War is waged based on a basic principle:

The death of X enemy soldiers+ Y allied soldiers + the loss of civilian collateral in the range of h:0->R, in the pursuit of objective Z is acceptable.

This does not just apply to aggressive war, but also to the concept of self defense.

This principle is also applied to other settings.

In real world settings: Kill a killer with a gun to the head of an innocent to prevent a murder.

In fiction: Kill one innocent person to save two innocent people. Or kill on guilty person to save million. Or one innocent person to save million.

As a species, we have virtually universally accepted the concept of, "It has to be done." The question is, in doing so, have we economized human life, and in economizing human life, have we opened ourselves up to dangerous moral positions?

To illustrate the point, let me raise a hypothetical:
There are 3 human beings left.
Only 2 can survive and procreate.
To do so, the the third human being must be destroyed.
2 of them wish to procreate.
To do so, the the third human being must be destroyed.
Is it not moral to do so, not just for the survival of the species, but for the greater good of the two lives that will be saved? If not, why not?

Then let us extend the argument to a morally ghoulish one:
There are 6 billion people on earth.
Only 4 billion can survive and procreate.
To do so 2 billion must be destroyed.
4 billion wish to survive and procreate.
To do so 2 billion must be destroyed.
Is it not moral to do so, not just for the survival of the species, but for the greater good of the 4 billion lives that will be saved? If not, why not?

Understand that I in no way advocate this, but simply pose it as a philisophical problem that I think should be approached and solved.

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Replies to This Discussion

I would like to think I would, but I do not know, however, in the situation I propose, the sacrifice is non optional. The death involved is functionally extermination.
It's deontology vs utilitarianism.
Morality won't come into it..when it comes to survival, we tend to regress to our animal selves and do whatever is needed to survive.
I think I would have to agree with Mill on this one, and say yes.
To answer the specific question, yes we do.

From there we must decide, not necessarily corporately, where we go from that point. Are we ok economizing human life, is it essential, or must we think differently.
A consensus has been achieved that survival outweighs the individual. So let us weigh the inverse.

There are 6 human beings left.
Only 2 can survive and procreate.
To do so, 4 must be destroyed.
2 wish to survive and procreate.
To do so, 4 must be destroyed.
Is it not moral to do so, as an extension of the previous principle, and if not, why not?

Then let us make another extension.
There are 6 billion humans on earth.
Only 2 billion can survive and procreate.
To do so 4 billion must be destroyed.
2 billion wish to survive and procreate.
To do so 4 billion must be destroyed.
Is it not moral to do so, as an extension of the previous principle, and if not, why not?
A consensus has been achieved that survival outweighs the individual.

No it hasn't. I can't think of anyone who believes it is okay to kill four people in order to preserve one.

There's not a lot you can say about these kind of blunt statements. You have to start with premises most people easily accept. Otherwise, the argument doesn't even get started.
2 versus 4? Those odds don't look too good. If there were only six people left wouldn't it be more interesting to simply prevent anyone from reproducing? Or at that simplified level just kill the other five or the opposite sex. That way mankind would go extinct and morality and all the adornments of humankind would go with it and force some other adaptation or possibly a catastophic chain of events in the world. That would be extremely interesting.
The consensus achieved was in the majority outweighing the minority in matters of absolute survival. The question now is to test the inverse.

At what ratio of necessary dead to survivors would you determine it no longer worthy enough to save the human race?
Luckily for us the world never works in absolutes such as this one. Let's say there were only 3 people left on earth. Two males and one female or the inverse. Why is it that most people would go right into the thinking of one of them must die? Why can't they just live harmoniously reproducing together? Are we that hardwired against polygamy? Would the female be considered a whore if she procreated with both males in order to propagate the species? Would the male be looked at wrongly for procreating with both females?
The question is not about the preservation of social mores. It is an exploration of the way we turn the lives of human beings into a commodity. The ultimate issue is not one of extermination, but of the exchange rate. How many human lives are worth how many lives as a sacrifice? What conditions add to the value of a life and what conditions subtract from the value of a life? We internally make these value judgments on a daily basis, and the challenge is to intellectualize the subconscious by recognizing the fact we make these judgments, hence the initial statement about the economy of life. So again, I pose to you, how many for how many. What cost are you willing to pay?
Some might accept that the need of the many outweighs the need of the one/few, and thus might act in an otherwise amoral/immoral way, but one thing I have always wondered: who gets to decide? In the original post, for example, which of the 3 gets to die? Who decides?

I think someone mentioned "Watchmen," which gets its title from a great quote by Juvenal, "Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?" ("Who guards the guardians?" or "Who watches the watchers/watchmen?") This was in reference to any moral or political system setup like Plato's in his "Republic:" in that text, the rulers were known as the Guardians/Watchers (depending on the translation) and were, for all intents and purposes, benevolent dictators who ruled absolutely, to make sure the two lower classes behave themselves. But who was the ensure that they themselves acted rightly? Another set of guardians? But who would ensure that they act rightly? Etc., ad infinitum.

This has always been my problem with utilitarianism; who decides what the "hedonic calculus" is? Sure, it sounds good on paper, but the actualization seems pretty scary.

To make a long story short (TOO LATE!), one should never economize human life, but should in fact treat it with the proper dignity it rightly deserves.

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