Would You Torture a Baby to Bring Peace to Humanity?

A character in Dostoyevsky's, Brothers Karamazov said "Imagine that you are creating a fabric of human destiny with the object of making men happy in the end, giving them peace and rest at last, but that it was essential and inevitable to torture to death only one tiny creature - that baby beating its breast with its fist, for instance - and to found that edifice on its unavenged tears, would you consent to be the architect on those conditions? Tell me, and tell the truth?"


Would you would torture a baby to bring peace and happiness to humanity?

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"I find this issue interesting because this concept is reflected in US criminal law in that an individual has {no} duty to act to save another or others, no matter how easy it would be for that person to save those others."

-8 out of 50 states obliterate this argument right off the bat.
-50 out of 50 states erode it, some to the point of practical legal interpretation.
-Nationwide, the likelihood of you not being legally obligated to render aid/report is less than that of you being legally obligated to.

For the most part, unless you aren't at work or at home (which is most people's entire day) and it isn't a spouse or child (which is a large portion of most people's company) and you aren't in a mandatory profession (which are all civil servants, medical professionals, teachers, athletic associates, caregivers....well, the list goes on and on) or a resident or visitor of one of the eight states...... there is a chance you might not be legally obligated....depending on what other variables apply.

Take a look at this information and tell me if you really think that it's only the minority.
I didn't remember the details of the California case, which are obviously important. No, we certainly do not want well-intentioned but unqualified people blundering into delicate situations, and yes, we do want people to act properly in their spheres of expertise. Someone who makes an honest error--mistaking the gas from an airbag for smoke, for instance--should probably be given the benefit of the doubt, if only because hair-trigger litigiousness tends to discourage others from intervening in the future. And even if there were stringent Good Samaritan laws on the books, when the dust settles, who is going to prove that Dr. So-and-so, driving down the freeway at 72 miles per hour, declined to offer her assistance to someone in distress? I agree, however, that once someone has gotten involved, gross negligence is inexcusable.

There are probably good reasons, as well, to insulate people from criminal liability for failing to act-- even for something as simple as not throwing a drowning person a life preserver; perhaps, for example, some bystanders are not apathetic but in shock.

Setting aside the legal niceties of the Good Samaritan laws, however, the idea that someone should refrain from killing one person to bring about world peace simply because world peace is not his “responsibility” strikes me as question-begging. Such a person is not, of course, responsible for the wars currently waged around the globe, but he is, arguably at least, responsible for promoting world peace—for striving to bring it about if an opportunity to attain it lands in his lap. We’re not all morally required to be Jimmy Carter, of course, but if we have the chance to benefit humankind at the expense of one person, pleading the status quo seems a cop-out, however morally intuitive such a failure to act may seem to many.

I realize, Jen, that you are not committing to one position or another—if I am reading your posts correctly, you are merely suggesting that others probably view the Dostoevsky case in the light of personal responsibility. My point is that even though we have evolved to view such agent-centered, deontological reasoning as cogent and appealing, surrendering to moral intuitions can come with a high cost.

Take the American education system, just so that we can take a break from grinding babies into hamburger. I know a number of people who teach public high school in American cities. There are generally five or six students in every class who make teaching nearly impossible for them. Getting rid of these students—expelling them from school permanently—would, in all probability, give the other students a chance to get a real education instead of getting the worthless diplomas they now receive. But with the “No Child Left Behind” Act, schools are strongly encouraged to reach every student, which is practically impossible. So in an attempt to reach everyone, teachers end up reaching almost no one. The deontological visionary might argue that attempting to leave no child behind is simply the right thing to do, regardless of the consequences; and, moreover, that expelling the five or six problem students will doom them to a life of misery and criminality (this is roughly analogous to the torture and death of the baby). But the utilitarian response—that the (actual) good of the twenty-five other students in the class outweighs the (theoretical) good of the five or six trouble-makers—is clearly right, and the law is clearly wrong.
My answer to the original question is a simple 'no'. If we're talking about the peace of 6 or 7 billion living people and all their future kin, I can hardly see a difference between one baby and a dozen people in a market in Afghanistan or Iraq (or wherever) .
I take it you meant to say that you would answer "yes" to the original question--is that right?
No, I just stated a point terribly. I feel that the the act of torture or maiming of an innocent would never be justified even by the promise world peace. Because I can easily see that a suicide bomber is doing an immoral thing when they kill/maim a dozen people despite the bombers belief that the act would lead to world peace (under a Muslim caliphate.)
Hi Jen,

I understood you perfectly, so there's no need for an apology. The one thing that I would highlight is that there is, as I note above and as you yourself point out in your most recent post, a difference between holding someone responsible for the state of the world as it is (rife with conflict, war, etc.) and holding them responsible for changing the state of the world should the opportunity to do so arise (sacrificing one person for the good of the many, as in the Dostoevsky example). I think you're right that most people see a marked difference between torturing an innocent, which is active, and allowing the world to continue as it is, which is passive; but I would question whether such moral intuitions are rational. World peace is, arguably, more important than justice for one person, however innocent that person may be.

