Honors Friday Forums discusses ethics through “Would You Kill Hitler?”

The Honors Friday Forums hosted a forum asking the hypothetical question; “Would you kill Hitler?”

The Honors Friday Forums hosted their weekly discussion at the Howard Baker Center on Friday, Nov. 11, posing the question; “Would You Kill Hitler?”

“[It’s] an ongoing conversation just about the big questions of life,” Peyton Terry, the event’s moderator, said. “A lot of ethics and philosophy, as well as current events and issues. So it’s really created to facilitate this discussion among honors students here at UT.”

The topic of discussion during Friday’s meeting was, according to Terry, related to classic ethical theory; “If you could go back in time, would you kill baby Adolf Hitler, assuming you knew the consequences of his rise to power?”

On the surface, the answer may appear simple. As the discussion progressed, however, differing view points began to pop up.

One attendee argued that while Hitler was a person consumed by evil, the climate surrounding Germany during the post-World War I era allowed a vacuum to develop, leaving the possibility of another individual similar to Hitler to gain momentum anyway.

Another attendee presented a viewpoint in favor of killing Hitler as a baby, stating that his death would guarantee that the results of his actions wouldn’t transpire, even though the possibility of a global conflict remained.

“Would you kill a baby to save millions and millions of lives,” Terry said. “…or is it one life is worth so much. I think it’s important for honors students to think about these sort of things because a lot of student, depending on what path you’re taking — you might be an engineer — you never even get asked this question.”

“The same goes for a lot of ethical questions or philosophical questions,” Terry continued. “I think it’s important to provide some sort of forum as we try to to introduce people to these topics and get them to have an opinion about it.”

The discussion involving Hitler eventually developed into other ethical questions, such as the Trolley problem, which brings up the hypothetical situation of a trolley heading straight for a group of people, while the person this question is posed to has the option to pull a nearby lever, thus diverting the trolley in the direction of one person.

In addition, the Ursula K. Le Guin short story titled “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” was introduced, a story centering around a utopia whose perfect existence is dependent on the suffering of one child.

“I thought it was pretty good today,” Terry said. “We had quite a few people. Quite a bit of discussion from new people, which is always good. We may not have come to a decisive answer. Maybe that is to be expected for less than an hour’s worth of talk about such a question.”

The Honors Friday Forums, according to Terry, was created to extend a conversation he and a group of friends had during a trip to Oxford this past summer.

The Honors Friday Forums will meet again this Friday at the Howard Baker Center, where they will discuss if God does indeed exist. More information about the club can be found here.

Edited by Ben Webb

Featured image by David Bradford