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Is killing someone wrong?

  1. Feb 21, 2008 #1
    of course it's wrong....

    but is it any different than killing a pig?
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 21, 2008 #2
    That would depend on your perception I suppose. An extension to your question might be if killing plants is right? For they too have lives. I'm going to like this debate.:approve:

    If you're one of those "Hey! It's a dog-eat-dog world so if a human is killed too bad!" sort then I guess it isn't wrong. But if you aren't I'd like to see you justify how killing of plants and animals becomes right.
  4. Feb 21, 2008 #3
    Actually, many people think that there are circumstances in which killing someone is not wrong. See just war and self defense, for example.

    My response to your 2nd question is, is the pig an enemy combatant? Even if he isn't we may still be able to detain him at Guantanamo. :tongue2:
  5. Feb 21, 2008 #4


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    As long as it is done cleanly, it is an ecological act in both cases :biggrin:
  6. Feb 21, 2008 #5

    Moreover, killing a person, though always distasteful, is not always wrong.
  7. Feb 21, 2008 #6
    Perceptions, cultural and religious values are always in the middle of these controversial subjects, but what are you killing and your motive and perception is need also to be taking into consideration. If you are vegetarian or not your motive is to survive as you need nutrients to survive and you are either or both participating in the destruction of living things, is your live or theirs. I don't think that killing is right but I believe that there are justifications, for example you kill a pig or a lettuce because you need to eat. Different countries have different opinions about this and that related to cultural and spiritual values and believes for example, some people believe in death penalty, some people have kill someone in their own defence, or by accident or in an act of uncontrollable emotional violence, for example a father who find someone rapping his child . Although different justice systems have their own say, if killing is right or wrong relate to why and how and how this affect your personal believes. For example to me killing is wrong because of my spiritual believes, however I need to eat, in the other hand I drive and I pray every day not to be involve in an accident as I don't think I can live with the guilt of killing someone, but if I drink and drive, or I am sober and someone just want to commit suicide and jump in front of my car, this make a lot of different
  8. Feb 21, 2008 #7
    1. By killing another person, you are affirming a universal right to self-ownership.
    2. By killing another person, you are denying a universal right to self-ownership.
    3. Contradiction (from 1 and 2)
    4. Killing another person is wrong.

    This works for most cases except self-defense or versions of self-defense, since the person attacking you has acted on an invalid justification.

    1. By killing another person, one is affirming the existence of a universal right to self-ownership exists. One cannot assume that it only applies to oneself, since that would them simply be a personal opinion, rather than an objective fact, since everything objective needs to be universal, by definition.
    2. By killing another person, one is denying that person a universal right to self-ownership.

    My argument is independent on whether or not an actual universal right to self-ownership actually exists, since it is an internal contradiction, rather than an external.

    This is an argument for moral realism, so if correct, it disproves all forms of moral anti-realism.
  9. Feb 21, 2008 #8

    how about cannibalism?
  10. Feb 22, 2008 #9
    But if it isn't an external right but an internal, then the person who kills can decide if the other person deserves his right.. Some people also think that they do not have the right to live if someone more powerful than them decide that they don't..
    The right wil always be a matter of perspctive right?
  11. Feb 22, 2008 #10


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    Cannibals = true humanitarians.
  12. Feb 22, 2008 #11
    If we accept our own survival as a "good" thing, then things which maximize our survival are good. Humans are, by nature, a social species; cooperation increases our mutual chances for survival. In order to cooperate most effectively, a stable society should exist. Thus, there are certain requirements we must put on ourselves in order to maintain a stable society. Clearly, frequent and arbitrary killing is not consistent with a stable society. A society can, however, tolerate killing in limited situations. Where by "limited" I mean limited to small numbers and to individuals that are somehow (perhaps arbitrarily) distinguished from the general public (criminals, enemies, whatever. This is also a tool of sectarian violence). The need for this distinction is to stop the "ethical drift" which eventually leads to a contradiction like Moridin described (and nicely, at that).
  13. Feb 22, 2008 #12
    Not necessarily. To proclaim that one has a right to do X, one must show that it is a universal right (based on empirical facts / doesn't disappear if you stop believing in it), because otherwise, it would simply be ones subjective opinion, which would not constitute a valid justification for X in the first place, since it would be nothing more than to say that you like the color blue. If one does not have a valid justification for X, it cannot be said that action X is justified ("morally correct").

    My argument is generally independent of the actual existence of such a right. What matters ought to be the contradiction in the justification.

    If you decide that I do not have a right to live, well, than that's just your subjective opinion, which cannot be said to be a valid justification. If it can be objectively determined that you ought to do X, a person who says that he or she does not agree is largely irrelevant, just like claiming that one does not agree that the earth is round.

    This sort of reasoning can be applied to other situations as well. Take stealing, for example. This is going to be the most basic form, with no twists (one should probably contextualize for more difficult situations).

    By stealing, one is asserting the existence of a universal right to property (I have the right to have Z in my possession).
    By stealing, one is denying the existence of a universal right to property (You do not have the right to have Z in your possession).

