The button

Somewhere out there is a person you haven’t met yet, but who you will one day meet and care deeply for, and eventually love with all your heart.

Now imagine a button. If you press it, there is an X% chance that person will be killed right after the button is pressed, even though he or she did nothing wrong. You won’t get in any legal trouble, though a lot of people might consider you a murderer.

But there’s a further catch: if you don’t press the button, your life will become much more difficult. It will be harder to do the things you want, to achieve the things you try to achieve. You will be hampered down. You will lose sleep. You will lose money. You will experience moments of intense pain.

How large a number would X have to be before you’d refuse to press the button?

Decide on a number before reading on.

The above scenario roughly and imperfectly simulates a simplified metaphorical version of the abortion issue, where pressing the button approximates getting an abortion, not pressing the button approximates carrying the baby to term, and X represents your tolerance for the possibility that abortion is indeed the taking of innocent human life.

My hypothesis is that people who favor legal abortion will choose higher values for X, while people who oppose legal abortion will choose lower values for X.

Although I also suspect that people who favor legal abortion will choose lower values for X than their stance on abortion ought to imply.

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5 thoughts on “The button

  1. “Somewhere out there is a person you haven’t met yet, but who you will one day meet and care deeply for, and eventually love with all your heart.”

    hahahaha, no, I hate children. I chose 10-20% for the record, but that’s for someone I could actually care about.

  2. No, because by that time, I’ll either be dead (which having children wouldn’t save me from) or immortal (so probably no one will rule me).

    • You won’t just be dead, your whole lineage will be dead. The lineage of your parents, your grandparents, all the way back to the origin of life — all that will be done with because of you.

      • I guess part of the issue is how much you feel your family is connected to you. I hate most of my family and feel indifferent about the rest, so I don’t anticipate my descendants being very similar to me, just as I am not similar to my parents (case in point, I don’t want to have children). I don’t see the world as “my family vs the rest”, but as “me vs the rest” or possibly “rationalists vs the rest” (e.g. from reading your blog I already like you more than anyone I’m related to). In any case, I don’t care about my lineage – once I am dead, nothing of the world will be left from my perspective.

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