Brandeis University, Philosophy Department
Fall 2009
Brandeis University Web Stite

Philosophy 1A


Professor Andreas Teuber
Prof. Teuber

John in the Amazon

Consider the following:

John, on a botany expedition in the most remote regions of the Brazilian jungle, stumbles into a clearing where he finds two men with their guns trained on a group of twenty South American villagers who are tethered together in a line between two stakes driven into the ground. The villagers are bound tightly and barely able to move. They all, however, appear to be are wide awake and clearly aware of their predicament. The Captain, who appears to be in charge, turns to John and announces that "Pedro here" is about to shoot "all the villagers," but as the result of John's unexpected arrival on the "scene," he, the Captain, has had a sudden bout of compassion and if John would be willing to take Pedro's gun and kill one of the villagers, he, the Captain, would allow the other nineteen villagers to go free. If, however, John refuses to accept the Captain's offer, "Pedro here will shoot them all."

John, his mind racing, entertains several "Indiana Jones" fantasies (with himself as Indiana Jones), among them, the idea that he might appear to agree to the Captain's offer, take the gun from Pedro, and then turn it on Pedro and the Captain, back away into the jungle with all twenty villagers at his side, and escape to a clearing down river where a small twin-engine Cessna is waiting and fly all the villagers and himself to Rio de Janeiro and freedom. But it is quite evident from the situation that if John were to try anything of the sort, his "heroics" will result not only in the deaths of all twenty villagers but his own as well. As mentioned the villagers understand their situation and as John deliberates, their eyes widen and many of them clearly appear to be pleading with him to accept the offer.

What should John do?


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