DanaMarie215

Is there ever a conflict between self interest & morality?

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I was discussing Objectivism with a friend of mine who said he'd be an Objectivist but he believes there are situations where morality and acting in your self interest come into conflict. The example he gave me was that if the 2 of us were stranded in the middle of nowhere & there was only supplies for one of us to survive, wouldn't it be in our individual self interest to kill the other?

I told him I wasn't sure how to answer it & I've been thinking on it for about 2 weeks. I think this situation wouldn't occur if the 2 of us were looking out for our self interest from the beginning and never let ourselves get stranded and without the things needed to sustain both of us- keeping both of us from getting into the described situation above.

Another scenario he provided is that he is dying and a doctor has the cure needed to save him. He claims it is in his rational self interest to force the doctor to treat him- anything to keep himself alive. My thoughts on that come to the value of the life you're leading after forcing another human to act as your slave. How great could a life, after forcing another human, could you have? I know it may vary for people, but for me, I would be disgusted with myself and unable to truly enjoy life after sacrificing another to me.

I just wanted to get other thoughts on it before I responded to him.

Edited by Dana Marie

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I was discussing Objectivism with a friend of mine who said he'd be an Objectivist but he believes there are situations where morality and acting in your self interest come into conflict. The example he gave me was that if the 2 of us were stranded in the middle of nowhere & there was only supplies for one of us to survive, wouldn't it be in our individual self interest to kill the other?

I told him I wasn't sure how to answer it & I've been thinking on it for about 2 weeks. I think this situation wouldn't occur if the 2 of us were looking out for our self interest from the beginning and never let ourselves get stranded and without the things needed to sustain both of us- keeping both of us from getting into the described situation above.

Another scenario he provided is that he is dying and a doctor has the cure needed to save him. He claims it is in his rational self interest to force the doctor to treat him- anything to keep himself alive. My thoughts on that come to the value of the life you're leading after forcing another human to act as your slave. How great could a life, after forcing another human, could you have? I know it may vary for people, but for me, I would be disgusted with myself and unable to truly enjoy life after sacrificing another to me.

I just wanted to get other thoughts on it before I responded to him.

Dana:

These are the typical hypothetical values clarification traps. The "what if's." You can always answer with well what if in that situation I find a secret vial with a life saving formulae? Or, what if we just chop off your arm and both of us survive on it? This last scenario has occurred in countless actual radical survival situations, e.g., Donner Pass in American history; the whaling ship that was attacked by the whale that gave rise to the Moby Dick novel, etc.

However, your answers are sufficiently credible. Is he the type of person that has difficulty with integrity issues?

Adam

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Another scenario he provided is that he is dying and a doctor has the cure needed to save him. He claims it is in his rational self interest to force the doctor to treat him- anything to keep himself alive. My thoughts on that come to the value of the life you're leading after forcing another human to act as your slave. How great could a life, after forcing another human, could you have? I know it may vary for people, but for me, I would be disgusted with myself and unable to truly enjoy life after sacrificing another to me.

Cost for Him: Minimum

Cost for Me: Maximum

I would live a longer and happier life. Perhaps in the Bahamas.

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I was discussing Objectivism with a friend of mine who said he'd be an Objectivist but he believes there are situations where morality and acting in your self interest come into conflict. The example he gave me was that if the 2 of us were stranded in the middle of nowhere & there was only supplies for one of us to survive, wouldn't it be in our individual self interest to kill the other?

I told him I wasn't sure how to answer it & I've been thinking on it for about 2 weeks. I think this situation wouldn't occur if the 2 of us were looking out for our self interest from the beginning and never let ourselves get stranded and without the things needed to sustain both of us- keeping both of us from getting into the described situation above.

Another scenario he provided is that he is dying and a doctor has the cure needed to save him. He claims it is in his rational self interest to force the doctor to treat him- anything to keep himself alive. My thoughts on that come to the value of the life you're leading after forcing another human to act as your slave. How great could a life, after forcing another human, could you have? I know it may vary for people, but for me, I would be disgusted with myself and unable to truly enjoy life after sacrificing another to me.

I just wanted to get other thoughts on it before I responded to him.

Read Ayn Rand's "The Ethics of Emergencies."

Basically, Rand herself admits her morality breaks down in these extreme hypothetical "lifeboat scenarios."

