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Would You Kill a Stranger For a Billion Dollars?

in Money Basics, Rants, Videos

In the video above (click here if not shown), I share recent thoughts that came to be as a result of being presented with the question:  “Would you kill a stranger for a billion dollars”? The reflection caused me to realize just how much influence money has on how I process different concepts through my value system.

Note: I am making an internal assumption that the money referred to in the question would be used to help others.  That’s why I start to refer to it as a “greater good” issue from the get-go.

  • [o:oo] – The audacious question and what it does and doesn’t mean to me.
  • [0:45] - My first conditioned response to the question:  “No way…  no one human life is more valuable than another”
  • [1:15] - Why my first response isn’t consistent with my other values.  For example, there are many different times we all begin to place value on life, myself include.
  • [2:40] - The tricky part is when we try to attach a tangible value (why associating a dollar amount feels negative).
  • [3:05] – Flipping the question around:  Would I sacrifice my own life to save the life of 100,000 strangers?
  • [3:45] - Adding money as a medium:  Would I sacrifice my own life if it resulted in a billion dollars given to charity?
  • [4:40] - Even though the billion dollars can help save tens of thousands of people, why these two questions trigger drastically different responses from me.
  • [5:25] - Coming back to our original question:  Why the dollar amount makes a difference in how I feel about it.
  • [6:50] - Does removing money change your response:  Would you kill a stranger if it meant saving the lives of 100,000?
  • [7:15] - What I really took away from the question.

My questions for you…

I’m not looking for a yes or no answer to the headline.  That’s not the point.

Rather, I’m interested if adding or removing money as a medium changes how you look at these questions (as it did for me).

More importantly, why does the addition of money make these sort of questions feel so negative? Why does the “greater good” question become so much deeper (or even more debatable) when we remove money from the equation?

{ 64 comments… read them below or add one }

Lakita November 30, 2009 at 10:39 AM

I can’t view the video right now, but you’ve brought up some intriguing questions….especially when you flipped it. I haven’t seen the movie “The Box” yet, but it was based on this type of question. There was also a recent episode of “House” where one of the doctors murders a known dictator who if was treated properly would continue the genocide he already started.

You got us thinking this morning! I’m looking forward to the different comments.

Kita

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Baker November 30, 2009 at 2:08 PM

Kita, I haven’t seen The Box (I’ve heard a little about it). And unfortunately missed the House episode too! The pop cultures gods are not shining favorably on me right now. ;-) I would probably be in the mood to see them both though!

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Lakita November 30, 2009 at 4:54 PM

Well House is on Hulu if you can pick that up in NZ.

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Credit Card Chaser November 30, 2009 at 7:28 PM

I am looking forward to seeing “The Box” not necessarily because it looks like it will have great active (at least judging from the previews) but I do love these kinds of plot lines. Nice job Baker!
.-= Credit Card Chaser´s last blog ..Win $500 in the 2009 Credit Card Chaser Love/Hate Credit Cards Contest =-.

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Daniel November 30, 2009 at 11:47 AM

We hear a lot about how money can’t solve everything, but this questions changes that around. I don’t think I could sacrifice my life for money to charity, because as we know, money doesn’t always solve problems, but to save lives, giving myself up seems like a no-brainer. Even if it was a much much smaller number of people. Maybe even 1.
.-= Daniel´s last blog ..Why I Love Flexible Savings Accounts =-.

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Baker November 30, 2009 at 2:10 PM

Yeah, don’t you find that a bit odd? I’m in the same boat, myself, and I just think it’s really interesting how I justify that in my mind.

I’m not 100% sure of the forces at play, but glad to know I’m not alone! :-)

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agency November 30, 2009 at 11:52 AM

Its interesting that values change when the government hands you a rifle and sends you to Iran and now says you can kill. I think its a commandment, thou shall not kill unless the government says its ok.

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Peter November 30, 2009 at 3:35 PM

Just for clarity’s sake – the actual biblical commandment is closer to “thou shalt not murder” which means unjustified killing – not killing in general. Common misconception that the bible says that “thou shalt NEVER kill”. But I guess that’s an argument for another post. :)
.-= Peter´s last blog ..How To Save Hundreds Of Dollars On Your Tax Bill By Challenging Your Property Taxes =-.

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Jason Ford November 30, 2009 at 12:11 PM

Whoah, talk about a loaded question! I’ll be honest in saying I don’t have the stomach to off anyone and remove them from earth. This question really only goes to show how grey reality is compared to how black and white we try to make it.

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Colin Wright November 30, 2009 at 12:12 PM

I think I smell a new reality TV show on the horizon…
.-= Colin Wright´s last blog ..All 72 Things I Own =-.

