More on the use of nuclear weapons


My post on the anniversary of the use of nuclear weapons on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, where I unequivocally stated that it was a barbaric and inexcusable act and a war crime, generated some heated pushback and I urge people to read the comments there. I started to respond but realized that it was becoming rather long and decided to make it into a follow-up post.

The argument that those who support the bombings seem to be making seems to based on the following calculus: “It is acceptable to deliberately kill X innocent civilians to avoid the deaths of Y people later, provided the ratio of Y to X is greater than some number N.” Strenuous efforts are then made to argue for a very large Y in order to arrive at some value of N that that is presumed to make the act justified.

But my point is that the argument itself is immoral irrespective of the size of X and Y and N and so am unmoved by these arguments. It seems to me that the argument proposed is a very dangerous one that is used either by people who view the deliberate killing of innocent people (especially foreigners) with remarkable equanimity or by those who do not share that deplorable mindset in general but seem to find it acceptable in this particular case.

Let us take that calculus and apply it in other situations. It would, for example, justify the death penalty because one could argue that executing someone is justified because it could deter others from committing future hypothetical murders. One could argue in favor of torture because torturing someone, even unto death, is justified because it might hypothetically save the lives of others. One could argue that it is justified to wage preventive war against other countries because of the possibility that they might initiate a war in the future that leads to greater casualties.

Seasoned observers will recognize these arguments as the ones given by people like Dick Cheney for his appalling acts and his doctrine of preventive war, although preventive war and torture are both war crimes.

The point is that committing an act that will definitely result in the death of an innocent person because it might hypothetically save lives in the future is wrong. And most people recognize that it is hard to justify such an act, as can be seen from studies done with the trolley problems. Even when the ratio of Y to X is as large as five, people find it hard to justify the act and for good reason. It is difficult to accept the idea of taking someone’s life to save other people’s lives. If we do accept it, where will it end? For example, we know that every day, people die because of the lack of availability of donated organs. Why would we not kill some random person and use their harvested organs (heart, liver, kidneys, lungs, etc.) to save the lives of many people?

Put in those terms, people are repulsed by the thought, even if the person killed is a prisoner on death row or serving a life sentence for some heinous crime. So why is the same argument used in this case? Or if it is different, in what way?

One way of justifying the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombing is arguing that the people of those cities are not innocent. People may be assigning collective guilt to all Japanese because that nation was at war with the US and thus everyone can be considered as combatants. This is, of course, wrong. There is a reason why the targeting of civilian populations even in war is considered a war crime.

Another possibility is that something that seems repulsive when framed in terms of small numbers somehow becomes acceptable when framed in terms of hundreds of thousands as in the case of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Perhaps when we think of small numbers, people seem real and we can imagine it to be someone we know. But large numbers are just statistics and we become numb to them.

Another possibility is the tribal mindset that views Japanese life as worth less than American ones. After all, the X lives lost were entirely Japanese while many of the Y lives would be Americans and thus assumed to matter more.

Yet another possibility is that the nuclear bombing of the cities has been made into a clinical act. There is something about visiting destruction from the air on a massive scale that seems to make it less of a heinous act, especially if people can be shielded from the scenes of carnage down below. This was done with the nuclear bombs and we saw similar acceptance of the massive destruction done to Vietnam by the US bombing on that country. Recall how in the early days of Shock and Awe in the war on Iraq, our media exulted in showing our ‘smart bombs’ destroying targets without showing what happened to the people at the receiving end. This was why in Vietnam the sight of the naked Vietnamese child running crying down the street after a napalm attack shocked people. It made them realize that these are real people, children among them, who we have ordered to be killed, not dry numbers to be inserted in our equations for X and Y. This is also why Chelsea Manning was punished so severely. The video she released of US troops gleefully gunning down people from the air, including children, made us aware that there are real, ordinary people at the receiving end.

Finally, let us take a role reversal. We know that ISIS seeks to eliminate all US and western forces from the Middle East region in order to make easier their creation of a caliphate. Suppose there is a high-level ISIS meeting at which strategies are being proposed. The traditional commanders warn that it is going to cost a lot of their troops in a long-drawn out effort to drive out the well-equipped and trained US forces. One person then makes the following suggestion: “Why don’t we capture a few westerners and then periodically kill them in the most barbaric way and put the videos on the internet? This may scare them enough that they are unwilling to risk their people being captured and thus get them to reduce their presence, making our military task easier. Sure, a few innocent people will die but isn’t it better since we may save many more lives in the long run? In addition, the people who die will be westerners but the lives saved will be mostly ours.”

I don’t think anyone would accept that as a moral argument and for good reason. The idea of using innocent people as disposable pawns in a military strategy is morally reprehensible. There is a good reason why it is a war crime.

Comments

  1. Knight in Sour Armor says

    May want to fix your pronoun on Chelsea Manning (but rest assured I’m not part of *that* subset of the FtB commenters).

  2. Who Cares says

    There is a reason why the targeting of civilian populations even in war is considered a war crime.

    Which is why Truman when he announced the use of the first nuke claimed it was targeted at military installation.
    Eisenhower and a 2nd top 5 star general/admiral both objected on it morally wrong while 3 or 4 others considered it unnecessary/goal not justifying the means (IIRC).

    Another possibility is the tribal mindset that views Japanese life as worth less than American ones. After all, the X lives lost were entirely Japanese while many of the Y lives would be Americans and thus assumed to matter more.

    Not just a possibility. From the concentration camps for people of Japanese descent in the US to the yellow peril/menace propaganda campaign, the Japanese were dehumanized (in the propaganda quite often literally) and for the majority of the US population in 1945 the only good Jap was a dead Jap.
    Later revisionism on the numbers justifying the dropping of the nukes adjusted to this by claiming that roughly the same number of Japanese soldiers as US soldiers would have died.

  3. DsylexicHippo says

    Simple question: Why couldn’t we have N-bombed a small uninhabited Japanese island to send a strong message? Then we could have trumpeted, Donald Trump style, “hey Japan, look, that nice island of yours…it is gone, losers. Your emperor is a slob and pathetic, by the way.”

    Why must be innocent people sacrificed to “send a message”?

  4. Holms says

    Once people start using ‘the ends justify the means’ reasoning, they cease to be the moral side in the conflict.

  5. kaelik says

    “It seems to me that the argument proposed is a very dangerous one that is used either by people who view the deliberate killing of innocent people (especially foreigners) with remarkable equanimity or by those who do not share that deplorable mindset in general but seem to find it acceptable in this particular case.”

    It might behoove you to not equate completely different things. In 1945 there were certainly a whole lot of people (even most?) who thought Japanese people were “worth less.” But it does not follow that everyone who presents a utilitarian argument is such a person. Some people are patriots who only care about people of their own country, but those people wouldn’t need to make the argument above at all, because to them, as long as X is foreigners, it can be any number without mattering.

