The moral issues of killing

JoJo

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I don't think there's one objective answer in this case, children have more life to live and usually a greater potential than an adult but then they will still be dependent on others for care for a long time. It depends on which values you hold and consider important.

Personally I'd save the kid, mainly because they entertain me and they usually make better company than adults, but that's just me.
 

Brandon237

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I base my value of life first on how close they are to me:
A friend/acquaintance of any age to me is more valuable than a stranger.

Then second on their "life status": A person with dreams, hopes, knowledge, worries to me is more valuable than someone who is in some way impaired in these areas.

Then finally on potential in third place.

Note that 2 and 3 are close, so in some cases, like if a person did not have too long to live regardless, I would save a person who had not yet fulfilled condition 2, but a healthy adult I would save over a child, see value 2 on this.
 

Tropicaz

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The reason people would rather save a child is the same reason animals will defend their young to their owns deaths - primal instict is that children carry on genetics and carry on the species, so you are hardwired to protect them. I call bs on the whole 'potential' thing - for all you know the adult has used his potential to do great good whereas the child will waste their potential. You cant tell either way. The reason you'll make a snap decision in favour of a random child over a random adult is primal instinct alone.
 

Spearmaster

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You cant judge the potential of the newborn, you can that of a grown man because at the very least the man has survived to be grown, the newborn might not even make it that far. We already know the man can be of some use. The newborn has no known value, so picking the newborn would be like taking your rent/mortgage money and buying lottery tickets instead.
 

manic_depressive13

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Lieju said:
manic_depressive13 said:
On the whole though I prefer not to pass value judgements on other lives. Given one of those silly 'train track' thought experiments, where you can choose to divert the train killing one person but saving five, I would choose not to act. This is mostly to preserve my conscience. I don't care who or what dies as long as I can remove myself from the situation and avoid personal responsibility.
But ignoring the situation is a choice you make.
Let's say you come across a car that has been crashed and hear a scream of help inside. Would you merely go 'not my problem!'? Because in that case you then become quilty of negligience. Want it or not, just by living in a society you are personally responsible for the society.
If I have a choice between helping a person and not helping a person, obviously I would do my best to help that person. However, in a situation where I can only save a person by killing another, I would choose not to get involved because it is not my place to say one life is more valuable than another life. That is, it's not my right to kill someone based on my personal values.
 

Dimitriov

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Jonluw said:
Yes, I am aware that I am biologically wired to value infants over middle-aged strangers, but the very thought that spurred this thread was that I cannot accept my evolutionarily produced emotions as a basis for my system of morals.
Ethics should be based on logic, not emotion, which is why I'm doubting the whole "valuing newborns" aspect of my moral code in the first place.
Why should ethics be based on logic? Ethics are based on what is good, and what is good is subjective and highly emotional.

Jonluw said:
Fundamentally, I'm okay with killing fetuses in the early stages no matter how little justification is given for it.
This particular segment of my moral code didn't function with my "potential"-argument for saving babies, which meant I had to add another factor into my calculating of the morality of killing, namely "brain complexity" (or rather, mind complexity).
Their capabilities, as I explained to Hagi, don't really factor into the ethics of it to me.
It seems very much as if you have morals and a personal set of ethics and are working backwards in order to justify it. Which seems sort of wrong headed to me. If you really want to get at the root of it you should simply examine WHY you have the emotional morals you do and not try to invent reasons for them.

But hey, if it makes you happy I 'm not gonna stop you. That's just my 2 cents.
 

Nieroshai

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My philosophy is simple: those who live are too biased to judge fairly. This should not, in an ideal world, be left up to fallible humans who will almost always work their notions of life and death around themselves as the center of the universe. The only measurement we can really go by in THIS world is this: does something/someone NEED to die, for the benefit of the many? No? Then do not kill them. In a situational vacuum, no one should die of anything but natural causes. In a case where one person or the other must die, whose survival would do the most harm overall? Whose death would do the most harm overall? In a scenario where a life will not be saved by terminating a life, why does that life need to be terminated? Why must a fetus die? Comfort? Saving face? Why must a thief die? Because the loss of your possessions hurts your feelings? Why must a religious "fanatic" die, if he has not killed or shown violent tendencies? Does he merely disagree with you? Are you not worse than he if you wish him dead and he does not wish it of you? Must the elderly die, simply because you do not want to "waste" the resources to keep them around?

