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Resolved: It is morally permissible to kill one innocent person to save the lives of more innocent people

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 NFL LD Topic
 Date Used  September - October 2008


This debate mostly focuses on the question of "ends vs means". Should we be justified in disregarding the rights of an tiny (innocent) minority in favor of the "greater good" of the society? Or should we forsake the lives of more innocent people just because of that one life?


This resolution could be seen as the classic Utilitarianism vs. Deontological ethics debate. Utilitarianism would most certainly support the affirmative, as utilitarianism states that what is morally good is one that results in the greatest good for the greatest amount of people. Therefore, killing one innocent person to save more innocent people is morally good because saving several innocent lives is a greater benefit for society than just saving one innocent person.

However, the deontological ethics pioneered by Immanuel Kant states that the morality of an action depends on the action itself, regardless of the consequences of the action. Therefore, ends never justify the means in deontological ethics. Even if killing one innocent person were to save more people, it is not morally permissible because the action of killing is immoral in all cases.


Morally Permissible

An action that is allowed and/or considered "right" by the moral code of conduct set by the society in question.

Why would this be limited to "the society in question?" It seems odd to say that in one society it is morally permissible to kill one innocent to save the lives or more innocent people, but that in another society it is not. Doesn't the resolution encompass human society in general? It is weak, unnecessary, and irrelevant to bring in specific rules of specific societies.

What does it mean to 'kill' someone? Does your inaction to save a person mean 'killing' them? Or does killing them constitute a direct action to end their life, for example, pulling the trigger of a gun pointed at their head. Further

Innocent Person/People

Individual(s) who have not committed a crime to harm the community (you need to clarify what you mean here and make it more concise) Perhaps it's not the commission of the crime that would define innocence and guilt in this topic.

A more concrete, but maybe over-literal way of defining it would be: any person who has not committed a crime that the community has deemed punishable by death.

Affirming the Topic


We should try to save as many human lives as possible in any situation


It is the duty of any person or society that when given a situation where at least one person will die, we should try to save as many human lives as possible. Therefore, we take the choice where there is the least amount of sacrifice: we sacrifice one innocent person so that many other innocent people may live. It's only common sense; would you rather kill 1 person or let a 100 die? As humans, our moral duty is to save as many lives as possible in any given situation. If you value human life at all, you should always try to keep as many people alive as possible, in order to maximize the sanctity of society.


The value of human life is immeasurable. Therefore, to say that we can be more productive in any way by saving the greater amount is neither logical, nor morally acceptable. How do you measure and compare the quantity of of x verses the quantity of y + z if you don't know the values of x, y, or z.

All lives are equal, and therefore they must be weighed equally.


Regardless of age, gender, race, or social standing, all human lives are equal in value and should be regarded as such. All humans are created equal and are equally sacred. Therefore, human lives should be weighed equally when making the quantitative comparison between saving one person and saving a hundred. Since all lives are equal, it is obviously better to save a 100 people at the expense of 1 person rather than save 1 person at the expense of a 100.


We must not look at humans quantitatively, but qualitatively. Would you sacrifice a young 5-year old to save 5 90-year olds? Or what if the one innocent person we killed to save 3 people were to actually become the scientist who finds the cure to cancer and save millions of lives worldwide in the future? Humans cannot be judged as purely numbers on a comparison scale. Therefore, there are definitely instances where killing one person to save many others is not better, which goes directly against a utilitarian philosophy for the affirmative.

Argument #3


The negative argument dealing with whether or not to kill someone based on what they will become is completely irrelevant. How does one go about deciding if someone will ultimately find the cure for cancer or even AIDS? We cannot see the future of what people will become, therefore trying to justify saving that one person's life with that reason does not stand. However, let us assume for a moment that we can see into the future. What if the one innocent person in question turned out to become Hitler or some other tyrannical person responsible for genocide? Would that not be reason more to kill the innocent? Because, for the time being, that person is still an innocent and in doing so we end up saving millions of innocent lives by taking the life of one innocent destined to become a criminal.