    It seems genuinely strange that you make this entire post on the assumption that utilitarians 1) don’t exist, 2) are all racists, 3) are moral reprobates. I mean, you could even think 3, if you like, but your post would make a lot more sense if you didn’t start with it as a forgone conclusion.

    “Let us take that calculus and apply it in other situations. It would, for example, justify the death penalty because one could argue that executing someone is justified because it could deter others from committing future hypothetical murders.”

    Except that the death penalty doesn’t deter crime, which is a major point used against it by death penalty opposition. Which is only a point they would make if they were utilitarians arguing based on the exact calculus you are decrying as morally reprehensible. Because then X would be greater than Y, and therefore the action would not hold.

    “One could argue in favor of torture because torturing someone, even unto death, is justified because it might hypothetically save the lives of others.”

    Except that torture doesn’t work at getting true information, which is a key argument for many people arguing against torture, see entire above point.

    “One could argue that it is justified to wage preventive war against other countries because of the possibility that they might initiate a war in the future that leads to greater casualties.”

    And people frequently do argue that, and many people who disagree with them argue that they are wrong about deterring a war of greater casualties. See above points.

    “Seasoned observers will recognize these arguments as the ones given by people like Dick Cheney for his appalling acts and his doctrine of preventive war, although preventive war and torture are both war crimes.” Seasoned arguers will be familiar with the concept that one person making an argument based on false (and dishonest) information does not negate a form of argument. Hitler used Modus Ponens.

    “The point is that committing an act that will definitely result in the death of an innocent person because it might hypothetically save lives in the future is wrong. And most people recognize that it is hard to justify such an act, as can be seen from studies done with the trolley problems. Even when the ratio of Y to X is as large as five, people find it hard to justify the act and for good reason. It is difficult to accept the idea of taking someone’s life to save other people’s lives.”

    1) The trolley problem provides cognitive dissonance because it combines two things that people commonly want to do, not kill anyone, and save more lives. In fact, phrasing the problem differently results in vastly different numbers choosing different options.

    2) You speak here, as above, as if no one (or only the most horrible monsters) choose to save five people’s lives when presented with the trolley problem. While, depending on phrasing, those people are usually in the minority, it does not follow that they don’t exist.

    “If we do accept it, where will it end? For example, we know that every day, people die because of the lack of availability of donated organs. Why would we not kill some random person and use their harvested organs (heart, liver, kidneys, lungs, etc.) to save the lives of many people?

    Put in those terms, people are repulsed by the thought, even if the person killed is a prisoner on death row or serving a life sentence for some heinous crime. So why is the same argument used in this case? Or if it is different, in what way?”

    I’m not repulsed at all by the thought of saving the lives of people with the organs from death row inmates. I hear those people even donate organs sometimes! How reprehensible of them! If you could find a reasonable objective method of determining who should die so that others may live, it could be perfectly moral to do so. Of course, organ donors who are in perfect heath can often live long happy lives, were organ receivers usually still burn out those organs faster, so there are good reasons to expect that the moral life calculus here is more complex than we can usually manage.

    TL;DR: I decry the nuclear attacks on civilians because I dispute that they were required to save Y lives, not because I would call saving more people a moral atrocity. So it seems, do some of your commenters, IE, the one talking about nuking islands. It might behoove you to accept that people who have a different moral system than you are not plainly obviously moral monsters, and if you want to argue that, you might try any actual arguments that don’t assume that we are all horrifically disgusted by the thought of saving 5 people’s lives at the cost of one persons.

  6. invivoMark says

    I think your examples are all bad, and they fail to make your point. The death penalty should be abolished because it is not an effective deterrent. Torture should be abolished because it is not an effective interrogation method. Preemptive war is immoral because it does not reduce civilian casualties. Beheading foreigners and posting the videos to YouTube is wrong because it doesn’t prevent anything.

    And yes, dropping nukes on Japanese cities was wrong because the same effect could have been achieved through other means with far fewer civilian casualties. It is worth noting that over the course of the war, firebombing of Japanese cities caused far more deaths and injuries than both nukes, but that does not justify the use of the nukes.

    I believe absolutely in the moral rule of utilitarianism, and the trolley problem is easily solved to me. But that’s because the outcome of each case in the trolley problem is known ahead of time with 100% certainty. So the solutions to the trolley problem are counterintuitive and there are no real parallels in real life.

  7. Dunc says

    Another factor you often see in this discussions is the (frankly racist) trope that “they don’t value life like we do”. You see this time and time again, from internal documents of the British Empire justifying why it was necessary to massacre such-and-such a village, through discussions of the atomic bombing of Japan and anything to do with Iran (or whoever the enemy-de-jour happens to be at the time), to practically every internet comment thread dealing with the “War on Terror”. “They” are uncivilised brutes who do not value human life, even their own. “They” cannot be reasoned with. “They” cannot be defeated by conventional means. “They” will fight to the last man. “They” would be happy to risk total annihilation for the destruction of their hated enemy and their reward in heaven. Therefore “we” must crush them utterly, by whatever means necessary. It’s the only moral thing to do.

    Jonathan Schwartz does a fairly good job of documenting some of the history of this meme here and here. As he puts it: “You’ve got to admit, we have a great record at finding the people who don’t care whether they live or die, and then killing them.”

    In this particular case, I’m somewhat puzzled at how people can simultaneously believe that the Japanese government and military command were prepared to fight on regardless of any level of civilian casualties and that the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki persuaded them not to. There seems to be something of a logical contradiction there…

  8. Mano Singham says

    kaelik @#6 and invivoMark @#8,

    Why stop at death row inmates? If the ratio of five to one is a good one, why not kill some random healthy person who has good organs to save the lives of five people? Since the innocence of the Japanese seems to be immaterial, so should that of the victim here.

    What about the hypothetical ISIS commander? Would his argument be acceptable to you?

  9. kaelik says

    “I’m somewhat puzzled at how people can simultaneously believe that the Japanese government and military command were prepared to fight on regardless of any level of civilian casualties and that the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki persuaded them not to. There seems to be something of a logical contradiction there…”

    Presumably in this argument, they were willing to spend Y of their people’s lives to kill X of us, but when X ends up at zero, and Y ends up at 100%, they figured the trade stopped being worth it. It probably isn’t the most unreasonable belief that defenders of nuclear bomb usage have, even if it is a thinly veiled racist othering.

  10. hyphenman says

    @No. 4–DsylexicHippo

    This in no way justifies the bombing–I agree with Mano’s position–but the reason we didn’t bomb an uninhabited island was that we didn’t know if the bomb would work.

