Chance, Epistemic Probability and Saving Lives: Reply to Bradley

By Almeida, Michael J. | Journal of Ethics & Social Philosophy, January 2010 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Chance, Epistemic Probability and Saving Lives: Reply to Bradley


Almeida, Michael J., Journal of Ethics & Social Philosophy


IN "SAVING PEOPLE AND FLIPPING COINS," Ben Bradley offers an intriguing counterexample to the principle of equal greatest chance (EGC). (1) The principle of equal greatest chance is designed to apply in contexts of moral equivalence. Let A and B be morally equivalent just in case there is no greater moral reason to save A than there is to save B and vice versa. (2) Suppose a lifeguard can save A and can save B, but she cannot save both A and B. Bradley's formulation of the principle states the following:

   EGC. One must give each person the greatest possible chance of
   survival consistent with everyone else having the same chance.

If the greatest equal chance of surviving that the lifeguard can give to each is .5, then EGC requires that the lifeguard give A and B each a .5 chance of surviving. (3) Perhaps she can discharge this obligation by flipping a fair coin and acting on the outcome "heads save A," "tails save B." (4)

The problems for EGC arise in cases where three morally equivalent agents require rescue. Suppose you are in a situation where you can save both A and B and you can save C, but you cannot save all A, B and C. Since A, B and C are morally equivalent, there are equally good moral reasons to save each A, B and C. If EGC is properly applicable in contexts of moral equivalence, then you should give each A, B and C the greatest equal chance of surviving. If the greatest equal chance of surviving that you can give to each is .5, then EGC requires that you give A, B and C each a .5 chance of surviving.

The recommendation that we ought to give each of A, B and C a .5 chance of surviving strikes many as counterintuitive. (5) If A, B and C were each on separate islands, or drowning in separate parts of some body of water, and the greatest equal chance of surviving we could give each were .5, it would seem perfectly reasonable to do so. (6) But in the case Bradley describes, we give each a .5 chance of surviving if and only if we give A and B together a .5 chance of surviving and we give C a .5 chance of surviving. (7) Fortunately, Bradley urges, this uncomfortable conclusion is avoidable. The principle of equal greatest chance is false. If Bradley is right, then we have made a very significant advance in assessing moral principles in contexts of moral equivalence. Bradley offers the following "decisive counterexample" to EGC entitled Bureaucracy and EGC. (8)

Imagine that the Joker has captured three hostages--Alice, Bob and Carol--and plans to randomly divide them into two groups, a larger group and a smaller group. The Joker informs Batman that he will kill all members of the group Batman does not select. Batman endorses EGC and indicates his decision to save the larger group by completing a form. Choosing the larger group gives each of Alice, Bob and Carol a two-thirds chance of surviving. Batman thereby gives each the greatest equal chance of surviving.

   At noon, Batman checks the box indicating that the larger group
   should be saved. The Joker proceeds to divide the hostages randomly
   into two groups. Alice and Bob are in one group, Carol is in the
   other. At 1:00, the Joker realizes he has lost the form. "I'm
   sorry, Batman, but you'll have to fill out another form," he says.
   If Batman is to follow EGC, at 1:00 he must flip a coin to decide
   which box to check, since that gives each hostage an equal greatest
   chance of survival.

   This is a decisive counterexample against EGC. No plausible
   principle entails that Batman should fill out the form differently
   at 1:00. He knew at noon that this was one way things might turn
   out. By 1:00 he has gained no new information that could be
   relevant to his decision ... [T]he point is that it cannot be the
   case that Batman should fill out the form differently at the two
   times. (9)

But Bradley is mistaken in claiming that Batman has no relevant information at 1 p.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Chance, Epistemic Probability and Saving Lives: Reply to Bradley
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?