Open-ended Moral Dilemma

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Open-ended Moral Dilemma

Postby Cradarc » Wed May 27, 2015 4:59 am UTC

The scenario is given below, and you are encouraged to speculate about the different courses of action. I think the open-ended nature of the problem will reveal more of the differences in our psychology and moral values. I just ask that you give a response prior to casting doubt on other people's responses.

An evil villain has stranded you on the roof of a tall skyscraper with your simple-minded body guard, a veteran sniper, and the sniper’s 12-year old daughter. The sniper has his gun with a single bullet. The girl has a pack of gum. Your body guard has a ballpoint pen. You have your wallet with your driver’s license and a few dollar bills. Other than that, everyone just has the clothes on their backs.
200 meters away, on the roof of another skyscraper, four hostages are tied to a bomb trigger. The trigger will activate in 5 minutes, causing a deadly bomb to go off in a busy subway station on the other side of the city. The trigger will be deactivated if destroyed. However, the people on the other rooftop are completely helpless, so the only way to destroy the trigger is to have the sniper shoot it. Unfortunately, the bullet will have to pass through the heart of one of the hostages to reach the device. Furthermore, the trigger is booby-trapped and the explosion and shrapnel from the impact could kill all the hostages.
There is a radio beacon that can deactivate the trigger, but it has been surgically implanted into the heart of the sniper’s daughter. The only way to activate the beacon is to remove the device or make her heart stop. The girl is terrified of heights and does not wish to die.
The sniper can make the shot with 100% certainty, but he is adamantly against doing so for moral reasons. The sniper has also made it very clear that he will kill anyone who touches his daughter. He keeps the loaded gun in his hands at all times.
Your body guard is a very large man who hates killing. However, you can psychologically manipulate him to act against his desires.

Nobody other than the people on the rooftop knows about the bomb (or the situation on the rooftop).
What will you do? Why do you think that is the best course of action?
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Re: Open-ended Moral Dilemma

Postby ucim » Wed May 27, 2015 5:57 am UTC

I assume thet there isn't a McGuyver solution (using the bubble gum to stick a dollar bill to the pen and...); that would make it a puzzle and not an open-ended moral dilemma.

I assume also that my simple minded bodyguard simply left his gun at home today, or forgot it in the taxi. No raise for him; instead a Hollywood career with a certain British comedy troupe awaits him. I suppose I could try singing; it might make the animator suffer a fatal heart attack.

The evil villian is the problem. Get out of this trap and he'll set up another, so there's no "winning". There are more than four billion people on this planet. None are special, except to themselves and a small set of others. I presume my bodyguard is at least somewhat special to me. I assume the sniper and his daughter are as special to me as somebody who shared a cab ride, which is still more special than four hostages I haven't met, or a trainful of people on the other side of the city. I assume the villian has not made it "interesting" by putting my friends on the train, though I suppose there's a small chance one of them happens to be there.

The calculus of "kill n to save x" is not compelling in this scenario.

I would not fault another in my position for not acting, even if my friends ended up victims. I would fault the villian.

So really, what is the goal here, and why is that the goal?

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Re: Open-ended Moral Dilemma

Postby notzeb » Wed May 27, 2015 6:46 am UTC

I'm going to assume that there is a door somewhere on the rooftop, but it has been locked to prevent us from simply leaving (I think most buildings have some sort of door to the roof?). Ask the girl to chew the gum, explaining to her that you think there is a chance it could trigger a sneeze which could temporarily stop the heart (this is not likely at all, but the girl should be convinced). Have your bodyguard demonstrate every technique he can think of in order to induce a sneeze to the girl as a distraction while you discuss a plan with the sniper. The plan is as follows: position yourself and the sniper so that the girl is between you and the lock on the door, but facing away from you due to the bodyguard's distraction. Have the sniper set up the shot, draw the girl's attention, and shoot the lock with a bullet that nearly hits the girl (but doesn't). If the sniper is against this plan, just have him blow off the lock directly - don't spend too much time debating this as the clock is ticking.