    My father was part of a unit known as the Army Special Weapons Platoon at White Sands after the war. (I was also involved with nuclear weapons, but only in a tactical way while I was in the Navy.) He and his fellow soldiers assembled the bombs. In 1945 we had three weapons. The first we detonated at Trinity, the second (Little Boy) as dropped on Hiroshima and the third (Fat Man) on Nagasaki.

    If either bomb had been dropped on an empty island, without alerting the Japanese of the plan, and the bomb failed, we would have lost 50 percent of the arsenal to no good effect. If we did alert the Japanese and the bomb failed, we would have been even worse off. If the bomb were dropped on a Japanese city, then failure had no downside in the eyes of those making the decision.

    All of that is a horrible calculus, to be sure, but that is how the story has been passed down to me.

    Jeff Hess
    Have Coffee Will Write

  11. kaelik says

    “Why stop at death row inmates? If the ratio of five to one is a good one, why not kill some random healthy person who has good organs to save the lives of five people? Since the innocence of the Japanese seems to be immaterial, so should that of the victim here.”

    For the reasons I stated there 1) dividing out organs is a less efficient use of organs. 2) You would have to have a fair and impartial method of picking who dies that everyone trusts and doesn’t undermine the rule of law. I don’t trust the police right now to shoot me at a traffic stop, so such a method seems far off.

    “What about the hypothetical ISIS commander? Would his argument be acceptable to you?”

    1) Does he have any evidence that this method would work? It sure doesn’t seem to most of the time in the modern world.

    2) It doesn’t matter whether his method is the least deadly means to achieve his goals, because his goals are not utilitarian. Technically, if you believe Jews are the source of all pain and suffering on the planet, and we would all live in a utopia without them, Hitler did a great job finding an efficient method of bring about a utopia. Of course, very few people believe that genocide would have those effects. Likewise, if the creation of a/the Caliphate is a net bad thing, then it follows that no method of achieving that goal is moral at all. Less monstrous maybe (if it would be actually effective, and the Caliphate was a certainty with either method), but Less monstrous than all out war is not a very high hurdle to climb.

  12. says

    On the US side of things, early in World War II the US tried to live up to the maxim, “we don’t bomb civilians”. But the heavy losses suffered in trying to bomb Germany combined with the brutality and losses on both fronts, in Germany and the Pacific, the US changed its tune and by 1945 had no qualms about causing mass civilian casualties in order to avoid US casualties. That policy has continued for the past 70 years, and is exemplified in the US’s choices of weapons and equipment (e.g. the return of body armour to warfare, last used in the middle ages; the increased use of distances weapons – bombs, drones, chemical weapons).

    On the Japanese side, there is the history of “Sakoku”. In the 1630s, Japan’s imperial government closed off the country, banning all foreigners from entering and all Japanese from leaving. But in 1853, US showed up with military superiority. Japan’s military had stagnated (still using feudal weapons) while the rest of the world had gone from loose cannons to accurate gun barrels. Once US metal warships showed up demanding that Japan open the country to trade, the Japanese realized they were overmatched and quickly changed their tune.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sakoku

    Who is to say that Japan wouldn’t have relented and surrendered just as quickly in 1945 once the main islands were surrounded? In 1853, they chose survival over “honour”, and might have chosen the same if the US had shown up and surrounded Japan. By 1945, all Japan had left were the same weapons they had in 1853, and the country could have been captured without a fight, never mind without nuclear weapons.

    Another point that only Rob (#8) touched on in the first item was Russia. Germany collapsed first, and both the UK/US side and USSR were in a race to claim as much land as they could, which ended up splitting Germany. Some claim it was the same race to capture Japan, and that nuclear weapons were used to hasten Japan’s surrender to the US side, to prevent a Soviet invasion of the islands. Imagine if Hokkaido had been invaded from Sakhalin island and occupied from 1945 until 1989.

    And let’s not forget the issue of racism, how the Germans and Japanese were viewed as human (or not human – US propaganda cartoons portrayed the Japanese as insect-like). Would the US have used nuclear weapons on Germany if they had held out until 1946?

  13. Chiroptera says

    invivoMark, #*: I believe absolutely in the moral rule of utilitarianism, and the trolley problem is easily solved to me.

    Not saying invivoMark is wrong here as much as to add a different viewpoint: I used to think that I believed in utilitarian ethics until reading about the trolley problem caused me to rethink what I believe. The solution, to me, for the trolley problem is that most people, including me, really don’t accept strict utilitarianism. Most people, including me, really do believe that there is a very different level of moral culpability between deliberating acting in a way to cause people’s deaths versus deliberately avoiding action that would have prevented people’s deaths. Believers in utilitarian ethics may not understand that, but there it is.

    The death penalty should be abolished because it is not an effective deterrent. Torture should be abolished because it is not an effective interrogation method. Preemptive war is immoral because it does not reduce civilian casualties. Beheading foreigners and posting the videos to YouTube is wrong because it doesn’t prevent anything.

    And so, I believe that the death penality should be abolished regardless of whether it would be an effective deterrent, torture should not be allowed regardless of whether it is an effective means of acquiring important information, and beheading people is just plain wrong.

    I accept that the argument against these things should include how ineffective they are for the purposes for which they are proposed, but I believe that they are wrong for much broader ethical reasons than that.

  14. invivoMark says

    Mano @10,

    Humans are complicated critters, with brains that have evolved with gatling-gun rapidity over the course of just a few hundred thousand years. We’ve got a few quirks in the way our brains function, and one of those quirks is that we really don’t want to live in a society where we can be killed at any time, for any reason.

    Utilitarianism isn’t simply a count of how many lives we can save. I think it should be obvious that a society in which we arbitrarily kill young, healthy people just to harvest their organs is simply not a workable society, and would make a lot of people upset. Meanwhile, those who benefited from such a society would bear the guilt and the blame that they caused someone else’s death.

    Just like the trolley problem, reality is a lot more complicated than the simplified calculus of a hypothetical logic puzzle. So the solutions that you get from the puzzle will almost never resemble the best solutions in real life.

    And ISIS commanders aren’t making the world a better place by brutally murdering outsiders on video. You can’t seriously be suggesting that they are.

  15. invivoMark says

    Chiroptera @15,

    I would prefer that you didn’t pretend that all utilitarians (myself included) simply don’t understand that others think there is more to ethics. I understand several non-utilitarian systems of ethics, as well as several variants of utilitarianism. I simply reject all non-utilitarian systems of ethics, because they are all arbitrary and impracticable.

    Utilitarianism is also arbitrary and impracticable, but, I would argue, to a much lesser extent.

  16. laurentweppe says

    the outcome of each case in the trolley problem is known ahead of time with 100% certainty. So the solutions to the trolley problem are counterintuitive and there are no real parallels in real life.

