Nick Roberts wrote:
> I've just been watching the film 'I Robot' (with Will Smith) on DVD.
> In this film, the 'back story' of the hero, detective Spooner, has him and
> a 12 year-old girl, Sarah, both trapped underwater in cars, with water
> entering, both doomed to drown. A passing robot dives in -- in this
> Azimovian world all robots are programmed to protect human life and limb
> at all costs -- and must choose whether to save Spooner or the girl; the
> robot chooses to save Spooner (albeit at the cost of one limb), supposedly
> on the basis of a logical evaluation.
> Spooner bitterly accuses the robot of making the wrong choice. He says "I
> was the logical choice. The robot calculated I had a 45% chance of
> survival. Sarah only had an 11% chance. I was somebody's baby. 11% was
> more than enough. A human being would have known that. Robots have no
> heart; just lights and clockwork."
> But I disagree with Spooner about the choice. Why is his life less worth
> saving than the girl's? Simply because she is younger than him? Surely it
> is not necessarily so. How can we be sure that a human would have made a
> better choice?
I suspect that all humans, wherever in the world they may live, would have
made the same choice. A child is more fearful of death and an adult is
often willing to compromise his/her life for the sake of a child. So the
key point is desire, as well as instincts, and norm.
Having said that, some people perceive their life differently. Some people
enjoy every minute of their lives, whereas other loathe it and often engage
in habits that can lead to a slow death. Very few people fall under the
former catergory unfortunately. Many are living for their children, hoping
that they will reach a life of bliss.
> I have heard it said that 'we' (without actually defining who 'we' are,
> but I could guess that Western civilisation was meant) are collectively,
> culturally obsessed with children. There seems to be some truth in this.
> Very often I hear the sentiment expressed 'the interests of the child must
> come first'. Much law in Britain seems to be based on this precept,
> especially recent law. The terms of child care arrangements decided by
> courts are determined on this basis, as are the rules guiding the CPA, and
> the way the social services make decisions.
There is an issues here that you neglect. Children are usually defenceless
and they cannot make choices unlike us adults. The courts, knowing that
children grow to be adults and _only then_ make correct judgement, need to
serve as the conscience of the child.
> I think I can see where the attitude comes from. It seems to be human
> instinct -- indeed that of other animals too -- to want to protect the
> defenceless child (puppy, kitten, cub, ...), rather contrary to our
> typical, more violent instincts. So we extend that instinct to the
> preference of children under all circumstances. But I suspect that the
> people who espouse the principle 'the interests of the child must come
> first' would rarely admit that this principle is based on instinct, and
> has no logical basis.
> I also suspect some people would try to pursue some argument about the
> potential of children. But these arguments tend to be specious: adults
> generally have the same potential as children, or more; I'm fairly sure
> that most people would not accept that our society should be organised to
> value citizens based on their value, or potential value, to society (even
> though it largely is, in reality).
> I am not trying to argue that children should be dogmatically given /less/
> consideration than adults, but I don't see why they should always, as a
> matter of principle, be given greater consideration. Sarah wanted to
> become a dentist; saving teeth is very good, but a police detective may
> well go on to save people's lives.
You make valid points, but haven't we all been kids ourselves? We were
constantly protected, not necessarily in life-threatening situations. A
child is often given a priority. If a child wants to play with some Lego,
that is likely to take precedence over a parent's desire for a sports car.
Investment in our children perpetuates prosperity.