Was Hitler evil?

I don’t believe in evil. I believe Hitler was a human who was following human desires. I believe he deserved to die for his deeds. I hope no one ever commits the crimes he committed ever again. I do not believe there is an absolute right and wrong. Right and wrong are concepts created by humans. Some would like you to think that a certain behaviour is wrong because “God” said it is wrong. If we want the human race to survive, we must cooperate and agree that we will not do certain things to each other. I value my freedom and therefore would like to live among people who respect each other’s freedom. This I feel is a good enough basis for making laws. There is no need to rely on laws given by any god.

41 Replies to “Was Hitler evil?”

  1. Did Hitler deserve to die because A) You personally think he did, or because B) A group of people thought he did?

    If your answer is “A,” could he still have deserved to die even if you thought he didn’t deserve it? In other words, could you be mistaken about whether or not he really deserved to die?

    If your answer is “B,” then society (or some other group) decides who lives and who dies. In that case, my question is could that group ever be wrong? Could they ever unjustly put someone to death?

  2. If you are looking for a non-human source for justice you won’t find it. Only humans think the Jews were treated unjustly by Hitler. The only time anyone is “wrong” is when someone else thinks he or she is wrong. Hitler deserved to die because I personally think so. Could I be mistaken about my opinion of Hitler? I could possibly be pursuaded to change my mind. In that case I would look back at myself in hindsight and say that I was wrong.

  3. I might also stick to my guns an say that Hitler was wrong even though I secretly believe that he was not wrong. That would make me a liar. I might feel guilty for lying because if the people I respect knew I was lying they would be disappointed with me.

  4. Let me clarify my question about being mistaken. Is it possible under any circumstances for you to think that someone does *not* deserve to die, when in reality, they do?

  5. Simple.

    1. A man kills a person in such a way that you think he deserves to die.
    2. You learn that the man was brutally beaten as a child and that makes you think he doesn’t deserve to die.
    3. You are duped into believing that stuff about the child abuse (it’s not true) so you continue to think he doesn’t deserve to die even though if you knew you were lied to, you would think he did.

  6. Your example demonstrates that since an individual can be mistaken, right and wrong is not determined by the individual. This means that Hitler may have deserved to die despite the belief of any one person to the contrary.

    So, my question to you is who decides whether something is wrong (or whether a person *deserves* to be punished). If the decision is not made at the level of the individual, at what level is it made?

    I’m not asking who decides whether or not a person will be punished, but who decides whether a person *should” be punished.

    In our society, it’s the justice system that decides whether or not a person will be punished. However a jury can be wrong, and in those cases, the person still *deserves* punishment, but doesn’t get it (I would call that injustice).

    However, if all morality is biologically based, there really is no such thing as injustice, because there is no way that things *should* be, only the way things *are*.

    If O.J. Simpson really was guilty of murder, was it wrong for the jury to let him off (assume for the moment that they knew he was guilty)?

    Now take it a step farther. What if the *law* actually allowed murder? Would the law be wrong to do that? It might lead to chaos and a destabilized society, but would it be wrong?

    Bottom line question: Can something be wrong to do, even if individuals or even the law say it’s ok to do?

  7. Maybe justice is like a physical desire and injustice is when that desire is unfulfilled. People wanted Hitler to die. They got what they wanted. In their mind justice was done.

    When you say, “in reality they do” deserve to die, what do you mean? In reality the Bible says they deserve to die? In reality I believe they deserve to die but I’m afraid to say it?

    In reality might makes right. But I don’t want to be taken advantage of by those stronger than me so I am grateful for institutions like courts and neighborhood associations who might be willing to take up my cause. Why would anyone condemn another person? Because they feel it is in their best interest to do so. Why would someone feel sympathy for an innocent man being imprisoned? Because they don’t want to suffer the same fate.

    Why would someone defend beliefs that may be false? Because they feel it is in their best interest to do so.

  8. “In reality they do” came from your statement, “I believe he deserved to die for his deeds.” So, my question was, did Hitler deserve to die even if you don’t think so?

    “Might makes right” completely misses the point. I’m not talking about what people do, I’m talking about what they *should* do. You implied that Hitler *should* have been put to death.

    But you also said He “deserved to die because I personally think so.” So, Hitler deserved to die because Dedwarmo personally thinks so? And if you did not think so, he would not have deserved to die? Do you really believe that?

    Can someone deserve punishment even if a certain person or group thinks he doesn’t?

