Imagine a man has fallen into a tiger cage. The tiger specimen is in danger of extinction.

You can:

  • Kill the tiger and save the man.
  • Do nothing and let the tiger kill the man.

By killing the tiger, you are endangering the existence of the tiger species.

What are arguments to choose to save the man?

I don´t feel that saying "save the man because he is human" is the best argument.

Could be a better one: "save the human because he could save you in another dangerous situation, and the tiger will never save you (except by chance)?

  • Ethics would be the branch of philosophy you are looking for here...
    – hellyale
    Dec 30, 2015 at 20:55
  • Welcome to Philosophy.SE! I edited your question a bit to make it one objectively answerable question. I hope that's fine with you.
    – user2953
    Dec 31, 2015 at 5:54
  • @Keelan funny, your edit now makes my answer irrelevant. Dec 31, 2015 at 17:30
  • 2
    @AlexanderSKing sorry about that, I didn't check. But the question asked wasn't appropriate here.
    – user2953
    Dec 31, 2015 at 18:16

4 Answers 4


The straight forward answer to your question is Ethics: that is the field of philosophy which directly studies ethical dilemmas such as the one you mention. There are also higher level ways of studying the questions you mention:

  • An ethics question would be: Should I kill the man or the tiger?
  • A meta-ethics question would be: Is killing the tiger instead the man a subjective or relative truth (that changes from individual to individual, culture to culture, etc...) or is it a universal truth that can always be applied?
  • A question of axiology or value theory: What are the ways of measuring the value of human life against the value of animal life? Plant life? etc...

In the example you gave:

  • Saying that "save the man because he is human" is following deontological ethics: You're choosing what is good and what is bad based on rules which classify some behavior as good and some behavior as bad - with the rule being followed in this case "We should always try to save a human life".
  • Saying "save the human because he could save you in another dangerous situation, and the tiger will never save you (except by chance)?" is following a consequentialist ethics where the outcome of the behavior is what makes good or bad, not the fact that there rules that should be followed.

Save the human, because otherwise you're creating a precedent that could endanger your personal safety in the future. I believe all other considerations pale in comparison.

Existing laws also reflect the above, since you'll be charged with manslaughter or criminal negligence by letting the human die, and will go scot-free by killing the tiger if you can show that those were truly your only two options.


You should save the man because the man is a human. Humans are more biologically complex than most other creatures and more intellectually complex than all other creatures within a diameter of 10 billion kilometres. Humans are also, both as a collective and as individuals, capable of achievements of higher caliber than animals. Therefore, the man, by virtue of being a human, is of greater value and is thus more important than the tiger.


A human can create new explanatory knowledge. A tiger can't, as illustrated by the lack of tiger music, or works of art, or science, or philosophy, or double entry book keeping.

If the man dies, then all of the explanatory knowledge that he hasn't yet written down will be destroyed. And since this knowledge could in principle help generate a stream of benefits to you (directly or indirectly) that continues indefinitely that will be a bad loss.

By contrast, if you kill the tiger and preserve a cell sample, then it may be possible to make more tigers in the future by cloning. The tigers will be identical for all practical purposes to the existing tiger.

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