NYT and The Atlantic on Killing Baby Hitler


NYT: 42% Yes, 30% No, 28% Not Sure

The Atlantic writer goes on to show how much he knows about history, but it’s really a simply problem: why are you asking me this? Is it to prevent World War II? To prevent the Holocaust? To prevent a specific person’s death? Am I allowed to assume that will be the result or must I weigh the probabilities.

The Atlantic writer gives the Kantian answer, but I think that’s bullshit. Of course we would do it, whether or not some ethical system says so, if we thought we could save more lives. I agree with him that killing Baby Hitler won’t prevent most of the historical wave that came about and people in that alternate universe might be asking whether it’s OK to kill Baby Goring or Baby Himmler.

There’s not enough information to solve this problem and it’s more or less an ethical Rorschach test less than the Trolley problem that the writer suggests. After all, trolley problems usually give you two or more lives versus one whereas here, we don’t know if we’re guaranteed to save millions or if there is only an infinitesimal chance this works.

For people who say “no” to the trolley problem, though, I’d love to see them show on some empirical basis that that answer is better instead of within their own self-referential framework. It’s more or less a form of pacifism.