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?
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?".
Interesting question. It sort of reminds me of the Milgrim experiments, where subjects were told to push a button delivering an electric shock to a person for providing wrong answers to questions. The answerer was an actor and was not really shocked, but the button-pushers were told that their actions were for the benefit of the greater good or something like that. Nothing so appealing as universal peace and happiness, but something along the lines of furthering scientific knowledge.
The goal of the experiment was actually to see to what point people would continue to listen to an authority figure. Most people, naturally, said that they would not willingly harm another person regardless of the situation, but an astounding number of people continued pushing the button (increasing the strength of the shock each time), even after the actor claimed to have heart problems and screamed in agony just because the head scientist guy told them it was for the good of the experiment. The kicker is, they could have stopped at any point with no bad consequences to themselves. (Milgrim goes over the experiment himself in much better detail than I could ever hope to do in his book "Obedience to Authority" if anyone is interested.)
So yeah, I think a good portion of the population (whether they think they would or not) would torture the baby for "the greater good" given sufficient pressure from authority. I, like most people, will say that I would not harm an innocent baby no matter the situation, but I'll also point out that situations change and everyone's answers, mine included, should be taken with a grain of salt.
Good points. We have seen whole nations succumb to the bloodlust of authority and practice genocide for the "greater good". What is one baby compared to thousands?
There was a study of what happens when people listen to what a presumed authority tells them. The study suggested that people, being lazy short cutters that we are, stopped thinking. I'll have to dig up citations if anyone wants them. But, it is something that I have experienced personally in more mundane matters of work and personal business. We tend to trust people we believe to be "in the know" way more than we should.