My point is, none of us are fit to judge, because most of us would choose a death where no death is necessary. Most of us would choose life for one who may deserve death, if there was some sort of personal or communal gain. Your chart is meaningless, because it is based on fallible suppositions of inherent worth.
Frission said:
Morality isn't always logical. We're not robots after all.

Yet, I see alot of people going *BEEP* *BOOP* THAT DOES NOT COMPUTE.
Basically this. We are not perfect, in fact we are very flawed. Too flawed to make our own absolutes on human value. He who is without wrongdoing, throw the first stone. But everyone thinks (s)he is that one, that special blemish-free superman who alone is objective enough to make that decision. We are, all of us, selfish and at some level petty. The world's worst murderers have been those who have thought otherwise of themselves.
 

Jonluw

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Dimitriov said:
Jonluw said:
Yes, I am aware that I am biologically wired to value infants over middle-aged strangers, but the very thought that spurred this thread was that I cannot accept my evolutionarily produced emotions as a basis for my system of morals.
Ethics should be based on logic, not emotion, which is why I'm doubting the whole "valuing newborns" aspect of my moral code in the first place.
Why should ethics be based on logic? Ethics are based on what is good, and what is good is subjective and highly emotional.
I believe one should strive to base one's ethics on logic to as great a degree as possible.
Why?
Because logic is universal.
If you can develop a code of ethics that is flawlessly logical, and that can easily be explained, everyone will have to agree with it, and a great deal of conflict can be avoided.

The problem is that each logical line of thought resulting in a piece of ethics starts out at a value of some sort. And values are as a rule subjective.
The goal, I believe, should be to find universal values, or somehow find a way to develop values that are logical in nature. That way you can have most all of humanity agreeing on one set of ethics. Which would be ideal.
Jonluw said:
Fundamentally, I'm okay with killing fetuses in the early stages no matter how little justification is given for it.
This particular segment of my moral code didn't function with my "potential"-argument for saving babies, which meant I had to add another factor into my calculating of the morality of killing, namely "brain complexity" (or rather, mind complexity).
Their capabilities, as I explained to Hagi, don't really factor into the ethics of it to me.
It seems very much as if you have morals and a personal set of ethics and are working backwards in order to justify it. Which seems sort of wrong headed to me. If you really want to get at the root of it you should simply examine WHY you have the emotional morals you do and not try to invent reasons for them.

But hey, if it makes you happy I 'm not gonna stop you. That's just my 2 cents.
On a philosophical level, I don't place much value in the propagation of my genes and species.
Biologically though, I do.
Which means I need to examine if there is actually is some plausible logical philosophical reason for me to rate different kinds of life the way I do. Because if I can't find one, that means that particular part of my ethics is simply my biology shining through, and is not based on anything particularly meaningful other than my genes' desire to keep on existing.
And I'm not sure I'm comfortable using that as a basis of my ethics, so if I can't find a logical argument I will have to reevaluate my moral code.
 

Jonluw

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Hagi said:
Jonluw said:
I consider all of the above to be results of sensory input though.
Just because we are able to recall old sensory input and process it, that still doesn't mean the processing isn't based on sensory input.

I believe all brain activity that isn't genetically pre-programmed - i.e., instincts, the most animalistic part of a mind - is a result of sensory input. We are simply capable of performing such long calculations that we may lose track of the original input.
In the end, sure. Nothing comes out of nothing so it has to originate somewhere.

But it's not simply recalling old sensory inputs. There's much more at play than that. Those inputs interact with each other to form new internal inputs, which again interact with each other to form new concepts that in turn interact etc. In the end new concepts and inputs are formed that are uniquely internal.

Take learning mathematics for example. Sure, there was sensory input at some point when you learned what division was but every time you're dividing you're not recalling that moment. You're thinking of something else entirely. Not to mention the first time humanity came up with the concept of division, there was never any direct sensory input for that.

