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This is a great post. I didn't realize how much my values were shaped by early childhood fiction until I read this. The ability of Donatello (from TMNT) to use his reasoning ability to fight evil really encouraged me to learn "science". I suppose I should be grateful for Saturday morning cartoons for making me value reason as much as I do.

"Why must destroying a conscious model be considered cruel if it wouldn't have even been created otherwise, and it died painlessly? I mean, I understand the visceral revulsion to this idea, but that sort of utilitarian ethos is the only one that makes sense to me rationally." -Anonymous Coward

Should your parents have the right to kill you now, if they do so painlessly? After all, if it wasn't for them, you wouldn't have been brought into existence anyway, so you would still come out ahead.

"The claim isn't that Germany would have been perfectly fine, and would never have started a war or done anything else extreme. And the claim is not that Hitler trashed a country that was ticking along happily.

The claim is that the history of the twentieth century would have gone substantially differently. World War II might not have happened. The tremendous role that Hitler's idiosyncrasies played in directing events, doesn't seem to leave much rational room for determinism here."

I disagree. Hitler did not departure very far from the general beliefs of the time. The brand of socialism and nationalism that became what Hitler preached had been growing in prominence for decades in academia and in the middle class consciousness. The alliance between the socialists and the conservatives against the liberals probably would have happened whether Hitler was at the top or not.