    Which leads to a problem regarding Hiroshima: it is possible that the nuking lowered the final amount of death by, say, causing an immediate surrender of Imperial Japan before Stalin had the opportunity to starve the Japanese people into submission. But even if one is willing to assume that the act itself had positive influences, there was no way to predict it back then, meaning that even if the decision to nuke two cities had been taken by people who genuinely thought that it would lead too less civilian deaths down the road (dubious), it was one monstrous gamble.

    ***

    the (frankly racist) trope that “they don’t value life like we do”

    Actually, you don’t even need to go down the racist rabbit hole to follow that logic: if you assume that They define the ruling class of the other side, the argument becomes more akin to “These aristocrats don’t give a shit about plebeians deaths so long as enough plebeians remain to feed and serve them, therefore, they’ll keep throwing their subjects at us unless we prove that we are strong and determined enough to burn their fortified estates down with them inside even if it means slaughtering everyone between us and the aforementioned estates“: a rather comfortable way to justify oneself, sure, since you can pretty much claim that the civilians you kill would be doomed to eternally suffer under the yoke of their corrupt overlords anyway, but you don’t have to rely on ethnic determinism to justify the employ of murderous tactics: never underestimate how creative people can become when it comes to rationalize harmful intent.

    ***

    1) Does he have any evidence that this method would work?

    As a matter of fact, there is evidence that the most brutal uprisings are the most likely to succeed.

  17. kaelik says

    I would agree with invivoMark that very few utilitarians are unaware or confused by the concept of other ethical theories. In point of fact, I suspect that Mano Singham is aware of the concept of people with other ethical theories, even utilitarians, which is why I found his post so confusing, because for all intents and purposes it looks as if written by someone who has never even heard of the concept in how it brushes past any semblance of recognition that they exist.

    I would personally consider anyone faced with an actual “Trolley Problem” in real life (which would have to not involve an actual trolley, since things like derailing, passengers, and the ability for people to move off of tracks all exist) to be making an incredibly poor moral choice to kill five people instead of one. But I recognize that such people (or peoples, as many different ethical theories put undue emphasis on non-action vs action) exist, and consequently I would never make a post about a moral subject in which I just blasédly dismissed the very concept that someone arguing for a Kantian position with Kantian language was Kantian, and I instead assert they must be a confused utilitarian who just doesn’t get it.

  18. Glenn says

    Hiroshima and Nagasaki had absolutely no military value as targets.

    That is why they were never targeted during the entire war until after the outcome was certain.

    Their value was purely a scientific value, as a means of measuring the devastation the bombs would cause on cities not previously bombed, thereby eliminating that source of “noise” from the blast evaluation.

    Some 70 cities had already been destroyed by fire bombing, so to bomb these cities again with an atomic bomb would have merely “bounced rubble” without giving a clear indication of atomic bomb damage, distinct from fire bomb damage.

    There is cause here to question the morality of science in service of war.

  19. sundoga says

    No, Glenn, it isn’t that simple.
    Hiroshima was the home port for the Imperial Japanese Navy, and possessed the finest dockyards and repair facilities for warships in the Empire. Nagasaki was a major industrial centre, and headquarters for regional air and land defences for it’s quarter of Honshu. That makes both legitimate military targets under the Hague Convention, though the case for Hiroshima would have been better if the bomb had been directed at the harbour rather than the city centre.
    Mano, if you object to the utilitarian argument, you would have to basically object to war in all cases and at all times as immoral. In most cases, frankly, I would not disagree with that concept…but not in all cases.

  20. Mano Singham says

    sundoga@21,

    I am not opposed to all wars, just offensive ones or ones waged against civilian targets. I can justify defensive wars, in response to an actual attack.

  21. Mano Singham says

    invivoMark @#16,

    “And ISIS commanders aren’t making the world a better place by brutally murdering outsiders on video.”

    It does not matter what we think about their actions. The point is that they may well think they are making the world a better place, just as the people who bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki justified their own actions. Whether the Japanese people thought it was making the world a better place was not a consideration.

  22. Chiroptera says

    invivoMark, #17: I would prefer that you didn’t pretend that all utilitarians (myself included) simply don’t understand that others think there is more to ethics.

    I have been involved in discussions in the past about the trolley experiments with people who were surprised and shocked at the results. I mentioned that I didn’t find the results surprising or shocking at all and that the best interpretation was the straightforward one, namely, most people probably aren’t naturally utilitarians and that it is natural to distinguish between outcomes that result from action versus inaction. I very rarely had the response, “Really? I never thought about it. Well, I still disagree with that, so there is still some research to be done in this area.”

    Instead, the response has almost always been one of indignation, that I was talking nonsense, and that the trolley experiment had “problems” that simply had to be “resolved” because so many people couldn’t possibly be evaluating the situation in the way I thought was possible.

    So I was referring to people who have demonstrated that they really cannot recognize that other people have a legitimate but different foundation to their system of morality, not to all utilitarians. But my poor choice of wording is at fault here, so I apologize for such a sloppily written comment.

    When you mentioned “the trolley problem is easily solved,” I assumed that you were one of those people. I see that I read more into your comment than I should have and I also apologize for misreading you.

  23. invivoMark says

    Mano @23,

    I think it is very much irrelevant what ISIS commanders believe to be morally right. Their actions are wrong, because they’re increasing suffering in the world. That matters to utilitarianism, not whether those suffering live in Nation X or Nation Y.

    I thought that would be clear, since we are talking about whether the bombs over Nagasaki and Hiroshima were objectively moral, not whether they were beneficial to the Japanese specifically. Obviously they were not. But then, any defensive action of the US against the Japanese would be bad from a Japanese point of view.

    Chiroptera @24,

    No problem, all is forgiven. It has been my experience that most who consider themselves to be utilitarians are well aware that they are in the minority, but I understand that my experience is very much limited.

    I maintain adherence to utilitarianism, but I do also try to be realistic about recognizing its shortcomings.

  24. Mano Singham says

    But surely the metrics you use to measure suffering are relevant? It may well be that ISIS thinks that living under their brand of Islamic fundamentalism decreases the suffering of the world since as a result more people would be following the will of god and thus are assured of rewards, both earthly and in the afterlife. Hence they could well feel that they are justified in what they do on ‘objective’ grounds.

    You and I will likely disagree because they (i.e., ISIS) are seeing objectivity within their own framework and we do not agree with it. But this shows the difficulty of measuring well-being ‘objectively’, by which I presume you mean using a metric that all sides can agree on.

  25. invivoMark says

    I doubt there are many in ISIS who would think that way. I know from interactions with Christians that fundamentalists are all-too-eager to fantasize about the horrible fates of nonbelievers. And if an ISIS leader really did support utilitarianism, then they would surely advocate for humane methods of killing.