    INJUSTICE

    In your scenario, if a mob kills an innocent person, justice is done in their mind. Agreed. But, is justice really done in this case? In other words, is it ever possible for a mob to think that justice was done when it really wasn’t?

  9. “Should” implies a goal. If you don’t want to be punished you should not disobey your mother. If you don’t want taxes to go up you should not steal from the government. If you want to go to Heaven you should be holy. If you want your relationship to be special you should remain monogamous. If you want to be happy you should not hate your neighbor.

  10. If my goal is to live in a peaceful world I might sacrifice that goal for some short term gain and later realize that I would have been better off if I had acted differently. In that case I would have been mistaken. Now what happen when two different people’s goals conflict?

  11. So if there are two beholders, one of whom thinks justice was done and one of whom thinks it was not done…….they’re both right?

    But you already agreed that one beholder, the mob in this case, is wrong.

  12. The two beholders may agree to disagree or they may come to an agreement. If you claim to know of some non-human source of justice or morality then what is this source? ;)

  13. If the mob is wrong, then they acted unjustly. And since they are one of the beholders, and their view of justice is wrong, you’ve just argued that justice is not in the eye of the beholder.

    It seems your only alternatives are 1) to claim there is no such thing as justice, or 2) to claim that justice is decided at some higher level than the beholder.

    #1 would be consistent with a strict materialist view.
    #2 could also be consistent with a materialist view, if you argued that society, or public opinion, or some other human entity were responsible. However, that argument has its own problems.

    I think that for justice, right and wrong, and objective moral values to exist, there *must* be a non-human source, otherwise these things don’t really exist.

    But I think you believe they do exist.

    If the source of these things is entirely materialistic, then it is no more *wrong* to torture babies than it is for an eagle to kill a rabbit.

  14. If I am talking about whether the mob is right or wrong, then I am the beholder. When the mob makes their decision, then they are the beholder. When you declare the mob to be right or wrong then you are the beholder. When the victim or criminal (depending on your point of view) is crying his innocence, then he is the beholder.

    I believe justice exists. I see justice as a way of thinking about how people relate to each other and their possessions, a way of settling disputes. Another question to ask about justice in the food chain is: Is it wrong for an eagle to kill another eagle’s babies? Why would an animal defend it’s babies or territory? I believe humans are driven by similar motivations. If you don’t want to call this a sense of justice, then I will disagree with you.

    Another interesting question is: Is a person better off strictly following her own self-interest completely or are they better off following a set of rules agreed upon by their community members.

    I have no problem with a group of people working out rules of behavior as long as I get a vote.

  15. If right and wrong “depends on who you ask,” then there are is no objective morality. It’s all subjective personal opinion. And if right and wrong are reduced to personal opinion, on what basis should anyone’s opinion be morally binding on anyone else? My opinion is no better than yours, and yours is no better than mine. You don’t like what Hitler did. So what? Some people do like it. Why are they wrong?

    Here’s a comment I made to Perry at http://dedwarmo.com/2008/05/16/why-does-one-person-choose-god-and-not-another
    but it really belongs here.

    Perry, if morality came from evolution, then nothing is really wrong. There are personal opinions about right and wrong (like yours about the death penalty), but since it’s just your opinion, there is no reason to think that it should apply to anyone else.

    Rape, incest, torture, and other things (which in some cases confer a survival advantage, by the way) are not morally wrong, they’re just things that we as a society try to prevent because we don’t like them.

    Well, so what? What if our society did like them? What if we thought killing Jews was good?

    Is right and wrong just a matter of public opinion?

    Is there anything that is inherently wrong? If you are a materialist, the answer is a resounding “No.”

    Perry’s response was the following:

    Your initial conclusion is erroneous. It makes no sense that if morals came from evolution than nothing is wrong. Please explain.

    We are all humans and we have a sense of conscious. This evolved because the human organisms that had it did better than the ones without it.

    Our own inner conscious tells us what is inherently right and wrong. Ergo things like rape, incest, and torture (despite what our current administration might think) are wrong.

    A sense of what is right is part of the human condition. In fact, in research done by Dr. Georg Lind, he demonstrated that on average humans will make the same moral choices no matter whether they believe in God or not. Morality is human & cultural but not God dependent.

    http://www.uni-konstanz.de/ag-moral/mut/mjt-engl.htm

    Perry Says:
    June 20th, 2008 at 10:35 am

    An excellent discussion on this subject by someone who has thought about it much more than me can be heard in this interview on Point of Inquiry.

    http://www.pointofinquiry.org/paul_kurtz_ethics_for_the_nonreligious/

    Interestingly, his moral conclusions end up at almost the same spot as most religious scholars.

