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Old 03-01-2017, 01:47 PM   #1
tame_deuces
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A hypothetical "who do you save?"

You can administer first aid to one of three people after an accident. A 5 year-old child, a college senior or a retiree who has worked and paid taxes his entire adult life. The ones not receiving first aid will die.

Disregard age when it comes to treatment, assume that all have an equal chance of being restored to good health. You know nothing more.

Who do you attempt to save and why?
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Old 03-01-2017, 04:37 PM   #2
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Re: A hypothetical "who do you save?"

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Originally Posted by tame_deuces View Post
You can administer first aid to one of three people after an accident. A 5 year-old child, a college senior or a retiree who has worked and paid taxes his entire adult life. The ones not receiving first aid will die.

Disregard age when it comes to treatment, assume that all have an equal chance of being restored to good health. You know nothing more.

Who do you attempt to save and why?
Most likely the 5 year-old as he will probably live an extra 17 years or so over the college senior and decades longer than the retiree.

Last edited by Original Position; 03-01-2017 at 04:40 PM. Reason: accuracy
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Old 03-01-2017, 04:50 PM   #3
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Re: A hypothetical "who do you save?"

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Most likely the 5-year-old as he will probably live an extra 17 years or so over the college senior and decades longer than the retiree.
All thing equal I would have to agree.

But in any real world situations, things are never equal.

For instance one of will be closer than the others, and I might well see one of them before the other two. Being the first victim I see will significantly increase the probably of being saved by me.
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Old 03-01-2017, 11:16 PM   #4
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Re: A hypothetical "who do you save?"

All things equal and in a comfortable absence of real world conditions, the child. I think this is likely an evolved reaction.
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Old 03-02-2017, 05:21 AM   #5
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Re: A hypothetical "who do you save?"

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Most likely the 5 year-old as he will probably live an extra 17 years or so over the college senior and decades longer than the retiree.
So the amount of life left to the person you choose is the overriding factor in your decision? A 5 year knows nothing, can easily be replaced, is just a demand on society at that point. They have potential perhaps but it's a value that can't be measured. The retiree may have paid taxes, and worked all their life but what value do they still have to society? Have they earned the right to be saved? Who would choose them over a child? The college senior has survived childhood, has gained an education, is about to take a place in society and be able to add value to it. They have most of their life ahead of them and we know a little bit more about their potential value.

If we were to judge this not only on their value to society, but also say that it is Education that provided that value (given what little we know about them), then I would choose the college senior. For me, they have the greater 'potential'. In real life, I would of course save the child because that's what my instincts demand and what society would expect me to do.
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Old 03-02-2017, 05:30 AM   #6
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Re: A hypothetical "who do you save?"

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All things equal and in a comfortable absence of real world conditions, the child. I think this is likely an evolved reaction.
I'd agree that we've evolved to save the young of the species because they're the future of the species, but in times of extreme duress, that doesn't actually hold true. In groups subject to extreme environmental pressures, like a severe shortage of food, it's the young and the old that die off. The old have less value to a society such as those that existed during our evolution, they can't defend the group or help provide food, and a child can easily be replaced.

It's the group members that are of child bearing age, that are capable of feeding and protecting the group that become the priority. In the example used in the OP, I'd say that it's a time of extreme duress, you can only save one of them. So in terms of overall survival value for the group, wouldn't it make sense to save the college senior? Or is that all moot in an advanced society because a 5 year old child has a greater chance of surviving after being saved by you? So it's modern values that become the deciding factor, I don't think that looking to our evolved reaction provides an answer here.
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Old 03-02-2017, 07:52 AM   #7
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Re: A hypothetical "who do you save?"

Two good posts MB, and the debate is a bit of what I aimed for when making the thread. I'm thinking there is an "affordability" aspect to morality, i.e. we live in civilizations where we often have the luxury of not always thinking out of necessity.

