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Would it be moral to kill Hitler as a baby

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I know we can get technical, and ask questions about context/choice/feasibility, but please focus on the idea at hand...do the ends ever justify the means?

If yes, does that mean that objectivism has an element of utilitarianism?

If no, isn't that anti-human life?

What a bunch of rationalist dreck. Utilitarianism is only anti human life BECAUSE the ends do not, in fact, "justify" the means. You can't say "X is bad according to Objectivism because it contradicts the requirements for human life, in this impossible hypothetical situation I made up, Objectivism would, in my twisted imaginings, seem to lead to the same conclusions as X, does that mean Objectivism is X and therefore anti-life?"

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Can anyone tell me the objectivist position on the ends justifying the means?

I know this is another silly life boat scenario, but hear me out:

Let's say you were alive in 1890. Hitler was one year old. Somehow, you knew that this baby was going to kill millions. Would it be moral to kill the baby? I know we can get technical, and ask questions about context/choice/feasibility, but please focus on the idea at hand...do the ends ever justify the means?

If yes, does that mean that objectivism has an element of utilitarianism?

If no, isn't that anti-human life?

The Objectivist ethics does give you answers to important questions, and you have asked some important ones here. But your secenario is unreal. There is no answer to it, because it has no basis in reality -- the premise is based on an impossibility. So in order to get something useful out of morality, consider real, reasonably likely cases. And in the meantime:

Objectivism rejects the ends justifying the means. Actions are morally evaluated by their implication for human life, not by how some series of events turned out at some arbitrary point. Thus, Objectivism is not utilitarian at all. Rather, its moral focus is on the individual, not the collective. A morality that places the individual as the fundamental unit recognizes an essential fact of reality: that man functions as an individual, and he therefore needs of code of values geared towards a successful life as just that -- an individual. That is a morality that is human, and anything that fails to recognize man's nature is inhuman.

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"We are assuming here that you know for sure he will kill millions."

I wouldn't hesitate a second.

Look we aren't living in the real world here - these 'emergency ethics' scenarios are always unlikely and extreme, and this one is as extreme as it gets.

For this scenario to make any sense, J.Bond has insisted that the outcome of baby Hitler's life is 100% certain. Whatever one does to avert the outcome - locking him up, letting him grow up in a Buddhist monastery, or whatever ..... he still manages to fulfill his 'destiny', and be the instigator of millions of deaths. And YOU KNOW IT.

So it's either a matter of putting a bullet between his pretty blue eyes right now, or putting one between my own 50 years later, when events transpire the way they did, and the guilt of not doing what I should have done, makes it impossible to live with myself.

To allow him to live would constitute a sacrifice, as my life holds more value than his.

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The O.P. didn't say anything about time travel - he said "Let's say you were alive in 1890"..

and you know what was going to happen.

I think the only life-affirming, rational action is to kill the baby.

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Why not go back to Hadar in Ethiopia, kill Lucy and save us all the trouble of that pesky evolutionary thingy.

Because maybe Lucy was so ugly the other pre-hominids woulnd't even come close to her, let lone breed with her. So maybe killing Lucy acomlpishes nothing but a needless homicide :P

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It's more important to recognize that the question is nonsense and does not merit mental focus than to try to tweak it to eke out a jot of moral understanding. The question does have value: an epistemological one, illustrating the identity of the impossible and the futility of analyzing it, as opposed an ethical value, which with this scenario, is zilch.

Edited by KurtColville
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Another thing: why not kill the adolescent Hitler, or better yet Corporal Hitler during WWI? Why specifically kill Hitler when he is a baby? Or even how about slipping his mother some birth control pills? Or even kidnapping her and give her a Norplant contraceptive or an IUD? Why the need to specifically kill a baby? I think there's something disturbing about the question.

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I just want to add that the refusal to treat such impossible cases seriously isn't the result of a huffy, snotty indignance towards "out-of-the-box" challenges, but rather a serious respect for your own mind, a respect for man's means of cognition, and a supreme respect for the nature of the world that you live in.

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Thanks to the people who've actually answered the question..so about %10 of the posters here.

What a bunch of rationalist dreck. Utilitarianism is only anti human life BECAUSE the ends do not, in fact, "justify" the means. You can't say "X is bad according to Objectivism because it contradicts the requirements for human life, in this impossible hypothetical situation I made up, Objectivism would, in my twisted imaginings, seem to lead to the same conclusions as X, does that mean Objectivism is X and therefore anti-life?"

