The 2nd interesting topic of the holiday was with Simon H. which, in turn, was started by my recounting a conversation I’d previously had with . This one was about the ethics of choice when contemplating the ‘value’ of people.

In order to discuss this I tried to create a Gedankenexperiment in which it was mandatory for an external 3rd party to choose which of two people has to die. This ended up being ridiculously long winded ("There are two bomb disposal experts…") and I’d be grateful if anyone knows a standard simpler model to choose. NB – having someone simply pointing a gun at two people and asking you which one to shoot doesn’t work since, as Simon pointed out, in that situation you are not the primary Actor and by accepting the proposition of ‘having’ to make the choice you merely validate the choice already made (that someone has to die). Simon said that it’s ethically better to make no choice in that situation as that way no matter which one dies it’s ‘not your fault’. While I understand the ethics of this I still find it hard to credit that given the real-world choice between a ‘good’ person and a ‘bad’ one it’s still the right thing to do nothing.

This, of course, leads to the whole notion of how one judges the ‘value’ of a person. The origin of the original discussion was my premise that of two bomb disposal experts who have an exact equal chance of diffusing a bomb it is the correct ethic choice to send in the one without a family (here defined as the ‘better’ one purely as the one likely to cause more grief and long-term social / financial trauma if he dies).
Simon did a pretty good job of demolishing that argument but was unable to lead me all the way to "all people should be considered equal". I.e. that even if the two people in the thought experiment were a ‘good man’ and a serial killer than the correct ethical thing to do is toss a coin rather than consider any of their past history or predispositions (at least as far as I understood his arguments).

It bothers me somewhat that a ‘Liberal’ can be defined as someone who considers all people to be equal (in the standard fashion this means in terms of race, religion, etc) and a ‘Conservative’ as someone who does not (some people are more ‘deserving than others’, fear of the ‘other’, etc) since I seem to find it inherently difficult not to be able to rank people. Not, obviously, by anything innate but by the choices of their actions – ‘good’ people (those who act within my own defined ethic system) are just ‘better’ than those who don’t. Is that really a bad thing?

Okay, I think I confused myself enough already – discuss! 🙂