Ben at OrangePhilosophy and Jonathan at Fake Barn Country have been discussing whether it’s more harmful to the victim if (1) a three-week-old baby is murdered or (2) a 23-year-old graduate student is murdered. To my mind, the question cannot be answered without having more information, and this leads me to ask a different question. Consider the two lives described below and ask yourself this: “Would each suffer the same degree of misfortune in dying or, if not, which would suffer the greater misfortune?” (I’ll talk about “dying” rather than “being murdered” just in case some think that being murdered involves some extra harm in having one’s autonomy violated.)
Gilbert is 23 years old and is just starting graduate school in philosophy. Gilbert has the goal of becoming a philosophy professor. In pursuit of this goal, Gilbert has sacrificed a great deal. He’s spent many long and lonely hours studying so as to get the highest marks in all his classes. This has been a struggle, as he only recently overcame a learning disability. As a result of all the extra effort he’s put into his studies, his social life has suffered. He’s had little time for friends or lovers and has been very lonely for the past 23 years. Fortunately, though, his sacrifices are now starting to pay off. It looks like he has a bright future as a graduate student and a future professor. Furthermore, having overcome his learning disability, he’s had more time for a social life. He’s made some new friends and has even found what looks to be a life-long lover. For the first time in his life, he is happy.
Ted is 23 years old and is just starting graduate school in philosophy. For him, life so far has been almost effortless. He’s extremely good-looking, naturally athletic, good at sports and games, and extremely bright. He breezed through primary school, secondary school, and even college with little effort. Graduate school has been significantly more challenging, but he’s risen to the occasion. In fact, it looks like he has a bright future as a graduate student and a future professor. He’s made some new friends and has even found what looks to be a life-long lover. He is as happy as ever.
As I’ve described these two lives, the only significant difference between them is that whereas Gilbert has had to sacrifice a lot to get to where he is now, Ted has managed to get to the very same place with little sacrifice. Let’s assume that despite their disparate pasts, their futures are identical, or, at least, they’re as identical as two different people’s futures can be.
After I’ve heard from others, I’ll post a defense of my own position about which, if either, would suffer the greater misfortune in dying, but for now I’m curious about what others think and why.