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?
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.
Of course we actually have and still do practice this if you think about Medical and other research done on animals....... so I guess I'm a hypocrite.
Would I kill a pig if by doing so we could learn a procedure that would save my dying child? YES!
Would I kill someone else's child to learn a procedure that would save mine? not if the intent was to kill the child. If the intent was to try and save the child and learn a new technique at the same time then YES.. if it was the only way and the child was going to die regardless if it wasn't done.
I would also be willing to let doctors try a procedure on my own child in a last ditch effort to save his life and perhaps learning in the process how to save more.
Ah, the same passage was quoted in Hitchens' "god is not Great."
This is a classic question of utilitarianism. We talked about it on the podcast awhile ago, using the short story "Those Who Walk From Omelas."
In response to the question, I would say "no." The peace and happiness described is an unconscionable one. For there to be true peace, it must be a just peace. What this parable is offering is a utopia, but one based on sheer corruption. At the heart of it all, we've created a dystopia by agreeing to these terms and, thus, an unjust peace--and certainly no peace of mind.
Anyway, I think that while these anecdotes serve a good purpose in illustrating the basic concept of philosophical thinking, they are almost always absurdly impractical and based on impossible or inhibitively unlikely situations. As I said, I think they're useful, but I'm of the opinion that in this day and age, philosophy should be used to help people, not to ponder the ridiculous.
In closing, if you'd like to see a practical application of utilitarianism, there's an excellent argument by Peter Singer titled Famine, Affluence and Morality, which can be found here with a brief FAQ relating to the argument on his homepage at Princeton here. Perhaps someone would be so kind as to start a thread relating to it?
No I wouldn't and neither would most other people.
There is an experiment where people were asked what they would do in two situations.
1. A trolley car is headed for a group of people. the car can be diverted such that it kills only one person. Would you pull a switch to divert the car and save many people by sacrificing only one.
2. A trolley car is headed for a group of people. you can push a person in front of the car to stop it. Would you push the one person in front of the car to save the group.
Many people answer yes to the first, few people answer yes to the second. Few people want to cause someone to die at their hand "directly" but indirect harm seems to give them an out.
Your hypothetical is so diluted that it is not even as strong a case. Lasting peace is in no sense inevitable from the death of one person. Torture doesn't improve the odds. An infant victim makes no sense either.
I don't see the logic in the question. If you torture one or thousands that couldn't in any way, shape, form, or fashion bring peace to humanity. To me, a hypothetical situation should have a possible outcome.
The tougher question for people to answer honestly would be, "would you think critically and be reasonable in order to bring peace to humanity?".