Suppose you are an ordinary virtuous agent. Up until now, you haven’t lived the kind of life that involves making any huge life or death decisions, but you are kind to your friends and acquaintances, charitable to distant strangers in need, honest to everyone except those you can’t trust etc. Now an evil demon comes to you and tells you that, for the rest of your life, he will kill 5 people (randomly selected strangers in another country) every time you act virtuously, and won’t kill any people every time you act non-virtuously. He makes it impossible for you to commit suicide (if this were an option, you might think you should immediately take it – although doing so would, quite plausibly, lead to the death of 5 people, the killing would stop there). (Alternatively, one could simply specify that the demon tells you that whenever you happen to die, but not before, he will move on to present some other ordinary virtuous person with the same problem.) On the assumption that the evil demon will keep his word, what are you to do? Given that you start off virtuous, what might we predict you do in this situation? And what might we predict the demon does in response to your subsequent acts?
Love this idea? Nominate it for the Annual PEA Soup Awards!