  16. Bobmo, you ask, “…on what basis should anyone’s opinion be morally binding on anyone else.” Rather than making arguments from authority (ie: Because God said so.) my task is to pursuade others to see things my way. If you want to earn my trust, don’t lie to me. If you want me to do business with you don’t steal from me. If you value your own life don’t kill me or my family. Many humans seem to have a certain natural sympathy for their neighbor. Of course, greed, jealousy, suspicion, fear motivate many people, too. Keeping peace and order in a community is not always easy.

  17. Forgivess has a lot of power too. When a murder victim’s family forgives the murderer he may be overcome with shame and guilt. I don’t know what to say about people who have no remorse.

  18. You’re avoiding my question.

    Why did Hitler deserve to die if he did nothing wrong? After all, he was only helping evolution along. What’s wrong with wiping out an inferior race to advance a superior one? Isn’t that survival of the fittest?

    Why should he have valued anyone’s life who stood the way of his creating the master race?

    Did did the Jews have a right not to be wiped out by a Hitler? (They were evidently unable to persuade him to “see things their way.”)

    So what Hitler did was no more wrong than an eagle killing another eagle’s babies? Do you really believe that?

  19. I believe that Hitler did do something wrong. I don’t care as much about baby eagles as I do about humans. I do not want to suffer the same fate as people in the concentration camps. I feel like Hitler and people like Hitler should be removed from power, forcefully if necessary. If I met Hitler face-to-face I don’t know that I would have the strength or courage to kill him, but I might try to pursuade him to stop the killing. The only rights anyone has are the rights given to them by people with power.

  20. Everytime someone dies the gene pool changes. But have you no sympathy for the victims? What’s to keep you and me from suffering the same fate? Because humans are able to assist each other it complicates the whole survival of the fittest idea.

  21. Hitler wasn’t “helping evolution along”. He was actually discouraging evolution by reducing the variety of the gene pool. Less genes = less chance for adapting to a changing environment

    There is no inferior or superior race. Some organisms adapt better to their environment than others but if the environment changes, they suffer.

  22. Dedwarmo, three questions for you:
    1) On what basis were Hitler’s actions wrong?
    2) You said you don’t believe in evil. So, Hitler’s actions were wrong, but not evil?
    3) Do you really believe that the Jews had no right not to be exterminated?

    Perry,
    The extinction of millions of species over millions of years doesn’t reduce the variety of the gene pool, but the extermination of millions of Jews over a few years does?

    The inability of a race to adapt, and therefore survive, sounds inferior to me. (The subtitle of Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species” was “Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life.” In fact “Darwin believed that blacks were an ‘inferior race'” (Samuel Vemer, 1908a, p. 10717)).

    But, again, what is wrong with doing what evolution would do eventually? According to Dedwarmo, “The only rights anyone has are the rights given to them by people with power.” Hitler had power, so he got to hand out rights. Just not to the Jews.

  23. The extinction of millions of species over millions of years DOES reduce the variety of the gene pool. So does the extermination of millions of Jews. Less organisms = less genes = reduced genetic variety = reduced ability to adapt to a changing environment.

    Race is a social term which is not supported biologically. On a genetic level, humans are humans. There is no more genetic difference between a black person and a white person than there is between a white American and a white German.

    By your definition, a species (not a race) can be inferior. However, I reject that notion too because environments change. A species may be superior over another in a warm climate, but once a permanent cold wave hits, it loses it’s edge and becomes inferior. There is no absolutism for superiority.

    You have misinterpreted Darwin’s use of the term race in the title. From Wikipedia…

    “Here the term “races” is used as an alternative for “varieties” and does not carry the modern connotation of human races – the first use in the book refers to “the several races, for instance, of the cabbage”, and Darwin proceeds to discuss “the hereditary varieties or races of our domestic animals and plants”.[page 15 of Origin of the Species]

    No matter however, Darwin’s view of race is irrelevant. Science allows for the testing a rejecting of inferior ideas. Brilliant scientists have often held stupid notions. For example, Newton believed in alchemy & some astrology. Nonsense. But his good ideas withstand the scrutiny of experimentation and stuck around (at least until Einstein showed him to be slightly off).

    Evolution is inherently unpredictable. Thus, your implication that it’s ok to do something that “evolution would do eventually” is meaningless because there is no way to tell what evolution would eventually do.

