Philosophical Multicore

Sometimes controversial, sometimes fallacious, sometimes thought-provoking, and always fun.

The Suitcase Dilemma

Posted by Michael Dickens on March 27, 2010

I heard a rather interesting dilemma from a rather surprising source: it was in Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands. It goes something like this: (paraphrased)

You are walking down the street when you come across a suitcase full of money. No one is around; no one will know what you do with it. Do you:

a) keep the money,
b) buy gifts for your loved ones,
c) give it to the poor, or
d) turn it over to the police?

Edward, being the amoral monster that he is, chose (b). Everyone else said that the answer was (d). I noticed, though, that any option is arguable.

A Utilitarian would say that the money should be given to the poor, as they are the ones who most need it. A Libertarian, on the other hand, would say that the money should be turned over to the police so that it can be returned to its owner. By Libertarian morality, property ownership is very important, and it would be theft to give the money to the poor.

Choice (b), although seemingly altruistic, is actually completely selfish. The poor need the money a lot more than your loved ones do, so as long as you’re giving away the money you should give it to the poor. But if you give it to your loved ones, this will increase your personal standing and will help the people who help you. True altruism is helping strangers.

And choice (a) is just selfish. Everybody knows that.


One Response to “The Suitcase Dilemma”

  1. Matt said

    Choice (a) is selfish in the sense that you would be doing it solely for yourself, but not in the sense that it is specifically at the expense of others. For this reason I can’t think of why I would not keep it. I know it’s thought of as the “bad” answer, but consider the fact that in this day and age the only reason a suitcase would ever be full of money is for illegal (as thus probably bad) transactions. The only thing that would give me pause is the consideration that somehow the suitcase may be tracked back to me by those who lost it.

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