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If you could save only one, which one would you save?

September 26, 2014

I was once asked if I had the choice to save a human or an animal which would I choose?

This question is an example of a bifurcation fallacy which presents a false dilemma.  What this means is that the question assumes there are only two answers.  Furthermore the question is designed such that no matter which answer is chosen, the answerer will be wrong.

In this case to save the human would be taken to mean that I do not consider animal lives to be worth as much as human lives and therefore I am not really vegan because I chose for an animal to die.

Or if I choose to save the animal it would be taken to mean that I value the lives of animals more than humans thus affirming the stereotype that vegans do not value human life and are therefore morally and mentally flawed.

As you can see, this type of question presents a false dilemma because the real answer to this question is “I would try to save them both”.  This answer is always rejected by the person who asks such a question.  Ironically to save them both is the only answer to this type of question even for the person who asks it.

The following comes from the movie Sophie’s Choice:

SS officer: [looks at Sophie’s children] Did He not say… “Suffer the children, come unto me?”

[Sophie remains silent]

SS officer: You may keep one of your children.

Sophie: I beg your pardon?

SS officer: You may keep one of your children. The other must go away.

Sophie: You mean, I have to choose?

SS officer: You are a Polack, not a Yid. That gives you a privilege, a choice.

Sophie: I can’t choose. I can’t choose!

SS officer: Be quiet.

Sophie: I can’t choose!

SS officer: Make a choice. Or I’ll send both of them over there. Make a choice.

Sophie: Don’t make me choose! I can’t!

SS officer: Shut up! Enough! I’ll send them both over there! I told you to shut up! Make a choice!

Sophie: I can’t choose! Please! I can’t choose!

SS officer: [to an officer] Take BOTH children away!

[Sophie clings on to her son while the Nazis take her screaming and crying daughter away from her]

Sophie: Take my little girl! Take my baby!

If you have not seen the movie Sophie’s Choice it is about the holocaust and a woman who was forced to choose which one of her children would be taken away by the SS officers.  Essentially she had to chose which child would die. If she did not choose then they would take both children away.

The question of ‘which would you choose’ pretends to give a person a choice.

But now that we have the question in context we can see that it actually leaves the person with no choice. This is because the ‘choice’ is not one of the choices presented.

It forces the person to choose something that they would never have chosen otherwise.  Therefore the choice gives no insight whatsoever into whether or not the person questioned cares more about one life versus another.

If you had to choose one of your own children, as Sophie was forced to, would your choice mean that you valued your son more than your daughter?  Your daughter more than your son?  Your  younger child more than your older child?  Your baby more than your toddler?  Your teenager more than your infant? Your intelligent child more than your athletic child?  Your healthy child more than your handicapped child?


Your choice would not in any way reflect that you valued one child over another.  Why?  Because this was not your choice.  Your choice was to save both but you were denied your choice.

If the situation were real as it was in the movie for Sophie, the person who cares less about one life versus another is not the person who is forced to choose.  It is the person who forces someone to choose one life over another that does not care about life at all.

You would save both.  And so would I. In this, we are all the same.



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  1. Why Animals? Why not focus on human beings and their problems? | Cruelty Free Eating

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