While it is impractical (and impossible) to see into the future, generalizations on human worth can still be assessed through less-extreme means. (future Hitler, cure for AIDS, etc) It doesn't take a fortune teller to infer that, for example, 1 doctor would better serve a society than 10 crackpots. It is true that that we cannot, in that situation, foresee the extent of our accuracy, but when armed with such information we must look towards who will potentially do more justice to our society. Keep in mind, however, that such huge distinctions regarding life or death (doctor vs. crackpot)is improbable, conversely it can be argued that the entire resolution scenario itself is not likely to occur in the first place.

Is utilitarianism (in the resolution) necessarily restricted to pure quantity (in the resolutions situation) anyway? 1 doctor living and 10 crackpots dieing does not necessarily refute utilitarian ideals, despite the fact that 10 lives outweigh 1. Isn't the 1 doctor providing for society still doing the greater good for the greater amount of people (as opposed to the 10 crackpots). Does utilitarianism necessarily mean the greatest good towards the scenario provided in the resolution? Or can it also mean the greatest good provided by that person to society if allowed to live?

We can not assume anything from the resolution. Hitler is not a valid argument, for the resolution clearly states that it was an innocent person. Because of this, we can safely conclude that this will always be an innocent person, a person who will do no wrong doing to the extremes of being deemed guilty, such as the likes of Hitler.

Argument #4


Think about what would be better for a larger group of people. If you killed one human to save 10 other humans, you'd only be affecting 1 family. Granted, it's never something that people want to deal with, but the alternative is to watch 10 other familes suffer. It's better as a society, when making these big types of decisions, to go with whatever negatively affects the fewest number of people.


But there still exists that chance that you are killing a valued member of society. Remember that the affirmative has the burden of proof in any debate. If the negative is able to present a situation in which affirming the resolution is morally impermissible, than he/she should win the debate.

Negating the Topic


Argument #1


We wouldnt have a choice in the matter any way. If we don't kill to save many, everyone dies. So, there for, it is permissable.

And on another note as you stated "no life Is lesser than the other" to state that to sacrifice one life for many is to make that person's life lesser then the group being saved is false, by stating that the person's life is equal to that of the whole groups combined lives is stating that every individual in the group's life is lesser than that one person, therefore contradicting what you just said.


  • Who are we to decide if one life is equal to another?

No one life is lesser than the others, there for, why do we think we can trade one to save the many?

also, the resolved does not say that it is the only option, nor does it say that that one person is going to die either way. It is never premissable morally to kill to save any number of people because there is an infinent value on life. so more lives does not mean it is more valuable.

Argument #2


Before debating this, I would like to add another observation. "Innocent" is situationally guiltless, to put it in a legal sense. We cannot look at this morally because no one is truly innocent. However, because the resolution says that the people are innocent, we must look at this legally.

Now, because that one person is innocent, does that person deserve to be killed? Being killed is not what (s)he is due. (S)He has committed no crime in this situation, thus the legal definition of innocent, and so (s)he does not deserve death. It is not his/her fault if the other people die because (s)he was not killed. Letting those other people die is a negative action (a negative action is letting the action simply happen), and thus it is morally neutral (meaning it has no effect on morality).


Argument #3


Here's one more thing to think about: If YOU were the one that had to take the life of your friend in order to save yourself and some other friends, would YOU be able to do it? Would any of your friends be able to do it to you? Would you feel selfish if YOU were the one that was killing, partly in order to save your own life? Just some more mind food for you.



This argument is irrelevant. The resolution states nothing of whether a person would be able to kill someone in such a situation, but rather if society would accept them if they did. I completely agree with you. What does it matter? This situation rarely comes up. Even if it does happen one day, 999/1000 times the person will not want to take the life of another to save multiple other lives.

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