If we think like an insurance company (which might be a bit cold, but they are very good at calculating these things down to numbers) the college senior has the "highest value". If we think from "our" cultural values, we often see the child has having the highest value, while we have a tendency to look at the elderly as "past their worth".
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Old 03-02-2017, 03:17 PM   #8
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Re: A hypothetical "who do you save?"

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Two good posts MB, and the debate is a bit of what I aimed for when making the thread. I'm thinking there is an "affordability" aspect to morality, i.e. we live in civilizations where we often have the luxury of not always thinking out of necessity.
Thanks, and yes, I agree. I'm still at the 'Rachels' level of the Philosophy of Morality but I find it fascinating. I'm a fan of Virtue theory, even though it's incomplete and has flaws, I like the idea of just being nice, but 100% that's a luxury you can only afford in a civilization with a high level of personal safety and security. If I were fighting for my survival, 'nice' would go right out of the window.

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If we think like an insurance company (which might be a bit cold, but they are very good at calculating these things down to numbers) the college senior has the "highest value". If we think from "our" cultural values, we often see the child has having the highest value, while we have a tendency to look at the elderly as "past their worth".
Yeah, but an elderly person, with a lifetime of accumulated experience and knowledge may in fact have great value to some societies or contexts where their limited life span wasn't an issue. On paper though, I choose the college senior.

So, where does that leave us? I don't believe that morals are relative because that way they could never improve and we could never question the morals of another society if they worked for that society, but we need something better than that. Sometimes I envy theists their moral certainty. It might surprise Zumby to know that his arguments in the thread where I talked about it being morally wrong for Christians to urge their beliefs on their children, have caused me to back away from that position. I'm still not a consequentialist though.
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Old 03-02-2017, 04:16 PM   #9
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Re: A hypothetical "who do you save?"

We automatically assume and place the context of the above hypothetical to what we are familiar with. No one thought that the hypothetical was in China, or Zimbabwe or Uruguay, or India for example. Would that make a difference? (gender is not specified in the example). The child has a certain chance to grow up a drug addict, a prostitute, a criminal, a wastrel. A parasite on society. The College Senior less so, but still possible. It is also possible the retiree has more than one or a few hidden skeletons in the closet - a current child abuser? but never caught, a degenerate person with a terrible family history, etc.

It would take some doing but saving the older person is probably the wisest thing to do. If you use nothing but a utility calculus (and probability). How this would hold across different locations throughout the world is another interesting hypothetical.
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Old 03-03-2017, 10:36 PM   #10
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Re: A hypothetical "who do you save?"

If the answer isn't the child, then why is the question in this forum?
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Old 03-03-2017, 10:48 PM   #11
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Re: A hypothetical "who do you save?"

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If the answer isn't the child, then why is the question in this forum?


A Christian might say not the child based on the assumption that it is saved because it's too young to understand accepting Christ, and the others might not yet have.
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Old 03-04-2017, 06:01 AM   #12
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Re: A hypothetical "who do you save?"

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We automatically assume and place the context of the above hypothetical to what we are familiar with. No one thought that the hypothetical was in China, or Zimbabwe or Uruguay, or India for example. Would that make a difference? (gender is not specified in the example). The child has a certain chance to grow up a drug addict, a prostitute, a criminal, a wastrel. A parasite on society. The College Senior less so, but still possible. It is also possible the retiree has more than one or a few hidden skeletons in the closet - a current child abuser? but never caught, a degenerate person with a terrible family history, etc.

It would take some doing but saving the older person is probably the wisest thing to do. If you use nothing but a utility calculus (and probability). How this would hold across different locations throughout the world is another interesting hypothetical.
I think that is a fair point, cultural bias will play a part both in making the example and answering it. Most likely it is impossible to bypass it in an answer.
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Old 03-04-2017, 10:13 AM   #13
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Re: A hypothetical "who do you save?"