There's no constantly on-going calculation of what division is from the time we learned it and we simply lost track of the original input. It's an uniquely internal concept that might have it's roots in sensory input but through understanding and learning it become something purely internal. Same for many other abstract concepts like it.
I would argue that the concept of division lies stored in the brain's memory banks, where it was placed when you originally learned about the concept (although your idea of the concept may have changed over time as you've learned new aspects of the concept).
It lies there ready for being pulled out and used in any line of thought that needs it. Of course whenver you're recalling the concept of division you don't think back to the moment you learned it. That's because you've internalized the concept, rather than memorized the time you learned it. What you remember is the concept, not a specific event.
The remembering of concepts is different from remembering events in that regard.
However, the concept was originally placed there through (and whatever changes has been made to it have been made through) sensory input.

What the human mind is exceptionally skilled at, as you mention, is using these remembered concepts and memories to form new concepts, which in turn may be stored and used to conceive of new concepts.
Still I would claim that, given a perfect world, one would be able to trace every complicated and orignal thought in one's mind back to the original pieces of sensory input that provided the material to make them; just like how (nearly) every atom in one's body may be traced back to the supernova whence it came, despite the fact that they are now arranged to create something new and unique.

I'd argue that the first time the concept of division arose in a human mind, it was one of these new and unique concepts which would be created by other concepts interacting in calculations.
This concept has then been communicated to others through sensory input.
That's part of what I love about the human mind:
When someone has used extraordinary resources to combine concepts to make a new and useful concept, they can communicate this concept to others. Then these others have that concept lying there in their memory banks as a starting point; they don't have to perform the insanely complicated calculations that were necessary to conceive of the original thought of division, for example.
They just get it for free through sensory input and can then use it to conceive of even more complicated thoughts and processes, which in turn can be tought to others as a starting point.
That way, human knowledge is always moving forward. Each new person that learns a concept is like a save point in a video game: You don't have to start from scratch every time.

Would you agree that 'sapience' may be a measure of the degree to which a mind is able to use sensory input to form and store new and unique concepts, in turn using these to form and store more concepts still, potentially ad infinitum?
 

freaper

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Woah, have you been inside my head recently?

I've had this discussion with a friend of mine, specifically in the context of abortion. I'm principally against abortion, though I understand the reasons for it, and will accept the fact that to preserve a certain standard of life, a woman/couple will choose abortion, rather than trying to nurture a child in a negative environment.

My point was exactly yours, potential. Though she argued that an unborn child has no emotional connection with its parents, and is therefore less entitled to life (crude paraphrases, excuse me). The ironic thing is she studies pedagogy and in her late teens (jokingly) wanted either a dog or a child (she picked the dog). These days she'd get an abortion without second thoughts.

To come back to your point of choosing between an adult life or an infant's, I'd have to agree that taking the life of an infant, not just from a protective, biological standpoint, but also from an ethical point of view is less preferable. The adult has already made choices in his/her life that have affected their surroundings. They have lived (and hopefully) loved already, and have had their time to play a part in this world's play. The infant however still has to experience all these facets of life, and so, from a point of view based on our collective humanity, the more people have "experiences", the better we become as an interconnected organism (sorry if this sounds a bit floaty).

There's also a sense of responsibility that comes with adulthood that is intertwined with our survival as a species; an adult will (in most cases) choose the life of an infant above the life of an adult, even if it's his/her own life. So if this question was posed to the adult who's life was questioned, they'd most likely surrender it to save the infant.
 

Headdrivehardscrew

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You seem to have bumped your head against some solid block of ideology, which usually results in a headache.

I take my moral core values from what Christianity has offered me from the very moment I turned it into a more emancipated, grown-up, self-service sort of deal. I like to have brunch and lunch and cookies and a glass of wine with the local priest and friendly members of the community, because, locally, we're all in this together. This means we also have to care for the less fortunate and less friendly ones.

A lot of people that are nice to have around for a cup of tea, a lively discussion or some other specific, limited form of human interaction can get totally totalitarian on you, shoving their 'ultimate truth' down your throat, considering your gag reflex to be cute or otherwise meaningless.

Your initial message, as in OP, lets me believe you are working on finding some ultimate truth, actively seeking answers that fulfill you and make life easier for you. That's admirable, as it seems to be getting somewhat rare.

Bear in mind, though, that, as soon as you start interacting with humans, and as soon as you start trying to make sense of what any group or any single one of them (us) do or say, you'll be wading in bullshit. That's not a misanthropic outlook there, it's merely the facts, because just about all of us make shit up on the go. The at times ludicrous frameworks of religious or other moral code that are actively maintained as we speak serve mainly one purpose: To keep us a notch above becoming the beasts we actually are.

