The Picasso Dilemma

People looking at a Picasso painting

The dilemma goes like this. There is a burning building, inside is a child and a Picasso painting. You can only save one, which do you choose?

“What dilemma?” I hear you cry. “There’s no dilemma, OBVIOUSLY you save the child!” Obviously you do…although…hmmm…if you save the Picasso, you could sell it and buy mosquito nets for Africa, potentially saving thousands of children (and before anyone says it, yes I know the Picasso probably wouldn’t be ours to sell, but this isn’t a real scenario people, we’re just discussing the concept!). Saving the Picasso therefore potentially results in a greater good. I came across this dilemma on a BBC news article in December about giving to charity, and it keeps popping back into my mind, so I thought I’d share it with you – hey don’t mention it, it’s what I’m here for!

So the dilemma remains. Even if we accept the logic that saving the Picasso would potentially do more good, if it came to it, if we were really in that position and faced with that decision, how many of us could actually turn our backs on that child that is right in front of us? It’s far easier to turn our backs on the thousands of children in Africa who need us, we can’t see those children, we can’t hear their cries, they’re easier to ignore. Ouch.

What does the decision say about us? Are we being human and compassionate by saving the child in front of us, by reacting to that direct need and cry for help in front of us? Or are we being hugely selfish and just doing that for ourselves, because we couldn’t live with ourselves if we had turned away from the child in need that was right in front of us? But if our instinct is to save the child in front of us, then maybe that is the right decision? After all, our human instincts have evolved to where they are for a reason. Or have we evolved to think beyond our instincts rather than blindly follow them? Which is it?

Goodness, this is pretty intense stuff compared to what usually goes on around here isn’t it. I don’t offer an apology for that though, it’s good sometimes to question ourselves, and what motivates us. Clearly the concept I’m discussing here doesn’t just apply literally, we can no doubt relate it wider.

Any thoughts? (Preferably thoughts related to what I’ve just written about, but not necessarily, I’ll take any thoughts).

While we’re talking about mosquito nets (and this wasn’t the original purpose of writing this post, but it seems a shame to waste the opportunity), if you want to help the fight against malaria, you can donate to the Against Malaria Foundation. A net costs $2.50, and 100% of public donations go on buying nets.

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photo credit: IMG_0951.jpg via photopin (license)

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73 responses to “The Picasso Dilemma

  1. No problem at all. I don’t get Picasso. I think his art is crap. Even if it were more to my taste, I’d still save the child.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Boy, that really got me thinking. I’m going to save the child first, obviously, if I can, and then I’m going back in for the Picasso. And I don’t even like Picasso. If I rescue it, I’m not giving it back to the owners without a reward either, and I’m going to assume that where ever this Picasso is being displayed, there is a fire supression system in place and it won’t be damaged beyond hope anyway.

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  3. It’s been my experience that a person really doesn’t know what they will do given a moment like that until they are IN that moment. But….I would save the child, as it’s a living being. Hell I would save a dog or cat given that same scenario as they are living beings. The painting, eh, it’s just a painting even if it’s a Picasso. Wonder what Picasso would say?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes I agree about not knowing what we would do. Even with situations that are not as significant as saving a life, it always annoys me when people say “If it was me I would do this, or wouldn’t do this” or whatever, because you can never know what you would do until you are in the situation! Yes, certainly any life is more important than an object, but it’s about using the object to save more lives isn’t it. But in the actual moment, it’s the choice between a life and an object, so the life would win!

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  4. I’m not so sure it would even be our conscious decision to make. I don’t know if you’ve read the book ‘Blink,’ but it talks about the decisions our subconscious makes for us in that first fraction of a second. Taking that concept a bit further, we might be genetically programmed to save the most vulnerable person who is in front of us. Our human mind would likely choose a child over a painting, and even if the painting could save many more children, I’m not convinced our mind would let us process that in the heat of danger. Interesting concept for sure.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Deep stuff. You save the child, no question. Doing an evil (letting the child die) to bring about a good (using the Picasso money for Africa) is still morally wrong. Find another way to raise money for Africa that doesn’t involve child sacrifice. Besides, Picasso paintings are ugly. What was with that guy?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes indeed, that way of thinking of it puts it into perspective, that you would be sacrificing a child which is wrong beyond words. Let the Picasso burn and then find other ways to raise money for Africa, I’m with you here!