But here's the thing; morality is meant to be a tool for living life. How frequently do these "lifeboat scenarios" actually happen? They're exceedingly rare. Life is not just a constant parade of lifeboat scenarios; existence isn't an endless sequence of 'kill or be killed.' Building a morality on the basis of extremely unlikely hypotheticals (and honestly, you could come up with SOME sort of hypothetical that could discredit ANY moral principle) is an error.

Morality is very context-sensitive... attempting to come up with a morality that will work in every single conceiveable context is basically asking for an intrinsic morality.

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I was discussing Objectivism with a friend of mine who said he'd be an Objectivist but he believes there are situations where morality and acting in your self interest come into conflict. The example he gave me was that if the 2 of us were stranded in the middle of nowhere & there was only supplies for one of us to survive, wouldn't it be in our individual self interest to kill the other?

I told him I wasn't sure how to answer it & I've been thinking on it for about 2 weeks. I think this situation wouldn't occur if the 2 of us were looking out for our self interest from the beginning and never let ourselves get stranded and without the things needed to sustain both of us- keeping both of us from getting into the described situation above.

Another scenario he provided is that he is dying and a doctor has the cure needed to save him. He claims it is in his rational self interest to force the doctor to treat him- anything to keep himself alive. My thoughts on that come to the value of the life you're leading after forcing another human to act as your slave. How great could a life, after forcing another human, could you have? I know it may vary for people, but for me, I would be disgusted with myself and unable to truly enjoy life after sacrificing another to me.

I just wanted to get other thoughts on it before I responded to him.

Remember that Objectivism rejects the conventional, religious view of "selfishness" as lacking all concern for others. True selfishness requires that a person have a clear grasp of their own value hierarchy, and act in such a way that you never sacrifice a higher value for a lesser one. So the first thing to note is that selfishness does not always equate to simple self-preservation. If there is a choice between your life and someone else’s life, it may be selfish to step in front of a bullet to save another’s life if the person represents a value without which you would not care to live.

Objectivist morality in no way “breaks down” in emergencies, and Ayn Rand did not mean to imply that in “The Ethics of Emergencies.” She did state that the rules of conduct change in emergency situations—i.e., situations where normal survival becomes difficult or impossible—so that one’s selfish goal must be that of restoring normalcy or eliminating the danger by whatever means necessary, and that could involve placing oneself in danger to help others. Remember Francisco’s statement to James Taggart: “Your manners (i.e., rules of personal conduct) have never been glued to you too solidly—you always lose them in an emergency, and that’s the time when one needs them most.”

The Objectivist ethics holds that we must always be the beneficiary of our own actions and that we must act rationally. Rationality is the primary virtue in Objectivism, and the actual meaning of “selfishness.” It means always acting on your best independent judgment in the context of your values. In emergency situations, it is unlikely to be the case that using force or killing someone are your only options. You would need to summon your mental powers to attain the clearest possible focus, to think in terms of what options are available and choose the option that will best promote your own long-term survival. This will depend on all the various factors that constitute the full context of any given emergency.

The two situations you describe seem to be predicated on the malevolent universe premise. Two people stranded together will almost always have a much better chance of survival if they cooperate to achieve that goal. And why wouldn’t a doctor want to cure a dying man? If it’s an issue of money, the dying man has plenty of other options available (e.g., family, friends, charity) before he would need to steal the medicine or use force. If the doctor was totally unreasonable about it and no other option were available, then force might well be justified.

Would you really feel guilty about using force against someone who was totally oblivious to the precious value of your life? Would you feel guilty about stealing food from a store to feed your family in the midst of a total breakdown of civilized society—e.g., riots and social chaos? Surely not. It is a serious flaw in the thinking of many libertarians—and an inversion of a rational value hierarchy--that the disvalue of using force becomes more important than the ultimate value of your own life.

Properly understood, there can be no conflict between morality and rational self-interest.

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Hello Dana Marie,

I think the 'logical' is sometimes over-represented, or over-equated with rationality -- within, and out of, Objectivist circles. After all, it's 'logical' that if two lives can't be sustained, one must go.

Logic is a critical tool of reason, but it should not be applied in a vacuum.