Run away since saving anybody will bring you massive lawsuits from the other families.
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Old 03-04-2017, 12:47 PM   #14
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Re: A hypothetical "who do you save?"

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Originally Posted by tame_deuces View Post
You can administer first aid to one of three people after an accident. A 5 year-old child, a college senior or a retiree who has worked and paid taxes his entire adult life. The ones not receiving first aid will die.

Disregard age when it comes to treatment, assume that all have an equal chance of being restored to good health. You know nothing more.

Who do you attempt to save and why?
Dangerous question:

Spoiler:


I would not be surprised if it turns out in reality that this question has a significant impact on the outcome, especially in certain parts of the world.
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Old 03-04-2017, 01:25 PM   #15
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Re: A hypothetical "who do you save?"

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It would take some doing but saving the older person is probably the wisest thing to do. If you use nothing but a utility calculus (and probability).
In the US and probably Europe, I think utility would indicate saving the college senior. It's something around 2:1 against that a randomly chosen person will have attained a bachelor's degree (at least in the US) and people with bachelor's degrees tend to have more positive contributions to society by most measures that the those regions use. I don't think that a randomly chosen 5 year old would be projected to have a higher "value" on those measures. I'm doubtful that you'll get a "jackpot effect" in which the baby grows up to be a billionaire or something, thus increasing the expectation above that of the college senior.
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Old 03-04-2017, 03:00 PM   #16
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Re: A hypothetical "who do you save?"

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So the amount of life left to the person you choose is the overriding factor in your decision? A 5 year knows nothing, can easily be replaced, is just a demand on society at that point. They have potential perhaps but it's a value that can't be measured. The retiree may have paid taxes, and worked all their life but what value do they still have to society? Have they earned the right to be saved? Who would choose them over a child? The college senior has survived childhood, has gained an education, is about to take a place in society and be able to add value to it. They have most of their life ahead of them and we know a little bit more about their potential value.

If we were to judge this not only on their value to society, but also say that it is Education that provided that value (given what little we know about them), then I would choose the college senior. For me, they have the greater 'potential'. In real life, I would of course save the child because that's what my instincts demand and what society would expect me to do.
I think few people would be willing to go to college if they knew that doing so would take 17 years off their life. I wouldn't take that deal.

Also, as we get closer to life extension technologies, the value of youth relative to age has increased.
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Old 03-04-2017, 03:14 PM   #17
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Re: A hypothetical "who do you save?"

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In the US and probably Europe, I think utility would indicate saving the college senior. It's something around 2:1 against that a randomly chosen person will have attained a bachelor's degree (at least in the US) and people with bachelor's degrees tend to have more positive contributions to society by most measures that the those regions use. I don't think that a randomly chosen 5 year old would be projected to have a higher "value" on those measures. I'm doubtful that you'll get a "jackpot effect" in which the baby grows up to be a billionaire or something, thus increasing the expectation above that of the college senior.
If you want to estimate the utility advantage for the college senior then you should include the value estimates per year of human life as well. For example, people with a bachelors make about $600k more than the median worker over their lifetime. There are also sunk costs in the college senior -- lets say $400-500k. So, is the value of 17 years of human life worth less than $1m ($58k per year)? That is not obvious to me. For instance, the EPA estimates the value of a human life at $9.1 million. The FDA at $7.9 million and the DOT at $6 million. Even the lowest of these would price a year at $76k.
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Old 03-04-2017, 03:55 PM   #18
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Re: A hypothetical "who do you save?"

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If you want to estimate the utility advantage for the college senior then you should include the value estimates per year of human life as well. For example, people with a bachelors make about $600k more than the median worker over their lifetime. There are also sunk costs in the college senior -- lets say $400-500k. So, is the value of 17 years of human life worth less than $1m ($58k per year)? That is not obvious to me. For instance, the EPA estimates the value of a human life at $9.1 million. The FDA at $7.9 million and the DOT at $6 million. Even the lowest of these would price a year at $76k.
Given how those estimates are performed, I don't think it makes sense to try to prorate that amount, which is what I think it is you're trying to do here. The price tag is equivalent for all persons, regardless of age.

https://www.census.gov/prod/2002pubs/p23-210.pdf

It's worth noting that on the chart on page 4, it appears that the estimated earnings listed are for all people with the listed level of educational attainment.

