The evil deity that we wouldn’t dream of giving up

After about a month of studying cases, I put to my first term torts students a couple of hypothetical questions. The first concerns an ‘evil deity.’ ‘Suppose,’ I ask my students, ‘such a deity were to appear to you, as president of this country or as controller of our legal system, and offer a gift, a boon, which would make life more pleasant, more enjoyable than it is today. The gift can be anything you want — be as idealistic, or as obscene, or as greedy as you wish — except that it cannot save lives.’ Later I will drop even that requirement. ‘The evil deity suggests that he can deliver this gift in exchange for one thing … the lives of one thousand young men and women picked by him at random who will each year die horrible deaths.’

When I ask, ‘Would you accept?’ my students almost uniformly answer, ‘No.’ Indeed, they are shocked that one could even ask the question. I then ask, quietly, what the difference is between this gift and the automobile, which takes some fifty-five thousand lives each year.

– Guido Calabresi, Ideals, Beliefs, Attitudes, and the Law, 1985

(This post is taken straight from the excellent blog, Futility Closet)

Read more: http://twentytwowords.com/the-evil-deity-that-we-wouldnt-dream-of-giving-up/

8 responses to “The evil deity that we wouldn’t dream of giving up”

  1. Rob H says:

    How many people die per year due to hard boiling their eggs?

  2. Joshua says:

    I agree with others. This is a failed experiment. The difficulty is responsibility – who is responsible for the deaths.

  3. Aaron says:

    Can you say “emotional fallacy”?@Dan: “I didn’t realize the automobile was able to give me whatever I wanted, no matter how idealistic, obscene or greedy it might be. My old $750 Audi didn’t given me anything but repair bills and it didn’t kill a single person in the process.”Good point.What’s the difference between this gift and the automobile? Well, I need one of them to drive 200 miles from college to home, to church, to my karate studio, etc. Take a lucky guess which one I need to use. Nice try with the appeal to emotion, better luck next time.

  4. Dan says:

    I didn’t realize the automobile was able to give me whatever I wanted, no matter how idealistic, obscene or greedy it might be. My old $750 Audi didn’t given me anything but repair bills and it didn’t kill a single person in the process.

  5. Seth says:

    I suppose one difference is that I am not asked to make the choice as to whether everyone gets to drive or not. I am asked to make the choice as to whether I drive or not, thereby accepting all risk to my own person and that of my passengers, while also being intently aware of the probability that irresponsible use of this gift on my part could take the life of another. I do not force anyone else to make that choice; therefore, I do not sacrifice 55,000 lives for a societal convenience. Rather, some subset of the 55,000 sacrifice their lives as part of the risk that comes with bringing convenience to their own lives.

  6. AStev says:

    A) This presupposes that a good deity couldn’t possibly have any reason to allow people to die, which isn’t necessarily true.B) Do people worship their cars, or do they worship the autonomy that cars provide?C) As the Onion said, “How many more people have to die before no one ever dies again?”

  7. Johnny_Bigodes says:

    Ridiculous! Cars do not cause accidents. Drivers who do not follow the rules cause accidents.

  8. Sean says:

    Hmm… but how many lives does the automobile save? Consider – ambulances, food and medicine transportation, getting people to safety and away from incoming natural disasters… And consider how many people would die from alternative methods of transportation – horses, for example, are hardly safe (or “green”).I’m sure there are other points at which the example doesn’t match the hypothetical – so while it’s thought provoking, those aren’t the same thing.

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