To sum up the good responses you heard above: Context + Hierarchy of value + Logic + Full consciousness + Self-interest = Rational morality.

(in my often simplistic opinion.) B)

Tony

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Objectivist morality in no way “breaks down” in emergencies, and Ayn Rand did not mean to imply that in “The Ethics of Emergencies.” She did state that the rules of conduct change in emergency situations—i.e., situations where normal survival becomes difficult or impossible—so that one’s selfish goal must be that of restoring normalcy or eliminating the danger by whatever means necessary, and that could involve placing oneself in danger to help others.

Dennis,

You're misinterpreting my point, although it is fair to say the term "breaks down" probably has stronger negative implications than I intended.

What I was trying to emphasize was the issue of context; Objectivist morality is based in the context of typical human situations rather than endless sequences of nightmare kill-or-be-killed scenarios.

The basic moral principles remain the same, but the application of them is context-dependent. Applying these principles to actual real-world life is going to yield very different results to applying them to lifeboat scenarios.

You basically granted my point: "the rules of conduct change in emergency situations." This is precisely what I was talking about. Whilst "breaks down" may have harsher implications that I intended, you seem to be reading my post very malevolently.

That said, I agree with you that rational self-interest includes the interests of others (specific others depending on context, naturally).

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Remember that Objectivism rejects the conventional, religious view of "selfishness" as lacking all concern for others. True selfishness requires that a person have a clear grasp of their own value hierarchy, and act in such a way that you never sacrifice a higher value for a lesser one. So the first thing to note is that selfishness does not always equate to simple self-preservation. If there is a choice between your life and someone else’s life, it may be selfish to step in front of a bullet to save another’s life if the person represents a value without which you would not care to live.

So, applied to the "stranded in the middle of nowhere" example in the root post, from the Objectivist standpoint, giving my life for my friend would be called a "selfish" decision if the friend represents a value without which I would not care to live.

A Marxist prepared to die for his ideas in a torture camp is then "selfish" as well because he is ready to give his life for that which is of higher value to him.

Edited by Xray

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Remember that Objectivism rejects the conventional, religious view of "selfishness" as lacking all concern for others. True selfishness requires that a person have a clear grasp of their own value hierarchy, and act in such a way that you never sacrifice a higher value for a lesser one. So the first thing to note is that selfishness does not always equate to simple self-preservation. If there is a choice between your life and someone else’s life, it may be selfish to step in front of a bullet to save another’s life if the person represents a value without which you would not care to live.

So, applied to the "stranded in the middle of nowhere" example in the root post, from the Objectivist standpoint, giving my life for my friend would be called a "selfish" decision if the friend represents a value without which I would not care to live.

A Marxist prepared to die for his ideas in a torture camp is then "selfish" as well because he is ready give his life for that which is of higher value for him.

Angela:

Exactly! That is why the altruist preaching altruism is a blatant moral scam because they are acting "selfishly" and preaching the obverse. I made this telling argument to a Catholic priest when I was sixteen and he had no answer to my statement to the group that, "Essentially Father, you are the most selfish bastard in this room, yet, you preach selflessness."

Adam

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... giving my life for my friend would be called a "selfish" decision if the friend represents a value without which I would not care to live. ...

You have a friend who is a "which"? Link. Or did you mean "witch"? :)

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I was discussing Objectivism with a friend of mine who said he'd be an Objectivist but he believes there are situations where morality and acting in your self interest come into conflict. The example he gave me was that if the 2 of us were stranded in the middle of nowhere & there was only supplies for one of us to survive, wouldn't it be in our individual self interest to kill the other?

I think it be more productive to work together to find a solution, as opposed to regarding each other as an enemy to be slaughtered. But if my partner had decided that I should be slaughtered, then I'd definitely have to dispatch him before he dispatched me. The lesson here is: choose your traveling companions wisely.

Of course, you could try to stipulate that in this scenario there are no solutions to find, but that's fallacious. You can't know that, therefore the stipulations are arbitrary constraints. In the real world, we can be creative and find solutions to problems. And in the real world, we're better off when we characteristically try, as opposed to throwing our hands up in the air and killing one another. Even if we fail in a particular case, the mental stance of creatively looking for solutions wins out over the one that lacks imagination.