If you wanted to try to do a rough estimate, you can use these numbers:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Educat..._United_States

You'll run into some problems because the categories don't line up perfectly. The educational attainment chart shows percentages that have "at least" the degree listed. As best as I can tell from the census.gov paper, those are just based on answers to the question of highest educational attainment. In other words, the wikipedia "high school graduate" number includes people with a "doctoral degree" whereas the census.gov paper does not.

But given that the college senior is really close to being in the upper 30% of incomes and an estimate for the 5-year old would be to be at the 50% of incomes, I don't see how we could so easily dismiss the idea that attained academic achievement can be overlooked. I maintain that you really need a type of jackpot effect in order to tip the scales.
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Old 03-05-2017, 01:29 PM   #19
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Re: A hypothetical "who do you save?"

I'm sorry but why are people saying the college graduate contributes more to society? I know plenty of college graduates who are leeches and many more who have a degree in a useless field. Not only that but a Bachelors degree really doesn't mean a whole heck of a lot in this day and age. What if the person was a trade school graduate? Would you guys still feel he, or she, contributes more to society? What about culinary school? What if the person is a high school dropout but a brilliant entrepreneur and/or inventor? The whole concept of someone with a Bachelors degree being a more valuable asset to society than someone else doesn't sit right with me. Shoot, even if a person is a high school dropout on welfare, they can still be a better contributor to society if they are kind and selfless versus a selfish jerk with a Bachelors degree.
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Old 03-05-2017, 01:45 PM   #20
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Re: A hypothetical "who do you save?"

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I'm sorry but why are people saying the college graduate contributes more to society?
They aren't. They are saying he will contribute more on average.

Anecdotes don't disprove that point, so if that is your only argument you have failed to counter the claim.
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Old 03-05-2017, 01:46 PM   #21
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Re: A hypothetical "who do you save?"

And what's this talk about income? Is that an indication of societal utility? If so, I know of a lot more successful drug dealers who contribute more to society than anyone on this forum. And I'm assuming some of you would then have to concede that Trump has always contributed more to society than you and anyone on this forum.

I guess my posts boil down to: what do we consider valuable contributions to society? Money? Potential salary? Education (even if it might be poor or in a useless field)? For me, it's how we treat one another. Love and kindness are the most valuable societal contributions. My opinion is largely influenced by my Christian faith. I'd be interested in hearing what others consider to be the most valuable contributions to society and whether or not they are Christians.
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Old 03-05-2017, 01:47 PM   #22
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Re: A hypothetical "who do you save?"

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They aren't. They are saying he will contribute more on average.
Based on what? What do you consider to be a contribution? Did you bother reading my whole post? If so, what are your thoughts on that?
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Old 03-05-2017, 01:56 PM   #23
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Re: A hypothetical "who do you save?"

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Based on what? What do you consider to be a contribution? Did you bother reading my whole post? If so, what are your thoughts on that?
Evidence to that effect has been linked in this thread already.

Anecdotes aren't convincing when we're talking about averages.
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Old 03-05-2017, 02:19 PM   #24
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Re: A hypothetical "who do you save?"

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Evidence to that effect has been linked in this thread already.

Anecdotes aren't convincing when we're talking about averages.
There's nothing anecdotal about my questions that you are choosing to ignore.
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Old 03-05-2017, 02:47 PM   #25
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Re: A hypothetical "who do you save?"

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There's nothing anecdotal about my questions that you are choosing to ignore.
"I met an X who was Y" is pretty much the quintessential anecdote.
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