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Baker November 30, 2009 at 2:13 PM

Oh god, I hope not…

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Jeffrey Tang November 30, 2009 at 12:19 PM

Baker – I think you’ve stumbled on something profound in this video, but perhaps not the lesson most people would take away from it.

What you’ve revealed, I think, is the illusion of the “greater good.” You say that you’d be willing to sacrifice your life to save 100,000 people, but not for a billion dollars to a worthy charity. What’s the difference? It’s not just money. What you’ve added to the equation is PRACTICALITY and REALITY.

The problem with the “greater good” is that it’s amorphous, subjective, and basically ungrounded in practical reality. We love the idea of the greater good. We’re conditioned to. It makes us feel warm and fuzzy inside. But when we add in a dose of reality – the practical resources (such as money) needed to actually accomplish something, it doesn’t feel nearly as good. It’s okay to sacrifice your life to save 100,000 people in some undefined, mysterious way, but as soon as a practical, specific vehicle for actually helping people out (a billion dollars to charity) appears, we think that our ideals have been cheapened.

We’re conditioned to love the idea of doing the greater good, but hate the money that makes it possible. How absurd is that?

As I said earlier, there’s a huge gap between the “greater good” and the realm of reality. Your thought experiment is a fantastic example of how the greater good (as we’re trained to see it) is neither a solid nor realistic pursuit. Should we help people? Definitely. But in order to do so, we have to abandon our ingrained (but ultimately ridiculous) idea of the greater good and get down to the material acts that make good possible.

I realize you may not agree with my opinion, Baker, and that’s fine. If nothing else, please know that I admire what you’re attempting to do – be consistent in your beliefs. That’s not easy, and often reveals just how many of our “core beliefs” simply don’t make sense.
.-= Jeffrey Tang´s last blog ..You Better Watch Where You’re Going =-.

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Baker November 30, 2009 at 2:19 PM

Wow, I’m impressed. You’ve expressed in words, what I couldn’t find the right way to say, but am 100% on board with.

I connected most with your point about the ideal being “cheapened” by adding a practical vehicle like money to the equation. It’s a little frustrating to me to see that in play with my own values, but (like I said in the video) I know that I’m not alone in this.

“But in order to do so, we have to abandon our ingrained (but ultimately ridiculous) idea of the greater good and get down to the material acts that make good possible.”

And that’s a great way to end it. If I would have been smart enough, I would have wrapped up the video in that sort of point. The discuss has certainly been a meaningful one (as it was presented to me), but in the end we have to abandon the foggy philosophical questions at some point and “get down” to action.

Love it, Jeremy!

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Beth November 30, 2009 at 12:26 PM

I wonder if this is a question of scale? I think it’s easy to debate these hypothetical questions because the chance of something like that ever happening is pretty slim. Forget killing or giving up one’s life for some “greater good” — how about giving up cable or travel to to give more to charity? I think perhaps it’s the small decisions that show our values (or at least the ones we actually face).

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Baker November 30, 2009 at 2:26 PM

I hear ya, Beth. The larger and more audacious we make the questions the easier it is to toss them around without any really being able to relate. I like the idea of debating the smaller, more realistic items like the ones you pointed out, too.

The ‘slippery slope’ of giving up ‘luxuries’ in our daily life in order to give could be an 8 minute video in it’s own right. But no, not from me. (I’ve had my fill for a while) ;-).

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Lisa November 30, 2009 at 12:48 PM

This reminds me about the whole flap about breat cancer screening. People are saying that on one hand anythign that saves a life shoudl be done and more screenign will save more lives. On the other hand they say more screening is more false positives and more harm to women’s lives.

One thing that hasn’t been as explicitely stated is what if you took the money you save by moving the screening from 40 to 50 and used it to reduce the deaths from some other issue that is more cost effective? I don’t know the costs involved, but it may be that this or similar situations would involve letting someone die from breast cancer (due to not catching it in time), but others are saved.

People don’t think about the inertia factor, people tend to think about purposeful harm, and I don’t think even in that case I would kill someone for $ to save others, what right do I have? Myself sacrificing for others, maybe. But when you look in aggregate as what would save the most lives, we as a society make these calls all the time.

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Baker November 30, 2009 at 2:36 PM

I’m not as intimate with the breast cancer issues as you outlined it, but can see how one could quickly go crazy contemplating the “is this really the best use of the money” scenario you outlined.