    Moreover, utilitarianism is implicitly anti-fundamentalist. If utilitarianism really is the best system of ethics, then an all-powerful deity would never subject anyone to eternal torment, and would reward everyone with the best treatment after death. Even if heaven and hell are meant to be a carrot and stick for persuading people to behave themselves in life, a utilitarian deity would still lie about the existence of hell and then treat everyone to heaven, no matter how poorly they behaved.

    It’s not possible to subscribe to utilitarianism and be religious unless you believe in an evil god.

  26. Rob says

    The thing with morality is that it is a social construct. Much as everybody thinks their own chosen moral framework is correct, the fact is that even objective measures fail because different societies and cultures weight the inputs in a different manner. The issue I have with the utilitarian method described above is that it can be expressed/implemented in a robotic manner. I don’t see that subscribing to utilitarianism leads to, or requires one to be a non-believer. Those of different social and cultural backgrounds can measure utility and consequence in different ways. Utilitarianism thus lends itself to having a somewhat absolutist black and white view of morality that lacks flexibility and grey areas.
     
    While I also agree that the death penalty is a very bad idea, I have to say I find the argument that it doesn’t actually work as a deterrent to be both valid and weak. For me the stronger argument is that it kills innocent people. The fact that it also doesn’t fulfil its claimed purpose of being deterrent simply makes it barbarous and really about revenge.
     
    Mano has presented the stronger arguments to date in this discussion (IMO). in my view when a civilised society resorts to initiating warfare, executing people, justifying the slaughter of civilians or undertaking torture it has already lost the important essence that it claims to be protecting in the first instance. Defensive wars are another matter.

  27. kaelik says

    @Mano Singham
    “But surely the metrics you use to measure suffering are relevant? It may well be that ISIS thinks that living under their brand of Islamic fundamentalism decreases the suffering of the world since as a result more people would be following the will of god and thus are assured of rewards, both earthly and in the afterlife. Hence they could well feel that they are justified in what they do on ‘objective’ grounds.”

    But the important part is that they are wrong. Just like people who think the death penalty deters crimes are wrong, or people that think torture produces true information are wrong, or people that thought (or think, but I’m pretty sure everyone who made the choice is dead now) that dropping the bombs on civilian populations would save lives were wrong.

    Obviously what is moral depends on what is true, and what is false, to think morality is irrespective of the truth of any and all claims is quite odd.

    “You and I will likely disagree because they (i.e., ISIS) are seeing objectivity within their own framework and we do not agree with it. But this shows the difficulty of measuring well-being ‘objectively’, by which I presume you mean using a metric that all sides can agree on.”

    Yes, people who are wrong about things are likely to pursue actions which they view as moral, but are in fact not. Yes, not all people are always correct about all things. I’m not sure how that counts as a criticism of the idea that suffering and killing are bad, and that happiness/utility/flourishing are good.

  28. Who Cares says

    @laurentweppe(#18):
    Actually there was a way to predict what would cause the Japanese to surrender.
    The U.S. knew that the Japanese were offering almost total surrender. The only point they wanted was to let the emperor keep his throne.
    The U.S. knew this days before they dropped the bombs. Then after the bombs the Japanese went for total surrender without any strings attached and the U.S. let the emperor stay on his throne.
    So the dropping of the bombs was absolutely not done to force the Japanese to surrender.

    Also the justification for dropping the bomb was never less civilian deaths. It was less U.S. soldier deaths. Of which the planners told Truman that the absolute worst case would have been 40 thousand to 50 thousand dead U.S. soldiers for the invasion of the Japanese main islands. Compared to the expected death toll of at least twice that many civilians (about 40k at least in both cities) if the bombs worked.
    Later, once the rabid anti-Japan propaganda had stopped, the message became it prevented X U.S. soldiers death and the same amount of Japanese soldier death (and X has been inflated ever since Truman added a 0 to the number of deaths prevented in his memoirs).

    @Glenn(#20):
    They did have valuable military targets in both Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Hiroshima had an important port and several military installations. Nagasaki was a major producer for tools, aircraft, etc.

    @sundoga(#21):
    There is a major reason why the nukings were not valid under the Hague convention.
    The 5 targets selected had as major selection criterion: Military target inside a major civilian/urban area. This to maximize the psychological impact of a successful use of a nuke.

  29. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @Mano

    It would, for example, justify the death penalty because one could argue that executing someone is justified because it could deter others from committing future hypothetical murders.

    But you do support jailing a few innocent people for years or decades for the same deterrence effect. Anyone who tries to make a categorical distinction between years of prison and the death penalty is wrong-headed. Jailing an innocent person for decades is a horrible, horrible situation, IMHO in the same ballpark as the death penalty. Anyone who disagrees I think is especially ignorant or in denial of the present facts of the American prison system, although my complaints apply in some significant part even to ideal prison systems.

    One could argue in favor of torture because torturing someone, even unto death, is justified because it might hypothetically save the lives of others.

    There’s all of the other reasons that you don’t bring up here, which is why we should never allow torture. 1- It doesn’t work in the vast majority of cases. 2- Allowing torture in some cases puts that discretionary power in the hands of the government, and the government will abuse that power, just like it abuses all of its power. 3- The situations where torture would work and where it would be morally justified are at best an extremely small subset of cases. Thus, the overall cost-benefit analysis is clearly in favor of a simple blanket ban on torture in order to prevent government abuse of a discretionary ability to torture.

    One could argue that it is justified to wage preventive war against other countries because of the possibility that they might initiate a war in the future that leads to greater casualties.

    If I was in charge, I would actually adopt this position in certain cases. If I were in charge, and if I could muster up a sufficient international coalition to enforce it, everyone would be members of a nuclear treaty that forces invasive inspections on everyone, myself included, in addition to continued reductions in supplies of nuclear weapons. If a country does not agree and play ball, then I would pre-emptively invade to enforce compliance with the nuclear “treaty”.

    The primary motivation for my post is to strongly argue this particular point. We need a global arms control of nuclear weapons. Going forward, that may need to be extended to other sorts of weapons, such as autonomous weapons that target humans, esp. in the context of other technological advancements.

    The point is that committing an act that will definitely result in the death of an innocent person because it might hypothetically save lives in the future is wrong.

    This is naive bullshit. Vaccinations. We know that forcing vaccinations on children will kill a stupidly small subset of the population that would not have died without the vaccination campaign, but we do it anyway because the number of children that we will kill are far less in number than the children that we will save. I really like vaccines. I think you do too.

    If the ratio of five to one is a good one, why not kill some random healthy person who has good organs to save the lives of five people? Since the innocence of the Japanese seems to be immaterial, so should that of the victim here.

    We do. When it’s a million to one or a billion to one, we do almost exactly that with vaccines every day.

