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The Christmas Dilemma: Suppose there are 2 children siblings and 3 Christmas presents. 2 Christmas presents have a value of $20 and 1 Christmas present has a value of $200. Each child can be given one and only one Christmas present and no child can share their present with the other child. The present that isn't used will be destroyed.

Is it better to give one child the $200 present and another the $20 present, or give both children the $20 present, and destroy the $200 present?

The Extension Problem: Suppose there are two identical twins starving in a desert and there is enough food to allow just one of them to survive if they eat that food. If they share the food both will die. Should we arbitrarily give the food to one of them, or give the food to neither of them?

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"and no child can share their present with the other child. The present that isn't used will be destroyed". - doesn't sound very Christian to me... – Mozibur Ullah Dec 21 '12 at 12:54
up vote 5 down vote accepted


The Christmas Dilemma

The rule "you must destroy remaining present" is absurd, just report to the Christmas authorities that you've destroyed a cheap one, but don't do it. The rule "siblings may not share their presents" is wicked and must be disobeyed if you're to raise the children well.

The Extension Problem

Split the food. You can't know that they will die if you do. Maybe they'll stay alive just long enough for help to get there. You are expecting help, since you "know" that you can save one of the two. But there is just no way you can calculate how long a person can last, so split the food.

And how come you're not starving yourself, at least not to the point you'd worry about sharing the food with the twins? You just found them when you were close enough to the nearest food supply. Now you've got to feed them both and do your damned best to get them there.

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+1. Many "moral puzzles" of this type have arbitrary rules which, by their very arbitrariness, are skewed towards the authoritarianism. This is significant when you bear in mind that some of these moral puzzles revolve around whether information gained from torture can be morally justified — ignoring the facts that there was likely a moral failure involved in getting into such a position, that there are probably alternatives to torture for effective action, and that the information gained from torture is unreliable. The moral decision is to rebel against the dictator of the puzzle. – Niel de Beaudrap Dec 21 '12 at 10:31

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