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  6. Christopher Lampton

    Well, if the fire is in 1890s Austria and the child is named Adolf Schicklgruber, you definitely save the painting, because saving the kid will result in the deaths of millions of people. Then again, Picasso was a teenager then, so it throws the whole question off. Going back to the mosquito net analogy (and to demonstrate how geeky I am), Mr. Spock’s statement at the end of Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan that “the lives of the many outweigh the lives of the few or the one” suggests that you go for the mosquito net alternative and let the kid die, but Spock’s never been very trustworthy on ethical questions. Me, I’d save the kid. He might have rich parents who’d pay a large reward, which could be used to buy mosquito nets.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I like how you’re thinking here! Well Spock always took the logical approach of course, but most of us will take the human approach which would never let us save a painting over a child, even if we’ve thought through the idea of saving more children with the painting.

      Interesting, this post has brought a couple of commenters who I haven’t seen around for a while, nice to see you!

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  7. I think it’s funny that so many people dislike Picasso…makes one wonder how did he get so famous?

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Save the child; child pays it forward by raising thousands to go toward life changing treatment to burn victims; grows up to become a fireman who then saves lives; grows up to be a world famous doctor who gives free services to disadvantaged patients, etc. I’m all for charity worldwide, but we have needy humans in our own backyards. Help those directly in your line of site is no more or less noble than helping those on distant shores. (Just one part of the thoughts your post provoked, thank you 😀)

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    • Yes of course, that’s a good thought, we have no idea what that child might grow up to do, what potential they might have to save the world! If we’re talking about potential, and saving the Picasso is just about the potential it has to save more people, then we must consider the potential of the child too! This post has been interesting, to hear the different thoughts on the dilemma!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. So we save the cat? At least according to the video, I think we do…

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Picasso is not a favorite and though some other painters are, I would always choose the child. I know. I jump to conclusions in that a child has unlimited potential, not that art doesn’t. I’m confused. 😦

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  11. Was the child the one who started the fire? That makes him a bit less sympathetic.

    This is an interesting philosophical dilemma. I grew up in a religious community that did a lot of volunteer work but I always questioned why most of our work was geared towards helping the ‘needy’ in our own community. I wondered if our time and financial resources could go much further in helping the absolute poorest in developing countries. About half the world’s population lives on less than $2 a day and we were helping people who were making twenty or thirty times as much but were considered poor by American standards. I think we’re more inclined to address the small inequities right in front of us than search for the even greater inequities. If we could immediately see the multiple people whose lives could be saved by selling the painting I think we’d choose the painting over the child.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I hadn’t thought that the child could have started the fire! I don’t think that would make me not want to save him though, that would be a pretty harsh punishment. I’m pretty sure the child can be reformed.

      The charity issue that you raise is a huge one isn’t it. It’s very pertinent in Europe at the moment with many people (not me) questioning why we are helping asylum seekers/refugees when there is need at home, but like you say, the need of the refugees is far greater overall than the need of those here. As always, the tabloid press are distinctly unhelpful in these issues, and provide fuel for the ignorant.

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  12. Vanessa there would be no way I could make a choice to watch a child die in front of me. It may be the logical thing to do but then I have never been accused of being terribly logical.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I’d save the child right in front of me. I couldn’t turn my back on a child who needs me. The motherly instincts would kick in! That’s my answer and I’m sticking with it. Good to see you, Vanessa!

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  14. Definitely an interesting dilemma. You asked about humans being compassionate or selfish – of course we are both. But if faced with the dilemma, Carrie’s explanation is right on.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Have you lost your mind? Why dilly-dally with mosquito netting when I can convert those dollars/pounds into orchestra seats in the theater. I’m bloody sick and tired of sitting in the back of the balcony.

    Seriously, though. 10 Picassos aren’t worth the life of a child who’s standing in front of me. What kind of monster would turn their back?

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  16. The Picasso is insured for more than it is worth in views, I have no problem turning my back on it when an actual life is at stake instead.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Interesting dilemma, Vanessa, and I have to say… I don’t know. Since I’m not a trained firefighter, my first response is, “Never run into a burning building.” But, if it were my child, I would most certainly run in there to try and save her; I wouldn’t even consider my safety, never mind the Picasso or item of similar value. Theoretically, the art would be insured to cover its value, so while the world might lose out on a piece of art or cultural history, it’s trumped by the human life. So, I guess my answer is: the immediacy of consequences – or, the power of self-preservation, in the case of it not being my child – wins out in this situation, at least in my brain. Sorry, Pablo. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes we’re always told not to run into a burning building, but I guess if there was a life to save we would make an assessment. I think for the purpose of the dilemma we are to assume that we wouldn’t be putting ourselves at unnecessary risk, it’s just about the the straight choice without other considerations. Ultimately our brain would see it as a choice between a human life and an object, so the life must win.