    Human morality in corner cases like this is hard. The trolley problem is a famous and famously hard philosophical problem. I think it’s a little presumptuous that you think you have solved it with a few trite lines of argument.

    However, I think Rawls’ Veil Of Ignorance standard is a good first step towards answering questions like this.

    PS:
    I agree the atomic bombs on Japan was warcrime. So was the firebombings of Dresden. A military target for the atomic bombs would have been better. I also much prefer the idea of alerting the Japanese that a nearby uninhabited island or some such was going to be bombed in the next X weeks, and they should monitor it, and then sometime in those X weeks nuke the island. We didn’t have to give anything specific, just “watch this island for the next X weeks please – we’re going to test a new weapons system”. If it works, great. If it’s a dud, it won’t detract from the war effort nor effort to get the Japanese to surrender IMHO.

  30. Glenn says

    Hiroshima and Nagasaki were not military targets of any value as demonstrated by the judgment of the Allied Forces to bomb other sites during the most intense periods of this war.

    Had they been of any military value they would have been bombed at some time between the Declaration of War and when Japan sued for peace.

    But these cities were not judged to be of any military value, and this was demonstrated by the bombs that did NOT fall on these cities in the intense fighting during this period of time.

    These cities were bombed only after Japan sued for peace.

    And chosen only in the interest of a scientific measurement of efficacy.

    American character is demonstrably proficient in construction of justification for war crimes when emotionally possessed by fear and blood lust.

    The Berkley professor of law, John Yoo, justifies the crushing of a child’s testicles before his parents’ eyes to entice confessions.

    Madeleine Albright admits and justified the death of 500,000 children in Iraq during sanctions before a seething hateful America that would have found anything less to be worthy of reproach.

    What other nation spends as much as the rest of the world on weapons while domestic needs are left unmet? Who eats their young in war or buries them in crushing debt for education.

    I find none of these atrocities shocking, long ago having found them too commonplace to be worthy of much notice.

  31. laurentweppe says

    Actually there was a way to predict what would cause the Japanese to surrender.

    No there wasn’t.
    Your reasoning is build upon the postulate that Japan’s high command was already unanimously willing to surrender before the bombings. Given that it is a well documented fact that Japanese higher-ups were deeply divided about it (hell, there even was a attempted coup on the eve of the surrender), your assumptions do not hold much water.

    Which is actually a problem when it comes to discussing the bombings: those who view the bombings as monstrous tend to claim that Japan was already on its knees and begging to surrender before the bombing, a demonstrably false assertion, while those who those who view the bombings as justified often repeat the debunked claims made back then by american higher-ups about the human cost of an invasion, which often reduce any “debate” as two sides hurling lies and exaggerations at one another.

  32. sundoga says

    Your pardon, laurentweppe, but debunked by whom and when? I have heard this claim before, but I’ve never been able to substantiate any such debunking.

  33. OlliP says

    @EnlightenmentLiberal #32
    The vaccination example doesn’t work imo. There is not a single vaccination given to anyone with the purpose of killing that person. The action is always expected to be beneficial to the target. Even if sometimes it turns out to be mistaken. This is a fundamental difference to the bombing, where it was expected to be deadly to all targets.

  34. Holms says

    #34
    Which is actually a problem when it comes to discussing the bombings: those who view the bombings as monstrous tend to claim that Japan was already on its knees and begging to surrender before the bombing, a demonstrably false assertion…

    But the case against nuking cities doesn’t rest on the idea that the Japanese were about to surrender, it rests on the difference between military vs. civlian targets. If they had chosen a military target, the war crime element goes away.

    Additionally, the idea mentioned at #21 by sundoga, that Nagasaki for example was justified as a target because it had heavy industry, strikes me as being overly glib; if ‘industrial centre’ becomes acceptable as a criterion for deciding whether a target is military or civilian, then suddenly almost any fair sized city becomes fair game. Nukes away!

  35. jws1 says

    The reaction elicited by these two posts by Mano just go to prove the claim that my aggression against civilians is always justified while yours never is.

  36. laurentweppe says

    But the case against nuking cities doesn’t rest on the idea that the Japanese were about to surrender, it rests on the difference between military vs. civlian targets. If they had chosen a military target, the war crime element goes away.

    Yes and no.
    Yes the case against nuking cities (which I agree with) doesn’t rest on the idea that the Japanese were about to surrender, which is why it’s a bad idea to keep using this claim.
    And no, the case against nuking cities doesn’t rest on the difference between military vs. civilian targets: as pointed by others, there were military targets within the bombed cities: the problem is that nukes are so powerful that you can’t nuke a military target without also slaughtering thousands of civilians living nearby.

  37. kaelik says

    @jws1
    Or in the alternative, you could read literally any of the comments, in which almost everyone agrees that dropping the nukes was wrong, even if they disagree over why. You really should display some limited amount of intellectual honesty by not accusing everyone who disagrees with you of lying about everything they say and secretly reveling at the deaths of millions of people.

  38. jws1 says

    Yeah, yeah. People don’t like it much when it’s pointed out to them that they are engaging in mental gymnastics justifying the political violence of their tribe while condemning the political violence of the other. This reaction was assumed.

  39. kaelik says

    @jws1
    The point is that no one is justifying it. That you can’t tell the difference between “dropping the nukes was bad, but your reason why is incomplete/wrong” and “LET ME KILL DEM JAPS PLS” is an indictment on you, not on the people arguing about why an action is immoral.

  40. Holms says

    #39
    And no, the case against nuking cities doesn’t rest on the difference between military vs. civilian targets: as pointed by others, there were military targets within the bombed cities: the problem is that nukes are so powerful that you can’t nuke a military target without also slaughtering thousands of civilians living nearby.

    This is just a roundabout way of saying what I already said: cities are civilian regardless of whether they also contain military barracks and such; even conventional carpet bombing raises the question of war crime by way of indiscriminate fire. Nukes are right out.

  41. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @OlliP
    Intent is not magic. It does not matter that we do not want innocent people to die with our vaccination program. we know that it’s an inevitable outcome. The same applies to bombing campaigns. I fail to see a significant difference. In both cases, we take actions knowing that it will kill innocent people.

    Also, the vaccination example is a perfect parallel to Mano’s example of killing 1 person for the organs to save a dozen.

    Also, my example was clearly in response to the piece of text I quoted, which was Mano saying it’s always wrong to kill one to save many. That statement is clearly wrong, foolish, and naive.

  42. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Intent is not magic. It does not matter that we do not want innocent people to die with our vaccination program. we know that it’s an inevitable outcome. The same applies to bombing campaigns. I fail to see a significant difference. In both cases, we take actions knowing that it will kill innocent people.

    Clarification: I see no significance difference w.r.t. the basic fact that in both cases, we’re killing some innocent people for some perhaps noble higher goal. I hope we can all agree vaccines are a good idea. Thus there are some cases where the right action is to kill a few to save many.

