Is it right to kill one person to save the lives of many? (locked)

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This has been bothering me, and I would like to see what opinions you have. For example: You could somehow travel back in time and meet baby hitler. He hasn’t done anything wrong yet, he’s just playing happily. You could either let him go and face the consequences of the holocaust, knowing you could have stopped it, or you could kill him then and there, and have to live with the fact that you killed an innocent child. What would you do?

 
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Right – no?

Justified? I don’t know.

It’s hardly discussable as it refers to very subjective aspects of morality/ethics.


We’ll most probably end up in battle of ‘opinions’.

 
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Yes I would kill baby Hitler, although I would have no idea what unintended side effects it might have on the future. So if I can use this time machine repeatedly that might mean at least several other trips to deal with unintended consequences of killing baby Hitler, as well as time travel paradoxes made along the way.
I figure we could probably make a pretty entertaining 30 minute cartoon out of it.

 
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Dude, “baby Hitler” is no innocent child.

 
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Originally posted by karmakoolkid:

Dude, “baby Hitler” is no innocent child.

At that point, I would argue that he was. However, I have my doubts that simply killing Hitler would’ve prevented WW2. Some other incredibly nationalist leader with a lot of charisma would’ve probably done something similar.

 
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He wasn’t innocent if he was destined to become himself.
And, there are always alternative leaders in the shadows.

 
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I would not kill baby hitler, and I would actively resist any well, frankly, moron who tries to do so. Yes, the person he became was a monster, and many millions died. But at the same time, fighting him radically and permantely changed the landscape of our technology. Even the German war-machine changed the landscape of our technology.

That computer you’re using? You can thank the Collossus project at Bletchley Park for it. Even Alan Turing, the father of computing himself, worked on that project, and it was directly responsible for ushering in the modern computing age, and everything that came with it.

The space age? You can thank the German V2 rocket program. They were the first, and the researchers involved were what really made both superpowers’ space race possible.

Penicillin was discovered shortly before the war, but the war was the sole reason research on it’s effects on humans was carried out. Without the war, funding for it simply wasn’t there. It was desperately needed and the pharmaceutical giants worked together. All disease-fighting drugs originate from there.


In short, whilst a lot of suffering was created as a direct result of Hitler’s actions, a boatload of progress was created as well. Progress that has redefined our world, and continues to do so. I for one believe it was definitely worth the exchange, and would not wish to see that undone.

 
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But what if it was something that didn’t have any major impact on the world except the death of a bunch of people? For example, an kind old man is unintentionally blocking an entrance to a burning building or something, and lets just pretend the only way for him to move is you killing him. If you killed him,there would be no major impact on the world besides the life of a hundred people or something. But I have been thinking, what if some of the people you saved go on to invent things extremely beneficial to other people? That way, you wouldn’t need warfare to force us to make medicine and stuff. Of course, it’s only a small chance, but if by some chance killing baby hitler prevented the holocaust, don’t you think that at lest some of the millions of people who would have lived eventually make helpful things as well?

 
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Well DUUUU. Of course its right. You could sacrifice yourself to save the whole human race or you could not do it and die anyways along with everyone else…. this is simple…

 
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don’t you think that at lest some of the millions of people who would have lived eventually make helpful things as well?

No, it doesn’t work that way.

Without crisis, without adversity, without a severe and pressing need, the resources for these gamechanging projects just aren’t allocated. The last war, the one against Afganistan and Iraq, was the same way. Too many soldiers were coming home with limbs blown off, so the US Luke Arm project was funded to try and replace those limbs. It was the first attempt to make smart prosthetics in the USA since the 1940s. There just hadn’t been the perceived need before, so the field (along with anyone who had actually lost an arm) was left to rot. The company I work for, Touch Bionics, had developed a smart prosthetic limb, but we were struggling to stay afloat to develop it further as the money just wasn’t there. When the war came along and the need was urgently there, money started being thrown at us from all directions.

If we didn’t have these wars, this conflict, there would be no real need to fund grand advances. It’s only when the urgency of conflict is involved that such new, untested methods become financially viable.