Think about it. We have these ridiculously powerful big brains, yet the majority of us uses these brains mainly for pleasuring themselves, breeding, getting fed, getting some sleep every now and then and defecating in a socially acceptable manner.

If dogs could talk, we would not keep dogs as close friends. We'd shoot them all dead and burn them on makeshift pyres, as the average dog believes in hierarchy and magic like you wouldn't believe. And yet, our species go along so well, mainly because we share a few very basic common interests and yet we're different enough to work things out and find it fun enough to get us through thick and thin.

As for your outlined conundrum - there really isn't an ultimate, one-size-fits-all situations answer. The adult person might be what keeps his or her family/village/tribe/community/firm/country together. You don't have that information, do you. The kid might be loved or it might be constantly raped and beaten by daddy dearest or some random uncle. The kid might turn into the next Einstein, developing nuclear fusion cells for emission-free cars. The kid might also turn into the next Adolf Stalin Pol Pot Shitface, infanticidal, homicidal, genocidal maniac.

If we are to approach said conundrum in a realistic manner, and the decision would have to be made instantaneously, I'd wager that most of us would go for some gut feeling, as most of us would lack whatever training that could come in handy to quickly assess the situation and try to save both of them. If a decision has to be made, it will be made by less of the stuff you read, watch and consume and more by the stuff that makes you - the select few choice cuts of the blah that made sense for you from the day you discovered you had a functional brain and could do stuff with, and the stuff your brain has kept repeating in word and deed ever since.

My brain goes wild every now and then with all the potential of my multi-cultural environment, but on closer inspection, we all pretty much crave for living a decent life with as little bloodshed, drama and death as possible, so that's pretty much good enough for most of us.

The more fervent spreaders of the one-truth-fits-all stance easily get my boot, and even my own brain needs a quick 'sit, booboo, sit!' every now and then. I suggest you take yours on a leash before you go all Jared Lee Loughner on yourself. That graph you made is freaking me out. What if an old person has lived to the maximum of their 'potential' or usability? Should we not honour that person? Are you really saying we should go all George Bernard Shaw on them?

<youtube=7WBRjU9P5eo>
 

Hagi

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Jonluw said:
Would you agree that 'sapience' may be a measure of the degree to which a mind is able to use sensory input to form and store new and unique concepts, in turn using these to form and store more concepts still, potentially ad infinitum?
Yeah, that sounds like a good way to put it.

You'd have non-sapient minds which only directly process sensory input into muscular output and never form any such unique concepts.
You'd have minimally sapient minds which do form such concepts but only in a very limited number of layers, for example only concepts directly out of sensory input or concepts from that first iteration of concepts but no more.
And you'd have highly sapient minds which are capable to form such concepts in many, many more layers. Potentially ad infinitum as you say.

This in turn could go back to the main question at hand of the value of a life. I think it's fair to say that the measure of sapience is at least one factor into that question. All other things being equal a highly sapient mind would be of more value than a minimally sapient mind.
 

Jonluw

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Hagi said:
This in turn could go back to the main question at hand of the value of a life. I think it's fair to say that the measure of sapience is at least one factor into that question. All other things being equal a highly sapient mind would be of more value than a minimally sapient mind.
I agree.
It bothers me, though, that we probably only value sapience because we are highly sapient ourselves.

I think if one wants to come up with some objective measure of value, or objective things at all really, we're going to need to redefine 'objective' to not mean "universally true", but rather "true for all humans".
Hell, I'd be willing to wager not all humans value sapience all that much even.

I'm sure there are societies (probably some tribal nature-spiritualistic society) where a person would more readily kill a person than cut down a large tree, because the tree is of more value to the environment, providing a basis for life and what not.
 

Jonluw

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Headdrivehardscrew said:
Bear in mind, though, that, as soon as you start interacting with humans, and as soon as you start trying to make sense of what any group or any single one of them (us) do or say, you'll be wading in bullshit. That's not a misanthropic outlook there, it's merely the facts, because just about all of us make shit up on the go. The at times ludicrous frameworks of religious or other moral code that are actively maintained as we speak serve mainly one purpose: To keep us a notch above becoming the beasts we actually are.
Agreed. It was actually a conversation of that sort that lead to me making this thread.

