Tales From The Moral Luck Files: The Truck, The Ice, and the Hero

"I'm a hero!"

“Woo-Hoo! I’m a hero!”

A story from Manitoba, Canada raises the question, “Should someone get full credit for being a hero when he rescues the victim of his own poor judgment?”

A father on an ice fishing trip with his daughter drove his pick-up truck onto the ice of frozen Lake Manitoba, misestimating just how frozen it was. The truck broke through the ice, and he reportedly had to dive deep into the freezing water to rescue his daughter from an icy death. Is it heroism to repair the results of a near tragedy you caused yourself?

Let’s consider at a range of possible frozen ice scenarios:

1. You see someone else’s truck break through the ice, and rescue the occupants from drowning at great personal risk.

2.  You tell a driver that its safe to drive his truck onto the ice, and it breaks through because you were wrong. You rescue his daughter.

3.  You watch several trucks drive on the frozen lake without incident. You follow them, and your truck falls through the ice. You have to rescue your daughter.

4. You drive onto the ice without proper precautions, and after your truck falls through, you rescue your daughter.

5. A local citizen warns you about driving your truck on the ice, which he says is too thin. You do it anyway, and have to save your daughter.

6. The Homer Simpson scenario: You see a truck fall through the ice, and yet drive yours onto the ice anyway. You rescue Lisa.

I would hesitate to minimize the actions of any of these rescuers, fathers or not, as the mere fulfilling of obligations. Every one of them had an obligation, as a human being, to rescue someone in mortal peril if it was within their power to do so. Still, fulfilling that obligation takes initiative, skill and courage; because one has a duty or an obligation to do something doesn’t mean that the task won’t be difficult, that many or most might avoid it, or that praise isn’t due.

The last three scenarios, however, only create the illusion of heroism through moral luck: the end result easily could be tragedy, and if the daughter died, the father’s irresponsibility and incompetence would be the proximate cause of her death. Nobody would be singing his praises for risking his life to save his own daughter, when he recklessly created the danger that took her life. The real life father created scenario three. He is a hero, but he’s lucky to be one rather than a villain. The rescuers in the first three scenarios are heroes who didn’t cause the circumstances that enabled them to be one. They deserve more praise than Homer, but as long as the imperiled daughter lives, nobody is likely to care.


Spark: Instapundit

Source: The Inquisitor

2 thoughts on “Tales From The Moral Luck Files: The Truck, The Ice, and the Hero

  1. I think that 4 and 5 are all just shortcuts for how reasonable your belief was. 6 is just a subset of those where your belief is unreasonable. 2 parallels 4 and 5 from another perspective. If it was not reasonable for you to say the lake was safe is a very different case from where it was reasonable for you to say the lake was safe.

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