Different Scales

This sounds right, but I wonder if the results would hold up in a non-Western country?
You find a time machine and travel to 1920. A young Austrian artist and war veteran named Adolf Hitler is staying in the hotel room next to yours. The doors aren't locked, so you could easily stroll next door and smother him. World War II would never happen.

But Hitler hasn't done anything wrong yet. Is it acceptable to kill him to prevent World War II?

This is one moral dilemma that researchers often use to analyze how people make difficult decisions. Most recently, one group re-analyzed answers from more than 6,000 subjects to compare men's and women's responses. They found that men and women both calculate consequences such as lives lost. But women are more likely to feel conflicted over what to do. Having to commit murder is more likely to push them toward letting Hitler live.

"Women seem to be more likely to have this negative, emotional, gut-level reaction to causing harm to people in the dilemmas, to the one person, whereas men were less likely to express this strong emotional reaction to harm," Rebecca Friesdorf, the lead author of the study, tells Shots.
If the findings held up, it would seem to have significant consequences even within a given culture in which those findings held. It would be more interesting by far, though, if it proved to hold in non-WEIRD countries. Then you'd have enough difference in nurture to have pretty good reason to suspect a difference in nature.

8 comments:

E Hines said...

Let's see.... Do nothing to Hitler, WWII happens, as does the subsequent general victory of freedom in the subsequently subsequent Cold War....

Kill Hitler, and irrevocably destroy the lives of nearly 2B human beings; or maybe Stalin wins the inevitable war for Europe, enslaving hundreds of millions, with the casualties from that, along with the loss of technological progress with the easier lives; or the USSR and Japan then combine and successfully overrun North America, enslaving hundreds of millions more; or....

Hmm....

There's a problem with letting sociologists play with adult science toys in positing their little surveys.

Eric Hines

David Foster said...

IIRC, there were quite a few German officers who favored removing Hitler from power but not assassinating him because that would be "murder." They were not motivated by sympathy for Naziism or by fear...they were risking their lives by membership in an anti-Nazi conspiracy...but their particular moral codes, whether motivated by religion or not, excluded this particular kind of killing although obviously given their choice of profession they had no problems with killing in war.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I think Eric hits an important point. Unless the killing-for-good side of the equation can be shown to be unequivocal, there will be too much noise in the responses to measure anything.

Tom said...

Well, the at least temporary victory of freedom. I think it's on the way out, myself.

However, if we accept the hypothetical of the research question that time travel is possible, why not accept that we can know the outcomes of our actions? This is a moral question, not a historical or scientific question, so historical or scientific objections aren't relevant.

Jason said...

Given a time machine, other options open up, barring significant constraints.

Getting rich playing the markets (or gambling) and hire Hitler to paint public murals in the U.S. Similar finesses can be used against Stalin and Pol Pot no doubt. Or you could kidnap them and drop them off in whatever time period seems most appropriate, where they'll be too busy trying to survive to cause much trouble (aside from disrupting the time stream by simply existing in the wrong time).

E Hines said...

if we accept the hypothetical of the research question that time travel is possible, why not accept that we can know the outcomes of our actions? This is a moral question....

A moral question doesn't need a time machine to be posed. The use of the machine means we have to consider the alternative outcomes in order to answer the question. Especially if we know those alternatives.

Eric Hines

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Upon further review, I don't think E Hines' objection holds after all, at least in this example. The number of people who would think it through that far is so small that they wouldn't move the dial. I think one could actually get some sort of accurate reading on the differences in moral reasoning between men and women.

Sad, of course, but there it is...

Gringo said...

Re time machines, simply consider threee tyrants who came to power some years after an unsuccessful coup attempt: Hitler, Castro, and Hugo Chavez. The "mercy" shown these three when they were released turned out to be very harmful to the world. The most merciful thing to do would have been to execute them for their failed coup attempts.