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  18. I think it would be difficult for most of us to overcome the evolutionary instinct to 1) protect one’s child before someone else’s (or an object) and then 2) protect a known child of one’s group (rather than an object) if one’s own child is safe. But the exercise definitely is food for thought!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes. I think we have to assume for the dilemma that it would not be our own child because clearly there would be no question of any kind of dilemma there! But with another child, it would still as you say be our instinct to save it over an object, even if we know that the object could be used to save many more lives – in the moment we act on what is in front of us.

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  19. It’s not much of a dilemma at all, really. Even when you consider the question on a purely intellectual level, it comes down to either saving a person or saving a thing.

    Yes that thing might be valuable. And, yes that valuable thing could be sold to get money to save many more lives. But money can be acquired in so many ways. Money is common. Money is everywhere. The child in peril is a one-of-a-kind. That makes the child more valuable.

    Moreover, by saving the child, the rescuer can have have his cake and eat it, too; he can save a life AND use his subsequent time and talents to raise money to save the lives of others. And who knows? The rescued child might dedicate his or her life to do the very same thing.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Primum non nocere…first, do no harm. That’s my motto, and I’m stickin’ with it.

    Next question.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. I was going to say what Mike said — but he said it so much better, I’ll just say DITTO!!!!! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Fortunately my kids are now old enough to help “Carry the Picassos” so our impact is 3-fold. Sometimes you need to help first close to home to form the helping habit, or see more directly the difference you make encouraging you to then cast your net wider!

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Baby for sure. I could never save a canvas instead of a life. Now if it was a Monet…. Kidding!

    Liked by 1 person

  24. I think I’d probably end up dying in the fire with the child under one arm and my free hand trying to unhook the painting.

    The needs of the many should outweigh the needs of the few, or the one. (Sorry that is a Spock quote from Start Trek) but our instincts tend to go for the one you can see against the ones that are seemingly far away.

    Thought provoking though.

    Liked by 1 person

  25. No contest. A painting cannot give you a hug and say thank you for saving me.

    Liked by 1 person

  26. I love these kinds of questions because if you really talk it over you get a glimpse of so much about a person. My friends and I used to play the question game all the time. We don’t know what that child may grow up to be. Could be a murderer or a life saving scientist. I guess in the moment one life counts for more than a painting even if that painting could eventually be sold to save 1000s of lives. Now it it was a 50 unknown children vs. one you love…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, at the time the life is always going to trump the object isn’t it, and whatever the situation, a child you live is always going to trump 50 unknown ones. These are interesting questions to talk about aren’t they.

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  27. Frankly, I don’t see any dilemma at all. It’s an interesting topic for conversation, but there isn’t any real choice.

    Human life vs stuff.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well clearly if it’s a straight choice between human life and stuff then human life will always win, but it’s the dilemma over the possible many more lives that could be saved by the stuff vs the one life. But yes, at the time it’s a choice between human life and stuff, so no choice!

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  28. There is no dilemma here. If your goal is to save as many lives as possible save the Picasso. But if your goal is to save the one child then do it. It’s really a what would you choose and why. I’d choose the child because I’d tell his ass to grow to save more lives then I could have with the Picasso. However he’s free to ignore me.

    Liked by 1 person

  29. Let the Picasso burn, collect the insurance, and donate that to mosquito nets or whatever. There, now you can have both.

    Liked by 1 person

  30. But the saved child could go on to save millions of lives by making some vaccine, or even improving your mosquito netting.

    Besides, if the fires so bad you got a choice, the paintings probably already damaged and you arent guaranteed to get much from it if its burnt and wet by the time it gets out.
    But that child could go on to do great things,especially knowing some strangers saved their lives and they dont want to let that good deed go to waste.

    Liked by 1 person

  31. Love the post💗 I would get the child first and then
    I would definitely get one of Picasso’s paintings and sell it so I can help other people who need help.
    Also please check out my blog at gymnasticspirit! I am kind of new Thanks!

    Like

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