Is It Ever Moral to Die?


I have the right to protect my life above all other concerns.

Q1 Analysis

This is not a Q1 violation unless you have any belief or principle for which you would die.

Q2 Analysis

This is a Q2 violation if you can think of any situation in which you would expect someone to risk their life for you.


Most difficult moral decisions arise not from a single moral principle, but from multiple moral principles coming into conflict. When two principles are in conflict, you must find the point of balance where you would violate one for the sake of the other. If you are morally consistent, you will always find that point in the same place in similar circumstances.

Some people call this process of finding a balance "situational ethics," and some of those who use that term do so in a negative way, as if "situational ethics" was a synonym for "do what feels right and find a justification for it later." They imply that moral rules should be hard and fast, but even people who believe this to be the case will sometimes face situations in which their moral rules are at odds.

Most people would agree that you have the right to preserve your own life, so this is a useful rule to use as an example of how moral principles can collide.

Consider the following situations. In which of these would you agree that your right to protect your life trumps all other concerns?

This post is based on an excerpt from Ask Yourself to be Moral, by D. Cancilla, available at and See the 2Q system page for details of the philosophical system mentioned in this post.

Posted on April 16, 2010 at 10:02 am by ideclare · Permalink
In: 2Q

4 Responses

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  1. Written by Zach
    on April 16, 2010 at 3:51 pm
    Reply · Permalink

    I feel like there’s a semantic issue in this: there is a difference between the duty to protect your life above all concerns and the right to protect your life. In terms of the second question this doesn’t matter, but I don’t think there’s any Q1 violation if I choose to sacrifice my life for some other concern, unless of course it is my duty, not my right, to protect my life.

  2. Written by ed42
    on April 17, 2010 at 2:34 pm
    Reply · Permalink

    When I read your title question my first thought was an article about suicide. I generally (by default?) subscribe to the “Do not initiate force or fraud” philosophy, so suicide, unless it harms others, is moral in my opinion. However, if I have taken responsibly for the life of a child (or incapable adult) then suicide is immoral unless I have made arrangements to take care of such.

    As to your situations above I generally stick with “If I have caused the problem, then I am responsible for the result” and “I can’t control the actions of others”.

    Are you looking for your readers to answer each specific situation?

    • Written by ideclare
      on April 17, 2010 at 9:06 pm
      Reply · Permalink

      “Are you looking for your readers to answer each specific situation?”

      Not necessarily. I’m more interested in your sharing answers that you think are particularly insightful and questions you are having trouble answering. Of course, if someone wants to answer all of the questions — or propose questions that aren’t on my list but make unique points — that would be great!

  3. Written by ed42
    on April 18, 2010 at 7:01 pm
    Reply · Permalink

    I think instinct (and estimated timing) would decide about saving child or myself. I would probably try saving us both and end up both dying.

    I would (probably) never be a prisoner of war because the reasoning applied to leaving the church is (to me) the same as leaving the state (and so I would never voluntarily become a soldier). However, I would attempt to escape because I can not control the evil actions of my captors.

    Using this same reasoning bothers me in the spy scenario, is it perhaps because I’ve given my word?

    Unless they agree, I could never kill another human for food. This could be role reversed: Suppose I sense I am near death and the other is starving, should I allow him to kill me for food? This is complicated because help could show up at any moment.

    The dollar amount (nor the hiring agency) for killing another (mobster or politician) is not relevant. However if there is ‘beyond a doubt’ evidence that the mobster or politician owes restitution to my client I would consider being hired to extract (by force if necessary) restitution from said criminal.

    Go ahead and show me where my reasoning is wrong – I want to learn/discuss.

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