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CEPPA Talk – Jonathan Quong (University of Southern California)

May 26, 2021 @ 4:00 pm - 5:30 pm

Title: The Permissibility of Lesser Evil


Flood:   Flood water is headed toward a cave where five innocent people are trapped and will be killed if the water reaches them. The water can be diverted into a mineshaft, but innocent Betty is trapped in the mineshaft and will be killed if the water is redirected. Albert is a bystander who has seen and understood the whole situation, and he stands next to a switch that can divert the flood. He can easily flip the switch.

When considering cases like this, some people believe that Albert is morally required to save the five at the cost of Betty’s life (the requirement thesis). Others believe that Albert is permitted but not required to save the five (the permissive thesis). I argue in favor of the permissive thesis and against the requirement thesis. I conclude by considering some further implications for the ethics of self-defense and war.

© University of St Andrews