. But fundamentally, Pro lost this debate when she conceded the potential for immobilization over killing. By having already conceded killing as a generally bad thing (justifying the killing of Bob in the hypothetical per Pro's argument), Pro doesn't give us a good reason to prefer killing Bob to immobilizing him. Arguments to Con, largely on that point *alone*, which seemed decisive. An interesting read, though!

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