The ‘right’ issue you made at the end is actually one of the things that weighs heavy on me too. My brain asks the same question… like a… “sound good, but who gives you the right to trade 1 for 100,000… etc…”

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Thirtysomething Finance November 30, 2009 at 1:02 PM

Great question, Baker — I think you’ve heard the sound of one hand clapping!
.-= Thirtysomething Finance´s last blog ..Happy Thanksgiving! =-.

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Mike @ Gather Little by Little November 30, 2009 at 1:27 PM

I believe that money is a booster on everything. If you want to do some evil things, you will become more evil with a lot of money in your pockets.

On the other side, if you want to help people, you will certainly be able to help much more people with a billion dollar in your pockets.

So you can obviously save many people with a billion dollar and if you need to kill one single person to do it; it may become debatable. But how about this “stranger” is a 3 years old daughter that just look like yours? Would the billion dollar still have the same impact on your decision?
.-= Mike @ Gather Little by Little´s last blog ..Money Saving Monday: Coffee =-.

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Baker November 30, 2009 at 2:39 PM

Yeah, that’s another layer I explored personally but didn’t share in the video. What if it was a family member… or a convict… or an 80-year old stranger? I guess the point of that is that it IS very gray for me. Meaning that it’s not an automatic no in all circumstances (and I usually try to default into the black/white mentality).

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Mike @ Gather Little by Little November 30, 2009 at 3:23 PM

the problem is: the stranger will always be someone important for someone else ;-)
.-= Mike @ Gather Little by Little´s last blog ..Money Saving Monday: Coffee =-.

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Roger December 10, 2009 at 3:02 AM

Not necessarily; the sad fact is, there are plenty of people in the world who have few, if any, connections to other people. Hermits, misers, elderly people with no surviving family members…the list goes on. It might not be easy, but it would be possible to find someone, somewhere, that nobody would miss if they died. Which of course raises the related question of ‘Would you kill someone who would not be missed for a billion dollars?’
.-= Roger´s last blog ..How to get Ahead of the Game: Three Tips for Students =-.

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Craig November 30, 2009 at 1:35 PM

You mention adding money makes it seem negative, I think the opposite. Killing someone is a negative. If you add the aspect of money then you can justify it. Justify how it could help you and your family and your future. Almost more of a survival of the fittest mentality.

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Steve "Dream" Weaver November 30, 2009 at 1:37 PM

This is definitely a question that shows the difference between peoples backgrounds and philosophies. For me, the billion dollars made it a no-brainer; a definite yes because I automatically thought of all the lives I could impact with that amount of money! I have also lived about 25 years or so longer than you have, so I have less of a future ahead of me.

As a former Marine and a former drug dealer, I probably have spent a lot more time contemplating the ethics of taking lives, and giving your own, than most people. Before you ever asked this question, I had reached the conclusion I would gladly give my life to save two others, or even one other person if it was someone I already loved. That does not mean there is not a lot of gray areas still out there to be explored. Things like; would you kill a pedophile to save dozens of children emotional scars? Almost everyone would answer yes if one of those children were their own. Ethics are a very slippery slope; mainly because you would be amazed at what people can rationalize. There are literally millions of Americans who would never consider putting a gun to a child’s head and pulling the trigger. Yet those same people would not consider cutting their beef consumption in half, even when it’s pointed out to them that the grains saved from feeding that cow would probably save 10 children from starvation!

You really made the topic much more confusing when you add the component of giving the money to charity. At that point you have to ask yourself: A) What percentage of those funds are actually being used for the cause? B)Will it really save lives or only improve them? and C) At what amount does it make more sense for you to create your own charity as opposed to supporting an existing one?

You can always pose a few restrictions or conditions on any question to change the answer. As I dictate this, police in Washington are in a standoff with someone they believed killed four officers. The chances are this gentleman is not going to be in a position to take any more lives. I’m also willing to bet that unless there are tons of media around, they won’t be bringing him in alive! It’s all about rationalization! As a criminal I have been to court many times, with others & on my own behalf. I have seen the police commit perjury more often than the criminals. This I have seen with my own eyes. I cannot look into their heads and tell they are thinking, but I believe that the police have convinced themselves the person is guilty therefore are able to rationalize “shading the truth”. And it’s all done the name of the common good!!

There are only two things that I can tell you for sure: first, you never really know what you would do in a situation until you are faced with it. And second, we all have to live with the choices we make. There is no doubt in my mind that there are people dead because my actions were a factor in their choices. There’s nothing I can do to make up for that. All I can do at this point is to live the most positive life I know how & to do what I can to make others’ lives a little better!

.-= Steve “Dream” Weaver´s last blog ..the Burlington liars club =-.

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Baker December 1, 2009 at 8:55 AM

Steve, thanks for giving it so much deep thought and for sharing you personal experiences. I don’t have much to add to it (you covered the gauntlet), but I just really enjoyed reading it!