I referred to penicillin before. Alex Flemming discovered it in the late 1920s. He struggled for over 15 years to get enough funding to use it. It was only after the war broke out that his discovery was taken at all seriously – because there was now the very urgent need for it, in saving soldiers. In helping the war machine run.

Thanks to Penicillin, the human death toll from disease is approx a twentieth of what it was as recently as the 1930s. So, I’ll flip your question on it’s head; do you feel that stopping the holocaust and saving tens of millions of lives, is worth losing the tens of millions of lives that just one of the war-resultant abilities saved? I’m not even going to touch on abilities gained as a result of computer technology, or satellite tech. Just looking at on of them.

Tens of millions of lives lost if you don’t stop him. Tens of millions of lives lost if you do stop him. Probably hundreds of millions of lives lost total if you do stop him, and the complete loss of almost every element of our modern civilisation. We’d still be isolated and mostly separate in our own individual countries without satellite and space tech, which would exponentially slow the rate of innovation even further.

Which side do you prefer to stand on?

 
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Hot damn….I’m a gonna declare war on the GOP and kill me a bunch of Republicans so the Koch Bros. will finance a whole new generation of miracle thingys. Well, besides all the wonders wrought by inventions of better killing machinery.

OR, just maybe we might be satisfied w/ the slow progress being made via the moral way.

 
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Spoc’s dying words: "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.

 
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It depends what is at stake. Should you get the opportunity to dispose of a scum, then yes because he’s an impediment to society. But if you have 10 perfectly innocents persons that are all going to die, and the only way to save them is to kill off one of them, it’s way more complicated. The answer is also yes, but that brings another question: who dies? Nobody can judge the value of their lives. You can’t really answer this second question and the victim would likely be chosen at random, unless one of them volunteer.

Now for the baby Hitler example. Remember he’s human and wasn’t born a monster. The experiences he lived and the politics around him had an effect in his life. You could try changing this instead, and it wouldn’t be really hard since you can somehow travel back in time. Also, killing Hitler wouldn’t prevent the second World War because many things led to war and not just the Nazis, something else would have sparked the conflict eventually anyway.

This is a good topic btw, very thought-provoking.

 
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Originally posted by teh_hobo:

Spoc’s dying words: "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.

Perhaps time travel isn’t the best scenario to test that moral principle, you know because unintended consequences of changing anything in the past and the whole ’butterfly effect", not to mention time travel paradoxes or the possibility of makeing multiple trips back in time to correct any mistakes you made messing around with the time line previously.

 
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Originally posted by karmakoolkid:

OR, just maybe we might be satisfied w/ the slow progress being made via the moral way.

Not even remotely.

A good one to watch at the moment is self-driving cars. If we can push so eventually all cars are driving themselves, we can end the problems with drunk, high, or inattentive drivers. That tech too is wholly war-derivative. The original DARPA grand challenges and Urban challenge were what pushed development of such vehicles into high gear. Original purpose was to automate supply trucks so human casualties in supply runs could be eliminated. From there a wide plethora of other uses grew.

War is always a great stimulant to progress. Yes, like all stimulants you can overdo it, but it serves as a kick up the rear to those with money (on whatever side of a conflict) to invest in new ideas and new ways of doing things when the need is greatest.

 
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It’s always nice to do a little urban renewal to make way for the huge advances brought about by war…..which just might have been produced anyway. I don’t see our drug companies any too worried about war’s necessity for their bottom lines.

If this shit about having no funding for research, etc. is to hold any serious water, we need to take into consideration the mind-boggling amount of money spent on a war.

It is my understanding that most anything (even the new) other than ships stayed in the Pacific Theater….jeeps, tanks, artillery, trucks, etc. Uncle Sam (the business boys) esp. didn’t want anything that would compete w/ new productions (vehicles) causing a post war slump.

vika’s penchant for medicine has to be tempered w/ reality.

