I'm not a philosopher, so I apologize if this is a generally stupid question, but I was curious to hear what people thought.

Scenario: Consider a "Star Trek" like future, with a technological advancement like a Holodeck. (For those not familiar with the concept- it's effectively a room where artificial recreations (using light) of objects can be created and interacted with, for more see this entry). One of the features of these rooms is that the "safety threshold" can be modified by the user. While it generally includes settings that ensure the user cannot be too grievously harmed by any activities in the holodeck, these protocols can be overridden.

Suppose, as well, that an individual in this future society was reading about Earth's history and came across stories of gladiators, and thought about recreating it as a sport in the holodeck. Any individual who freely volunteered would be pitted against a "beast" holodeck facsimile of his or her choosing. The "fighter" would then be pitted against their opponent in a holodeck, but with all safety features turned off. Thus, if the "fighter" won, the only damage would be the "death" of a computer simulation (who, for the purposes of this scenario, we'll assume not to be sentient in any way- it really is just a projection of altered light). However, if the "beast" won, the individual could be mortally wounded.

Furthermore, it should be noted, that the "fighter" maintains complete control over the simulation at all times. If they choose to stop the battle, all they must do is think a command to the computer, which ends the simulation. (Which is a bit different than ST, but perhaps a necessary detail).

Finally, given that this is a Star Trek like future, resource scarcity has been eliminated. Replicators exist and are available to all citizens. Thus, if you have a physical need (or really any want for an object), it can be satisfied effortlessly.

Question: How should a just society respond to this proposed game? Should it take no position on it, given that entry is clearly completely voluntary (at least, not compelled by any physical need or want) and is at the control of the fighter at all times? Should it be allowed, but with some restrictions? (And if so, what restrictions would you favor?) Or should it be banned entirely?

Perhaps taking it a step further, perhaps there was some social status gained by "fighters," or some other social advantage to volunteering. Does that change the calculus? Where, in your opinions, should the line be drawn between social benefits that are allowable, and those that are too coercive?

If any clarification is needed, I'll try to add it. That said, I'm really interested to see where you guys go with the set up!!


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    I really don't know how to label this question but I'm quite sure opinion-based questions are not allowed. Also, it may be controversial, since some would be in favor of taking position, others wouldn't. – lukuss Jun 14 '18 at 8:12
  • As it stands, this question is very broad (there are a variety of ethical theories out there that may answer differently) and because of that and the mode of asking, invites for opinions - as evident by the current answers. Would it be possible to narrow the scope, say to a particular flavour in ethical theory like virtue ethics, deontological ethics, intuitionist ethics, etc.? – Philip Klöcking Jun 14 '18 at 8:55

It depends

You are constructing a needlessly complex scenario just to ask a simple, non-hypothetical question... one that we face today as well:

"What should be society's stance on voluntary but risky behaviour?"

Answer: it depends. It is a balancing act, with a person's freedoms and rights to self-governing in the one scale, and the loss/cost to society in the other.

Human lives are valuable, not only in the figurative sense in that all over the world we do have a very strong sanctity of life ethic, but also in an economical sense; a death is an economic loss to society. And it is not a given that your right to self-governing will outweigh society's need to not lose you. Your premise of post-scarcity does affect the judgement here because in such a scenario it is not a big deal to lose you in an economic sense. But as mentioned: the monetary/resource value is not the only consideration because your peers are emotionally attached to you. You also represent a lot of intangible value, for instance in the form of knowledge and experience.

Also you have the scenario where you are not killed but seriously injured. It is costly to rehabilitate you to full working order again, not only in that you use up resources for the healing, but also that during the convalescence you are probably not being productive. Again: that potential cost may be considered too much to let you be a boundless adrenaline-junkie or a Jackass wannabe.


it should be noted, that the "fighter" maintains complete control over the simulation at all times. If they choose to stop the battle, all they must do is think a command to the computer, which ends the simulation.

Your question then boils down to:

Is suicide ethical, and should society allow it or condemn it?

Generally, in Western liberal societies, suicide, i.e. the act of ending one's own life, is viewed as both a personal freedom and a choice very rarely exercised with sanity, thus, more often than not, resulting from mental illness (depression, typically). Thus these societies tend to intervene to stop mentally ill killing themselves, and — more importantly — others from taking advantage of the mentally ill by helping them kill themselves.

In your example, then, a society with these morals might forbid such a game, or put rigorous checks to prevent exploitation of the mentally disabled. To the extent that such checks might be more expensive to reliably implement, it may be more cost effective to simply forbid it.


It should be allowed and most probably will be. In a Star-Trek like scenario, there would be no valid reason not to.

Doing arena events like the one you described presents a risk for the participant (fighter). But so does freely climbing a rock or using a high speed car.

But then, from a safety perspective, I could end-up at something in-between safety on and no restrictions. The safety measures could be set at a level that permits injury but not critical injury or death.

Since the participant is there by his own choice, ultimately he will most likely have the last saying regarding the safety level of the fight.

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