A Question of Sacrifice?

The question is:

Would you be willing to give up your life, right now, if in exchange the rest of the world’s population would live in perfect peace and perfect bliss?

No more war, no more disease, no more pain or suffering, no more psychological disfunction, no more poverty, no more prejudice, etc. The question also supposes the non-existence of an afterlife.

It is tough question, because as an individual, all we have is our life and our future. I know that we would all want to answer with a resounding “yes”, but think hard before you answer. The sword of compassion is in your hands. Could you do it?

i tell ya, all i can say is that i am damn glad that i probubly wont end up with a choice like that in my lifetime.

My answer is a definite no. If I’m not around to see it, then the world may as well not exist- not that I’m a solipsist, but I only have the one viewpoint. As well as that, I doubt the world ever could be in a state of perfect peace and bliss (one man’s heaven is another’s hell), and even if it could be, would it be desirable? Peace leads to stagnation, happiness to complacency.

— although the question will probably never have any relevance, yes. There are far worse things in this life than death. Dying for a cause is easy, living for it is what truly defines a Wo/man.


— I don’t think that you can assume things that were not in the original question. The question said

You have to assume that your death would indeed alleviate all of those problems when you answer the question, if you don’t assume that then i submit that you haven’t really answered the question.

I would much enjoy hearing reasoned arguments from the people who said no.

I’m definitely taking an egoistic viewpoint here, but for that reason alone it requires little justification. I don’t want to die just yet- perhaps I would decide differently if I felt I had lived a fuller life, or perhaps not. Even if perfect peace and harmony were acheived, it wouldn’t matter to me once I was dead.
It is however interesting to think of the effect the guilt might have in the future… although since I don’t believe that suffering ever could (or should) be abolished, I doubt I’d take such an offer seriously.

I really haven’t taken a stance on this subject yet, but I would like to hear more of your thoughts on the subject.

Let’s change the question a bit. Seeing as most of you have answered ‘no’, would it make a difference if hypothetically, your present life was filled with pain and suffering? For instance, let’s say you were born into unbelievable poverty and continually saw those around you starving to death among other of the horrible problems that comes with poverty. Would your compassionate side be more willing to answer with a ‘yes’?

There is a saying in the Judaic tradition by Rabbi Hillel which says:

If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am not for others, what am I? And if not now, when?"

What this saying highlights for me, is the tension between the duty we have towards ourselves and towards others. At what point do I say, my life is not as important as the good it will do for me to die. I consider world peace, an end to world suffering, poverty, hunger etc. too big for me to stand up and say ‘I’.

So, in answer, a poem by Leigh Hunt:

Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase!)
Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace,
And saw, within the moonlight in his room,
Making it rich, and like a lily in bloom,
An Angel writing in a book of gold:

Exceeding peace had made Ben Adhem bold,
And to the Presence in the room he said,
“What writest thou?” The Vision raised its head,
And with a look made of all sweet accord
Answered, “The names of those who love the Lord.”

“And is mine one?” said Abou. “Nay, not so,”
Replied the Angel. Abou spoke more low,
But cheerily still; and said, “I pray thee, then,
Write me as one who loves his fellow men.”

The Angel wrote, and vanished. The next night
It came again with a great wakening light,
And showed the names whom love of God had blessed,
And, lo! Ben Adhem’s name led all the rest!


— Amen. How can he who doesn’t love man, love God? Thanks Ben. Have you ever read the Jewish theologian Martin Buber? I read I-Thou(The Walter Kaufmann translation), but understood little of it.

— As a consequentialist, i frequently look at the intended consequences of my actions. I can imagine many situations in which the most favourable outcome would preside with my death. Some may say that this means that i do not value my life, but to that i would reply nay, Precisely because i value my life, life in general, and my potential as a moral agent would i gladly give my life for others.

this seems to be an old arguement of, do the ends justify the means? it is my belief that they don’t, ever. i would never sacrifice myself if promised that the world will be granted a utopia upon my death, because i think i’m actually doing a great disservice to my humankind. i think the struggles/pain/agony/etc that it takes to achieve what little happiness in the world is well worth it; it is what makes it happiness. similarily, if you asked me if you should die so the world can be given happiness, i would do everything in my power to stop you. either happiness is created by society or it is not; i do not want it granted.

the ammendment to skeptic’s question changes everything; i have no friggin’ idea what i would think if i lived impoverished. i would hope it’s the same.

Trix. Thanks for those useful arguments. You said

I profoundly agree with but don’t consider this relevant to the hypothetical question.

I ask another question. Can you not conceive of any instances in which you would die for another? If so, what is different about those instances than the current one? Are the people closer to you, or what?

— Doesn’t everybody who joins the armed forces of their respective country implicitly make a bargain similiar to this? Should we try to stop them? Shouldn’t we all live our life to the extent that we are ready to die at any time?

I’d like to say that I enjoyed Trix’s response- it’s always nice when a perspective hits you with an unsuspecting left hook.

With that in mind, there are a couple of ideas I would like to toss around.

Who’s to say the world will not perfect itself? Why is my death needed to do so?

And secondly, supposing there is no afterlife, if you did sacrifice yourself you would essentially be creating a utopia who’s residents would only enjoy a brief stay and then disappear into oblivion. Without a soul, is there any way determinism could be denied? What would the meaning of my death be? To begin an endless cycle of blissful automatons?