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Tyler Karaszewski November 30, 2009 at 2:46 PM

The only thing that you can do to forfeit your right to live is take (or attempt to) the life of another. I would not kill anyone who wasn’t trying to kill me or someone else. The money is irrelevant. People are sovereign beings granted control over their own fate, and I have no authority to take control of that for other people.

If anyone says that it may be ok to trade the life of another for a billion dollars, then you have to concede that Bill Gates has earned the right to kill 40 people, as long as he transfers his wealth to someone else (not necessarily the family of his victims) afterwards. These people can be anyone, including you. If Bill Gates pledges to donate a billion dollars to Charity Water in exchange for the life of Adam Baker (*without* your consent), is that OK?

No, it’s not, and everyone knows it.

And no, I wouldn’t sacrifice my life for a billion dollars, nor would I sacrifice my life to save an abstract group of 100,000 people. To make it a bit more concrete imagine that through some infeasible magic, you could have been killed in 2001 and somehow that would have resulted in Saddam Hussein stepping down as leader of Iraq, and prevented the war and all its casualties. Would you have done it? You would never have experienced the last 8 years of life. I wouldn’t have done it. Most people wouldn’t have. Maybe the parents of soldiers killed in the war would have, but very few of the unaffected would.

The question is also difficult to answer since the required outcomes are impossible. How do you answer a question that says “would you do X in exchange for something that could never actually happen?” It’s impossible to put yourself int he shoes of someone actually faced with that question because no one can ever legitimately be faced with that question.

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Baker December 1, 2009 at 9:01 AM

While you decided to go the morality route (I didn’t), it sounds like you are firmly in the ‘lightswitch’ camp. Meaning it’s pretty black/white (even though you mention that ‘unless they were trying to kill someone else’ which indicates a level of complexity there).

And of course, the questions as it is stated is impossible to answer. That’s the point. And why I decided to just reflect on how money when added, changes how I interpret or process the questions.

I do, however, think you brought up a good point about Hussein. It’s a tough call, but I *do* lean towards no. Although, I would kill Usama Bin Laden for free if given the chance (another interesting layer).

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Tyler Karaszewski December 1, 2009 at 4:05 PM

You have to go the morality route. It’s unavoidable in a conversation about murder. You can have a different morality, or even make immoral decisions, but you can’t just pretend that murder is a solely economic decision.

Imagine: Bill Gates shoots Courtney and Milligan in the head. He then contacts you after the fact to ask which charity you’d like to be the recipient of his $2 billion donation. How much do you care about the economics at this point?

Remember, it’s not the victim that gets to choose the value of his own life in your scenario, it’s an unaffiliated 3rd party.

The question is really “what justifies murder?”, and no, a big enough paycheck doesn’t, regardless of who receives it. Even offering the paycheck is immoral in the eyes of nearly the entire world. In what country is placing a price on someone’s head legal, for instance?

And yes, people value life differently than money. The value systems used are different and can’t be directly correlated. Every dollar is worth the same to you, but every person is not. It’s apples and oranges, really.

But no, money doesn’t tend to affect my moral judgement. Why? Probably because I already have enough money that I don’t really *need* any more. If I was destitute enough that some extra money could actually save my life, then maybe things would be grayer. If it was, “I can eat and clothe my family if I kill that guy,” then maybe I would consider it. But that’s not how it is for me.

If it was “maybe I can provide water to someone I’ve never met in exchange for killing someone else I’ve never met”, fuck no I wouldn’t. How is that a net gain? It’s not. You might as well just encourage the poor to murder each other over water rights. It’s been done before, I’m sure.

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Ms. Freeman November 30, 2009 at 3:10 PM

I have seen “The Box” and I have to say until I am confronted with this question in a real life situation I honestly cannot answer it.

I would love to sit here and say of course I wouldn’t jeopardize the life of another human being solely for my monetary gain. But, unfortunately the human mind works through situations that are actual differently than it would a hypothetical situation.
.-= Ms. Freeman´s last blog ..Do You Have Permission To Use That Photo? =-.

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Neal@Wealth Pilgrim November 30, 2009 at 3:43 PM

This is really door-opening video post…..

If I won’t kill for a billion……..would I sacrifice my own life experience for $10 mil? ie Would I work at a job I hate for the money? I may be really weird but I see the questions related in a way….
.-= Neal@Wealth Pilgrim´s last blog ..“Stop Arguing About Money” – Does the World Need Another Info Product? =-.

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Baker December 1, 2009 at 9:01 AM

Hehe, very interesting spin on sacrificing your ‘life experience’ for 10 Million. I like it.

