A role-playing exercise for those interested in difficult ethical and sociological questions, or for instilling an interest in those not yet aware of them. A group of people takes on a variety of social roles and personalities, and then pretends to be in a situation in which some members of the group must die if the others are to live: for example, fifteen people are lost in rough seas on a lifeboat built for nine, so, if we naively ignore the practical question of what the "real" safe limit is in order to get at the ethical meat of the problem, six must be ejected to drown so that the other nine may survive. In general, each person is expected to argue that their own virtues outweigh their faults, and the whole group votes to rank each person in order of their value to society.
The roles are generally chosen so that there are certain obvious answers, but enough leeway is left that thorough consideration may reverse one's first impressions: what if, for example, the doctor is a gynecologist who (depending on the group's bias) performs many late-term abortions or browbeats young pregnant girls into carrying the product of rape to term? What if the "gangland killer" defends himself as one who assassinates only criminals, keeping order within the extralegal economy and, if only incidentally, protecting law-abiding citizens? While the prostitute is breaking the law, is she really hurting anyone? Does she, perhaps, provide comfort to the lonely? Does she wreck homes or merely provide escape from wreckage that is already there?
The lesson one is meant to take away from this is simple: life is complicated. We can't afford to dismiss others out of hand or venerate them blindly; rather, it is necessary to look at everyone (especially ourselves) critically and make judgments only after due consideration.