Hoping to hear people’s intuitions about this case:

A corruptible good samaritan, Sam, is planning on saving several people who are dying. Let me stipulate that Sam is not required to do so and the dying have no claim on his aid. I follow Sam around and when he comes to each person he plans to save, I bribe him to not do so. The dying have all volunteered to be organ donors. I bride the samaritan so that their organs can be used to save many.

11 Replies to “Share Your Intuitions about a Case

  1. I intuit that the good Samaritan has no business saving the needy and ought not to do so, and that your acts in stopping him from doing so are doubly wrong, because (a) you’re supererogatorily acting to prevent him from falling into all-thing-considered-sinful moral sainthood, and (b) you’re yourself falling into an even worse all-thing-considered-sinful moral sainthood by ensuring that the dead people’s organs create even greater good.

  2. I think it’s impermissible. I don’t think the fact that the would-be saver is an agent makes a moral difference. So, I don’t think this is different from deflecting an asteroid carrying the cure for the dying. And I don’t think deflecting the asteroid is (much, if at all) different from killing them yourself.

  3. It’s not wrong for him to take the bribe (though in doing so he’d lose some of his good samaritan credit), but it does seem wrong for you to offer it. I won’t try to analyze why, because I’m much more confident about the conclusion than about any justification I have in mind.

  4. Sam’s act of accepting the bribe might be permissible or impermissible depending on what you would do with the money if you don’t use it to bribe Sam.
    If Sam letting the organ donors drown really brings about the greater good (and that seems plausible, depending on some other details of the case) then it seems permissible for Sam to let them drown. So, I would think it permissible for you to bribe Sam to do something that is permissible AND better than what he otherwise would have done.
    Here’s an exception. If you could do much more good by using your money in other ways, maybe it’s impermissible for you to bribe Sam. Assuming, however, you can either use the money to bribe Sam or not and Sam will only let them drown if he receives a bribe, then it seems permissible for you to bribe Sam.

  5. I don’t have any “intuitions” whatsoever about this case, largely, I suspect, because it is entirely remote (to put it feebly) from anything I’ve experienced in my 59 years on this planet, a period in which I’ve (ruling out self-deception, wishful thinking, and so forth) been fairly sensitive, I think, to ethical questions, dilemmas, what have you. Ethical or moral hypotheticals and “thought experiments” no doubt have their purposes and value, but on occasion their remoteness, seems, for me at any rate, to render them irrelevant and, perhaps what is worse, uninteresting. They may bring, like masturbation, some pleasure to the one who generates them, but for some, or perhaps many of us, we’re unable to experience the self-same pleasure or to understand their relevance: I grant that I may be a bit dense, in which case you might help me see the light.

  6. Forget about the bribe for a second: would it be wrong of Sam to let the people die so that their organs could be used to save many?
    If so, I think it would be likewise wrong for you to bribe him. If not, not.
    (For the record, I think it would be wrong of him to do this: he would be using the dying people as means. But of course this requires me to say that it can be wrong not to φ even if you are not required to φ, if your reasons for not φ-ing are bad enough.)

  7. Faraci- Is there a principle of moral inertia on your view? Why assume that the status quo is Sam intending to save the people? Originally, the would-be organ recipients expected to receive organs, then Sam intervened and harmed the many potential organ recipients to save the few who were immediately dying. So in this way, didn’t Sam deflect the lifesaving benefits initially and by paying the bribe I am just redirecting the lifesaving benefits to where they would have gone in Sam’s absence?
    Ben– If you think it would be wrong for Sam to let them die so that their organs could be used to save many, then what if I said to Sam, “instead of saving them, let’s go for a walk in the park because it’s a beautiful day.” Then Sam wouldn’t be using them as a means. Would that be better?

  8. Jess: yes, if and only if it wouldn’t be wrong for Sam himself to refrain from saving the people on the grounds that he’d rather go for the walk.
    (I think this would be wrong, though: usually, neither the fact that saving a dying person would prevent you from using their organs to save others nor the fact it would prevent you from going for a nice walk in the park constitutes sufficient reason not to do so. Really what you’d have to do is cite whatever considerations made it the case that he indeed wasn’t required to save the people–the great costs to himself of doing so or whatever.)

  9. This sounds like the kind of question that is popular with the “over-represented” philosophers. Just an empty intellectual exercise.

  10. My intuitions are that (1) Sam letting people die is fine, but (2) Sam letting people die for money is not fine. I understand that is an odd pair of intuitions.
    Further, (3) you convincing, persuading, distracting, or otherwise influencing Sam to let them die is fine, but (4) you bribing him is not fine, because you are influencing him to do something wrong as per 2 above.

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