Please answer

Today, I would like to pose a philosophical question and have audience participation.

Suppose you are in love with someone, in fact, you have found the love of your life. Now suppose that there is a powerful sorcerer who is envious of your love and makes you the following deal “Tomorrow, I will kill either the entire population of Africa or your love*.” Your choice. If you don’t choose, I will kill both.” No one else in the world will know it was your choice. Which would you choose and why?

If you decide to answer, please also tell me your gender. I have a very unscientific hypothesis about the answers I’ll get.

* Suppose these are disjoint sets and you don’t know anyone in Africa, etc etc — ie, choose between the love of your life and a billion strangers.

4 thoughts on “Please answer

  1. I assume you already know my answer, but I would certainly elect to kill one person I know over a billion I don’t. (I’m male by birth, but I don’t like to be categorized in ways I didn’t get to choose.)


    1. This probably doesn’t change your answer, but this isn’t just a random person you know. It’s the person who is dearest to you. Who you value the most.

      Out of curiosity, what if it were 1 billion ordinary people versus, someone you greatly admire intellectually?


    2. This brings up another question: in what sense to a billion people who you don’t know and will never know really exist? Besides possibly hearing about it on the news a bunch, wouldn’t it be almost like killing a billion imaginary people?


      1. My answer is very stable under perturbations. Give that one person any attributes you want, and I still don’t have to think. Over the past few years, I have worked hard at judging personal slights in a larger context: how can I be seriously upset when something bad happens to me, when there are so much larger offenses happening all the time? If I am to get worked up over something, it should be large-scale injustices, not personal offenses, however grave they may be. It is reasonable to be somewhat more bothered about personal slights than those that happen to others (after all, who is going to stand up for me if I don’t do so myself?), but the factor ought not to be so extreme. Maybe something bad happening to me should count as much as something similarly bad happening to 100 other people? I don’t know what the right factor is, but I do believe it ought to be much less extreme than most people appear to think.

        To what extent are they real people? Well, the best evidence that I have available to me suggests that they exist, and that their intrinsic value (if that means anything at all) is just as great as mine. If I do not know them and do not understand their value, that seems to be an omission in my education, not a sign of their lack of worth.


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