    Naturally, the argument would be more powerful if it could be conclusively demonstrated that such a universal right to property is factual, but I haven't thought about that hard enough. Naturally, any religious explanation would most likely be invalid by definition.
  14. Feb 22, 2008 #13
    By not stealing, one is asserting the existence of a universal right to property (You have the right to have Z in your possession).
    By not stealing, one is denying the existence of a universal right to property (I do not have the right to have Z in my possession).
    These statements conflict so not stealing cannot be morally right. Or maybe it just means every individual does not have the right to own all property. Or maybe since this series of statements contradicts the alternate series of statements that conclude stealing is wrong, then it must be that morals are not universal. I should have thought of that when Gramma caught me with my hand in the cookie jar.

    By eating, I am affirming my hunger.
    By eating, I am denying my hunger.
    The statements contradict themselves.
    Eating is wrong.
    But wait...
    By not eating, I am denying my hunger
    By not eating, I am affirming my hunger
    These statements contradict themselves too.
    Not eating is wrong.

    Maybe only eating because I'm hungry is wrong. Drinking because I'm thirsty is wrong. Sleeping because I'm tired is wrong. The general pattern here leads me to believe that a life of self-denial and suffering must be correct. Any kind of self-satisfactory behaviour must be universally wrong. So if I tell Gramma that I'm not hungry she should let me have one of those cookies. This might explain the obesity epidemic in the US. We are being morally responsible with our eating habits.

    Or perhaps being imperfect beings we cannot be morally absolute. We are morally relative by our imperfect nature, regardless of the existence, or lack thereof, of moral absolutes. Or perhaps two opposing concepts can be simultaneously true or false, or equally irrelevent.
  15. Feb 22, 2008 #14
    (1) Is "not stealing" an action? I don't think so. If you do, can you describe the act of "not stealing"?
    (2) By eating, you are removing your hunger, not affirming its existence. Eating is also not an action in the moral sphere and claiming that hunger is a right or a value is a non sequitur.
    (3) Is "not eating" an action? I don't think so. If you do, can you describe the act of "not eating"?

    Objective (or universal) morality is not the same as moral absolutism, since the later denies contextualizing, whereas the prior does not, since it is based on objective facts, rather than subjective rules. I chose the easiest examples to illustrate the general argument.

    You are accepting the existence of objective morality just by taking part in this discussion. In a rational discussion, one is assuming quite a lot before it begins, such as the existence and independence of truth, the validity of language and the senses and so on. One of these is that there is objective reason for ones opponent to change position (otherwise one has to admit that one is taking part in an irrational discussion where one can only bring subjective, and ultimately invalid arguments), that is, that it is universally preferable that your opponent changes his mind. But that is objective morality. Every time you begin a discussion, you are presupposing objective morality.

    Here is another example of objective morality (or at least transforming is to ought).

    1. It is cold outside.
    2. Being out in the cold without protection risks getting sick.
    3. Provided I have access to all relevant information and are reasoning correctly, I do not want to risk getting sick.
    4. I ought to put on protection.

    1+ 2 + 3 = 4
    Last edited: Feb 22, 2008
  16. Feb 22, 2008 #15
    Before a conscious action is performed a conscious decision must be made. If making a decision may be considered an action then not killing may be an action because rational decisions derive from our consciousness. By making the decision to kill one assumes that there is the option to decide not to kill. So if your theorem applies strictly to actions then it is okay to decide to perform the action of killing someone, but not okay to perform the action itself. I find that to be a contradictory statement. (or at least incongruent)

    Looking at the eating example I see that you are right that my choice of defining terms was incorrect. To make the statement true using the words affirm and deny I would have to change the text of the sentences so that they would not be equal. However, I see no reason why the theorem should only apply to rights, and not to anything universal among humans such as eating, drinking and sleeping. If we apply the theorem as universal to all life then it would be wrong to kill any living thing. We would soon starve to death. (Haha, maybe eating is wrong after all).

    I never considered the difference between them to be of much signifigance, but I see you are right. Thank you for pointing that out. You are also right that there isn't much point in an argument if there is nothing that can be argued rationally, though there are other ways to make a rational argument besides making and defending a case against an opponent.

    To rephrase I would say that we are not perfectly rational, all-knowing beings, and that we can't be perfectly objective in our judgement of morals. We are all morally subjective to some extent.
  17. Feb 22, 2008 #16
    Your argument rests on the claim that there one can decisions not to do something, rather than simply not deciding to do something, which seems highly suspicious. An action is defined as what an agent can do, not the negative of it. I would argue that the term action is only valid in the positive sense.

    No, since rights exists in relation to abilities. I take it that you would not approve of 8-year-olds going to visit strip clubs, drinking bears, signing up for the army or driving cars?

    The fact that we are not perfectly rational and so on, does not change the fact that such objective morality exists in principle?

    In any case, that is of little importance. What matters is if the justification given can be shown to be valid or not. If a moral conclusion follows from the premises, then fine. If not, then it seem like the justification is invalid.

    Did you agree with my example? I'll reformulate it.

