The morality of killing

No setup today, boys & girls; it seemed contraindicated. Plus the lazy thing.

The poll results will be public; multiple answers are allowed. Yall will note that the phrase "Such kiling can be justified by … appears many times. I used the word can rather than does because Im not contending that killing is always justified n any of the cases I choose.

I voted for all but the first one, since the final choice includes the “He needed killin’” scenario.

My votes.

Such killing can be justified by to protect the actor from being killed by the victim.
Such killing can be justified to protect the actor from being killed by a third party.
Such killing can be justified to defend the actor from rape or grievous harm.
Such killing can be justified to protect another human from death.
Such killing can be justified to to protect another human from rape or grievous harm.
Such killing can be justified if the actor is a soldier in war.
Such killing can be justified if the actor is a police officer doing his/her duty.

Note that many of these are conditional; for example, it isn’t justifiable for a soldier to kill for conquest, but it is justifiable for them to kill an attacking army. In general, killing should be a last resort because it can’t be undone.

I didn’t vote for such a scenario because I didn’t want to complicate things. As I may or may not have said in the Se7en thread, I can understand why, for instance, a person confronted with their spouse’s murderer and being taunted by him would kill the murderer on the spot; I’d not consider tht murder, and would go out of my way to make sure the person were acquitted of all charges if I had any say in it. But I dont think the circumstance justifies the killing; it just excuses it.

I also hesitated over the property and non-human animal options. If some evil freak were about to set Seurrat’s A Sunday Evening on the Island of La Grande Jatte aflame, and there was no practical way to stop him other than shooting him*, I’d be inclined to do so, but I would (with a lot of remorse) decide that I couldnt justify it. Likewise if the evil freak were trying to kill one of our cats, or hunting polar bears, mustangs, whales, or such for fun.

  • Shooting someone is attempting to kill him. There’s no two ways around that until someone events a phaser. High on my list of rules is to never point the gun at anyone I don’t intend to kill.

I voted “can’t be justified at all” - and I know that’s likely to be an unpopular answer. I’m ok with that. I can certainly imagine circumstances in which people could kill and I would understand why they did it, but I don’t think it’s justified. Same reason I’m anti-death penalty - I don’t think people, any people, have the right to take someone else’s life away from them, for any reason.

Despite how I voted, I am in fact against capital punishment; I do not believe there is any practical way at present to administer it in a just and acceptable manner (that is, to ensure that no innocents are ever executed, and that no racial or class inequities exist in its administration, without breaking the bank of the criminal justice and slowing the process down in an even more interminable fashion than exists at present). So my vote there is mostly theoretical.

That said, I do not understand the never justified position. May I ask you to explain it? Because to me it seems to equate the life of aggressors with their victims, which is functionally the same as saying aggressors can always have their way. If it’s never justified to kill in self-defense or defense of another, then for all practical purposes no defensive violence can be allowed. Is that your feeling, or do you have a problem with the reasoning in the previous sentence.

What’s the better outcome, an innocent being murdered, or an innocent killing an attempted murderer in self defense?

Agreed with most of the choices.

Some people need to be killed.

I don’t understanmd option 3. Under what circumstances would killing person A protect me from being killed by person B?

Cops and soldiers need more specific cirmumstances outlined. There are justifiable and unjustifiable killings for both groups.

Killing a guy who paid for/ordered your assassination? Someone who never intended to personally dirty his hands killing you, but who will keep sending assassins after you until they or you are dead.

Under those circumstances - not really defensive and not justified.

Anthony Hecht wrote a poem, “More Light! More Light!” which retold an incident from the Holocaust. Three concentration camp inmates were taken to a desolate spot in a wood and ordered to dig a grave. One, a gentile Pole, was ordered to bury the other two (both Jews) alive. He refused, and his guards ordered him to exchange places with the other two; the Pole was then buried up to his neck, then released. Again they exchanged places; this time the Pole did as he was ordered. Then the Nazis, being scum, murdered him anyway. (Though of course the Nazis might have murdered him even if he’d never resisted, on account of being scum.)

That’s the sort of thing I was talking about.

No, they don’t need more specific circumstances outlined. I wrote can be justified, not is always justified, specifically because I was not trying to assert that every killing by a soldier in wartime, or a police officer on duty, is just. I was seeking to separate persons who would say that a soldier killing in war is always wrong from those who say such a soldier can be in the right, not to distinguish all the possible ways such a soldier can be right or wrong.

Saying that a circumstance can exist does not mean it must exist. I can sink a basket into my trash can from 10 feet away, but that doesn’t mean I do it every time I attempt.

I see it as just as defensive as shooting a guy who is pointing a gun at you, instead of just trying to shoot the gun.

Maybe so. But it’s a bit more … comic-booky … than I’d hoped for this thread.

The Pole was, of course, not justified.

I’m not comfortable with the of course. I don’t think he was right to do what he did, but I don’t see how he could be expected to do any differently; and writing of course seems to imply that the moral calculus here is simple and obvious, which I do not think to be the case.

When you say the Pole was not justified in his actions, do you mean that, had he and the guards survived the war, you’d have wanted to see him prosecuted along with them?

I would be indifferent to any prosecution and have no opinion on it. You asked for a moral opinion, you got one. I say you don’t kill innocent people to save yourself. we could take your scenario to greater extremes of course. What if someone was ordered to kill a baby to save their own life? What if they were ordered to torture a baby? What if they were ordered to kill 100 babies?

I say you can’t use your saving your own life as a moral excuse to harm or kill innocents. I don’t even see it as a difficult moral question.

More like anarchic, or criminal; normally if someone was sending assassins after you, getting the cops to arrest him would be better than trying to shoot him yourself. See, our society is largely set up precisely to make sure that there are few situations where violence is necessary or justified. So most scenarios where violence is justified outside of the police, military or “criminal comes at you with a weapon” are going to be either convoluted, or presume some sort of collapse of civil society. If you are stuck in some sort of failed state that’s degenerated into warlordism, then calling the cops isn’t an option; the only way to stop the guy sending assassins after you is to kill him.

The two other prisoners had already demonstrated a willingness to kill the Pole to save their own lives. I note that not to diminish their status as innocents – the villains in this anecdote are clearly the Nazis – but to ask why, under these circumstances, the Pole’s actions could not be considered self-defense. (Even though ultimately failed.)

As for the difficulty of the moral question: that stems from my innate compassion and my desire to be merciful when possible. I can’t imagine that I’d be anywhere near as brave as the Pole in the first part of the story, when he refused the demand that he become a murderer or be murdered; and if by some miracle I were so brave, I don’t think I would have been after being buried up to my own neck.

Moreover, what point would there be to the Pole’s continuing refusal? Even if by some miracle the Nazis had intended to spare him, do you think anything he could have done would have saved the Jews?

The reason I call it comic-booky is that I don’t believe there’s anybody sufficiently badass in the real world that his best strategic choice in such a circumstance is to go after the warlord aiming to kill him. In that case you’re going to head for the border.

Really quick note to say that I will come back to this when I have more time - I’m in the middle of moving house (and country) at the moment, so things are a but manic - I’m not deliberately ignoring your questions!