I'm interested in seeing what other people think, but when their opinions aren't supported by sound logic, it frustrates me.

The more fervent spreaders of the one-truth-fits-all stance easily get my boot, and even my own brain needs a quick 'sit, booboo, sit!' every now and then. I suggest you take yours on a leash before you go all Jared Lee Loughner on yourself. That graph you made is freaking me out. What if an old person has lived to the maximum of their 'potential' or usability? Should we not honour that person? Are you really saying we should go all George Bernard Shaw on them?
I do see how that chart seems to be implying something like that. It's important to note that I think no level of "human value" is low enough to justify killing on its own. It's merely a device to try to act logically when one life must be prioritized over another.
Of course, there are a million other factors involved, such as an individual's qualities. The chart is working from a bit of an "all other aspects being equal or unknown" angle.
 

Hagi

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Jonluw said:
Hagi said:
This in turn could go back to the main question at hand of the value of a life. I think it's fair to say that the measure of sapience is at least one factor into that question. All other things being equal a highly sapient mind would be of more value than a minimally sapient mind.
I agree.
It bothers me, though, that we probably only value sapience because we are highly sapient ourselves.

I think if one wants to come up with some objective measure of value, or objective things at all really, we're going to need to redefine 'objective' to not mean "universally true", but rather "true for all humans".
Hell, I'd be willing to wager not all humans value sapience all that much even.

I'm sure there are societies (probably some tribal nature-spiritualistic society) where a person would more readily kill a person than cut down a large tree, because the tree is of more value to the environment, providing a basis for life and what not.
Yeah, we're inherently limited to looking at things through the human perception. Which brings with it automatically that if that perception is somehow flawed then everything resulting from it carries that same flaw. And if we're unable to perceive certain things (taken broadly, being able to discuss something qualifies as perceiving it) then we're automatically unable to value them. And the other way around things we perceive often and easily we come to value.

I think that even counts for those tribal societies you mention. If such a tribe exist I consider it a near certainty that firstly the person they'd kill would be considered an outsider and secondly the tree is considered an insider (by for example being believed to be related to ancestor spirits or their deities).

In the end the value they place on life is directly linked to their perception of the world around them. That tree would form a big part of it. The outsider barely any part at all.

For modern societies our sapience form a very large part of our perceptions. Our ability to think and communicate with one another is in large part what distinguishes us and the majority of what we perceive is basically people expressing their sapience. As such we value it highly.
 

Jonluw

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Hagi said:
Yeah, we're inherently limited to looking at things through the human perception. Which brings with it automatically that if that perception is somehow flawed then everything resulting from it carries that same flaw. And if we're unable to perceive certain things (taken broadly, being able to discuss something qualifies as perceiving it) then we're automatically unable to value them. And the other way around things we perceive often and easily we come to value.

I think that even counts for those tribal societies you mention. If such a tribe exist I consider it a near certainty that firstly the person they'd kill would be considered an outsider and secondly the tree is considered an insider (by for example being believed to be related to ancestor spirits or their deities).

In the end the value they place on life is directly linked to their perception of the world around them. That tree would form a big part of it. The outsider barely any part at all.

For modern societies our sapience form a very large part of our perceptions. Our ability to think and communicate with one another is in large part what distinguishes us and the majority of what we perceive is basically people expressing their sapience. As such we value it highly.
Quite.
But it's very frustrating that there's no such thing as universal values.
 

SerithVC

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Jonluw said:
Daystar Clarion said:
Jonluw said:
Daystar Clarion said:
Who are you to determine whether someone's potential, or lack thereof, means they should have their lives taken away?

I'm a thoroughly mediocre student, I have a boring job. As far as contributions to society go, I have taken more than I have given.

Do I deserve to die?
I'm not saying anyone deserves to have their life taken away.
I'm just saying that if some cartoonish villain dangles a toddler and some random dude over a cliff and I can only save one, I'd go for the toddler.
The potential for something great doesn't outright invalidate the life of an adult.

Who will unleash said potential of the infant? The parents who, while very loving parents, live very mediocre lives? The older brother, whilst a terrible academic himself, spurs the younger child towards greater things?