 
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The reality is that vast amounts of money are poured into a war, as you just admitted yourself. That includes money for anything that could give a given side an advantage, or combat an advantage another side already has. Active war or cold war, it makes no difference.

Concepts not even given a fighting chance in peacetime are on the table during a war. After the war, derivative technological development increases, because the basic idea was seen to work, or because it opened up new possibilites. Preparation for the next war again fuels technological growth, but at a reduced pace compared to during an actual conflict.

As always, it is adversity, and the threat of impending catastrophe that is the greatest catalyst for change. When the threat is real, and immediate, that’s when you see the greatest funding of new ways of doing things. New ways of cutting losses, or achieving victory.

Take the wars away; use this time travel malarkey to end them before they start, and you take away the central engine driving new directions in innovation. Do it enough times (killing Hitler as a baby would probably be enough on it’s own due to the fundamental nature of what was developed during that conflict) and you’ll even take away the new directions in tech that made your time travel device possible in the first place.

 
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Karma, I remember images like that as the real thing. Some of those bomb sites made great adventure playgrounds. It took 20 years to make a major impact on clearing up after the Germans, and we’re still doing it. Still finding unexloded bombs too.

Vika’s argument doesn’t just apply to wars. NASA funding peaked when America was desperate to outdo the Russians and get a man to the moon first. After that the political will evaporated somewhat, despite all the benefits which have been derived from NASA projects.

 
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Originally posted by beauval:
NASA projects.

BINGO….
I was hoping someone would bring up this glaring beacon of light (I didn’t want to hog the obvious flaws in the heinous worship of war as being such a great “innovator/motivator” for advancement of society).

I don’t dispute that when you are up to your ass in alligators, you tend to set aside the initial intention of draining the swamp. But, w/ a little bit more intel on this subject, you can get a whole lot more of the objective completed w/ a lot less wasted efforts/resources than “fighting” the natural order of life.

War is a necessary evil. But, it shouldn’t be glorified. It should be gory-ified. While definite positive benefits DO evolve from the process, who is to say the same wouldn’t be realized in a more rational scenario? Who is to be the one to assess the pros & cons of the “costs” to society and to specific individuals? My small community was hit really hard by loss of soldiers. Half of my classmates were fatherless.

I don’t see ppl lining up to be human lab rats. Oooppps, I do; but, it is because they need the money rather than out of some noble humanitarianism. But, even these ppl aren’t willing to DIE & be severely harmed in the process.

How can we calculate what is lost in the way of progress when we lose so many ppl w/ direct potential? Then, let’s try to assess the indirect potential lost because my classmates weren’t able to go on to collage because of lack of support. War fucks deep … very deep.

 
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Originally posted by karmakoolkid:
While definite positive benefits DO evolve from the process, who is to say the same wouldn’t be realized in a more rational scenario?

Because it doesn’t. As a species we are at our most innovative when times are hardest. Funding is most available when the backs of those providing the funding are up against the wall. Certainly startups try to survive continually with great ideas, and struggle to find the funding to complete their techs. Many die not because the idea was crap – many were brilliant. But rather because they were unable to secure the necessary funding to develop it to the point it was able to recoup costs.

When that same tech is a potential gamechanger against a serious and immediate threat however, the game drastically changes. Something that fought for survival for a decade and a half (like penicillin) is suddenly given all the resources required to make it work, and then mass produced where money is literally no object if it works.

NASA itself was a product of the V2 rocket program. When the flights I linked to above happened, they used technology developed during a war, funded by a power trying to fight a war, and used as a weapon of war. At the time NASA did not exist. Almost nobody was interested in space, and the only ones who were, had leveraged the war to fund their dream, and accept that their dream was going to be used as a weapon along the way.

Beauval’s right that it doesn’t just apply to wars. It applies equally to any time when our backs are up against the wall. Any great adversity we somehow have to overcome. His example of beating the Russians in a space race is dead on, and we’ll see others when resource shortagres and climate change bring immediate, up close and personal views of the abyss.

