The Journal of Philosophy

Volume 116, Issue 8, August 2019

Saul Smilansky
Pages 447-466

A Hostage Situation

Moral life sometimes involves life-and-death decisions, and philosophers often consider them by examining intuitions about ideal cases. Contemporary philosophical discourse on such matters has been dominated by Trolley-type cases, which typically present us with the need to make decisions on whether to sacrifice one person in order to save a larger number of similar others. Such cases lead to a distinct view of moral dilemmas and of moral life generally. The case I present here, “Hostage Situation,” is quite unlike them and should generate intuitions that differ greatly from those brought forth by standard Trolley-type cases. The implications are surprising and suggest that familiar and widely prevalent perceptions of the normative field are inadequate.