Would you kill baby Hitler?

I know I would not have the guts to it. I found a baby snake in my house once and could not even kill that. Don’t know what kind of snake it was mainly because I do not look behind me while running.

[spoiler]Stephen Fry wrote a novel about preventing Hitler’s birth by going back in time and putting birth control stuff in the drinking water of the street where Hitler lived. The oke who led the Nazis instead was even worse than Hitler, so they had to go back and prevent Hitler’s folks from drinking the water by chucking a dead rat in it.[/spoiler]

It is impossible to predict the future. Kill Hitler, and something even worse may have happened in the longer term. There isn’t really any way to tell.

On the other hand, befriend Hitler as a boy and show him great kindness, and who knows how he may have turned out. Especially if the person showering him with kindness happened to be a Jew.

Stephen King’s - 11.22.63 touches on this subject. In this instance the “hero” went back in time to prevent JFK’s death with disasterous consequences. Interesting scenario to ponder on and we all do from time to time. I rather enjoyed “The butterfly effect” with Ashton whatsisname (Demi’s toyboy), a pleasant watch-me on a winter’s evening.

Personally, no, I wouldnt kill a child… I might though, consider doing serious harm to whoever might adversely influence a child or try to prevent an incident that would shape the future adult.

Oh you guys are a laugh, hypothetically dodging the hypothetical conundrum like that. This is not a question about the consequences of the butterfly effect, it’s about morality.

This is a moral exercise and the person stating it makes the rules clear: If you kill the baby Hitler you save millions of lives, if you don’t they all die. That’s it, those are the outcomes presented and you’re expected to make a judgement based on those outcomes. Not ones you make up! So don your big boy/girl boots and answer the question.

Yes. Given those outcomes I’d kill baby Hitler.

I haven’t read the King yet because the library stubbornly refuses to buy it and I can’t afford it.

“Butterfly Effect” was the only decent film Ashton Whatsisname ever made.

But I confess, it’s been ages since I bothered to watch any films. The book is always better. Some time ago, I was visiting with friends and they started watching the DVD of “The girl with the dragon tattoo.” And I managed to literally fall asleep within twenty minutes or so. Then I saw the book at the library and decided to give it a try. Well, the first fifty pages are indeed boring, but then it drew me in and now I am greatly enjoying it.

Anyway, all of that completely off topic. Let me get back to the moral dilemma…

Due to limited internet data I did not watch the video, thus I was not aware of the strict rules of the exercise. Given the rules as they are, I would not hesitate for a single moment to kill baby Hitler.

The problem with such moral exercises is this: in real life the rules never are that simple. The fact is that we don’t know what babies will do in future, and if some prophet tells us “this one is going to be a psycho who will kill fifty million people” we will laugh in his face in exactly the same way we laugh in the face of every psychic that arrives here.

My reaction to most moral dilemmas: |-O
The assumption is always that in morality, there are hard facts of the same sort as we have in science. With virtually all the moral questions we face in real life, the whole problem is precisely that we don’t have all the facts and never will, and therefore have to do the best we can in as kind a way as we can, keeping in mind whatever facts we do have available.

As long as we do that, we needn’t lose sleep over whatever decisions we make, even though some of those decisions will probably turn out to have been wrong ones.

The real problem we do seem to have when it comes to making collective moral and legal decisions is that we tend to ignore the facts that are available, and instead make exactly the same mistakes over and over. Drug prohibition comes to mind as a typical example.

There is surely some deep irony in a bunch of atheists, heathens, apostates, heretics, unbelievers, freethinkers, doubters, sceptics and other undesirables contemplating moral questions on a Sunday… :wink:


It is correct that the lack of realism in a conjured moral dilemma should not influence the contemplation thereof, as BoogieMonster so humbly submitted. Yet, if the dilemma becomes absurd, its value as a moral measure becomes questionable. “If you could prevent World War II by eating your mother alive, would you do it?” This type of dilemma blackmails the respondent into committing to a heinous atrocity and it should come as no surprise that respondents will object to the dilemma rather than commit to a reply. It sheds more light on the morality of the questioner than on that of the respondents.

