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Would it be moral to kill Hitler as a baby

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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 position is that the ends do NOT justify the means.

The Objectivist position is that rational moral principles - based on the nature of man's life, life as the ultimate value and man's life as the standard of value - defines and sanctions the specific means for specific ends.

For details on this read Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand by Leonard Peikoff or listen to his lecture "Why Should One Act on Principle?" available for free for registered users at www.AynRand.org. If you are not a registered user then you can register for free here.

To say and even imply that Objectivism is in any way "anti-human life" is only ridiculous. It is only possible to come to that conclusion - or even imply it - if you leave reality all together and start with out of context, rationalistic fantazies.

That is why your "thought experiment" is wrong and impossible in every essential respect.

A thought experiment, if properly conducted, is only valid and relevant either as a mean of understanding something or a mean of proving something.

But in this case it serves neither of these ends because you cannot understand or prove anything if it has no connection to reality whatsoever.

A rational, true philosophy tells you what you should do in reality, not in an impossible fantazy. It also helps you understand reality. A rational and true philosophy do not have to live up to the impossible and unreal.

A proper thought experiment is about reality: it is essentially about integration and differentiation of concretes, i.e., of things or aspects of reality. (For details on this point see Harry Binswanger's lecture Psycho-Epistemology II.)

Thus, even in regard to "thought experiments," the idea that "the end justifies the means" is false.

Edited by knast
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But that's it ! Don't you see that it is just a game?

No.

“Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” - Aristotle

Attempting to wrestle with these impossible contradictory scenarios merely establishes a bad habit in your own mind. You harm yourself by treating either clairvoyance or determinism as real, or morality as a game.

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Attempting to wrestle with these impossible contradictory scenarios merely establishes a bad habit in your own mind. You harm yourself by treating either clairvoyance or determinism as real, or morality as a game.

Or, to put the point somewhat differently, you don't need to play a game just because it's there. As with everything else in life, games should be played for a reason. What's the reason to play this one?

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No.

“Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” - Aristotle

Attempting to wrestle with these impossible contradictory scenarios merely establishes a bad habit in your own mind. You harm yourself by treating either clairvoyance or determinism as real, or morality as a game.

That is a grand quote, one of my all-time favourites; I've done my damndest to live up to it for a long time.

On the second part, I understand the reasons for your reproof. However, it probably depends on the individual; and a shaky grasp of reality is (certainly) much less prevalent on an O'ist forum, than it would be anywhere else.

All I can say is that I have established confidence in my own mind's capability to handle unreality.

Now why play a game .....?

A game can push you to limits you didn't know you had.

It has outcomes that can be surprising and unpredictable.

It is one more way we can exchange value for value.

Nobody has to lose, or at least we'll check out our fitness (read 'premises') in the process.

[Even those who refused to jump into this one, couldn't resist, and made several posts - ALRIGHT, GIVE ME THAT DAMN BALL! :o ]

How about O.O. dedicates a section to nothing but 'lifeboat scenarios'? I'm changing my mind on these things....

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Now why play a game .....?

It's not a game when it's posted in Questions about Objectivism and nowhere in the original post does it state it's a game. Rather it can be a means to extract some sort of contradiction, or an admission that sometimes sacrifices can be all right.

Consider, if you could prevent the deaths of 50 million people, would you? Without details, the natural answer is "Of course!" But given details, like where, when and how, it may not be so simple a question.

How about O.O. dedicates a section to nothing but 'lifeboat scenarios'? I'm changing my mind on these things....

Second.

On the other hand, isn't that what the trash section is for :o

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Man these contradiction games sure are useful...

They're really only useful as fodder for philosophical detection. How many of the implicit contradictions can you identify? It's useful practice for premise-checking. Although I doubt that was the original intent, insofar as identifications of the contradictions in the premises usually provoke accusations of 'missing the point' or 'evading the question'.

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Rather than worry about time-travel or destiny, it might be better to rephrase the question.

You are on a runaway bus, with no way to stop. As the bus approaches an intersection, you see 2 groups of people (unmoving and oblivious). The first group, on the left, has 3 people, the second, on the right, has 2. It appears that if you shift the wheel either way (left or right), you will kill that group, leaving the other unharmed. If, however, you do not touch the wheel, both groups will die. What do you do?