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Peter November 30, 2009 at 3:51 PM

This is a tricky question to answer, whether the money being added to the equation changes things, or not. For me I don’t believe that it does – I have firmly held beliefs through my faith about life, and the ethics of doing certain things or not.

For example – I believe that life is beautiful, and that we have all been created equal – and have an equal chance to live life and to make the right choices. Some of us do, and some of us don’t. I believe that the punishment must fit the crime, and sometimes the punishment can be the death penalty – so taking a life may be ok sometimes, in the cases where the condemned’s crime fits that punishment. On the other hand, taking a life to save others – or doing so for the “greater good” much like some of the communist regimes of the past century have done – I don’t think that can be justified.

Would I give my life for some random dollar amount? No. I don’t think money is the answer to really any of the world’s problems – sure a billion dollars can go a long way, but it doesn’t solve long term problems.

Would I give my life to directly save the lives of others? That depends on the situation.. If it meant I had to commit suicide by shooting myself in the head? No. If it meant that I would have to volunteer myself in place of others for execution by a brutal dictator or some similar situation? I’d like to think that I might.

In other words – I don’t think you can divorce these decisions from the situation – and say for sure “yes” or for sure “no”. You need to look at the situation, decide on whether you believe it is right or wrong and make a decision based on your value system.
.-= Peter´s last blog ..Set Your Course For Next Year Now! Setting Values Oriented Goals =-.

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Baker December 1, 2009 at 9:04 AM

Yeah, I totally agree Pete. There’s no way to give a simple blanket yes or no (well, some do try to give a blanket no based on their values). But for me there is not.

What’s most interesting is how adding money or running through a couple different scenarios drastically changes how I think about it or even which way I lean. I found it weird that money played that big of role.

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Matt SF November 30, 2009 at 9:47 PM

The psychology of these hypothetical questions is interesting because the answer you give 1 minute later isn’t the answer you want to use. What you really want is the first response your brain spits out immediately after reading it.

If you seriously considered it or immediately started coming up with justifications why you would, you probably have a pretty decent chance of accepting the contract if placed in a bad financial spot or actually received a sincere offer.

Spooky, isn’t it!

Personally, I think the “would you do it” argument comes down to the basic risk / reward scenario. What are the risks of getting caught, a lifetime of guilt for taking a life, etc. versus the fun you can have, the financial security a billion dollars provides, etc.

If you’re the “money can’t buy happiness, but at least you can choose your own misery” kind of person, remind me never to piss you off!
.-= Matt SF´s last blog ..Investor Psychology: Your Brain is Hardwired to ‘Follow the Herd’ =-.

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Baker December 1, 2009 at 9:06 AM

I’m not sure I completely agree with first statement. I get where you are coming from that initially most of us go with our true thoughts, but in some cases it just isn’t true.

In this case for me, a social norm is so strong (the “no way, not ever” answer) that it dominates my thinking right away. Upon more reflection, I see that it’s not necessarily true, I’m just sort of conditioned to respond that way immediately.

And, yes, spooky is a great word for how it affected me! ;-)

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prufock November 30, 2009 at 10:06 PM

There is a short list of reasons I would kill a person, and money isn’t one of them. Life is the most valuable possession any person can own. My life is worth much more to me than any amount of money. The lives of the people I love are worth more than any monetary value I can conceive of. By killing someone, you are robbing them, and the people they know, of something which is worth much more than a billion dollars to them.

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Baker December 1, 2009 at 9:06 AM

Not sure you got the point (or watched the video)! :-)

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Financial Samurai December 1, 2009 at 2:19 AM

It’s a pretty simple answer, and that is killing is morally wrong. The question could have one trillion dollars, and add that you can get away with it.

Why have 60 years of rich money, and an eternity in hell?
.-= Financial Samurai´s last blog ..The Katana: Don’t Count Out The US Consumer! 11/30 =-.

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Steve "Dream" Weaver December 1, 2009 at 2:46 AM

The general idea is to make you take a hard look at your values. We all know killing is morally wrong and money should never really be a rationalization for murder. I read your last post and in it you encourage consumerism. The fact that wealthy countries can waste disproportionate amounts of the worlds resources contributes to people in much poorer countries dying of starvation. With 6% of the world population, the US uses almost 40% of the worlds resources. In effect, our greed IS killing people…. but as long as you do it slowly I guess it doesn’t count? If you advocate accumulating wealth instead of settling for just what you actually need to survive, you are encouraging the mindset of “Our desires take precedence over the needs of others”. Doesn’t hastening the deaths of thousands earn you a seat in Hell right next to the guy who only killed one?
.-= Steve “Dream” Weaver´s last blog ..the Burlington liars club =-.

