In thinking about moral dilemmas, I came across this little video that describes what’s called the trolley problem.
Briefly, you’re near the junction of some train tracks. Five people are tied to one track, one to the other. A runaway trolley is headed for the junction. The switch is set so that the trolley will go down the track with the five people on it. You can move the switch so the five survive and only the one person dies.
This is a dilemma that often comes up in fiction. Do you sacrifice one for the many? Allow just a few people to die to save many more?
The video explains the decision-making process in terms of rational thought or emotional thought.
Someone could rationally decide that saving five is better than saving one. Or you could reason emotionally that you wouldn’t be able to live with yourself if you killed the one person by your actions.
Either way, the reasoning of the person would be influenced by their worldview. We can see this come out in stories like The Lord of the Rings. Aragorn led his army to what seemed to be certain defeat and death. He reasoned this was the only way Frodo would have to destroy the ring and with it, their evil enemy Sauron. Aragorn was willing to sacrifice the lives of many to wipe out evil.
A more utilitarian leader would have reasoned any life was better than none, and better to be alive under Sauron than march to death, pinning all hope on a hobbit.
While the utilitarian may have appeared more rational, he only considered the immediate impact on his life, the practical outcomes, rather than the larger question of good and evil.
And he wouldn’t have been nearly as awesome a hero as Aragorn.