This is along the lines of Trolley Problem, or the scenario of convicting an innocent person to save many lives. I use the OJ Simpson trial only as an example of a high profile trial. One could substitute the Nixon impeachment proceedings, or etc ....

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, over the past decade there have been about 5,000 work related deaths per year in the US (in Canada it is about 1,000 per year).

So it seems reasonable, to me anyway, to ask how many people died in order to establish OJ Simpsons guilt/innocence? And was it ethical of OJ Simpson to choose to pursue legal defense? Or was the decision to prosecute ethical?

There are various scopes and ways to calculate the number of people who died to produce the verdict. The exact number is not important. The trial invoked a huge amount of economic activity, so I'd guess the number is significant, say 1/2 a life? 1/10th a life?

Similarly, if on average US workers work 50 years, at 2000 hours per year, or 100,000 work-hours per lifetime, then how many lives did it take to establish his guilt/innocence? And were the decisions to prosecute/defend ethical from that standpoint?

  • I think what you are asking is not how many died but whether the hours spent were worth doing something. – Frank Hubeny Apr 7 '18 at 14:20
  • Nope. The question is, is the guilt/innocence of one person ethically worth the human cost in terms of the number of deaths and the number of work-lifes. – JedHareld Apr 7 '18 at 14:23
  • Is this question specific to guilt and innocence? Royal weddings, for instance, also invoke a sizeable amount of economic activity, as do general elections. So, we could ask: is the wedding of two people/the election of one person ethically worth the human cost in terms of the number of deaths and the number of work-lives? Is your question supposed to be different from those? – MarkOxford Apr 7 '18 at 14:50
  • I have the same comment as @FrankHubeny. Are you asking about the number of deaths, or the number of work-hours needed, to accomplish a goal? The answer makes a great difference in how this question is analyzed and answered. – Mark Andrews Apr 8 '18 at 1:40

For healthcare, financial reckonings for human outcomes are quantified https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quality-adjusted_life_year In principle you expand this model to a complete utilitarian theory, of how to derive the greatest good from a given budget.

But that ignores that reasoning about moral decisions is generally done by reference to values, rather than evidence. It has been argued that there is a schism in modes of reasoning, or at least a divergence, between right and left on this https://www.theguardian.com/society/2012/jun/05/why-working-class-people-vote-conservative

We may seek to redirect social activities on the basis of evidence, but we should not ignore in doing that, that society is held together by values, so value reasoning will inevitably take precedence. To cohere as a society, we need a justice system, to balance conflicts between personal and collective interests. This comes down to the social contract, and when violations by state or individuals of what is held to be in that happen, various degrees of resistance to them become justifiable.

OJ's decision wasn't ethical, because it put all the balance of concern on himself. The money spent on it was, or we would all be at great risk from corrupt officials. The value base is, justice must be done and be seen to be done, and no justice no peace. Calculations of the value of this are irrelevant, because without them we have no society.

This area of thinking is more sharply revealed around the death penalty. What value do you place on the irrevocable death of a person later proven innocent? Do you place a quantifiable value on your own life?


Ethics are subjective, so the answer is either yes or no based on your personal preference. You compare it to the trolley problem, which notoriously has no right answer, and so there is no question here that can be answered.

I'd also point out that those involved were paid for their time, so it was not a waste of their lives from their perspective.

Your Answer

By clicking "Post Your Answer", you acknowledge that you have read our updated terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy, and that your continued use of the website is subject to these policies.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.