Another scenario he provided is that he is dying and a doctor has the cure needed to save him. He claims it is in his rational self interest to force the doctor to treat him- anything to keep himself alive. My thoughts on that come to the value of the life you're leading after forcing another human to act as your slave. How great could a life, after forcing another human, could you have? I know it may vary for people, but for me, I would be disgusted with myself and unable to truly enjoy life after sacrificing another to me.

This also suffers from a "stipulation fallacy." It wants to stipulate that the doctor doesn't want to help, without specifying why. It wants to stipulate that there are no other doctors, without specifying why. It's pure fantasy.

Your friend has a choice. He can choose to base his ethic on fantasy scenarios like these, or he can choose to observe what really happens in reality.

Shayne

PS: I'm not an Objectivist, but I agree with Rand that there is no dichotomy between the moral and the practical.

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Objectivist morality in no way “breaks down” in emergencies, and Ayn Rand did not mean to imply that in “The Ethics of Emergencies.” She did state that the rules of conduct change in emergency situations—i.e., situations where normal survival becomes difficult or impossible—so that one’s selfish goal must be that of restoring normalcy or eliminating the danger by whatever means necessary, and that could involve placing oneself in danger to help others.

Dennis,

You're misinterpreting my point, although it is fair to say the term "breaks down" probably has stronger negative implications than I intended.

What I was trying to emphasize was the issue of context; Objectivist morality is based in the context of typical human situations rather than endless sequences of nightmare kill-or-be-killed scenarios.

The basic moral principles remain the same, but the application of them is context-dependent. Applying these principles to actual real-world life is going to yield very different results to applying them to lifeboat scenarios.

You basically granted my point: "the rules of conduct change in emergency situations." This is precisely what I was talking about. Whilst "breaks down" may have harsher implications that I intended, you seem to be reading my post very malevolently.

That said, I agree with you that rational self-interest includes the interests of others (specific others depending on context, naturally).

Andrew,

This is an area where Rand was somewhat inconsistent, so I probably should have cut you a bit more slack. She did say that “morality ends where a gun begins"—which implies that all ethical principles are suspended when a person is faced with coercion. She was obviously letting poetic license get in the way of philosophical precision. (She cleared this up in “The Ethics of Emergencies.”)

Your statement seemed to imply, as does that quote from Rand, that Objectivist morality no longer works (“breaks down”) in a crisis. But, of course, the basic principle of using your mind to the best of your ability to promote your optimal survival—the essence of rational self-interest—never changes. As you say, however, the immediate rules do change. One simply cannot continue “business as usual” until the crisis is resolved, and it is everyone’s responsibility to help resolve it.

That said, how we evaluate someone under coercion (e.g.., living in a dictatorship) also changes along with the rules of conduct. In We,The Living, for example, Rand clearly want to absolve Leo of the charge of immorality for self-destructing—throwing away his potential for greatness--under impossible circumstances.

I think we agree. Sorry if I came across as malevolent in my interpretation. I just don’t think we should ever give in to the temptation to sacrifice precision for effect. That was one of Rand’s unfortunate tendencies—I guess the writer in her couldn’t pass up an opportunity for drama—and Objectivists are paying the price for it now.

Edited by Dennis Hardin

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... giving my life for my friend would be called a "selfish" decision if the friend represents a value without which I would not care to live. ...

You have a friend who is a "which"? Link. Or did you mean "witch"? :)

Merlin,

You would have to ask Dennis Hardin the same question: (bolding mine) :)

If there is a choice between your life and someone else’s life, it may be selfish to step in front of a bullet to save another’s life if the person represents a value without which you would not care to live.

I suppose you have now realized what noun "which" refers to in both DH's and my post.

Edited by Xray

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Remember that Objectivism rejects the conventional, religious view of "selfishness" as lacking all concern for others. True selfishness requires that a person have a clear grasp of their own value hierarchy, and act in such a way that you never sacrifice a higher value for a lesser one. So the first thing to note is that selfishness does not always equate to simple self-preservation. If there is a choice between your life and someone else’s life, it may be selfish to step in front of a bullet to save another’s life if the person represents a value without which you would not care to live.

So, applied to the "stranded in the middle of nowhere" example in the root post, from the Objectivist standpoint, giving my life for my friend would be called a "selfish" decision if the friend represents a value without which I would not care to live.

