Why we Should not Always, Automatically, Save the Greatest Number
In his paper, “Should the Numbers Count?” John Taurek imagines that we are in a position such that we can either save a group of five people, or we can save one individual, David. We cannot save David and the five. This is because they each require a life-saving drug. However, David needs all of the drug if he is to survive, while the other five need only a fifth. Taurek argues that the way to show equal concern and respect for each person is to give each individual the same chance of survival, and therefore we ought to toss a coin. If we give the drug to the five, we give them a 100% chance of survival, but David has no chance. If we toss a coin, however, all have a 50% chance of survival. Typically, people have argued as if there was a choice to be made. Either numbers matter, in which case we should save the greater number, or numbers don’t matter, but rather there is moral value in giving each person an equal chance of survival, and therefore we should toss a coin. My claim is that we do not have to make a choice in this way. Rather, numbers do matter, but it doesn’t follow that we should always, automatically, save the greater number. And likewise, there is moral value in giving each person an equal chance of survival, but it doesn’t follow that we should always toss a coin.