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?
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.
Looking at the responses we can simplify the question a bit to get at the heart of the problem, a more general question is:
"Does every person have the right to refrain from performing Act A, if doing so results in others experiencing Act B?"
Does the answer depend:
1) Solely on Act A.
2) Solely on Act B.
3) The relative unpleasantness of Act A to Act B
4) A more complicated relationship between the two acts.
I think the result will be a very, very large grey area.