Or, perhaps another way.

You are in a basement, and a mad-man killer is right above you. With your group of 5 people is a baby who is on the verge of crying. The walls are thin and there is no doubt that if the baby cries, the killer will surely know your location. You will be defenseless, and will die. Thus, the only way to save the 5 people and the baby is to kill the baby. What do you do?

Now we can get at the issue at hand: do the ends justify the means?

Edited by dclynch
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Now we can get at the issue at hand: do the ends justify the means?

Do you think there's something missing from the answer I originally gave to that question earlier in the thread? For ease of access, I'll repost it below.

I think we need to draw a distinction between two senses of the question. The nature of an end determines the nature of the means required to achieve it. That's a straightforward application of the laws of identity and causality: the actions required to reach a goal depend on what the goal is. It is almost impossible to answer questions about means ("Why are you doing that?") without appealing to ends ("Because I'm trying to accomplish X."). In that sense, ends are a key component in the justification of means. Indeed it is difficult to see how any action could even be identified as a "means" without reference to some end. A means *to what*?

The above sense of justification is the one that makes the notion of ends justifying means seem attractive. But that is not the sense in which the phrase is typically used. Usually, when people ask the question, they want to know whether an otherwise immoral means can be justified by a putatively desirable-enough end. In that sense, the Objectivist answer to the question is unequivocally "no". Rather, the selection of an immoral means invalidates the end to which it is putatively directed.

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You are on a runaway bus, with no way to stop. As the bus approaches an intersection, you see 2 groups of people (unmoving and oblivious). The first group, on the left, has 3 people, the second, on the right, has 2. It appears that if you shift the wheel either way (left or right), you will kill that group, leaving the other unharmed. If, however, you do not touch the wheel, both groups will die. What do you do?

First I'd down-shift all the gears to reduce speed, then try the parking brake. All the while I'd be blowing the horn like crazy and would even get my head out the window and yell "GET OUT OF THE WAY!!"

Or, perhaps another way.

You are in a basement, and a mad-man killer is right above you. With your group of 5 people is a baby who is on the verge of crying. The walls are thin and there is no doubt that if the baby cries, the killer will surely know your location. You will be defenseless, and will die. Thus, the only way to save the 5 people and the baby is to kill the baby. What do you do?

That was in an episode of MASH, only it was North Korean troops rather than a mad- oh, never mind!

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You are in a basement, and a mad-man killer is right above you. With your group of 5 people is a baby who is on the verge of crying. The walls are thin and there is no doubt that if the baby cries, the killer will surely know your location. You will be defenseless, and will die. Thus, the only way to save the 5 people and the baby is to kill the baby. What do you do?

Let the baby cry and put the mother with the baby at the opposite end of the room, then organize the group of people around the door, and when the killer comes we ambush him. Unless he's a fricking porcupine, we'll tear him limb from limb before he has a chance to react.

Defenseless my toosh.

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You are on a runaway bus, with no way to stop. As the bus approaches an intersection, you see 2 groups of people (unmoving and oblivious). The first group, on the left, has 3 people, the second, on the right, has 2. It appears that if you shift the wheel either way (left or right), you will kill that group, leaving the other unharmed. If, however, you do not touch the wheel, both groups will die. What do you do?

Without any details regarding these people, the rhetorical question is thus: Will one person live or die?

Also, D'kian and kainscalia, I find your replies mocking. If you think the dilemma is absurd, then dismiss it and explain why. Rewriting it is tantamount to spam.

Edited by L-C
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Also, D'kian and kainscalia, I find your replies mocking. If you think the dilemma is absurd, then dismiss it and explain why. Rewriting it is tantamount to spam.

I explained why. A runaway vehicle, one whose brakes have failed, still has a working horn and parking brake. Not to mention you could also try to take it off the road.

The second answer was mockery. But it was an episode of MASH, too, near the end of its run.