On the question of violent or recalcitrant students, I agree that if there are enough resources, then these students should be placed in alternative programs. But in reality, there is rarely enough money to give everyone the attention he or she needs; and in my view, it’s better to expel some of the most incorrigible students than it is let them ruin everyone else’s education. My wife teaches in a school where 98% of the students receive free or reduced lunch; many of these kids want to learn, and indeed a good education is, for them, the only (legal) way out of generational poverty, but a handful of students make the process nearly impossible for the kids who want to learn. Ideally, everyone would be able to get an education tailored to his or her talents, needs, and challenges, but until we have the resources necessary to realize such a utopian vision, we may need to make some tough choices.
D'Hol-
Hi there! Thank you for putting a real life spin on the argument. The No-Child-Left-Behind act is a prime example.
I think the original question -while interesting- is far too broad for my mind at least to grasp in any tangible way.
It all comes down to the same...sacrifice one (or a few) for the good of many (or all.) Just by crunching numbers, the answer ought to be apparent..however, there are more variables than just the classroom setting.
Statistics show that those few that would be expelled or removed for the good of others will have less of a chance to get out of poverty..turn to a life of crime..blah blah blah, right?
So by selectively 'creating' a group of resent-filled criminals, is it actually making that city any better? The majority of students get out, go on to higher education, lead a productive life, those that don't stay behind and make possibly even more serious trouble in the community in the future.

On the flip side, allowing these students to continue on in a disruptive manner degrades the education for everyone, perhaps 'forcing' other students into poverty and crime. It also teaches these trouble makers that they don't have to take responsibility for their disruptive actions. If they get a free pass every time, they will continue to act in a manner that is reinforced by easy-street.


Really, it's pretty much a moot argument. The hypothetical situation is too abstract to imagine, and even in real world situations, the very best results that you can hope for are still a far cry from the perfect peace or utopia.

Meh. I like just killing anyone that suggests saving the planet via baby torture. It's much more black and white. :)
I think all I've learned from this discussion is that the supposed variation on the moral dilemma of 'the greater good' doesn't actually exist in very many cases.... except for maybe a soldier throwing himself on a grenade. Even then, it's the soldiers choice, right?

Oh. I've also learned I'd never be a school teacher.
At least the people I teach pay me to be there. They aren't too keen on getting kicked out without a refund.
I agree, in large measure, with a lot of what both of you have said. I agree, for instance, that the original Dostoevsky case does not map perfectly onto many real-life examples, though within limits such scenarios have their uses. I also agree that we ought to invest a lot more money in education--and to pay teachers a lot more!

My proposal for the five or six incorrigible students in each class is that they be sent to a highly structured school environment with strict discipline. If they commit a violent act there, then they should be sent to juvenile jail.

Currently, the school system is unbelievably, even dangerously lenient. My wife got two-pieced breaking up a fight between two girls. Did either of the girls get expelled from school? No. On another occasion, a student who is my height (6'2") threatened her physically, shoved her, and came close to hitting her. Was he expelled? No.

By allowing these kids to stay in school, the administration is not preventing them from committing crimes—many are petty criminals or worse, and the school bathrooms have become drug distribution centers—it is simply preventing the rest of the students from getting a real education. Thus, by permitting the recalcitrant students to stay in the regular public schools, many more students are forced into lives of abject poverty, crime, etc., than would be the case if the especially difficult students were forced to leave.

Part of me hates what I’m saying, as I am a bleeding heart liberal in many respects, but after a lot of thought, and after witnessing my wife’s daily struggles, I’ve come to the conclusion that not everyone can be saved. Every week I’m terrified that I’m going to get a call that Beth is in the hospital because a student of hers has attacked her. She, along with the vast majority of her students, deserves better.
Your wife needs self defense training. I highly recommend Krav Maga. It's an Israeli form popular with corporate security, police and trained body guards. It isn't the gimmicky bullshit of learning stances, deep breathing belt climbing like you find in martial arts, mainly because it isn't an 'art' It's just real world situations from day one. It's also very easy to master. Find an instructor near you, and explain the situation.

Secondly..thanks for the tip on scoring gear in the bathrooms. What school does your wife work for? Know what the current street prices are?
I think this is a 'magical world' question in that the premise implies magical peace if only ONE horrible deed is committed.

I wouldn't want to live in a world where its rest and peace were hinged upon the torture and death of even ONE baby.

In the real world tiny creatures are tortured to death every day and there's no peace from it. I don't see how torturing one more could suddenly bring peace.... AND I WOULDN'T WANT IT TO!!!

If we equate the deed with the desired results then our 'rest' and 'peace' is tarnished and sullied and poor.

If the 'rest' and 'peace' of this magical world is based on the torturing of an infant or another creature.... what does that imply about it's architect and more importantly what does it imply about us?
Change the question up a bit... Say instead of torturing a baby to death to bring peace and rest... you had to do it to the Worlds leader. In another scenario you had to do it to the Worlds most brilliant scientist. In another scenario you have to do it to its most Evil villian. Now at first glance you might think the last scenario would be the easiest to do and cause peace and rest.....at least from this person, but that's not what the original question poses.... It says 'peace' and 'rest' as absolute, at least that's how I read it.

Do we really want torture and death to be the basis of our peace and rest? This is a good question to pose to christians considering their ideology.

God creates a system where the only way to save his creatures is to create an aspect of himself to be born, torture it horribly, kill it then bring it back to life.

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