It’s only when our backs are up against the wall, and the interests of those with the most finances are threatened that we see the big changes. That cycle may eventually be broken, but only through technological advancement, new manufacturing and prototyping techs. We’re relying on the cycle to break the cycle. We’re relying on the spoils of war to ever be in a position that our big breakthoughs don’t rely on the spoils of war.

Even my own research, reverse engineering the neural codes of the human nervous system; integrating electronic parts directly under the control of the brain. It has already benefitted massively from the war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Three grants came directly because of that war. Further, my research will be used in future weapons of war. It’s far too versitile and game-changing not to be. I’m not happy about this, but I have come to terms with it. Additional funding I’ll get when that day comes, will help me have the resources to develop still tighter and more reliable integration of human and machine. Something which has game changing applications well outside the fields of conflict, but something that will be paid for by conflict.

 
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It is the correct option to kill one person to save the lives of many. It is also technically correct for one person to be tortured to death in exchange for trillions of people not getting dust in their eyes(a theory that came up in a lesswrong discussion, check it out).

Like vikaTae pointed out, WWII was technologically beneficial to the human race and therefore killing Hitler is a bad idea.

 
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Let’s see…..
we are at our best when we heinously kill, maim, & torture thousands of ppl and destroy massive amounts of resources.

We are at our best when we perform something akin to a social ethnic cleansing wrought by (usually) the more advanced members of it. Bombs & guns win out over sticks & stones every time.

We are cock-sure that acceptable-level advancements wouldn’t be made during peacetime that we should schedule a regular “social-maintenance” war so we can maintain a good level of “progress”. Fuck it, since technical & medical advancement is so highly touted over peace, let’s just have a modest level of continuous war somewhere in some back-water part of the world.

WAIT … we are doing just that. Wonderful. Good on us. We are successfully managing to reach our full potential upon the backs of a few “expendables”.

It is utterly sick & deranged to prefer “advancements” achieved by mass killings & destruction on the level of WWII over those of a peace time. ESPECIALLY when we are comparing a known level of carnage (and not being able to glen out those accomplishments being made anyway in spite of the war) to an unknown level of accomplishments that would be made during peace.

Just because a society puts a huge amount of “attention” into solving problems NATURE throws at us (famine, disease, pestilence, etc.) certainly doesn’t necessarily mean we should enhance this ability by actually CREATING PROBLEMS we can overcome by bringing out the worst in us when we practice to, AT THE HEART OF WARFARE, kill as many ppl possible and deplete the resources they need to sustain combat.

There was never a good war, or a bad peace.
Benjamin Franklin

A current thought on the Middle East situation: “Israel lives in a permanent Catch-22: When there is violence there is nobody to talk to, and when there’s quiet there’s no reason to talk.”
That shit is the same as the old “joke” that points out shit logic: when it’s raining, you can’t get on the roof to fix the leak; when it isn’t raining – the roof doesn’t need fixing.

I’m a man of peace.
But, I will exact extreme prejudice of harm to prevent a social catastrophe like war.
I would have killed any & all babies w/ the last name of Hitler to achieve that end in regard to WWII.

The crux of the point isn’t whether war produces better “results” than does peace … likely it is war; esp. if a person lacks the ability to take a full accounting of gains & losses.
But, the rational mind asks: is the difference truly worth the price?

 
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Originally posted by karmakoolkid:

Let’s see…..
we are at our best when we heinously kill, maim, & torture thousands of ppl and destroy massive amounts of resources.

We are at our best when we perform something akin to a social ethnic cleansing wrought by (usually) the more advanced members of it. Bombs & guns win out over sticks & stones every time.

Not what I said. I said we are at our most innovative when our backs are up against the wall. Bombs and guns are just two examples of innovations (multiple levels of innovation) that came about when one culture or another’s backs were against the wall. A way to prevail in conflict. A way to change the gameboard.

We are cock-sure that acceptable-level advancements wouldn’t be made during peacetime that we should schedule a regular “social-maintenance” war so we can maintain a good level of “progress”.

