This “game” is something in between game theory and moral philosophy. We worked on it more than 20 years ago during a philosophy seminar. The macabre cover story is as follows:
During WW-II, a German unit in Italy is suffering gravely under partisan attacks. Since the losses are considerable, the “Wehrmacht” stakes out the partisans and discovers their home village. Ten partisans are taken prisoner and lined up for shooting at the spot for deterrence.
The unit has a military pastor. He talks with the company leader, trying to change his mind. The captain makes the following offer: if the pastor is willing to shoot the partisan boss himself, the nine remaining partisans can go free.
You can make the game more complicated by also using women and children as captives.
So what is the poor military pastor supposed to do now?
He is in the middle of a paradoxical situation. Turning murderer, he could save nine people’s lives. Or else, he might remain innocent (?), thereby causing nine people’s death. Basically, he only has one choice: commit suicide. But that is not part of the game.
The game might well be suitable for discussing the problem of deontological ethics (deontologischer Ethik) by contrasting it with consequential ethics. But what else?
In this – hopefully only fictional – story, the parameter “number of partisans” also has special meaning. Just imagine the number being 100, instead of 10, or even 1,000?
To me, this example seems just as much nonsense as the question from what amount of money a woman can be bought. (In Hollywood, they even make films about this kind of question). Or how much money you have to offer a poor black adolescent living at the Cape Horn in order to make him take part in a pirate activity.
Neither does it have anything to do with border morals or ethics. It is just silly.
(Translated by EG)