Once we are off the rooftop, we gain many more options than we had previously. First priority is to find either a phone (call the police) or some kind of electrical equipment (defibrillator? but the sniper might be against that as well). Second priority is to leave the area and go to a random location (the evil villain might have made a plan involving the location they think you are most likely to run to). Since the villain left us with a driver's license, definitely don't get into your car, instead walk a block in a random direction, then split up - one group hails a taxi, the other group continues on foot while trying to hitchhike. Try to use the second payphone you see (just kidding, payphones no longer exist).

Edit: Why do I think this is the best course of action? I definitely don't want to piss off the sniper, since he probably has some sort of military training and having one enemy (the villain) is already more than I am used to dealing with. Manipulating the bodyguard also seems like a net loss. Dying is silly and out of the question - with me dead, we lose some of the informational advantage against the villain (my memories of how we got into this mess in the first place might be useful in tracking the villain down). Similarly the girl and the hostages on the other rooftop might have useful information concerning the villain, so killing them also seems silly. By proposing two long-shot plans that have a (miniscule) chance of saving everybody without offending the morals of anyone present, I hopefully gain trust from the other people on my team, which might be necessary in the future.

Edit 2: Is anyone wearing pants in this scenario?
Last edited by notzeb on Wed May 27, 2015 7:31 am UTC, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Open-ended Moral Dilemma

Postby Quercus » Wed May 27, 2015 7:08 am UTC

I have an issue with this scenario that I have with most such scenarios - what evidence do I have for believing that any of this is true? If it's just that the villain told us, well, they're a villain, I don't trust them at all. For all I know they've just stranded some people on a rooftop and told them some bull about a bomb, a trigger and an implanted radio beacon, just to see what we'll do. I'd particularly have difficulty believing the implanted radio beacon exists, because such a thing would, in practical terms, be really hard to do (hearts move quite a lot, they don't tend to react well to random shit being implanted into them). My conclusion would be that we have someone on our hands who enjoys putting people in convoluted moral dilemmas, realise that the actual existence, rather than the belief in the existence, of the bomb is unnecessary for the villain to get their kicks, and call the villain's bluff, doing nothing beyond what is necessary to escape and inform the authorities.

If, somehow, I had perfect knowledge of the scenario (although if I'm that omniscient why haven't I stopped the villain before they even thought up the plan?), then I would go with one of notzeb's long-shot solutions.

Edit: The larger point I'm making is that IMO, perfect-knowledge moral dilemmas aren't really that useful as a tool for exploring ethics and morality, because most real-life moral choices are in large part about how we deal with having very imperfect knowledge of the consequences of our actions.

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Re: Open-ended Moral Dilemma

Postby BattleMoose » Wed May 27, 2015 7:31 am UTC

This is just a spruced up version of the "Trolley problem", which is fine but the answer is essentially the same.

The short answer is to do nothing, well, besides vain and hopeless attempts to contact the authorities and evacuate the subway. I am not prepared to murder people to save others. I don't want to live in a society where that is accepted. Depending on the calculus (how large "x" and "y" is) I wouldn't bemoan people who would choose differently but would regard it as a "moral wrong".

And if "Y" is massively larger than "X", I might be inclined to murder, but would still regard that as a "moral wrong".

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Re: Open-ended Moral Dilemma

Postby leady » Wed May 27, 2015 9:01 am UTC

The scenario isn't silly enough yet - so add in

the hostages are cycling in front of the bomb, and one has a Kevlar vest
the wind is gusty meaning that the sniper may miss
The sniper has a weak heart and the shock of his daughters death will kill him

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Re: Open-ended Moral Dilemma

Postby Azrael » Wed May 27, 2015 11:44 am UTC

BattleMoose wrote:This is just a spruced up version of the "Trolley problem"


And we already have that thread.

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