The morality of killing

Skald, I have exactly the same position on capital punishment…not theoretically opposed to it, but the whole thing is just too impossible and expensive to do right.

I didn’t vote for the third option…too many situations…at first I read it as using another person as a human shield…I’d like to think I’d die rather than kill an innocent, though I wouldn’t judge someone harshly in a situation like that. I think it’s ok to kill the person sending assassins after you.

After quite a lot of deliberation I voted that killing a person can be justified to protect a non-human animal…I’d be more likely to do such a thing if it were a really intelligent animal like a chimpanzee or a whale or an elephant, especially if it were one I had a personal relationship with. I don’t think I’d go that far for a cat or a dog.


Because the other prisoners were not a threat to him.

Go ahead and be merciful. I don’t care. That’s a different question. What’s morally right isn’t necessarily physically easy.

Avoiding moral culpability.

(bolding mine)

Forgive me, but that seems silly. Let’s recap the story as Hecht tells it:

One or more Nazis force a group of concentration camp prisoners to a isolated woodland spot. (The precise number of actors isn’t specified in the poem, but I’ve always taken it that there were more the four specified, because, otherwise, who told the story afterwards?) The Nazis order three prisoners – two Jews and a gentile Pole – to dig a hole; after they do so, the two Jews are forced to lie in the hole and the Pole to bury them alive. The Jews comply; the Pole does not. The Nazis then order them to exchange places. The Jews bury the Pole up to the neck, whereupon they are told to stop filling the hole, dig the Pole out, and again exchange places. This time the Pole does as he is ordered. Once the Jews have been buried and are presumably dead, the Nazis shoot the formerly recalcitrant Pole, who spends the next three hours bleeding to death.

The Pole was, of course, laudable for his initial refusal. But once the Jews made it clear that they did not share his bravery (which was hardly their fault; as Hecht writes, “much casual death had drained away their souls”), it seems unfair to expect him to continue to be that valorous, much less to criticize him for breaking. He knew of a certainty what the Nazis would do to him if he continued to refuse; he could reasonably infer that his continued refusal would do jack shit for the two Jews. He did NOT know if the Nazis would ultimately murder him no matter what, but it’s conceivable that they might not have.

How could either he or the world in general profit from his continuing to resist?

Morality cannot, in my view, be absolute. Under extreme circumstances it breaks down, because none of us have infinite strength and courage. To expect the Pole have continued his resistance – to be indifferent to his prosecution, as you wrote – is to equate him with the Nazis, and that seems unreasonable to me.

Actually, I was thinking more in terms of hiring your own assassins, or organizing your own troops. It still counts as killing if you bring help.

I’s not about doing good, it’s about not doing evil. The threat to his own life is irrelevant to the moral equation. It is not necessarily moral to save one’s own life under any and all cirmumstances.

If you are not Roy Rogers or The Lone Ranger, you are not going to shoot the gun. If you have to shoot a man, you aim center mass, and you keep shooting until you are out of ammo, or he is no longer a threat.

As for when such is justified, self-defense or defense of another. However, burglars should take note–attempting unlawful entry into my home creates a presumption of intent to cause serious bodily harm, and between me and the dogs, you ain’t gonna have much time to attempt rebuttal. It is good to live in a Castle Doctrine/Stand Your Ground state.

I know that, but the analogy required that the gun be the target.

Seconded. It’s a fantasy to think that you can shoot the gun out of people’s hands. You never point a weapon at a person or animal unless you intend to shoot him or her, and you never shoot a person unless unless you’re okay with killing them.

THAT’S the option I forgot! :smack:

I’ll agree that anyone breaking into your house may be reasonably assumed to be attempting murder and/or rape of its inhabitants and it should not be necessary to attempt to ascertain otherwise. This is true until the person is either retreating, unconscious, subdued, or face down on the floor with his fingers interlocked on his nape and his ankles crossed.

And in a way this dovetails with what I wrote earlier about the Hecht poem. Just as it’s foolish to expect the vast, vast majority of reall people to have both the skill and the constitution to be able to disarm armed assailants without harming them, it’s foolish to think any but a tiny, tiny majority of people to have the fortitude to forebear from killing an innocent to save themselves under such extreme circumstances as Hecht alleges to have occurred. Jesus, St. Francis, and Buddha, basically.

Okay, I’m an idiot. Is “actor” to mean “shooter”? If so, I really don’t understand option 2. Wouldn’t the victim be the actor shooting to defend oneself from a perpetrator, and not the one doing the killing?

Actor means one who acts; person who performs a given action.

If I kill you, I am the actor in this scenario. The victim, obviously, is the person upon whom the action is performed.

Outside of war, deadly force is appropriate to stop a violent felony or prevent an imminent violent felony against yourself or another person. Or to protect National Security, but I ain’t in that business anymore.

All except the one for the animal.

:dubious: It can be acceptable to kill to defend property, but not an animal?

I ticked all bar the first. Though I don’t agree with capital punishment, I respect the rights of states to have it. And I’d allow the use of lethal force in situations of less than grievous harm; more importantly, it’s the perception of possible harm.

Not all property obviously. By it I meant “shoot intruder” not shoot any thief.

Interesting that you didn’t include suicide in your considerations.

The only other comment I have is that I imagine that most people who kill defensively don’t know for sure what the other person is planning and how far the other person is prepared to go. I think the same is true in many cases for your “actor” – the actor is trying to stop a threat or an action, and not explicitly to kill. It just turns out that way. And the actor would probably stop short of killing once the threat or action ceases.

Okay then, option two which states “such killing is justified to protect the actor from being killed by the victim” doesn’t make any sense. And/or I am not understanding the manner in which you’re using the word “victim”. A person who is the victim is usually the one who is in danger of being killed, unless you’re saying that the shooter has a right to protect himself by killing the person HE first attacked (hence making that person a victim).

Is that the way you meant that option?

Also forgot to mention another possible justification for killing – saving a person from a lingering painful death because of a terminal medical condition – euthanasia.

I voted the same way. I can imagine property that is so important that it will save the lives of a bunch of people. I cannot imagine an animal that has that, especially one that is not property.

The word “can” allows for a lot of odd scenarios. I just couldn’t come up with one for non-property animals.

He’s using victim for the person who winds up dead, instead of for the person who feels they need to defend themselves. And since that person is the one who is actually doing the killing, they are the actor.

I admit it’s unusual to frame it in that way, but it does make sense.