  43. Holms says

    #44
    Intent is not magic. It does not matter that we do not want innocent people to die with our vaccination program. we know that it’s an inevitable outcome. The same applies to bombing campaigns. I fail to see a significant difference. In both cases, we take actions knowing that it will kill innocent people.

    For fuck sake, how I loathe what ‘intent is not magic’ became. At its inception, it was used to mean something like not intending offense / shock / insult / disparagement / etc. does not prevent those same from occurring. It was a counter specifically to the common defense that ran something like “I didn’t intend offense, therefore you can’t get offended!” But now it has become disregard all intent always, no matter what is being discussed.

    But outside that narrow original scenario, intent does matter. You “fail to see the difference”? Look harder! In the case of a vaccination, which we’ll assume to be mandatory, the action being forced on a person potentially against their will is forcing an injection and thereby protect against [illness]. In the case of a bombing run, the action is to drop bombs on infrastructure / industries / residences and thereby kill people. The injection has a small chance of death, whereas killing someone has a 100% chance of death.

    You are comparing an activity that has the possibility to cause death with intentionally causing death, i.e. apples to oranges.

  44. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    You’re the one who introduced the comparison. I’m responding to Mano’s claim that killing one to save many is always wrong.

  45. lanir says

    I came to the discussion a bit late, apologies if I’m repeating anything. Read the comments so I don’t think I am.

    As several commenters have demonstrated the data people are working from is different. I haven’t seen any posts accepting someone else’s data so I must assume that conflicting data were disregarded. I personally think they were wrong then and they’d certainly be wrong now but that’s largely because of my low opinion on how accurately people construct outcomes when dreaming up hypothetical situations.

    As I understand it the sole justification to this point has been that lives would be saved by nuking. There are variations on how the lives would be “saved” in this scenario but that’s common to all of them. The scenarios all require the Japanese to not be willing to surrender until after the bombs, which makes no sense because as I understood it the initial damage was not significantly different from a firebombing campaign. And it requires that every other route to eventual Japanese surrender kill more Japanese lives than the bombs did, specifically more civilians. If there were any reasonable doubt about the timing of the surrender then all the various numbers for both U.S. AND Japanese deaths could be discarded. There seems to be enough potential for the surrender to happen anyway that it’s worth raising the question. If there were any reasonable doubt about the outcomes of every other means of subjugating Japan and the number of civilian deaths that would entail, then the numbers on the Japanese side can be discarded. What you end up with when looking at all of this a morasse, not a simple equation and that alone makes justifications suspect.

    The data used is also biased. The people generating that data were all strongly on one side. This also makes their results suspect even before we get into whether or not they even tallied the likely Japanese losses at the time or if that was a historical fabrication for political ends. Additionally, unless the process is known and the source material is available it’s impossible to reproduce the data. I’m not sure whether these exist or not but I haven’t seen anyone mention them and if available they would clearly debunk some of the differing data sets.

    This issue of accurate hypothetical situations is also my issue with the trolley problems. When they say to kill one person then I know if I act I really kill one person. When they say it will save five people, I don’t believe them. That’s a possibility, a likelihood even. But it is not a certainty until after it happens. As a justification for killing someone it’s a lousy reason right up there with destroying the village to save it or nuking the country to save lives.

  46. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    When they say to kill one person then I know if I act I really kill one person. When they say it will save five people, I don’t believe them. That’s a possibility, a likelihood even. But it is not a certainty until after it happens. As a justification for killing someone it’s a lousy reason right up there with destroying the village to save it or nuking the country to save lives.

    So, are you against vaccines? Because we know to a statistical certainty that some accidents, contaminations, etc., will result in vaccines killing someone who would not have died without the vaccination program. Just as certain as shooting someone in the head. Of course, it’s like 10 out of a million, or 1 out of a billion, an exceedingly small number.

    I appreciate the arguments against the atomic bombing arguments, but again I have to say it’s incredibly foolish to make this blanket moral claim that it’s always wrong to kill one to save many.

  47. OlliP says

    @EnlightenmentLiberal #44

    Intent it not magic

    There are ethical systems where intent is the thing that matters, not the outcome. In practice I would guess that most of us have a system where we appreciate both the intent and the outcome. I lean heavily towards valueing intent, but at the same time it must be with a realistic expectation of the most likely potential outcomes. For example you can’t drive drunk and say “I didn’t intend to cause an accident”. In that case you would have neglected to examine your intent to drive drunk and the likely outcomes that it contains.

    vaccination example is a perfect parallel to Mano’s example of killing 1 person for the organs

    I don’t think it is. In the vaccination case you enter into every individual procedure expecting it to be beneficial to the target. There are extremely rare severe side effects in a large population, but in every individual case the intent is to protect the target from harm and the expectation is beneficial. In the organ harvesting example you intend to cause and expect the death of a particular person that you can point to and name. This is a crucial difference.
    If you value a person’s autonomy (at least in informed decisions), then you cannot sacrafice them like a tool against their will to save X lives, no matter how large X is, and have that be morally acceptable. It is debatable if you could morally cause them temporary pain or other distress to save X lives, but killing them is out of the question.
    You might have a different reading of what Mano’s

    act that will definitely result in the death of an innocent person because it might hypothetically save lives

    means in this context. I don’t think it means rare large population side-effects that you try to minimize.

  48. StevoR says

    Good doco here :

    http://www.sbs.com.au/ondemand/video/491544131947/the-bomb

    On The Bomb which was on Aussie TV last Sunday night.

    I’ve been to Hiroshima. The A-bombed Genbaken dome, the museum of it, rung the bell at the peace park. (Experienced an earthquake too) back in 2000-1. I’ve seen a eucalyptus tree growing there that got hit with the A-bomb and is still alive, seen clothes that were melted onto schoolgirls backs. Its so powerful, so moving and sad. I read ‘Sadako and the thousand cranes’ as a child. Moved so much by her story. There’s so much to say about it, words aren’t really adequate and so many conflicting and clashing arguments.

    Was it necessary?

    Did it save more lives than it cost?

    So much human suffering and such terrible implications in some many ways.

    We’ve stepped back from that nuclear holocaust brink (?) that formed in the spacetime wake of this atrocity.

    I don’t know, there’s no certainty here but statistics of how many died and what devastation was wrecked and yet Hiroshima when I was there, well, you’d almost never know. And it reminded me of Adelaide, beautiful city in the hills with nice people, a sense of community, a great place and home for so many.

    I don’t really know what more to say except this – please humanity let’s never do that to a city again.

