Thursday, 5 July 2007

Doing wrong for the right reasons is still wrong (?)

Doing something for the right reasons can never be wrong. If doing something for the right reasons, means doing something that is considered the morally necessitated action.

In everyday circumstances, it is considered morally wrong to kill a fellow human being. But this does not therefore mean, killing a fellow human being is always wrong, there may well be circumstances in which doing so; is considered the reasonable and morally right action.

One may be put in a situation where the only route of action is to kill a fellow human being and the reason for doing so, is self-defense against the initiation of force on one's person, one's child, one's spouse or even in the act of war in defending one's country from a totalitarian regime.

So, the premise that 'doing wrong for the right reasons is still wrong' is, it has to be said wrong headed. It is based on the premise that there are only absolute truths, such as "thou shalt not kill".

If we exclude psychopaths, the drug deranged, the psychotically deranged - then the majority of us are repulsed at the idea of killing a fellow human being. But repulsion is not the standard on which to judge whether such an action is right or wrong.

We may well end up in a situation where we have no choice but to defend ourselves from the initiation of force against our person. In more extreme cases of violence, our only responsible action would be to kill the aggressor before they kill us. In such situations, we cannot hold back with restraint, to do so would almost certainly lead to the loss of our own life. In such a circumstance we would have no choice other than to become a killer. In such circumstances however, our self-defense tactic of killing a fellow human being to save ourself, would repulse us.

Killing a fellow human being in self-defense does not turn someone into a killer (at least not usually). Indeed, such a person may live the rest of their life feeling guilty at taking another human beings life, although they had no choice in the matter, providing they wanted to stay alive.

If it were true that killing in self-defense was enough to turn someone into a killer, then a war veteran if we follow this logic; would go on a killing spree of the general public. But war veterans, on the whole are as repulsed at the idea of killing civilians as everyone else.

Now, there are exceptions. It is known that war situations can dehumanize individuals and it has been shown that individuals who have killed in war situations, may be more prone to kill civilians. But in the rare instances that this does happen it is shown to be the exception rather than the rule. Indeed, war situations can have the obverse effect on some individuals and veterans often become overly passive. It seems to be a psychological reaction based on deep guilt of having killed fellow human beings and to counter that guilt they become very passive.

Now coming back to to the faulty logic of the statement: 'Doing wrong for the right reasons is still wrong' ...Lets take two examples:

1) Suppose a man is walking down the street, he suddenly pulls out a gun and shoots a stranger through the head. Now most of us would consider this a murderous and criminal act and we should expect this individual to feel the full force of the law.

But suppose I now told you that I have not given you the full story... Indeed, there is a name for this that is well know to journalists, lawyers and scientists, it is called 'context dropping'.

Here is the second example... Note this example describes the same situation as example number one above. But this time I will not drop context.

2) Suppose a man a (US soldier), is walking down the street (in Iraq), he suddenly pulls out a gun and shoots a stranger through the head... He did so, because (the man appeared to draw a gun) and was (aiming it in the soldier's direction).

Note what is interesting in a comparison between the two above examples, which are descriptions of the same incident. They do not contradict one another, that is apart from the fact of grasping the context of soldier and self-defense from example number one and in this context we would not: 'consider this a murderous and criminal act'.

The 'man is walking down the street' in example number one; does not contradict the fact that the 'man is a soldier walking down the street in Iraq' from example two. Neither is the fact that the stranger 'appeared to draw a gun and was aiming it in the soldier's direction' a contradiction. Both examples are none contradictory; rather, one example simply avoids or drops full context over the other.

Example number two, does not disqualify the truth of number one. However it does qualify a contradiction from example number one... That is: 'this a murderous and criminal act and we should expect this individual to feel the full force of the law'.

Context dropping, is a favorite tool of lawyers and journalists. It is a way of not lying, but avoiding telling the whole truth. We've all seen films, where a lawyer in a court room is demanding only yes and no answers from a witness. We have all read stories by 'hack' journalists who don't necessarily tell a lie, but they avoid using full context to make the story 'juicy'.

On the other hand, context dropping in science leads not to scientific progress, but dogmatic scientific stultification. A scientist who continued to drop context would be found out very quickly.

The reason then that the statement: 'Doing wrong for the right reasons is still wrong' is a false statement is because of the reason given. It ignores context and is 'context dropping'. Morals apply to a given circumstance and it is thus correct to say that: Doing something for the right reasons can never be wrong. If doing something for the right reasons, means doing something that is considered the morally necessitated action.




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