  24. Perry,

    I agree that Darwin’s view of race (which he used in a more general sense than Hitler did) is irrelevant to the truth or falsity of his ideas. But the concept of survival of the fittest was something that Hitler latched onto and some of his actions were consistent with it (killing the infirmed, mentally retarded, etc.)

    There are good scientific arguments against Darwinian evolution, but this post is about right and wrong, and my question is why was Hitler wrong to do what he thought evolution would do anyway.

    At the very least, Hitler was an example of the strong killing the weak. In a materialist universe, what’s wrong with that?

    Do you agree with dedwarmo that the Jews did not have the right not to be exterminated by Hitler?

  25. Good “scientific arguments” against evolution? I would be curious to hear those. And while the theory of evolution was first proposed by Darwin, it doesn’t belong to him. It is just Evolution, not Darwinian evolution. Just like it’s not Einstein Relativity or Newtonian Gravity. The theory has been refined since the time of Darwin so things he got wrong about it, have been modified by the discovery of new data.

    I really don’t see how Hitler latching on to survival or the fittest has anything to do with anything. Deranged people will latch on to any idea from anywhere that supports what they want to believe. Is all of Islam dammed because some believe suicide bombing will deliver them 7 virgins in heaven?

    In an evolutionary sense, the concept of the strong killing the weak has been consistently shown to be inferior for species survival. Species & populations that don’t kill off all the weaker members actually do better (in a species propagation sense) than ones that do. In that sense what Hitler did was wrong. By reducing the number & genetic variability of humans, he reduced the human’s ability to adapt to changing environments, reduced the potential for maximum species propagation and was doing something that was wrong.

    And from a purely human mind standpoint, the majority of people have a conscious that tells them what he did was wrong. Unless there is some compelling argument that explains why he wasn’t wrong, why would you believe any different?

    Hitler was wrong because inside my brain I judge that to be the case, as does the majority of humanity. And he will remain wrong unless the minority of people can present a compelling case as to why he wasn’t. The concepts of right or wrong do not exist outside our brains.

    Unfortunately, I don’t know what you mean by “the Jews did not have the right not to be exterminated by Hitler?” so I can’t answer.

  26. I’d love to discuss arguments against evolution in another thread. I’ll have to create a blog post about it.

    By the way, when I say “Darwinian evolution” I simply mean the concept of Natural Selection as articulated by Darwin. I was using the term in the same way I would refer to Euclidean geometry or Newtonian physics.

    As to who determines right and wrong, you’ve presented three, mutually exclusive, alternatives:

    1) Each person decides for himself what is right and wrong.

    You said earlier that “Hitler was wrong because inside my brain I judge that to be the case…” This implies that you personally decide what is right and wrong. But, if each person decides what is right and wrong for himself, then no one person could ever say another person is wrong.

    2) Each society determines what is right and wrong.

    In your comment to http://dedwarmo.com/2008/07/09/why-be-moral/ you implied that morality is a societal convention. You said, “What is wrong with a democratic code of morality?” Well, there is plenty wrong with it. If the majority in a society determines what is right and wrong, then no society can ever be wrong, nor can any society ever condemn any other society. Hitler gets a pass.

    But, to quote Ravi Zacharias, “In some cultures they love their neighbors. In others, they eat them. Which do you prefer?”

    To put it in the form of a syllogism:

    1) Each society decides what is right and wrong.
    2) A particular society decides that racism or incest are right.
    3) Therefore, racism or incest are right.

    Now, we both agree that this conclusion is false, but to prove it, you must demonstrate that either A) One of the premises is false, or B) Although both premises are true, the conclusion is invalid. I would argue that premise #1 is false.

    3) The majority of humans on planet earth decides what is right and wrong.

    To continue your quote from earlier, you implied that Hitler was wrong because, additionally, “the majority of humanity [judges that to be the case.] But on what basis is the majority always right? This means that someday it would be morally right to force people to convert to a particular religion or face death, simply because that religion amounted to > 50% of the world’s population.

    This also means that you believe it’s always right for the majority of humans to force their views on the minority, regardless of what those views are. I don’t think you believe that.

    So you have presented three, mutually exclusive, alternatives. They can’t all be right, because each one of these contradicts the other two. Which one do you choose?

  27. Bobmo, have you no sympathy for victims of genocide? I have repeatedly said that I think Hitler was wrong because he caused people to go through things that I would not want to go through. Would you have wanted to spend your last days in a concentration camp?