  49. StevoR says

    See also :

    http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/backgroundbriefing/nuclear-nightmares/3450326

    Plus :

    http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/ockhamsrazor/working-to-abolish-nuclear-weapons/5662358

    Also Nagasaki :

    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-08-07/psaltis-what-about-nagasaki/6680386

    (WARNING : GRAPHIC IMAGE.)

    Not been there but should never be forgotten. Nor should Maralinga and Murorra atioll be forgotten either.

    I also couldn’t forget reading Children of the Dust’ as a boy if I wanted to. Powerful novel for anyone. Grew up inthe Bombs shadow. Wish it had never been invented – but guess it was always going to be. Now what do we choose to do with it and how do we handle it and its implications?

  50. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    There are ethical systems where intent is the thing that matters, not the outcome.

    When we know full well that plan X will result in Y, and we do X, that means we have intent to do Y. I do not understand another meaning of intent. You seem to want to have your cake and eat it too. You want to say that we want vaccines to help and not hurt, and because of our desires, our foreknowledge about the consequences of our actions somehow magically disappears, and our intent somehow also magically disappears. “Acting with intent” is something different than “acting with certain desired outcomes”.

    If you value a person’s autonomy (at least in informed decisions), then you cannot sacrafice them like a tool against their will to save X lives, no matter how large X is, and have that be morally acceptable.

    That’s exactly what vaccines are. The only differences are:
    1- Vaccines kill at random.
    2- Everyone gains, except those killed at random.

    So, why not have a lottery to kill healthy people for their organs to to save 10 more? By your apparent standards, that’s totally legit. Everyone has a chance to get better, just like with vaccines.

    The difference for me is the numbers, plus lack of a plausible alternative. I can try to explain my hunches and reasoning, but that is going to take a while.

    means in this context. I don’t think it means rare large population side-effects that you try to minimize.

    You can say that, but it doesn’t make it true. This is one of the worst cases of dishonest motivated reasoning I’ve seen in a long time. Vaccination is a program where, with clear foreknowledge and therefore intent, we take actions that will result in the deaths of some to improve the lives of others and saves the lives of others. That moral principle was clearly espoused, and it’s also clearly wrong as stated.

  51. lanir says

    @EnlightenmentLiberal:
    I don’t have a problem with vaccines. The causes you listed for issues after being vaccinated frankly sound a lot like random chance that could happen with any doctor visit. It also sounds a lot like anti-vaxxer nonsense. But let’s assume for the sake of clarity that there were some random non-controvertial thing that had an almost entirely beneficial effect but in some very rare circumstances caused harm and possibly even death. This example is quite different from actively killing someone and hoping you’re right about the outcome you predict. In this example you’re actually almost positive the effects will be strongly beneficial and only some fluke oddity could cause any other result. Generally in these cases I think this stops being about ethics and starts being about how people parse statistics and chance. I don’t think we’re that good (in general) at parsing very low chances of very bad things happening. This is just my opinion though, seek out an expert if you want an informed opinion.

  52. OlliP says

    @EnlightenmentLiberal
    Death rates for vaccines are not easy to find. Death is not even listed as a side effect by the CDC or the Finnish department of health (I only checked 2 sources). But I assume any deaths are a result of untreated or mistreated anaphylaxia. Anaphylaxia occurs at about 1 per million. I’ll be generous and assume that even with treatment anaphylaxia results in death at 1 per 100. That means a vaccination program would have a death rate of 1 per one hundred million.
    Now let’s look at a realistic hypotethical plan. For example “in this population of ten million, for the next 10 years, we shall vaccinate against disease D every child aged Z that is not allergic to the vaccine or in a high risk group for serious side-effects.” This is a somewhat realistic program that a department of health might undertake. Ten million people is a medium sized country or a large state/province. This would mean about 150 000 vaccinations per year. Over ten years the likelihood that there are zero deaths overall is about 99 %. So you intend to kill no one and realistically expext no one to die. The same is true of a nurse that goes into a kindergarden to administer the vaccines. She intends to kill no one there and realistically expects no one to die.
    Selecting by lottery living people for organ harvesting is really different. You know those people will die. The expected death toll is exactly the amount of losing lottery tickets. And before a surgeon starts harvesting the organs, he knows he is killing the donor. While obeying the doctors’ oath the organ harvesting could not be done, since the doctor would knowingly be doing harm. This is completely different from a nurse or doctor administering a vaccine.
    .
    The vaccination program is not analoguous to a random organ donor selction program or bombing a city. It’s more like saying that people die in accidents involving furniture, but still it’s allowed to manufacture furniture. Even though it is known that some people will die from them despite assembly and using instructions. Dying from a vaccine is an unexpected accident, dying from being an organ farm or a bombing target is not.
    This might not change your mind, but this is most certainly not a case of dishonest reasoning. For you to call it that is insulting. Now that I have dealt with your accusation of dishonesty, I shall no longer continue this conversation.

  53. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    @lanir

    This example is quite different from actively killing someone and hoping you’re right about the outcome you predict. In this example you’re actually almost positive the effects will be strongly beneficial and only some fluke oddity could cause any other result. Generally in these cases I think this stops being about ethics and starts being about how people parse statistics and chance.

    I agree there are differences. From the beginning, I agreed that there are important differences. From the beginning, I’ve been in favor of vaccination campaigns, and against killing one person for their organs to save a dozen people, and I’ve been against the atomic bombings of Japanese cities.

    Are you going to defend the proposition that it’s always wrong to kill one to save many, no matter the numbers involved or other circumstances?

    @OlliP

    It’s more like saying that people die in accidents involving furniture, but still it’s allowed to manufacture furniture.

    Wow. You one-up’d yourself on this bullshit. My hat is off to you.

    There is a massive difference forcing children to do something against their will and the will of the parents which has a chance of death, vs fucking allowing informed, consenting adults from doing something which has a chance of death. How the fuck – what the fuck – are you thinking by comparing the two? Who the fuck gave you the right to say that I or other informed consenting adults cannot take informed consenting risks as we deem fit? You’re now going to tell me that I cannot go bungee jumping, white water rafting, and any other activity that you deem too dangerous? Who the fuck made you my parent? Go read some JS Mill and “On Liberty”.

    PS: Your central argument is still bullshit. Your argument in essence is “the number is so close to zero that I’ll pretend it’s zero, and thus it doesn’t count, because I say so”. This is still clearly a case where we pursue a public policy to kill a few to save many – your recent bullshit notwithstanding.

  54. StevoR says

    ‘On The Beach’.

    http://www.sbs.com.au/ondemand/video/317033539689/fallout

    Read it so long ago I’ve almost forgotten it all. Never have seen the movie here.

    You kill your kids to shorten their suffering.

    Then you take it in turns to die.

    Together.

    The world is already dead.

    We still have the power to do that. Make this fiction turn fact.

    So many times over and we’ve become so complacent and used to that.

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