Look, you want ethical dilemmas reagrding choices that determine whether a person lives or dies, look up medical literature, rescue procedures and other such emergencies. How many people die for lack of transpalnt organs? Who decides who gets what organs and how could such decisions be made differently? Why invent unlikely, implausisible scenarios when reality, as susual, serves well enough?

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Look, you want ethical dilemmas reagrding choices that determine whether a person lives or dies, look up medical literature, rescue procedures and other such emergencies. How many people die for lack of transpalnt organs? Who decides who gets what organs and how could such decisions be made differently? Why invent unlikely, implausisible scenarios when reality, as susual, serves well enough?

Now we're talking.

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Also, D'kian and kainscalia, I find your replies mocking. If you think the dilemma is absurd, then dismiss it and explain why. Rewriting it is tantamount to spam.

The dilemma is absurd because you are implying that the only actions here is either getting killed or smothering the baby (perhaps leading to a new 'Don't Smother The Baby' campaign) when, in reality, FIVE people properly deployed could slow down a killer (you have one for each limb PLUS his head or groin, for crying out loud). The scenario is ridiculous because it rests on an unrealistic "Get killed or Smother the baby" option, when any PROPER scenario should have simply outlined the situation and then asked "What do you do?" but instead the scenario was outlined like a PS3 horror survival game: "You will be defenseless, and will die." The ONLY way you can get people to answer to this stupid scenario the way you want them to is to pretend they have no other choice when, in fact, they have many... heck, they're in a Basement! I am yet to see a basement that is devoid of at least ONE item that could be used as a weapon.

Lifeboat scenarios are ridiculous and idiotic because they force you to choose between two options when a myriad options are available to the person who can think fast enough. The Hitler scenario is ludicrous, too, since for it to happen you need either ESP or magic to exist- and so if we are going that far, my addition of Unicorns is perfectly acceptable. Maybe you found my replies mocking because they are mocking - I think the absurd is something worth mocking when it is trying to take itself seriously. I have no problem with the absurd in, say, The Naked Gun, and I think that's where it should stay.

Edited by kainscalia
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Lifeboat scenarios are ridiculous and idiotic because they force you to choose between two options when a myriad options are available to the person who can think fast enough.

Right. The only usefulness I see for such contrived scenarios are for games and logical/mathematical problems. Like the guard who always lies and the one who always tells the truth, or the problem of getting three canibals and three missionaries across the river in a boat. These things can be fun and, to a lesser degree, provide excercise for the mind. As such they are like chess problems, or riddles: simple diversions with little or no real consequences.

In addition, if philosophy, and therefore ethics, is a system that is applied to life on this world, then you can't apply it to contrived, unrealistic scenarios and hope to get anything useful. Hypothetical examples are all well and good, but invariably these are based on real situations (like, "I have a friend who..." when one usually means one's self).

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I just thought of a similar hypothetical that may be less obnoxious:

Suppose there is a fatal virus that can potentially kill billions. An infant boy is discovered to be the only one immune. However, the only way to produce a vaccine is to harvest the boy's heart and kill him.

Granted, this is just as extreme and unlikely (and probably contradictory to what we can do with modern medicine) but at least there are no faulty metaphysical premises like time travel, determinism and omniscience.

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I just thought of a similar hypothetical that may be less obnoxious:

Suppose there is a fatal virus that can potentially kill billions. An infant boy is discovered to be the only one immune. However, the only way to produce a vaccine is to harvest the boy's heart and kill him.

Granted, this is just as extreme and unlikely (and probably contradictory to what we can do with modern medicine) but at least there are no faulty metaphysical premises like time travel, determinism and omniscience.

Better, but still too far-fetched.

1) It's extremely unlikely only one person, be it a boy, man, infant, baby or geezer, would be the only person out of six billion to have immunity to any disease.

2) Even if we grant the immunity premise, you don't really know harvesting his heart will actually help in producing a vaccine. You'd suspect it, perhaps, or have good reason to believe so. But you'd still need to carry out tests which may fail.

3) Vaccines always involve the offending organism, a close relation to it (like the small-pox cow-pox duo), or a piece of the organism. Maybe vaccines could be developed of synthetic analogs of the organism or of pieces of it. But no one has ever made a vaccine out of someone's tissue.

So there :dough:

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