Ok JMS, here's a another more realistic scenario, if you like. An innocent/brainwashed man is working at a nuclear missile site in North Korea. He has tripped and is falling right onto the red button that launches nukes at Seoul. You know hundreds of thousands of people will die. You, JMS, happen to be a spy with a sniper gun, and are in the building. Do you shoot this innocent man, knocking his body away from the button and to the floor, preventing the launch sequence? On the one hand, you are killing an innocent man. On the other hand, you are saving hundreds of thousands of innocent lives. I'm asking these preposterous questions because I'm interested to see what parts of utilitarian ideas are rational, even if most of it is bunk.

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So this scenario is less ridiculous because you are sighted in on a scientist, not a military target, and have enough definition and reaction speed to see the button, know what it does, and be able to shoot the guy in the roughly second he falls. But wait sniper bullets have less than instantaneous velocity so by the time you realized and/or fired the action would be done and you would have accomplished nothing.

Also these ridiculous questions answer nothing since they are impossible. A man's life is his own, precognition is nonexistent, violence cannot be initiated but can only be used in self defense.

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It's kind of amusing to me how many people explained that the question was absurd.
Well, it might be clear to you that you want your example to test the "innocent bystander" idea. However, as stated it would not test the idea. Your new example is much, much better, but is still a bit complicated. Just state it as an "innocent bystander" example, with a single person being killed. This person does not have to the actor at all; nor do millions have to die.

Sure, you may kill an innocent, even if he is not going to start a series of events that end up killing hundreds or thousands. He could just be killing one person. This assumes a certain context. For instance (one example) if you are not part of the causal chain that led this innocent to this, then one would have to know more. However, don;t confuse such an action as being part of Objectivism. Check out this thread for some discussion, and some leads.

Also, search for "Ethics of Emergencies" (title of a Rand essay). You'll find some previous discussion on the forum.

...I'm interested to see what parts of utilitarian ideas are rational, even if most of it is bunk.
How would you describe the essential idea(s) of utilitarianism? Edited by softwareNerd
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Ok JMS, here's a another more realistic scenario, if you like. An innocent/brainwashed man is working at a nuclear missile site in North Korea. He has tripped and is falling right onto the red button that launches nukes at Seoul. You know hundreds of thousands of people will die. You, JMS, happen to be a spy with a sniper gun, and are in the building. Do you shoot this innocent man, knocking his body away from the button and to the floor, preventing the launch sequence?

I'd like to see the sniper that can react to a man tripping fast enough to determine where the man will fall. Also the bullet that is capable of altering the trajectory of a falling human body. I think you'd need something like a half pound slug at near supersonic speeds. The weapon that handles that round would be rather difficult to lug around.

You want something realistic? try this:

A thug is holding people hostage, say he has them tied up inside a building. He threatens to shoot them all. At one point he comes out hiding behind a hostage (one he has untied for the purpose). You can shoot him and end things right there, but you risk killing the hostage as well. What do you do?

You want somethign better? You lead a nation during a cruel, long war. At some point you gain the ability to read some of the enemies encrypted communications. One intercepts tells of the upcoming bombing of one of your cities full of civilians. You can order the place evacuated, but then the enemy will know you've broken his cipher and will change it, rendering future operations more difficult. What do you do?

the thing about this hypothetical is that it isn't one. Churchill faced that choice after GB cracked the Enigma cipher.

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One is either going to entertain the opening topic completely, and give it some respect - no matter how ridiculous it may seem - and apply one's mind to the 'facts and reality' supplied; or dismiss it from the very start.

I think that J.Bond posed his question carefully to elicit some interesting responses. For instance, he posed Hitler as a baby - knowing that it would be too easy an answer if it was an older Hitler (say a corporal in WW1) where it's very likely that more posters would have less problem with 'offing' him.

It seems that out of squeamishness, some replies were rationalistic, or evasive of the 'true facts' supplied.

There is nothing Utilitarian about it. Given the information we have, there can only be one rationally moral 'final solution'. As I said, it's either that, or never face oneself again.

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One is either going to entertain the opening topic completely, and give it some respect - no matter how ridiculous it may seem - and apply one's mind to the 'facts and reality' supplied; or dismiss it from the very start.

The facts of reality are that you cannot travel backward in time nor know future events in advance.

There are many otehr, better examples of the question posed: did Israel have a right to pre-emptively attck neighboring Arab countries in 1967? Does America have the right to rpe-emptively attack Iran and North Korea to keep them frfom developing nukes? Why go to impossible hypotheticals?

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How would you describe the essential idea(s) of utilitarianism?

I think this is really the crucial question. Objectivism is not intrinsicism -- actions are not inherently 'good' or 'bad' independent of their consequences. Nor are actions evaluated solely on the basis of their consequences -- two actions which lead to the same proximate result may have very different moral standing when assessed in their full context. In particular, immoral means are never acceptable precisely because -- when evaluated over the long term, all things considered -- they turn out to be impractical.