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Baker December 1, 2009 at 9:07 AM

Hmmmm… this wasn’t really about ‘getting away’ with it or about having ‘rich’ money. I guess I didn’t convey the point very well in the video! :-)

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Mike December 1, 2009 at 3:21 AM

Looks like somebody’s enjoying their camcorder ;)

now on to the question. like some have said before, adding money doesn’t really change the answer. the initial answer is of course no. it only begins to become grey when you add scenarios such as if the person was in the act of committing a violent crime etc, and it was either their life or someone else’s. this goes along with the military argument. i happen to think it’s only necessary for defense, but then again i do think the best defense is a good offense, so even this conversation can get very nuanced very fast. but even then money is irrelevant.

for me personally, i just don’t buy the “greater good” argument. if i had the chance to kill someone and use their body for science to cure aids, cancer, etc I would feel it morally wrong to do so. even if my biotech firm earns me trillions of dollars for finding the cure and it allowed me to donate to XY charities, i would not be able to take a life. that decision is up to the individual. not me. the greater good is the summation of individual lives, which if ignored, the value system falls apart.

questions to ask: what if that stranger was mother teresa, ghandi, martin luther king, etc.
also, what if you were that next HERO to humanity, would you be a little less inclined to give up your life for someone else’s or for an X amount of money.

the true idealist in me, thinks that i have the potential to be that next great mover of masses (and so does everyone else for that matter) so it’s really an uphill battle for me for making a case on self-sacrifice for the greater good. what if the “greater good” ends up being an amount of useless people that don’t amount to much and never do a damn thing with their lives?

anyway, i can go on and on with the “what if” scenarios because of the open-ended nature of the question.

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Andrew @ Financial Services December 1, 2009 at 9:41 AM

Take the life of a stranger, definitely not. Offer my life, probably yes, though I honestly try to avoid gray situations like these as much as possible. It’s not so much about money I think, but rather when is it for the “greater good” and ultimately how we define which choice would be for the “greater good”. Frankly, this is one can of worms I’ve always dreaded opening.

Anyway, another enjoyable post. Keep em coming.

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Robert December 1, 2009 at 1:35 PM

Well, I suppose if the money were used for a NOBLE purpose (such as a charity) it could save thousands of lives and make it all worthwhile, couldn’t it? A thin justification, but interesting.
.-= Robert´s last blog ..How is the H1N1 Swine Flu Vaccine Made? =-.

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Live for Improvement December 1, 2009 at 2:25 PM

I think consequences also play a big role. The money is no good if you are sitting in jail. But if supported by the legal system like in times of war, and legal execution it rationally makes sense for the financial gain. The confliction comes from human emotion and principal. At what point does rational overpower emotion or principal?

-Dan Malone-
.-= Live for Improvement´s last blog ..Send Your Finances on a Camping Trip =-.

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Baker December 1, 2009 at 2:33 PM

Yeah, you bring up a good point. When I was presented this question, I made the assumption that it would be used for some sort of mass benefit (rather than just financial gain).

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David December 1, 2009 at 6:20 PM

It’s funny you hadn’t seen the House episode – what you described is what the doctor on the show had in mind. Reminds me of a situational ethics course I took a long time ago.

I certainly don’t believe in murder, but if the situation was one where the 100,000 people were in imminent danger, say from a dam bursting because a maniac is about to detonate a bomb and your only two options are kill him or let the people die I think most of his could rationalize killing the bad guy. But if you were alone in a room with this person and faced with the same decision to kill him or 100,000 people would die I don’t think I could.

Great idea for a topic!
.-= David´s last blog ..Who wants to be a (virtual) millionaire? =-.

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Kosmo @ The Casual Observer December 1, 2009 at 10:09 PM

So, who do you need whacked, anyway?

You have my email address. Paypal is fine.
.-= Kosmo @ The Casual Observer´s last blog ..What to Expect from Google Chrome =-.

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South Texas December 1, 2009 at 11:57 PM

I think the offer of money makes the situation feel negative and uncomfortable for a few reasons. First, it’s hard to put a price on someone’s life. Lawyers can do it, but most of us can’t. When my dad was killed, they actually showed me a law book with a lifespan chart that’s supposed to help them decide what damages to ask for. Crazy, eh?

Second, I think it is because a lot of people would say “yes” to the question. Would you kill someone for ten bucks? No. Would you kill someone for a billion bucks? Well, that’s a lot of money. Then you start to ask yourself the questions: who will get killed, is he a good guy or a bad guy, is he old or young, does he have a family, will I get caught, etc… Then you realize that you might actually say yes to killing someone, and that just feels bad.