Those with the 'potential' to do great things, are propped up by the mediocre.
But potential that is not there in the adult is still present in the child.
A given child carries a larger likelihood of doing something good with its life than a given adult, I figure.
Which is why I would rather see an adult die than an infant.

Surely, most people agree that if they were forced to choose between a random adult dying and a random child dying, they'd choose the adult?
First off, i'd do my best to save both. Something often seen accomplished in super hero movies. I could not condemn someone to death without due cause. Everyone has the potential to become a great person and to achieve great things, especially when they feel that they are given a second chance. In all honesty, the infant is more likely to die when you attempt to rescue it. How can you say that a child's life is more precious in such a situation? I could understand if they were to give both a fighting chance, then you should try to save the child first because the adult is more powerful, but once the child is safe you should also try and save the adult. Even an elderly can take a stand against tyrany and in doing so inspire the masses to stand behind them. No one life is more important than another, though if you have family and loved ones, they will always take precedent in your heart.
 

Kolby Jack

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A life means everything to the person who is living it and to those who care for that person. Taking a life is not something to be considered lightly, or to be brushed off as something simple.

As for "potential" when it comes to young people... I don't really see how it matters. Yes, they could've done something great, or they could have done something horrible. There's absolutely no way to know, so it shouldn't even be part of the equation.
 

barbzilla

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Jonluw said:
Hiya escapists.

So I've spent some time thinking of killing.

I am no proponent of infanticide. If forced to choose, I'd rather kill a random grown person than a random child.
I am not the type to let my ethics be dictated by emotions, so I've been working on trying to understand why it is, logically, that it is better to kill an adult than a child.
The one logical reason I've arrived on is potential.
A child yet has potential to become a great person, contributing much to humanity, and live a fulfilling life, while most adults will already be living thoroughly mediocre lives, plus they have already gotten to experience a great deal of life, so I'm not taking away their potential to experience life in the first place, as I would to a child if I killed it. I believe it better to let two babies live half a lifetime each, than for one of them to live an entire lifetime at the cost of the other's life.

I consider this view to be consistent with my view that I'd rather kill a newborn child than a person who is currently doing something great for humanity as well.
So it seems that this logical basis for my ethics works well.

However, if I value life on the sole factor of potential, I should really be against abortion.
Which I'm not.
Moral code inconsistencies. Ouch.

An fetus has just as much potential as a newborn child, but still I'd rather terminate a pregnancy (given it isn't somwhere around the 7th month or later) than kill a grown person.

I've been trying to work out why it is I think like this. Am I simply biologically wired to value newborns over most every other life, this being what my ethics in truth are based on?
After all, in natural conditions, a newborn is worth more than a fetus, since pregnancies are risky and it's not even certain the mother will be able to carry the fetus to term. A newborn represents this risk overcome, and as such, working hard to preserve its life is far more reasonable than thinking "oh I can just make another one anyways".

I've also tried a different angle: seeing as a fetus's brain isn't highly developed, killing it isn't much worse than killing a fish or a similar low-standing animal.
But if I am valuing the lives of humans based on the stage of development their brain is in, I should more readily kill an infant than an adult.
The only somewhat satisfying answer I've been able to come up with is that I logically value life on the basis of both potential and brain development.

[small]Positive scale markers missing, because drawing arrows is hard.[/small]
The graphs may not be to scale in relation to one another.

So what do you think, escapists? How do you determine what human lives, on a general basis, are worth more?
Perhaps it is a combination of effects and reasons in your mind that causes you to go for the child. It sounds like your scenario is about the damage caused. It could be completely about the potential of a child to be greater than the adult, but you are going off unknown information. That adult could be working on his MD/PhD and might be the person who cures cancer, you do not know.

Perhaps it is because if the child dies it also ruins 1 or more lives attached to that child (for at least a short time). Children are protected in our minds because of the linking to the family. So maybe it is about causing the least amount of damage. Adults might have people who worry about them, but you are almost guaranteed to have people worried about a child.

It could also be because children are still full of vitality and only gaining more, whereas the adult is losing life and degenerating. So in essence you are reducing the amount of time the person is on the world to a lesser degree by killing the older person (of course given the research about killing a younger child over an older one suggests this is wrong).