A Marxist prepared to die for his ideas in a torture camp is then "selfish" as well because he is ready give his life for that which is of higher value for him.

Angela:

Exactly! That is why the altruist preaching altruism is a blatant moral scam because they are acting "selfishly" and preaching the obverse. I made this telling argument to a Catholic priest when I was sixteen and he had no answer to my statement to the group that, "Essentially Father, you are the most selfish bastard in this room, yet, you preach selflessness."

Adam

Makes me think of Mahatma Gandhi, who at least had the honesty to state that he was totally selfish because everything he did was to attain Moksha.

Moksha:

In Hindu religion, moksha (Sanskrit: मोक्ष mokṣa) or mukti (Sanskrit: मुक्ति), literally "release" (both from a root muc "to let loose, let go"), is the liberation from samsara and the concomitant suffering involved in being subject to the cycle of repeated death and reincarnation.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moksha

Edited by Xray

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I was discussing Objectivism with a friend of mine who said he'd be an Objectivist but he believes there are situations where morality and acting in your self interest come into conflict. The example he gave me was that if the 2 of us were stranded in the middle of nowhere & there was only supplies for one of us to survive, wouldn't it be in our individual self interest to kill the other?

The above example shows that an ethics solely based on survival as the standard of value would not work.

I told him I wasn't sure how to answer it & I've been thinking on it for about 2 weeks. I think this situation wouldn't occur if the 2 of us were looking out for our self interest from the beginning and never let ourselves get stranded and without the things needed to sustain both of us- keeping both of us from getting into the described situation above.

The problem here is, while we humans can plan ahead very thoroughly, still we can end up in situations we are totally unprepared for.

Example: you and your fried are on a ship that was well equipped with supplies, but then the whole ship sinks during a strom, the two of you survive with incredible luck but get stranded on a barren island with nothing.

Another scenario he provided is that he is dying and a doctor has the cure needed to save him. He claims it is in his rational self interest to force the doctor to treat him- anything to keep himself alive. My thoughts on that come to the value of the life you're leading after forcing another human to act as your slave. How great could a life, after forcing another human, could you have? I know it may vary for people, but for me, I would be disgusted with myself and unable to truly enjoy life after sacrificing another to me.

The same could be appied to the first example: how disgusted with her/himself would a person be after having killed the other individual?

Edited by Xray

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The problem here is, while we humans can plan ahead very thoroughly, still we can end up in situations we are totally unprepared for.

Example: you and your fried are on a ship that was well equipped with supplies, but then the whole ship sinks during a strom, the two of you survive with incredible luck but get stranded on a barren island with nothing.

Yeah, because those barren islands with nothing are never surrounded with water which has marine life in it.

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The problem here is, while we humans can plan ahead very thoroughly, still we can end up in situations we are totally unprepared for.

Example: you and your fried are on a ship that was well equipped with supplies, but then the whole ship sinks during a strom, the two of you survive with incredible luck but get stranded on a barren island with nothing.

Yeah, because those barren islands with nothing are never surrounded with water which has marine life in it.

:lol:

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Merlin,

You would have to ask Dennis Hardin the same question: (bolding mine) :)

If there is a choice between your life and someone else’s life, it may be selfish to step in front of a bullet to save another’s life if the person represents a value without which you would not care to live.

I suppose you have now realized what noun "which" refers to in both DH's and my post.

You are correct, but I didn't notice his "which." I thought "whom" was the correct word, but I guess one could say the pronoun refers to "value" rather than "person."

Edited by Merlin Jetton

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Merlin,

You would have to ask Dennis Hardin the same question: (bolding mine) :)

If there is a choice between your life and someone else’s life, it may be selfish to step in front of a bullet to save another’s life if the person represents a value without which you would not care to live.

I suppose you have now realized what noun "which" refers to in both DH's and my post.

You are correct, but I didn't notice his "which." I thought "whom" was the correct word, but I guess one could say the pronoun refers to "value" rather than "person."

"Whom" is on first, "Which" is on second, "I don’t give a rip" is playing center field. . .

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Remember that Objectivism rejects the conventional, religious view of "selfishness" as lacking all concern for others. True selfishness requires that a person have a clear grasp of their own value hierarchy, and act in such a way that you never sacrifice a higher value for a lesser one. So the first thing to note is that selfishness does not always equate to simple self-preservation. If there is a choice between your life and someone else’s life, it may be selfish to step in front of a bullet to save another’s life if the person represents a value without which you would not care to live.