We are absolutly certain that without adversity great change won’t occur, yes. Bog standard human nature. Growth only comes through challenge. The nature of the challenge does not matter, only both the severity and the immediacy.

Most of the smaller innovations you see during the normal course of things, are only building on what came before; natural extentions of what we already know. Even in the business world, it is only when the business has cutthroat competitors, and the business’ survival is on the line if they don’t deliver, that the resources needed to truly innovate, are ploughed in. It is only at these times that new directions are truly taken seriously.

 
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Originally posted by vikaTae:
Originally posted by karmakoolkid:

Let’s see…..
we are at our best when we heinously kill, maim, & torture thousands of ppl and destroy massive amounts of resources.

We are at our best when we perform something akin to a social ethnic cleansing wrought by (usually) the more advanced members of it. Bombs & guns win out over sticks & stones every time.

Not what I said. I said we are at our most innovative when our backs are up against the wall. Bombs and guns are just two examples of innovations (multiple levels of innovation) that came about when one culture or another’s backs were against the wall. A way to prevail in conflict. A way to change the gameboard.

We are cock-sure that acceptable-level advancements wouldn’t be made during peacetime that we should schedule a regular “social-maintenance” war so we can maintain a good level of “progress”.

We are absolutly certain that without adversity great change won’t occur, yes. Bog standard human nature. Growth only comes through challenge. The nature of the challenge does not matter, only both the severity and the immediacy.

Most of the smaller innovations you see during the normal course of things, are only building on what came before; natural extentions of what we already know. Even in the business world, it is only when the business has cutthroat competitors, and the business’ survival is on the line if they don’t deliver, that the resources needed to truly innovate, are ploughed in. It is only at these times that new directions are truly taken seriously.

I agree with most of what you say Vika. The only differences are that is quite certain that great wars would have happened anyways. The whole Political setup of the early 20th century were setup to go in that direction. Multiple imperialistic and expanding nationalistic Powers (Japan, USA, Russia, England, France and Italy) as well as multiple diminished former Powers striving to reobtain their former territories or at least slow their decent (Germany + China + ex-Austria/Hungery) add in the first onset of free-for-all political clashes involving monarchy vs democracy vs. fascism vs. communism vs. etc.. Things were certain to blow up.

So enough chances for War and Progress. The real loss of preventing the holocaust i think would be the humanitarian Lessons gained from it. If one looks around there were in history many ethical and political cleansing and death camps like that of the holocaust some even numerical greater. But they are hardly relevant in the common mind of the world. Mostly due to them happing behind close borders. Without Nazi Germany losing the War, being conquered and the Allies uncovering the workings of the Camps the Holocaust would not have reached the level of notoriety it has today. And that would have been a real loss because the Holocaust even if over instrumented offers a necessary warning of the Evil Humans can do to fellow Humans (including children) both individually and as a group.

 
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Originally posted by karmakoolkid:

He wasn’t innocent if he was destined to become himself.
And, there are always alternative leaders in the shadows.

destiny? lol.

If time machines exist and what happens in the past affects history, then time isn’t deterministic. Get that kid away from his parents, gush over his lousy paintings, and forbid him from joining the kaiser’s army. he’ll be fine.

Anyway it’s a PHIL 101 question designed to open up discussion on utilitarianism. IMO a better question might be, if you had the power to force a country’s will, mind control, would you use it? Back to Nazis, force German society to be tolerant, at the expense of their free will. You’d prevent the holocaust by enslaving millions of people, even if only for a few years. long enough to rescind Versailles and let the axis/allies paradigm fall apart. You could even get the ball rolling on the UN and post-colonial regimes by forcing the Germans to take point.

And vika’s points add another dimension. Moral quandaries aside, you’d be retarding technological innovation, possibly with decades of lingering trauma. on that note, peace-loving idealism aside, I cannot think of a single major technological advancement that didn’t arise from adversity, usually wartime challenges but also environmental / geographical. Oh, wait. There’s Edison. He was in it totally for the money, but hey, that’s one.