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# A Moral Dilemma with Probability?

You have a situation, the exact parameters of which do not matter.

You have a choice to make.

Choice A will CERTAINLY kill 15 people, and has the POTENTIAL to kill *UP TO* an additional 90 people.

Choice B will CERTAINLY kill 20 people, and has the POTENTIAL to kill *UP TO* an additional 75 people.

You do not know probabilities for these potentials; it could be only 1 or 2, it could be 65 or 70, it could be the full respective 90 and 75.

What do you do, and why??

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### Replies to This Discussion

I was just reading a similar deal where the wording drastically changes peoples decision.

This could be reworded as

Choice A has the potential to kill 105 people but, of that, as many as 90 might live
Choice B has the potential to kill 95 people but, of that, as many as 75 might live

I would choose B, just to limit the total potential carnage, but it could be looked at several different ways.
See, that's how I looked at it. Total potential trumps initial certain number.
Stated this way - while I don't accept the idea that I would 'kill' rather than 'prevent death' - B is the better answer. Nevertheless, if my action would 'kill' anyone, it still looks like you might say one serial killer is less evil than another because one was Ted Bundy and the other Hitler, so which one would you rather be.
Thank you, Howard. No, really. Thank you for simply answering it. In the future, I'll try to reframe this so it refers to saving lives rather than taking them.

I chose A. Here's why: 15 Actual vs. 20 Actual. Certainty of saving at least 5 lives. Up to 90 Potential vs. Up to 75 Potential. You can't know the outcomes. But if there is a potential of up to 90 vs. up to 75 lives being taken, there are 91 possible outcomes (0 + 1 for each person) vs. possible 76 outcomes (0 + 1 for each person again). A maximum difference of 15 potential lives. What are the odds of any one specific outcome? All are equal since the determination is random. It would be like drawing a number from a hat.

Split 90 in half, 45 and 45. What's the chance that upwards of 45 will die? 50%. What's the chance that downwards of 45 would die? 50%. Considering the distribution of probability here, (though I'm no 'actuary') I see no reason to select a lower potential in exchange for a lower actual. Besides, to satisfy Dunn, let me say that I can't imagine who would hold you responsible for lives that you could not know the probability of losing. I mean, it's not as though you're being reckless. You could make this decision based upon thinking to yourself that no one would blame you for not knowing, even though, yes, you are essentially "leaving it to chance". So if you cut off the potential, you're just left with the actual. So I'll take the certain saving of 5 lives and take the chance/odds that the potential of 90 won't eclipse the potential of the 75.
By the way, I actually HAVE thought of a real-world correlate for this question, although in fleshing out its details, I can hardly imagine that the dynamics of reasoning and decision-making would remain significantly unaffected.....I'd have to caveat the hell out of it.

Can anyone else imagine a real-world scenario that this question might fit into?
Bad news, moral decisions don't work on probability. They work on morality. The assumption that utility is any kind of moral informant is flawed. Morality takes place within the withheld parameters. This is a question for an actuary not an ethicist.
Very astute observation.
Flip a coin. It will take all your unknown probabilities and make them 50-50. Whatever happens, happens. You'll never know what the outcome of the second choice would have been anyway.
The scenario is as amoral as that - you have very limited, compulsory choices that actively result in carnage and no control over how to minimize the 'score'. Might as well flip a coin.
I don't see this situation as probable nor do I believe it will prove or demonstrate anything. It appears to be a pointless contribution just to cause trouble rather than to demonstrate, enlighten or enhance the atheist viewpoint(s).
Appears to be that, huh? Well, guess that just goes to show that perception is a motherfucker. I don't see it as probable either. Your disbelief that it could prove or demonstrate anything doesn't detract from its ability to do so. This could be a case where you get out of it what you can per individual.

I'm sorry you see no point. I do, elsewise I wouldn't have bothered. If anything at all, this question was one of pure curiousity for me; I wanted to see how people would reason about the choice...and it's funny how something you call pointless could generate this many posts (which is, admittedly, relatively low but considerable if it is indeed actually pointless). So you actually responded to something that you thought was pointless, just to say you think it's pointless: is there a point to that?

Your are, of course, entitled to your perceptions and opinions, and I wouldn't dream of censoring you or anyone else. But next time, instead of being rude, try asking me my intent. Causing trouble on purpose is never my agenda. In fact, I generally like to avoid contraversy that produces "heat but no light". But to me, such an accusation of "making trouble" is a personal attack. The fact that you don't see a point is no reason to say there isn't one; apparently others have found a point here, so for them there is one, for you there isn't. Perception. Funny, that.

Furthermore, if you have EVER posted anything on AN that did not "demonstrate, enlighten, or enhance the atheist viewpoint(s)", then you have no business making such statements. Lastly, there are forums here explicitly for talking about things that do not necessarily have to do with religion or atheism. THIS happens to be one of those forums; herein you find material that is both religious in focus and also secular in its focus. So help me understand your statement that apparently everything we post must "demonstrate, enlighten, or enhance the atheist viewpoint(s)."

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