A philosophical question

Imagine a despotic country where people are not allowed to do anything except that which is specifically permitted by the government. So everything is a crime – smoking a cigarette, consuming drugs, drinking alcohol, adultery, girls and boys walking on the road – hand-in-hand, not standing up while singing the national anthem, not paying the 250 different types of taxes, not volunteering for “national service” and so on. And there is a single punishment for every crime – the guillotine. These are “Category 1” crimes. Then there are the “Category 2” crimes – murder, rape, theft etc. Those are taken care of by the regular “Justice System” and the maximum punishment is 10 years in jail.

The regime makes you an offer – the position of Chief Executioner. It comes with two perks. One, you are free to indulge in all “criminal” activities. Two, you can, at your discretion, spare the life of one out of every four “criminals”; they will receive life imprisonment instead. If you don’t take up the job, the current trend will continue. If you do, you have it in your power to save plenty of lives.

The question is this – will you accept the position? If yes, why? If no, why not?

Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.


  • El Espies  On March 27, 2009 at 3:51 am

    I will take the job.

    And since I will be allowed to do certain things, I will organize a small group of people that I would “save”, and plan a secret inside job on the goverment, it may take years, but I will contribute all of my powers and further promotions to accomplish my goal, and free the people of that country.

    • Aristotle The Geek  On March 29, 2009 at 1:42 am

      You actually have a choice here – the “job” is not being forced upon you on fear of death – either yours or of a loved one.

      I understand that you think that by coming in, you are saving people who would have otherwise died. And you are (they are condemned to life imprisonment, however). But wouldn’t being part of the whole business bother you? Would you still take it up – play the game according to the rules set by the regime – and bear responsibility for the death of 3 out of 4 innocent men? Does a (n unlikely) future rebellion against the regime, and the resultant freedom, justify such an act?

      • El Espies  On March 29, 2009 at 4:14 am

        Instead of writing a long reply with examples from the histroy, I will quote you one famous phrase:

        “Si vis pacem, para bellum – If you wish for peace, prepare for war.”
        / Unknown Source.

  • Hans  On March 27, 2009 at 7:38 am

    Let’s see, my “participation” will sanction the killing of 75% of those “convicted”. I decline the offer. The blood of the victims will not be on my hands.

    Gotta ask yourself: WWRD ? (“What Would Rand Do”)

    • Aristotle The Geek  On March 29, 2009 at 2:06 am

      # “Gotta ask yourself: WWRD ? (”What Would Rand Do”)”
      Unless that’s a rhetorical question, I am not too sure.

      If you consider that she held that “morality ends where the gun begins” – meaning moral choices are impossible under coercion – under my hypothetical scenario, the Executioner is not being coerced. Anyone willingly accepting the post will most probably fall into two categories – he’s a sadist, or he is out to control the damage – save lives. And in either case, he’s taking a moral position.

      The situation will change, however, if the Executioner is being coerced. In such a case, he has no choice but to kill. But then she also said, and so did Aristotle, that in some circumstances, its simply not worth living – if you cannot live like a man, that is. Does the despotic regime meet the condition? I think so.

      • Hans  On March 30, 2009 at 6:15 am

        The executioner may not be forced to take the job, but the situation you propose puts all men at the point of the gun. The perquisites of the position of executioner places the incumbent “outside the law”.

        Rand would find both aspects unacceptable to rational society of free men. Her solution was withdrawal from “uncivil” society (Who is John Galt?).

        • Aristotle The Geek  On March 30, 2009 at 4:22 pm

          # “Rand would find both aspects unacceptable to rational society of free men.”
          She would. But isn’t this the state the world is in today, and was during her times? While governments may not be chopping off people’s heads, the “gun” is still aimed at everyone of us, wherever we live.

          Her solution – in her book – was withdrawal from “uncivil” society. But when it came to practice, she stuck to a “philosophical renaissance is needed” stand. Oh she did say that “life on a desert island is safer than and incomparably preferable to existence in Soviet Russia or Nazi Germany.” But she reserved such statements for such openly despotic countries, but never for, say the US or many other European nations.