But that’s the nature of all contrived moral dilemmas! As brianvds has quite correctly pointed out, the essence of moral judgements is that they are based on incomplete, often inadequate knowledge, only a sense of what, of several equally ill-defined options, will bring the best outcome (however “best” may be defined). It’s why such questions can be debated ad infinitum and fruitlessly.

Indeed. And there’s an acute moral lesson in that realisation, too.


Given Hitler’s tremendous powers of persuasion, this new chum is far more likely to find himself lederhosen-deep in Nazi ideology than the other way round.

Anyway, I’m not going back in time to off the Adolph kid. The second world war happened almost a lifetime ago, and enough time has passed for me to have no objection against playing the cold green environmental card. As far as I’m concerned, humans are hardly an endangered species, and the less of us around the better. Sad but true, nature rejoices in genocide.


What does “no moral comeback” mean? Does it mean that whatever decision you make, it is morally the correct one?

So, as some didn’t watch the video, part of this guy’s point is that WE don’t often make life-and-death decisions like this. But world/military leaders do almost daily. I agree that real life is not as simple as the dilemma makes it out to be. Our moral dilemma’s are usually far more complex, and actually far less dire. I think the point of these all-facts-known questions: It’s trying to establish where our baseline is, as when things get more complicated it is this “base” rationale that will lie beneath our decisions. As Mefiante points out, we won’t have complete knowledge, but the knowledge we do have will influence our decisions, and the point of the exercise is to try and tease out HOW that knowledge will influence our decisions.

Kinda like the math of morality. We can approximate and try to calculate the volume of the dam, but we won’t ever precisely calculate the volume. This does not make calculating the volume futile, or even coming up with the formula futile. I don’t see people giving up physics because all the variables can never be known, we just go “assume a frictionless surface/perfect sphere/etc…” then try figure out what the rules are so that we are prepared to at least approximate when we need these things in real life. To me the two seem analogous.

As such I don’t see these as completely futile even if contrived. Living in this country as we do, I can well see me coming face-to-face with this kind of dilemma during, say, a home invasion. Do I fight or submit, even if this means my S/O gets raped, or risk my child getting killed, or me getting killed, etc. You’re all right, perhaps I do either and we all get killed anyway, I have to operate on an incomplete knowledge of the future. However it does not mean I should abscond from making any decisions up to that point. I think that kind of apathy would be more dangerous: I might decide it’s futile to submit “because we’re all going to die anyway” and worsen a situation that could’ve turned out much better.

Actually, that was brianvds.

There are other analogues to this situation in physics, which is again ironic, given that physics is thought of as the pinnacle of exact science. For example, Schrödinger’s equation describing the time evolution of a system’s quantum state function can be solved exactly in only the simplest cases like the hydrogen atom (but not deuterium or tritium). Perhaps the most compelling analogue, however, is convective heat transfer. The subject seems superficially well defined and solvable in terms of known laws, relationships and equations but any non-trivial situation is often not practically solvable even with very powerful computers. Instead, there are literally dozens of off-the-shelf empirical models (i.e., approximate descriptions covering a narrow set of real-world situations that were assembled from direct experiments and slightly generalised). The physics purist is of course horrified by this lamentable non-exact formulation because it’s much more like butterfly collecting (of models with limited applicability) than about detailed understanding of the physical relationships and interactions in play.

The situation is akin to morality: While there are firm underlying principles, we more usually operate by analogous rules-of-thumb acquired mostly from experience because moral problems tend to be ill-defined and bedevilled by a glut of influences and factors that detract from their ready solubility. Moral purists similarly decry this fuzziness and often seek to hide it away by postulating absolute moral frameworks.


Presumably it’s the butterfly effect in convection currents that forces all this butterfly collecting on us? :slight_smile: