The Interesting Story of Otto Skorzeny

How Otto Skorzeny Went from Hitler's Favorite Commando to Israeli Hitman

It's a compelling story, though possibly his funerals gave me the biggest surprise.

On July 5, 1975, Otto Skorzeny died at the age of 67 from lung cancer. He had two funerals, one in Madrid, and the other at his family plot in Vienna. At both, he received a full Nazi send-off with Nazi veterans giving him the Nazi salute and singing some of Hitler’s favorite songs.

Of course they would. But I have this naive ... feeling ... that after WWII ended and the horrors of the holocaust were revealed, the Nazi veterans would have been too ashamed to give the Nazi salute or celebrate Hitler. I know that's not true or realistic, but it's still there.


Grim said...

That's an interesting story. It points up one of the difficulties for virtue ethics, that virtue does not always aid the good. Virtue is an excellence of capacity, but like all powers it can be used for good or evil.

Tom said...

Courage in particular seems problematic in this respect. Can temperance, prudence, or justice be used for evil in the same way that courage can?

Grim said...

Certainly. Temperance prevents you from getting drunk, say, so that you can attend to your duties more efficiently; and this holds for Nazi duties as much as for others. Prudence is at the heart of war-fighting, and thus is a virtue for evil warriors as for good ones. Justice has been defined many ways, but at least one famous classical definition applies -- the one the Republic strives against. Justice, Socrates is at pains to contest, was said by many of the ancient Greeks to be "to help one's friends, and harm one's enemies."

That is, I'm fairly sure, Donald Trump's definition of justice. And I'm not sure that the counter-arguments against it are all that strong. There's a good religious argument for Christians, but if one is not a Christian, the rational arguments against that position don't seem to hold up pragmatically. So at least by this well-attested and pragmatically effective definition of 'justice,' yes, justice too.

Tom said...

I guess I can see your points about temperance and prudence, but "to help one's friends, and harm one's enemies" doesn't seem to have anything to do with justice. That said, I don't have much in the way of an alternative definition to offer at the moment.

Grim said...

Well, this is the dispute that kicks off the whole Republic.

"Simonides, then, after the manner of poets, would seem to have spoken darkly of the nature of justice; for he really meant to say that justice is the giving to each man what is proper to him, and this he termed a debt.... then justice is the art which gives good to friends and evil to enemies."

You're giving each what he deserves, in other words, and that's justice. It's not implausible, actually; in fact, it works out extremely well in game theory. What we learn from game theory is that this model is highly rational in terms of its pragmatism: if you reward cooperation but punish betrayal, you'll get more cooperation and less betrayal. If you respond to a betrayer who switches to cooperation with rewards, you reinforce his shift in behavior. Ultimately this will maximize outcomes compared with other strategies.

Socrates doesn't like this model at all, because he opposes giving evil under any circumstances. The rest of the book is about explaining his alternative view of justice. To summarize it very briefly, he thinks that the idea is to view the political sphere by analogy to the parts of the human soul (1); and to take these parts as the rational, the spirited, and the appetitive (2). Clearly the best results come when the rational rules over the spirit, which in turn must rule over the appetites. Thus, in the city too, those most inclined to rationality should be rulers; those most inclined to spirit should be warriors who defend the rule of the rulers; and those inclined to appetites should be ruled, which will be better for them too since it will mean that they get the benefits of a rational system of government they couldn't effect themselves.

The basic idea here is that justice is rationality, a point that Kant will stand on even more firmly than Socrates. But there's a big problem with Socrates' approach: (1) is a fallacy, specifically the fallacy of composition. (2), meanwhile, commits the sin that in our own age we see in psychology: it attempts to craft a description of the unobservable, and then builds a whole doctrine on the assumption that this description is correct. What if that's not a viable way to describe the soul, or if -- as some materialists would say -- there isn't a soul to be described?

Meanwhile, if the point is that justice is rationality, well, didn't we just show that the old standard was in fact a highly rational one? What if the old 'help your friends and harm your foes' approach turns out to be the rationally best one after all? A lot of philosophy, taken on its own terms, would seem to end up having to endorse the approach if that were the case.

Well, and if so, then QED -- the virtue of justice, too, is powerful for good and evil.

Tom said...

I really don't care for the type of description Plato uses here. Simonides isn't allowed to speak for himself, but rather Plato will tell us what Simonides really meant. This, in my experience, is a common way to set up a straw man for easy target practice.

Also, I don't think "justice is the giving to each man what is proper to him, and this he termed a debt.... then justice is the art which gives good to friends and evil to enemies" follows. Of course, a lot could be in those ellipses. But, "what is proper" isn't necessarily defined by one's condition as friend or enemy. It might be to give good for good and evil for evil, but friend or enemy wouldn't necessarily be relevant. That is also consistent with game theory, which doesn't focus on relationships like friend / enemy.

I also have a problem with seeing justice as rationality, though it seems it should be rational. But maybe I don't understand that after all. Maybe they are the same, but there seems to be a difference between justice being rationality itself, which is no guarantee of good outcomes (e.g., highly rational rulers might still be entirely self-interested), and justice being a rational system that is binding on everyone.

Tom said...

Also, to my way of thinking, it might be better to say that Simonides would say to give harm for harm and benefit for benefit. That isn't good or evil, necessarily. When we harm a criminal in punishment for his crimes, that isn't evil. It's justice. it is when we harm the innocent that it is evil.

If someone benefits us, it is a duty to return that benefit. If someone harms us, it is a duty to return that harm. That makes sense, although of course it isn't the Christian way.