    If two people disagree about what is right and wrong they they can just agree to do disagree, take their disagreement to arbitration or beat each other up. Or one person can change her mind and come to an agreement.

  28. I do have sympathy for victims of genocide. How does believing in objective right and wrong translate into no sympathy for victims of genocide? (I suspect that what you are saying is that you can still have sympathy while believing there is no right or wrong. Is that right?)

    I would not want to spend my last days in a concentration camp.

    So, which of Perry’s three alternatives is correct?

  29. @Bobmo – You suggested the 3 alternatives, not me. To me, these aren’t alternatives at all. These all exist simultaneously (although there is not much difference between 2 & 3). You’re mistaken that they are mutually exclusive.

    Option 1: Each person decides what’s right and wrong.

    You say…”But, if each person decides what is right and wrong for himself, then no one person could ever say another person is wrong.”

    I say, so what? No one lives in isolation and is responsible for judging what’s right and wrong for everyone else. We live in societies and have to adapt our behaviors to make society work. To co-exist peacefully some people will sometimes have to accept things that they find morally wrong.

    Ultimately, this option is what is correct. Everyone decides for themselves what is right or wrong. But how they deal with that fact to live in society is a different matter.

    Option 2: Societies determine what’s right and wrong.

    You set up a syllogism and concluded “3) Therefore, racism or incest are right. Now, we both agree that this conclusion is false…” We only both agree those things are wrong because the society we live in deems it so. I think Honor Killing is wrong but if I grew up and lived in the Middle East, I’m sure my views would be different.

    Option 3: The people of the planet decides what’s right and wrong.

    You imply this would lead to some draconian existence in which the majority force their beliefs on the minority. This is mistaken. As I said above, the minority can change the opinion of the majority through evidence and perseverance. They derive their sense of what is right or wrong within themselves and try to persuade others.

    All 3 options can exist simultaneously.

    An alternative you miss is perhaps even more compelling.

    Option 4: There is an inherent right & wrong existing separate from humans which can be illuminated through experimentation & data collection.

    This is science. The truths determined from the scientific method are independent of personal opinion. What’s right and what’s wrong is eventually vetted out by experiment.

    Bobmo, I would suggest that you provide no alternative that isn’t covered in one of the first 3 alternatives. What is your basis for determining what is right or wrong?

    If things are just inherently right or wrong, how does one come to know what these things are?

    Through the Bible? No. The interpretation of this document changes over the years and is just a matter of the opinion of the person reading and interpreting it.

    Through God? And how does god get her message to the masses? Through some person who could just be lying or misinterpreting what they heard. In any case, it’s still just a person’s opinion about what is right or wrong.

    If this inherent rightness or wrongness exists, how does one figure out what it is?

  30. Perry, excellent points. Even if the Bible is completely internally consistent and everyone agrees it’s interpretation, it doesn’t necessarily follow that we must obey it’s teachings. It also doesn’t necessarily follow that all of the Bible is true.

  31. Bobmo, even if there is no objective right and wrong, people still make moral decisions. I propose that these moral decisions are based upon empathy and sympathy and a desire to cooperate with our fellow humans. Sometimes our decisions are based on fear and competition for limited resources. Just because there is no objective right and wrong doesn’t necessarily mean that there is no reason to be kind to your neighbor. Maybe that’s just the way humans behave. Why do chimpanzees behave the way they do?

  32. Bobmo, you said if,”morality came from evolution… [then] … [r]ape, incest, torture, and other things (which in some cases confer a survival advantage, by the way) are not morally wrong, they’re just things that we as a society try to prevent because we don’t like them.”

    Do you fear that things like rape, incest and torture will become acceptable without the existence of religion to suppress certain types of immorality? Even if there is an “objective morality” people still hurt each other. People still disagree over how people should behave. Even if there is no objective morality people still can be kind and generous toward each other.

    What is interesting about the objective morality idea is that, in a way, objective moralists are saying that moral relativists have no reason to be moral, which I believe to be false. It also gives believers the idea that if they stop believing in God, they don’t have to be moral. I think it is in the interest of believers to keep morality within the domain of religion. If people realize that they don’t have to believe in God to be moral then that is one less reason to cling to religion.

  33. http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/evil

    I just looked up evil on Wiktionary. It said evil means:

    1. Intending to harm; malevolent.
    2. Morally corrupt.
    3. Unpleasant.

    When I wrote this post I was thinking of evil as an independent force that influences people. I do believe that Hitler does meet this definition of evil, but I don’t think he was under the influence of Evil. 

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