    1. It is cold outside. (empirical fact)
    2. Being out in the cold without protection risks getting sick. (empirical fact)
    3. It is objectively beneficent to value not risking to get sick. (empirical fact)
    4. I ought to put on protection. (a moral imperative)

    If you agree that 1-3 (objectively) leads to 4, we seem to have established 4 as an objective moral fact?
  18. Feb 22, 2008 #17
    Well, I disagree that only actions in the positive sense are valid, as what we choose not to do can have just as much of an effect on the world around us as what we choose to do. If I am hiking on a trail and see someone that has spent a few days trapped under a rock, I would see choosing not to aid them if it were in my power to do so as a malicious, immoral act.

    I agree that rights exist in relation to abilities. Pets should not be given the right to vote because there is no evidence that they have the ability to make that decision. But I think we probably agree that pets display the ability of being alive. Why should they be spereate from the right to have life if they exhibit the ability for it? Do rights only apply to humans, or to all beings that have the ability to act on that right? And if they only apply to humans can they be universally objective? If it is universally wrong to kill then it is universally wrong to eat anything that isn't already dead.

    I'm not concerned about the fact that objective morality exists in principle. I want to know if the principle of objective morality exists as fact. I'm not sure it does.

    In your example I am not sure about #2 or #3. I don't understand how being out in the cold without protection would cause illness, except hypothermia or frostbite or such things, though it is somewhat non-sequitur to the argument. I don't believe it is objectively beneficent to always avoid risking sickness. Sometimes the decision is subjective and sometimes it is objective, but that doesn't necessarily correlate to being beneficent. For example, as a child I would hope to get sick to miss a few days of school. That is not a particularly objective view. Then there are cases of early explorers crossing vast uncharted oceans, risking sickness and death for discovery. I see that as an objectively beneficent viewpoint. Another person may disagree. So I'm still no closer to any rational certainty that there is objective morality.
  19. Feb 22, 2008 #18
    Yes, killing another person is much different than killing a pig. We are socially conditioned to believe that murder is wrong. That has an effect on how we feel when we perform the act. It is also very possible that there may be biological reasons we avoid killing humans, such as mirror neurons. Psychologically it is easier to empathize with another person than an animal.

    I have a relative who volunteered for forced recon for 2 tours during the Vietnam War. He described his experiences with killing and death along these lines. At first it was a frightening experience that made him sick. Eventually he came to enjoy the sensation, like adrenalin, and the pleasure of living and being the more powerful animal. Eventually he came to think nothing of it.

    After many years back in the states he still has nightmares. There are gaps in his memory of that time and I believe that he sometimes intentionally tells falsehoods and exagerrations of his war stories. He isolates himself from society in a rural community. He studies religion and philosophy regularly, and his viewpoints still change wildly from Stalin to Ghandi and others whom he admires. The personality characteristics that best define him would be antagonistic, obstinate, dominating, gossiping, loyal, kind, compassionate.

    When the movie Platoon came out in theaters we went to see it. He was crying when we came out. As soon as we got onto the highway someone cut him off in traffic. He started a high speed chase down the road after them threatening to kill them. I was about 12 and my mother and aunt were also with us.

    I doubt this sort of psychosis is common among butchers of pigs. And the closer and more personal the killing is, the harder it is to deal with psychologically.
  20. Feb 22, 2008 #19


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    Emotionally, I think killing a human is "more wrong" than killing a pig. That is to say, I don't like it because I'm a human, not a pig. In fact, I eat pigs, and they have to die to be eaten... so it works out nicely given my place in the food chain.

    Logically, there's nothing wrong with the killing itself, but there's less conditions where it's more productive to society than there are conditions that make it destructive to society.
  21. Feb 23, 2008 #20
    To claim that rights only apply to humans because of their species would be speciesism, which I consider invalid. I am sorry if it seemed as I referred to speciesism. The reason is because human cognitive function are vastly superior. I'll quote from Carrier, 2005, since he does it much better than me.

    Well, now we seem to have forgotten contextualizing and fallen into the trap of moral absolutism by favoring rules over context (which would be subjective). Due to the above quoted passage, killing a human is different from killing a spider and killing, say, in self-defense would be different from killing an innocent bystander.

    I would argue that moral decisions are ultimately based on what facts exists.

    If so, I would argue that is a flaw in my example, rather than in the principle. Take some high-risk thing instead, say, using a powerful welding device.

    1. Using a powerful welding device can cause severe injuries if used without adequate protection. (empirically testable)
    2. It is objectively beneficent for a person to value not becoming severely injured for ones (empirically testable)
    4. I ought to put on protection. (moral imperative)

    Naturally, if the context changes, so does the conclusion. But this is due to empirical fact changes, not subjective opinion.

    Indeed, that would depend on what context we are in, but the fundamental argument is that moral imperatives depend on what the situation is like (what empirical facts exists).

    Some people accept evolution. Others do not. However, that does not suggest that the empirical facts evolution is based on are relative.

    As for Konrad Lorenz, he advocated group selectionism in On Agression, which is a questionable approach that has largely been abandoned today. There is no real urge to safeguard the survival of the species. It can be more easily explained if one adopts gene selection (eg, Dawkins, The Selfish Gene).
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