          I am not saying that they compare – there is a difference between operating concentration camps and operating a huge parasitic murderous bureaucracy. But just like the case of the wearer of the shoe, only someone who finds himself at the wrong end of the “mixed economy + egalitarianism” stick will really appreciate the difference between mere preaching and running away – withdrawing. This man says

          “One of the hardest things I have experienced since leaving North Korea is having to choose what to play,”

          For someone who doesn’t appreciate music (or freedom), Kim’s actions might seem “extreme” – why risk your life for trifles like music? But I am sure that a similar statement will be made by many people who have been driven insane by modern day governments and their despotic micromanagement.

          • Hans  On March 30, 2009 at 7:28 pm

            Yes, Rand chose to remain and participate in the degeneration of US society just as Galt worked for Twentieth Century Motors until his epihphany.

            I wonder whether she would have continued her engagement given the oligarchy now running these United States. We have arrived at a condition where even the European socialists are worried about us.

            Six years ago I withdrew via early retirement rather than continue to “feed the machine”. My solution is not ideal as I don’t have a support community of like minded individuals (Galts Gulch).

            I regularly re-evaluate my personal situation, given the “tyrrany of the masses” we praise as democracy, and contemplate political activism to recover the liberties I/we have lost. Unfortunately I see no solution short of a third war of independence, this time against “domestic enemies” of the Republic.

            Until I find or create an environment where people aren’t punished for their ability and success (the Gulch), I remain “purposefully unemployed”.

            • Aristotle The Geek  On March 31, 2009 at 12:24 am

              # “Until I find or create an environment where people aren’t punished for their ability and success (the Gulch), I remain ‘purposefully unemployed’.”
              I don’t see that happening, not within my lifetime. As for the “purposefully unemployed” part – I have become some kind of evangelist of his over the last few days – have you met (read, rather) this guy.

              • Hans  On March 31, 2009 at 7:27 am

                Thank you – I’ll peruse his site. Always nice to locate a kindred spirit or two.

                I read your “About” and wish to share an author not listed. You might enjoy the six volume historic fiction novel “Sparrowhawk” and the political commentary on http://ruleofreason.blogspot.com/ by Edward Cline.

                I respect your desire for anonymity. I’m a bit more schizophrenic, sometimes anonymous and other times “in your face personal”. The latter will eventually get me into trouble.

                Thanks for your engagement over the “Philosophical Question”. It’s highly relevant in our dangerous world.

  • swarup  On March 27, 2009 at 2:50 pm

    I will not accept the position. Because even if I can save the live of one in every four people, I have to kill three incoent people. What is right or what is wrong is an absolute thing. It is not negotiable.

    • Aristotle The Geek  On March 29, 2009 at 2:09 am

      # “What is right or what is wrong is an absolute thing. It is not negotiable.”
      I agree.

  • you12  On March 27, 2009 at 8:27 pm

    Suicide or emigration.

  • yet_another_hindu_infidel  On March 29, 2009 at 12:25 pm

    both cases are a moral dilemma. i would stay out because even if i save one man, i’ll be enslaving him for the rest of his life not to mention killing 3 more.

    hehe, will the levels of morbidity fall so low “in india” that were sending everyone to the guillotine?

    • Aristotle The Geek  On March 29, 2009 at 1:47 pm

      The guillotine is a metaphor. The actual question is – will you enforce a law even if you don’t agree with it if you could somehow reduce the injustice done to a lot of people? Will you “join” the system to “correct” it from inside, and thus sanction the evil it perpetrates? Look beyond the obvious, and you will find many parallels.

  • Eternally Stupidified  On March 29, 2009 at 4:25 pm

    Well I choose not to take it up. Simply because it would mean that I believe in that system. I know that by taking up the job I can save some lives, but it would also mean playing by there cards. Anyway all I would be able to do is to save some lives but not give them the means to live. Being imprisoned for life is as good as death.

    Besides what kind of a system would I support where the Chief Executioner himself has the liberty to commit any number of crimes, the same crimes for which you would send people to the guillotine. That would be heights of hypocrisy, and licensed barbarism.

    I would prefer to protest in my own small way, by declining the offer.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s