What is the moral thing to do when you're forced to do something evil? For example, if one is forced to kill or give away whereabouts of innocent person, under the threat of death?
My reasoning is that even when you're forced to initiate force against someone, it still violates the other persons rights, so the moral thing to do would be to get yourself killed. But that would imply placing the rights of others above my own, so where's the line? What about giving away information though, especially if one knows that the other person is going to be killed?
I'd like to point out that this kind of stuff happens all the time in certain parts of the world and from time to time escalates (e.g. wwii). Thus, it would be nice to have some thoughts on the matter ahead of time.
asked Dec 05 '12 at 19:07
This is merely the classic "lifeboat situation" with a different venire (the essence of all these scenarios is that you are placed in a situation where you are faced with two unavoidable options--either die (or face serious threat) or kill (or take some other action that would be evil under normal circumstances). There are innumerable variants of this situation, but the answer to all of them is the same: morality simply does not apply to such situations, and either choice would be neither moral nor immoral.
You can read more about these situations in "The Ethics of Emergencies" in The Virtue of Selfishness. Ayn Rand also discusses these situations in the Q&A period after her Ford Hall Forum lecture entitled Of Living Death (available here as an MP3 for $0.99). Granted, her answer there is "off the cuff" so to speak, so there could be some errors or misspeaking, but the general thrust of the answer seems right to me and is consistent with what she says in her written essay referenced above. In the Q&A Ayn Rand says that morality simply does not apply in emergency situations (and she specifically mentions the lifeboat as one such situation). She explains:
Thus, I must disagree with both Cspeciale and Juan Diego dAnconia to the extent that they imply that it would be immoral to either comply with the thugs demands or to accept death. (Cspeciale says "But to accept suicide as your only option is immoral" while Juan Diego dAnconia says "in such a case ... the only answer of a philosophy of life such as Objectivism is to die"). Such a choice is outside the scope of morality---morality simply has nothing to say about what you should do. As Rand says, either choice would be "in effect" right, but only "subjectively" right. The reason for this is outlined by Ideas for Life in his answer, and is discussed in greater detail in the above referenced materials.
Calling the choice "immoral" implies that it is wrong as judged from a standard of morality, i.e., that it goes against what the moral code dictates. If the choice is outside the scope of morality then it cannot go against morality's dictates, and thus cannot be "immoral". Instead, it is "amoral", meaning "outside scope of morality; not concerned with or amenable to moral judgments" (Encarta Dictionary). Note that the choice is not "moral" either for the same reason. (Note that the forgoing is not contradicted by Rand referring to both choices loosely as being "right", because she qualifies this usage with the words "in effect" and "subjectively" which clearly indicate she is using the term colloquially to mean merely "not wrong" and it is clear from the context that she certainly is not implying that the choice is moral from the standpoint of an objective moral code (she just got done saying morality does not apply, after all)).
As an interesting aside, Rand said that she thinks that she would probably not kill the other person in such a scenario to save herself, but that she would do it in an instant without thought to save Frank (her husband). This is not altruism, but rather a high form of selfishness, as has been discussed elsewhere.
To reach an answer to this question, one can proceed in the same way that Objectivism proceeds in a normal context of human existence: begin by asking why man needs morality.
The reason man needs morality in a normal context is to live -- across the span of a lifetime -- which requires broad principles to serve as one's guide. What kind of abnormal context does the question imply? It explicitly hypothesizes living under physical force, or trying to. But social contexts built around physical force are usually capricious and unpredictable, since there is no rational justification for it and no way for a society to endure for long unless at least a small percentage of individuals are at least somewhat free to think and produce, and are induced to do so for the benefit of everyone else, despite the constant threat of physical force that may be unleashed against anyone at any time.
How can anyone live for long under such conditions? What possible code of morality could sustain human life under such conditions? There is no solution. If the society has not quite reached the stage of dictatorship and censorship, some form of strike may still be possible, as in Atlas Shrugged, and the moral course would be to go on strike. Escape may sometimes be possible, too, or dying while trying, as in We the Living and Anthem. There is also a relevant scene in Atlas Shrugged in Part III, Chapter VIII, in the subsection that begins, "From behind the rotted posts of what had once been...." Dagny visits Galt in his apartment, and he explains to her, among other things:
[When the looters arrive, you] must take their side, as fully, consistently, and loudly as your capacity for deception will permit. You must act as one of them. You must act as my worst enemy. If you do, I'll have a chance to come out of it alive...
In real life, Ayn Rand, too, searched for a way to escape from her totalitarian home country, and she did escape. She did not wait passively for events to unfold somehow. She actively observed, thought and planned as best she could. There was no guarantee that she would succeed with her escape, and she almost didn't. But in the end she made it.
Ultimately, if conditions are unbearable and inescapable, there may be no reasonable course left, and some form of outright suicide may be one's only remaining means of protest, short of total surrender to a completely sub-human mode of functioning, utterly devoid of any semblance of human dignity and valuing.
answered Dec 06 '12 at 02:01
Ideas for Life ♦