The Instigator
troyamonga
Con (against)
Losing
2 Points
The Contender
philochristos
Pro (for)
Winning
9 Points

Would Changing the Past Via Time Travel be Moral

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Post Voting Period
The voting period for this debate has ended.
after 3 votes the winner is...
philochristos
Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 2/15/2013 Category: Science
Updated: 4 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 1,608 times Debate No: 30298
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (2)
Votes (3)

 

troyamonga

Con

Would changing the past be moral? While some might say so, think about this for a second. If you do succeed in, say, stopping Hitler from gaining power, you save millions of lives, you also destroy millions of others. For example,if a woman's first husband is killed in WWII, she later decides to remarry and has children. If you prevent Hitler's takeover, the woman's husband never dies, and she never remarries. And thus, the children are never born. Essentially, the time traveler committed a crime worse than murder.
philochristos

Pro

I doubt backward time travel is possible, and even if it were possible, I have some doubts about whether or not the past could be changed. I a debate with a friend over that while back. But for the purposes of this debate, I'm going to assume backward time travel is possible, and that if somebody went back in the past, it's also possible that they could change things.

I think whether changing the past is moral or not depends on what change you make. Even in the present, whether any action you do is moral or not depends on the action. Some actions are moral and some are immoral. So, too, if you went back in the past, some actions would be moral and some would be immoral.

So I don't think that any change you made to the past would be immoral. I think it's possible to go back in the past and change things for the better, which would be moral.

Now, let's consider Pro's argument. He argues that if you go back in the past and save many Jewish lives by killing Hitler, you would, at the same time, be preventing many people from being born, which he says is worse than murder.

I don't agree with that at all. If preventing somebody from being born was worse than murder, then any kind of contraception would be immoral for the same reason. In fact, it would be immoral not to procreate every chance you get because every time you refuse to procreate, you're preventing somebody from being born.

Preventing somebody from coming into existence is not immoral because it doesn't harm anybody. You can't harm somebody who doesn't exist because they don't exist. Clearly, murder is far worse than preventing somebody from coming into existence because when you murder somebody, you actually take somebody's life who already exists.

But even if Pro were right in saying it's worse to prevent people from being born than to kill people who are already born, that is not enough to say that it's immoral to change the past. All that would follow is that it's immoral to change that particular thing in the past. So even if killing Hitler would be immoral, it doesn't follow that any change you make to the past would be immoral.
Debate Round No. 1
troyamonga

Con

Excellent point to raise, fellow competitor. I'm not too sure about the possibility of backwards time travel as well, but this is simply a hypothetical argument.

All of your points are valid in the present sense. That is to say, people can't procreate every second so every possible human can be born. It's not practical. Let me put this into a more familiar context.

Let's say (for the sake of the argument, please don't take offense to this) that your mother had two possible suitors to choose to marry, one being your father, and the other being another man. As you exist today, your father was obviously chosen. The other suitor, bitter and angry over the rejection, decides to travel back in time and arrange for your father to have an unfortunate accident before he met your mother. His actions would, effectively, cause you to cease to exist.

That's an example of what you would consider an "immoral" action. The man traveled back with ill intentions, and was obviously in the wrong. Now let's consider a different scenario.

Your grandfather lost a good deal of money in a fit of reckless gambling many years before your father was born. He was forced to live his life in poverty up until present day, where you and the rest of his descendants still suffer from his long past mistake. After coming across a time machine, your grandfather decides to travel back in time to tell his younger self to bet on the winning horse in the race. If this succeeds, your grandfather will make a good amount of money, and create a happier life for his family. However, your father met your mother in the slums after your grandfather's gambling loss, and they fell in love, and had you. In the new timeline, your father never lived in the slums, and thus never met your mother. As a result, you were never born. All because your grandfather wanted to right a past wrong and make life better for his family.

And this brings us back to the meat of the argument. I still support not changing the past to protect those who exist today. It doesn't seem right to write a person out of existence.

Apologizes if I was too confusing. Time travel tends to be that way.
philochristos

Pro

I agree with you that your first scenario involves an immorality. But the immorality isn't that the man my mother rejected did something that prevented me from existing. Rather, the immorality was that out of bitterness and anger, he caused my father to have an accident. But that would be just as immoral if he did it in the present, so I don't see how this scenario supports your position.