So, applied to the "stranded in the middle of nowhere" example in the root post, from the Objectivist standpoint, giving my life for my friend would be called a "selfish" decision if the friend represents a value without which I would not care to live.

A Marxist prepared to die for his ideas in a torture camp is then "selfish" as well because he is ready give his life for that which is of higher value for him.

Angela:

Exactly! That is why the altruist preaching altruism is a blatant moral scam because they are acting "selfishly" and preaching the obverse. I made this telling argument to a Catholic priest when I was sixteen and he had no answer to my statement to the group that, "Essentially Father, you are the most selfish bastard in this room, yet, you preach selflessness."

Adam

Hmmmm. . . I kinda think the "rational" part of the equation got lost somewhere in both of those examples. . .

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"Whom" is on first, "Which" is on second, "I don’t give a rip" is playing center field. . .

Three strikes. You're out. The correct names are here.

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"Whom" is on first, "Which" is on second, "I don't give a rip" is playing center field. . .

Three strikes. You're out. The correct names are here.

http://youtu.be/8aehzwwD2II

One of the greatest pure word routines in the history of comedy! This is the original. I don't give a "darn" is the shortstop...remember the censors were ever watchful!

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The problem here is, while we humans can plan ahead very thoroughly, still we can end up in situations we are totally unprepared for.

Example: you and your fried are on a ship that was well equipped with supplies, but then the whole ship sinks during a strom, the two of you survive with incredible luck but get stranded on a barren island with nothing.

Yeah, because those barren islands with nothing are never surrounded with water which has marine life in it.

:lol:

Don't lol too soon. Let's say this part of the sea is contaminated with oil from a recent tanker wreck and all marine life has been annihilated.

Keep in mind that we have to adapt the scenario to meet the conditions presented in Dana's #1 post:

The example he gave me was that if the 2 of us were stranded in the middle of nowhere & there was only supplies for one of us to survive, wouldn't it be in our individual self interest to kill the other?

Since with marine life in the ocean, the emergency situation would not arise at all, we have to make "in the middle of nowhere" a totally barren place.

Edited by Xray

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The problem here is, while we humans can plan ahead very thoroughly, still we can end up in situations we are totally unprepared for.

Example: you and your fried are on a ship that was well equipped with supplies, but then the whole ship sinks during a strom, the two of you survive with incredible luck but get stranded on a barren island with nothing.

Yeah, because those barren islands with nothing are never surrounded with water which has marine life in it.

:lol:

Don't lol too soon. Let's say this part of the sea is contaminated with oil from a recent tanker wreck and all marine life has been annihilated.

Keep in mind that we have to adapt the scenario to meet the conditions outlayed in Dana's #1 post:

The example he gave me was that if the 2 of us were stranded in the middle of nowhere & there was only supplies for one of us to survive, wouldn't it be in our individual self interest to kill the other?

Since with marine life in the ocean, the emergency situation would not arise at all, we have to make "in the middle of nowhere" a totally barren place.

No, Angela, we don't. The creation of a non-real situation opens the door to non-real solutions. Therefore, in that totally barren "place," in the middle of "nowhere," a food angel or devil would appear to answer our prayers.Or, the food locker from the tanker is floating in the oil slick, or the dead oily fish are floating in the slick and we open the locker or wipe off the oil and eat.

Edited by Selene

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Keep in mind that we have to adapt the scenario to meet the conditions outlayed in Dana's #1 post:

The example he gave me was that if the 2 of us were stranded in the middle of nowhere & there was only supplies for one of us to survive, wouldn't it be in our individual self interest to kill the other?

Since with marine life in the ocean, the emergency situation would not arise at all, we have to make "in the middle of nowhere" a totally barren place.

The unreal premise is "there was only supplies for one of us to survive."

So before you get carried away with movie scenarios, ask: supplies for how long - indefinitely? until rescue? Ambiguous; if so, then two could survive for a long while, I guess. Impossibly if not, morally both should benefit til supplies run out, and before starvation, each could then consider going for a long swim...

Tony (Screen-play copyrights.)

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