Dr. A is a very evil man who harms millions of people in other countries. In fact, thousands or millions of people die each year because of him. Let's say he's a mad scientist who produces some fraudulent drug that kills people.

Citizen B decides to put a stop to the madness and kills Dr. A.

It isn't a revenge killing; he acts calmly and rationally. And there's no politics involved; they're both civilians.

Are there any notable philosophers who would consider Citizen B just as evil or immoral as Dr. A? If so, what logic would they use to arrive at that conclusion?

I should emphasize that I'm not interested in religious/theological opinions (e.g. "because the Bible says so"). I'm strictly interested in philosophical arguments that can be backed up with some kind of logic.

NOTE: I just read the Absolute Ethics discussion. I'm not sure if it answers my question or not. It kind of sounds like a religious argument to me in that it appears to based more on faith than logic. It sounds like Immanuel Kant is a notable philosopher who might consider Citizen B just as evil as Dr. A, but I'm not sure about his logic.

So I think I'll select leroy's response as the correct answer. To put it in better perspective, it sounds like this would be a better complete response:

Notable philosophical doctrines that would treat Dr. A and Citizen B as equally evil are probably limited to "faith-based" paradigms - e.g. religion and, arguably, absolute ethics.

  • 2
    Possible duplicate of Absolute Rules in Ethics – Braydon Sep 16 '17 at 1:28
  • Thanks for the link. It's hard to say if that page answers my question or not. See the note I added at the bottom of my original question. – David Blomstrom Sep 16 '17 at 3:05
  • Define "bad"... – luchonacho Sep 16 '17 at 7:25
  • "Bad" as in "evil" or "disgusting." – David Blomstrom Sep 16 '17 at 8:22
  • i don't think absoliutist ethics says that any unethical person is equally evil, only that every act of e.g. murder is evil – user28660 Sep 16 '17 at 16:12

I'm not sure if I've understood your question correctly, the way it's currently worded sounds potentially as if the equality of the evil is the main focus, in which case I think the answer is simply 'no' for all systems. Even faith-based ones would have no reason to think them equally evil as I think most still believe in the ordinality of numbers.

If, on the other hand, you are asking about the justification for thinking them both to be 'equally' within the category 'Evil', then simply put, the logic behind such ethical systems is that of the unforeseen consequences which, these systems believe, are best mediated by following some prescribed rule than by trying to calculate the consequences for each action.

You have already dismissed religious arguments as illogical so I will not dwell on them, except to say that as they believe in an eternal soul which will be damned to purgatory for the killing it is perfectly logical for them to argue that such a killing would be inadvisable within the framework of their world-view.

Other more nuanced systems of virtue or deontological ethics might make the argument that the best world arises as a consequence of the population following such rules. For Kant, this is because only by reason can free-will be expressed, it is not reasonable to see others (person A) simply as a means to an end (stopping the mass killing) because we would not want to live in a world where others saw us simply as a means to an end. For moral naturalists, the almost universal taboo against killing is an indication of the fact that killing (other than in self-defence) must be something which hinders evolutionary competitiveness, otherwise the taboo against it would not have evolved. Both examples are essentially making the argument that some long-term consequence of living in a world where people condone the killing of person A might actually be worse for the population of that future world than the killings which person A has perpetrated. None would argue that nothing else should be done to prevent person A from carrying out such actions, but just that killing him is not the right measure to take.

In this, one could argue that such systems are, in reality, consequentialist, they just have a different way of handling uncertainty in prediction. Given that the chaotic, emergent properties of a system such as the one generated from the interactions of 7 billion people will probably be as significant, if not more so, than the predicable ones, it is not an unreasonable position to take.

  • Wow, interesting answer. The bigger question I'm pursuing is half philosophy and half psychology. Why do so many people turn a blind eye to evil, yet lash out at people who attempt to hold evil people accountable? I've experienced it personally many times. If I blow the whistle on a pedophile, people will rally behind the pedophile. And if I suggest a U.S. president guilty of war crimes should be executed for his crimes, people cry that I'm worse than him. I've come to call it "kindergarten ethics." – David Blomstrom Sep 16 '17 at 7:42
  • Yes, I suspect that your detractors are simply hiding behind a facade of moral indignation when really they simply disagree with your conclusions about the 'crimes' of your opponents, but don't wish to speak out about that for whatever reason. They may see what they think is going to be a more widely agreed upon argument against your proposals and considered it therefore a more expedient reaction than their actual opinions. – Isaacson Sep 16 '17 at 8:18
  • @DavidBlomstrom the first man convicted of war crimes was beheaded, so i don't think your question really captures what you describe. – user28660 Sep 16 '17 at 16:33
  • i think you might raise an interesting point, though. there does seem to be something wrong with vigilante justice, and i'm not sure why. perhaps it seems more prenicious than the rule of law, i'm not sure. aside form that, yes people disagree about who is guilty and what should be a crime – user28660 Sep 16 '17 at 16:56
  • 1
    maybe, i don't know @DavidBlomstrom i don't believe in it, however. – user28660 Sep 16 '17 at 18:28

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