There's another element of Objectivist moral reasoning that is relevant here, which is different from the 'standard' way people usually approach these sorts of questions. Objectivism takes the view that the purpose of ethics is not to tell us what actions to take in specific cases but rather to tell us what principles to use to guide our actions in specific cases. The difference is subtle, but important. Actions should always be based on principles, which means that when faced with a difficult situation one should ask "What principles apply to this case?" rather than simply "What should I do?"

Take the new case provided by the OP of the falling scientist in the North Korean nuclear facility. What principles apply in this sort of case? The North Korean government is a hostile totalitarian regime threatening residents of another peaceful nation. The sniper is, ex hypothesi, an agent of one of the governments of those threatened nations, tasked with defending the rights of those citizens from force initiated against them. The set of principles that apply here are therefore those that apply in war. In general, those principles state that the moral responsibility for the injury and death of innocent bystanders in the course of military operations falls on those who started the war -- in this example, the North Korean government.

This principle applies in other military settings in which civilians are injured or killed in the course of military operations. Examples are easy to find in history. Dropping the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The firebombing of Tokyo. Sherman's march to the sea. Israeli strikes on military targets placed in schools and hospitals by Islamic totalitarian terrorist groups. Etc.

The conclusion in this case is that the sniper would be justified in shooting the scientist -- but the reasoning is not the simplistic utilitarian 'one life vs. many' trade-off approach.

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One is either going to entertain the opening topic completely, and give it some respect - no matter how ridiculous it may seem - and apply one's mind to the 'facts and reality' supplied; or dismiss it from the very start.again.

Those are hardly the only two alternatives. My approach was to take the putative 'facts and reality' seriously, draw logical inferences from them, and identify that they are internally contradictory. At that point, one can no longer apply one's mind to it because reasoning from a contradiction is literally impossible, and dismissing it is not only permissible but epistemologically mandatory.

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Thanks to the people who've actually answered the question..so about %10 of the posters here.

Ok JMS, here's a another more realistic scenario, if you like. An innocent/brainwashed man is working at a nuclear missile site in North Korea. He has tripped and is falling right onto the red button that launches nukes at Seoul. You know hundreds of thousands of people will die. You, JMS, happen to be a spy with a sniper gun, and are in the building. Do you shoot this innocent man, knocking his body away from the button and to the floor, preventing the launch sequence? On the one hand, you are killing an innocent man. On the other hand, you are saving hundreds of thousands of innocent lives. I'm asking these preposterous questions because I'm interested to see what parts of utilitarian ideas are rational, even if most of it is bunk.

But making up ridiculous extreme hypotheticals does not help find out anything about whether an idea is rational or not.

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I'll just point out that there is no "red button" in a missile launch site. It takes a specific set of codes and two men with keys acting simultaneously to initiate a launch sequence. The shiny red button exists only in Ren and Stimpy cartoons.

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Another thing: why not kill the adolescent Hitler, or better yet Corporal Hitler during WWI? Why specifically kill Hitler when he is a baby? Or even how about slipping his mother some birth control pills? Or even kidnapping her and give her a Norplant contraceptive or an IUD? Why the need to specifically kill a baby? I think there's something disturbing about the question.

I speculate that 007 here is mulling over acting out some anti-social fantasy and is seeking philosophical sanction.

Edited by Mister A
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I speculate that 007 here is mulling over acting out some anti-social fantasy and is seeking philosophical sanction.

I don't think there's any need to get personal. The most likely explanation is that the question is intended to set up and explore a perceived tension between two values. For this to work, the stakes have to be high: kill a baby or let millions die. You see similar kinds of questions in professional philosophical literature all the time.

There's no evidence of anything psychological going on here, and introducing such speculation is frankly both pointless and rude.

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Can anyone tell me the objectivist position on the ends justifying the means?

I know this is another silly life boat scenario, but hear me out:

Let's say you were alive in 1890. Hitler was one year old. Somehow, you knew that this baby was going to kill millions. Would it be moral to kill the baby? I know we can get technical, and ask questions about context/choice/feasibility, but please focus on the idea at hand...do the ends ever justify the means?

If yes, does that mean that objectivism has an element of utilitarianism?

If no, isn't that anti-human life?

Nothing resulting from this scenario can have anything to say about Objectivism's application in this universe. Certainty about a future event is not possible in reality. In reality, the point at which we are CERTAIN someone will violate rights is the exact same point in time at which they BECOME guilty for doing so, because this is the instant they ACT in order to do it. One might find it interesting to contemplate the given scenario, but such lines of thought do not really say anything about practicable Objectivism.

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