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Kaleb December 2, 2009 at 3:21 AM

Some interesting points are raised in this post. While there is no clear-cut right or wrong answer, the key is really in the cognitive reasoning rather than a simple yes or no.

A little while back, I stumbled on a Harvard University lecture called “Justice.” The lecture talks about some of the ethical and moral dilemmas that involve questions like the one posed above.

There are 12 episodes…Somebody here might find them stimulating. :)

http://justiceharvard.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=category&layout=blog&id=9&Itemid=5

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Steve "Dream" Weaver December 2, 2009 at 4:13 PM

I just could not resist pointing out that I predicted the suspect in the Washington state police officer shootings would not be brought in alive; over 24 hours before he was killed. The police that killed him didn’t get $1 billion but I bet you that is one cop who can’t pay for a drink in Washington this year! People rationalize murder every day. What really gets to me is all of the people who refuse to believe that it IS happening here in the United States.
.-= Steve “Dream” Weaver´s last blog ..the Burlington liars club =-.

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Nancy L. December 2, 2009 at 4:21 PM

Lots of interesting points being brought up in the comments section. I am not particularly frightened of dying, but I know I would have a hard time killing another person. I felt guilty when I had to put down a pet goldfish I’d had for a few years, and that was to help the fish avoid more pain and suffering. I can’t imagine trying to kill a person.

Going back to the charity discussion a week or two ago, I would have a hard time justifying killing someone or dying for a charity to receive a specific financial donation, but if I could guarantee a specific outcome (ie 100K people will die if you don’t do this and here are their names), then it would become a much harder decision.

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Bobby December 2, 2009 at 7:04 PM

My answer is no. To add another data point: The guy who killed four police officers in a restaurant was recently shot (in the back?) by another cop.

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Steve "Dream" Weaver December 2, 2009 at 7:31 PM

The man who “allegedly shot and killed 4 police officers” was recently shot (in the back?) by another cop. Now that he’s dead I guarantee you this; all the evidence will show the dead man was responsible!! The cop who shot him decided take it upon himself to be Judge, jury and executioner. What will happen to this cop who committed murder? My bet is that he gets a paid vacation!! ( a.k.a. a temporary suspension with pay!)
.-= Steve “Dream” Weaver´s last blog ..the Burlington liars club =-.

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Tommy December 5, 2009 at 6:03 AM

Hi Baker,
Nice question. I’m currently serving in the US military, and I can say with absolute certainty there are many people willing to kill for a lot less money than you’re proposing. With 6.5 billion humans on this Earth, human life is becoming cheap.

I like your blog. We need more men vs. debt.
.-= Tommy´s last blog ..The Virtue of Cash =-.

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Roger December 10, 2009 at 3:40 AM

Wow, this is a deep, deep question. With regards to the initially posed question, I honestly don’t know. I’d like to believe that I wouldn’t kill for money, even great amounts of it, but unless I find myself in a situation when someone is actually holding the suitcase full of money in front of me (or, I don’t know, had a building containing 100,000 people, that was laced with dynamite and set to explode), I doubt I can say anything for certain. I will say that I think if I were able (or forced) to learn the identity of the person before committing to a course of action, it might make the decision easier. A convicted, death row criminal or octogenarian who wants to die, sure, why not; an innocent nine-year, well, that’s a much tougher call. If it’s just a random stranger, I’d have to play the averages, which gets all the tougher.

Now, if it’s me choosing whether I will die, the decision could be more straightforward; I can judge for myself whether the potential benefits to the world outweigh my existence being extinguished. That’s not to say it would be easier; weighing possible advantages to society vs. my own life is not the sort of calculation that’s easy to make. (Although, both of the situations you suggested, 100,000 lives and 1 billion dollars to charity, seem to sufficient to make me inclined to acquiesce.)

As to why putting a dollar amount into the equation rather than a number of lives makes a difference, I have a few ideas. First, receiving money for ending another person’s life comes off as assassination, even if all the money goes immediately to charity; while ending a life to save others seems more heroic, as if you just snuffed an assassin before he blows up a school bus. Second, while we say that one billion dollars, given to the right charity, can save X number of lives, we have no promise that such a donation will actually do so. Charities are limited by laws, their administrators, and other factors that prevent an easy ‘X Dollars will add Y number of years of life for Z number of people’ calculations. Third, and perhaps most importantly, with money involved there’s always the potential to skim a little off the top for yourself. You think, ‘If I keep just 1%, I’ll be able to supply myself and my family for the rest of our nature lives, and the 990 million I give to charity will be able to save just as many lives.’ There’s a temptation with cash that doesn’t exist with straight ‘kill (or be killed) to save these people’ situations.
.-= Roger´s last blog ..How to get Ahead of the Game: Three Tips for Students =-.