In the second senario, it doesn't seem that my grandfather did anything wrong, even though it resulted in me not existing. His intention was to make a better life for his family, and he succeeded in doing that. I don't see anything immoral about that.

So I don't see how either one of these scenarios supports your argument.

You say that, "I still support not changing the past to protect those who exist today. It doesn't seem right to write a person out of existence." This just amounts to an assertion, though. There's no argument.

But even if it's true that you shouldn't intentionally go back in the past and make sure somebody doesn't come into existence, it wouldn't follow that any case of going in the past to change thing would be immoral. The question for this debate is, "Would changing the past via time travel be moral?" and you are taking the Con position, so you need to argue that it's wrong in general to go back in the past and change things. It's not enough to give one example of something that it would be wrong to change.

Assuming time travel is possible, the past, present, and future are relative. Today is the present for us, but it's the future to people living in 1950, and it's the past to people living in 2030. Every choice we make in life affects the future. If I decide to have a kid, then that results in somebody existing in 2030 who wouldn't otherwise. But if I choose not to have a kid, then that person will not exist in 2030. Making a decision is no different today than it would be if I went into the past. If I went to 1950, then 2013 would be the future, and any decision I made in 1950 would affect 2013. So any decision we make, regardless of when I make it, is going to affect the future. If it's absurd to think it's wrong for me to prevent people in 2030 from coming into existence by something I choose today, then it's equally absurd to think it's wrong for me to prevent people in 2013 from comining into existence by something I choose in 1980.

I don't think we can judge actions as moral or immoral based on long term consequences alone. After all, we don't always know what the long term consequences will be. Sometimes, our actions may have good short term consequences and bad long term consequences. Given the butterfly affect, it's just impossible to account for all the effects that ripple through time indefinitely into the future.

I think a better way to judge actions as moral or immoral is to base them on the motive or intention of the person doing those actions. For example, if you shove an old lady because you don't like old ladies, that's immoral. But if you shove an old lady to prevent her from being hit by a car, then that's moral. So the same action (shoving an old lady) is good or bad depending on what your intention was.

Likewise, a person who goes back to the past and changes something out of an intention to make things better is doing something moral.

And I would argue it's moral even if things go awry. For example, suppose I see an old lady who is about to be hit by a mean kid on a bicycle. If the kid hits her, she'll probably be injured. She might even get some broken bones. So to rescue her, I shove her out of the way. And let's say after I shove her out of the way, a meteor hits her and kills her. If I had not shoved her, she would've been injured, but at least she'd be alive. Now that I've shoved her, though, she got killed. I would argue that even though my shoving her got her killed, I still acted morally because my intention was to save her from being hit by a mean kid on a bike. I can't be blamed for the meteor hitting her if it wasn't my intention.

So it's the intention that matters, whether you go into the past and try to change things or you act in the future.
Debate Round No. 2
troyamonga

Con

Damn. Well, you've succeeded in swaying my viewpoint. I guess that counts as a victory to you. I forfeit the debate to you, good sir.
philochristos

Pro

Well, thank you. I appreciate your honesty. I hope somebody will give you a conduct point for that.
Debate Round No. 3
2 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 2 records.
Posted by JeremyMcNamee 4 years ago
JeremyMcNamee
Cool debate fellas
Posted by giraffelover 4 years ago
giraffelover
I don't think it's necessarily wrong to change time. However, you must ALWAYS be careful, not to commit a crime worse than murder, but of a conundrum. For example, suppose I was Hitler's grandson. Suppose I'm disgusted by my grandfather's actions, so I go back in time and shoot him. Well, if I did that, then I wouldn't exist in the future to do so, since my grandfather died. If I don't exist, I CAN'T shoot him, allowing him to live and causing me to exist and enter this cycle nonstop.
3 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 3 records.
Vote Placed by wrichcirw 4 years ago
wrichcirw
troyamongaphilochristosTied
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Total points awarded:13 
Reasons for voting decision: !FF, conduct to CON for being gentlemanly about it.
Vote Placed by likespeace 4 years ago
likespeace
troyamongaphilochristosTied
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Total points awarded:13 
Reasons for voting decision: Pro receives argument points for convincing arguments--even his opponent was swayed. Con receives conduct points for gracefully conceding.
Vote Placed by Nur-Ab-Sal 4 years ago
Nur-Ab-Sal
troyamongaphilochristosTied
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Total points awarded:03 
Reasons for voting decision: Concession by Con. A glorious victory for philochristos.