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Old January 16th, 2015, 02:40 PM   #1
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Which is worse, ordering evil to be done or committing evil personally?


Who is worse morally, someone who orders evil to be committed by others or someone who actually commits evil acts personally?

An example would be Reinhard Heydrich. He was the head of the Reich Main Security Office and leader of the Wannsee Conference. He also was directly responsible for the Einsatzgruppen, the special SS task forces which travelled in the wake of the German armies during Operation Barbarossa and killed over one million Jews through mass shootings.

The Einsatzgruppen were 3,000 men strong and in a period from June 1941 to January 1943 killed over 1.5 million people.

In your opinion who is the worse person morally in this example situation, Reinhard Heydrich or the members of the SS death squads who shot thousands of Jews on a daily basis?

And when you answer elaborate on why you think so.

Last edited by Cmyers1980; January 16th, 2015 at 02:43 PM.
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Old January 16th, 2015, 02:42 PM   #2
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Someone who orders it
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Old January 16th, 2015, 02:43 PM   #3
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Someone who orders it
Explain why.
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Old January 16th, 2015, 02:54 PM   #4

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Someone who orders it
I agree with this.

Overall I tend to consider worse the person who hides oneself behind someone else to act in the real world ... involving someone else in one's own evil plans.

Who persuades others to act in an evil way is worse than who acts directly in an evil way.

And at the end I can see a coward in whom orders to other to do what he is not enough determined to do by himself [or herself, of course].

Do you want to see 1,500,000 persons killed? Do it yourself ...
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Old January 16th, 2015, 02:55 PM   #5
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Explain why.
Because those soldiers would not have killed those people unless the were ordered to do so. To me that means the evil started with the commander and before him hos commander and all the way back to whoever came up with the terribly evil idea in the first place.
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Old January 16th, 2015, 03:47 PM   #6

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Who is worse morally, someone who orders evil to be committed by others or someone who actually commits evil acts personally?
Taking this as a general question, rather than a specific situation, for which there would need to be an individual response;

Those who order evil have the intent to commit evil, even if they are not doing the evil themselves. Their orders, assuming that they have the confidence that those orders will be followed, will be made with the intent of also engaging others in the intent to commit evil. So the person ordering the evil not only wishes the evil done, but also wishes others to be corrupted into committing that evil.

The ones following the orders do have a moral choice in either following them or not following them. They might feel coerced, or might willingly comply with the orders. This will affect their own level of personal intent to commit the evil itself, but following the orders means they are always acting with the intent to commit the evil on behalf of someone else. However, their actions are not in the attempt to corrupt others.

There is the question of what 'orders' means, and I will take it that it implies some formal hierarchy of command, and the ability to coerce and punish non compliance. If evil is being committed through orders for which there is no punishment in disobeying, then the actors have a higher moral responsibility for their actions than they would if they acted through self preservation. Killing another person is still morally evil, but if you do it to preserve your own life or of those you care about, then the immorality of it becomes slightly blurred.

There is also the problem that both the orderer and/or the follower are probably acting under the belief that their behaviour is not morally evil, but that they are acting in what they believe is for morally good reasons, but which a different perspective would view as morally evil.


So to answer the question, those who commit evil acts by proxy are less morally evil than those who do the ordering, although those executing the orders are still behaving in a morally evil way and should not be excused responsibility for their actions.

Last edited by Moros; January 16th, 2015 at 03:52 PM.
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Old January 16th, 2015, 04:54 PM   #7

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As far as I am concerned, it comes down to the crime itself, not the individual. Someone who orders a hit on another is not by default more despicable than the killer doing the deed, or a person who decides to kidnap and murder a child for example.

It comes down to the motivations, reasons, and events, that ultimately led up to the victim being killed, be it in the heat of the moment or on the orders of someone else. There are many factors to consider, too many to arbitrarily declare one crime more evil than the other imo.

It has to be analyzed on a case-by-case basis.
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Old January 16th, 2015, 05:01 PM   #8

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Who is worse morally, someone who orders evil to be committed by others or someone who actually commits evil acts personally?
Perhaps you should define evil or your understanding of the term. One man's meat is another man's poison and all that. For example the Bible is unequivocal in the Commandment 'Thou shalt not kill" and allows for no deviation, but many would argue that the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was fully justifiable on utilitarian terms. Morality and evil are subjective terms, therefore any debate on the matter deserves at the very least some sort of consensus as to what it means.

Now you might think I am playing at semantics, but there are members here who think Adolph was a good guy and that the West's invasion of Islamic states, with the resultant horrific loss of innocent lives, was somehow a moral imperative. This is not a derail, but a genuine enquiry into the nature of evil.
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Old January 16th, 2015, 10:44 PM   #9
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I agree with HunnicTurk. It would depend much on the situation and the specific situation has not been indentified in the OP.

Is this an order from a military commander? A husband or wife? A friend? A politician? What are the commands and who are the victims?

A war like scenario with a commander telling his men to execute the enemy is a very different scenario as someone ordering the murder of women and children. If soldiers shoot kids dead, are the soldiers more to blame than the commander than if it were adult male soldiers from the enemy side? My guess is that most people would push more blame on the soldier than the commander if a child was at the end of his gun rather than an enemy soldier.

It's all subjective imo. I would say both are disturbing but circumstance would define who is at fault more.
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Old January 17th, 2015, 02:22 AM   #10

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Who is worse morally, someone who orders evil to be committed by others or someone who actually commits evil acts personally?
They're as bad as each other.
If it was down to me, I'd probably organise some death squads to take out the death squads. That would teach those evil sods a lesson or two.
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