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James from Tech for the Masses December 24, 2009 at 10:00 AM

I have to say this is quite tempting. A Billion dollars for a stranger? That would stretch anyones conscience. I almost want to say yes then spend part of that billion on post traumatic stress therapy. lol But anyway, money don’t buy happiness.

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FinancialBondage.org May 15, 2010 at 6:49 PM

I would not kill anyone for money.

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dan October 31, 2010 at 7:45 PM

I think the greater good argument is irrelevant. Pick someone from history who has done something important (Einstein, the guy who discovered penicillin, Jesus, the president, Princess Diana, etc). Since the person you’re killing is a stranger it could be someone just as important. Are you really sure that your greater good is better than what the stranger could potentially do? Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t, since they’re a stranger you don’t know. Maybe by doing what you think is the greater good it is actually a greater bad.

I’m also not convinced about the 1 life for 100,000 lives. You’re making the assumption that those 100,00 lives are all good people. Chances are that amongst them there would be some murderers, child abusers, rapists, con-man, etc. Would you kill 1 stranger to save another? Who knows if the person you’re killing is good or bad and who knows if the person you’re saving is good or bad.

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Josh February 8, 2011 at 1:09 PM

Interesting. If it were me:

- I would not kill for money or to save the lives of strangers.
- I would kill to save the life of family and perhaps close friends.
- I would not sacrifice my life for strangers.
- I would sacrifice my life for my wife and immediate family.

There is no philosophical reason for my answers. But I think this is how most people would behave if this were a real scenario, regardless of moral stance. The reasons can probably be found in the Richard Dawkins book “The Selfish Gene”.

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Esti July 21, 2011 at 7:37 PM

It all comes down to what you vaule more in life. If you value money more, you will kill the stranger for a billion dollars. If you value the strangers life more, than you wont kill the stranger for a billion dollars. If you believe in God and etc, you wont kill for a billion dollars. If you are a Atheist, Agnostic, and etc… you will kill for a billion dollars, depending how you are; as a person.

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Azura Clearwater August 8, 2011 at 12:32 AM

This is a very black and white question in my eyes, however, my morality is not the same as the next person’s.
I would never kill anyone, for any reason. If it was to save the life of someone I loved, I would take the hit for them. I cannot fathom murdering anyone, let alone a stranger. A stranger whose life and value are not of my knowledge. I could not kill a serial murderer, or even someone trying to kill me. I would simply try to incapacitate them. I would regret taking the life of another for my whole existence. I do not believe in an afterlife, so I don’t know what to say about going to Hell and whatnot. All I know is that I regard the death of any living human to be a sad event. For example, Osama Bin Laden’s death. While I acknowledge the great tragedy and death and horror he had wrought, in my heart I know that he was some mother’s son. Some one some where loved him at some point. Some person will miss him. “No man is an island”. I digress, but what I intend to say is that while the question is intriguing, I think that only the strongest of heart dare kill. To me, to kill enemies or to kill criminals is to sacrifice your heart for the good of yourself and others. I’m not denouncing killing for survival and protection. I am simply saying that one must be prepared for the sadness they shall bring about through death, and evaluate the necessity of bringing that sadness. In life, I think the most important thing of all is to minimize the hurt you cause to others. After all, you can only control yourself.

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Stranger August 7, 2012 at 11:46 AM

Hmm, if you offered me enough money I would kill anyone except for my friends, love and Family.

But seriously, a BILLION dollars? Come on, I would be outside right now.
I don’t give a shit about anyone’s life cept my own and people I actually know.

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Descartes April 14, 2013 at 11:16 AM

I would kill for money if i could somehow figure if that person had a negative impact on the world. It would be painstaking but some of the obvious immature answers would be correct, for example, bernie madoff, jamie dimon, anybody who profits from the illegal drug trade, dirty politicians, people who make illegal porn, people who abuse children theirs or others. The simple fact is it is impossible to decide who is intelligent enough to think about this completely rationally. Someone who begins this line of work might lose track of the goal and only go for the people with the bigger payoff, so in terms of equity maybe could have saved more lives, in effect he made the wrong decision for his own benefit and it cost lives. IT seems that it would be very hard to do this and so I shall refrain. But if someone decides to take this upon themselves go ahead but make sure you enlist enough other people to kill all the other bad people at the same time.

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Glenn December 16, 2013 at 5:21 PM

Billion hell 50k would work a million would get you 10

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