The only reason to be a martyr would be so that the concept of happiness could live on forever. That would be the only meaning to your sacrifice. Altough happiness would still “exist” even if you chose otherwise (just in smaller amounts). So really, your death would be meaningless either way. In fact if you chose to rid the world of pain and suffering, you would actually be destroying parts of the universe forever. Sure it would be nice to be the man that erased pain from the universe, but then again, I’m not sure that happiness can exist without pain. But that’s another topic.

There are so many avenues to explore with this question, I need to think about it more.

hi marhsall!

marshall wrote:

perhaps it’s because you cut out the other part of my statement which implied that happiness is not just state but a process. immediately granting a state substantially detracts from the happiness one would have received had he or she gone through the process. a disservice results. this is relevant to the question because the question assumes that happiness is dominated largely by achieving this state, and the process is a wasteful and unnecessary aspect. Hence, the question is able to raise the possibility that skipping this process is a good opportunity. it’s not good. it’s a horrible, terrible, ugly opportunity. :wink: while my argument does boil down to the definition of happiness, it was not me that posed this question.

absolutly. as long as it doesn’t grant the rest of civilization access to the garden of Eden. which, as i have just argued, is stupid.

a question of sacrifice might better be phrased if it asked, would you sacrifice yourself if you knew that the entire human civilization depended on that act? which i would answer yes. it’s important for you to realize, marshall, that this question is COMPLETLY different from the one that skeptic posed.

Marshall went on to ask:

No. wars are not fought for the achievement of a pure state of happiness where no war will ever come about again, eternal peace will result, no one will be poor every again, etc, etc. well, not in modern times anyway. any solider going to war for these reasons is an idiot.

i happen to agree. but we should also live mindful of the fact that our actions have an effect on others. and dying to grant society a blissful state of happines is a negative effect, that i certainly would not want to grant.

hi there matthew e. you’ve been quiet for a while, thanks for the compliment yo.

this is something i’m trying to drive at. while the state itself may never be reached, simply striving for it is enough. moreover, it may be all that we got. to change this is to fundamentally change society and mankind in a way that would have to exclude things like reason and philosophy. i don’t see how this is a good thing.

— If i understand you correctly Trix, you would be willing to die to save the World from an impending disaster, but not willing to die to give the World eternal bliss.
— I happen to be profoundly against war. If i understand you correctly you would be willing to fight a hypothetical war in which your home country is being ruthlessly attacked by an evil empire without provocation.
— I’m afraid that the way the question is phrased, in the way of absolutes, tends to detract from the beauty and efficacy of the responses, i see that now. Thank you for pointing that out to me. I have always enjoyed the tragic sense of existence and understand that both pain and joy are a necessary part of life. Perhaps if the question were something like, “Would you be willing to relinquish your life, if there were a 100% lilkliehood that as a result, billions of people would have a much improved chance at peace and happiness.”

Skeptic stated:

My answer is ‘No’. Partially because I don’t see how there could ever be perfect bliss amongst human beings. In response to the second part, it appears we are to assume that war, disease, pain and suffering, psychological dysfuntion, poverty, and prejudice are bad…but for whom? Are we not being self-centered when we assume this? Are the above not forms of population control, a control that if all the above were to disappear we would most likely go extinct ten times faster then if they were present for the simple reason that we would over populate the planet and destroy the source of food and energy upon this island? To give my life up for the removal of these controls would be to destroy the human race. Furthermore, a plethora of different advancements were made with each World War - as bad as it may sound, wars are good for us in many respects. If it wasn’t for the two world wars, it is likely we would still be living as we did in the early 1900s. Pain and suffering are defence mechanisms that could never dissappear from our lives on planet earth, we would continue to stub our toes on tables, fall off rocks, get into accidents, fail to understand other peoples feelings, assume prematurely, etc, etc. To speak of getting rid of pain and suffering is to speak of a world, Skeptic, that I would commit suicide to live in. For I would do harm to others without realizing what I was doing, and they would fail to feel it but become harmed anyway. People would die from simple physical injuries because they would fail to realize they were hurt. I can’t imagine how bland life would be without learning the things I have learned, only, because I feel pain and suffering. Take them away, and much learning would cease within all human beings.

In conclusion, I would rather give up my life to make sure that pain and suffering never leave our lives than to sacrifice my life to get rid of them and in essence get rid of many of the pleasures of life. As one poster here on ILP once put it, a baby only comes to know pleasure as the lack or change of pain and suffering into which it is born.

What’s your take?

— I agree with most of your post Magius. Your lucid remarks about a World without pain are definitely useful. I also know that war is certainly beneficial in some respects. But aren’t there other measures (like birth control for controlling the population) that would serve the same purposes as war?

The reason why I study philosophy and religion is to give meaning to a life that is, for lack of a better word, meaningless. Although I am not depressed, I can not help but think that there is more to living than the daily grid of waking up, going to work, watching television, and falling asleep. If given this opportunity, I would die knowing that not only I was able to contribute something signifant to this world, but there is more to live than eating, drinking and propogating the species.

dieing for a reason is much easier than living for no reason at all