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Thread: The Greater Good.

  1. #1

    Default The Greater Good.

    Example (to get you in the mood):

    Suppose a terrorist has planted a bomb in a city in a secret place, and it's due to go off soon. If the bomb explodes it has the potential, depending on it's location, to kill thousands of people.
    Fortunately the police have captured a man involved in the bomb plot, and have evidence that this man knows where the bomb is. All traditional means of interrogation have failed, and the clock is ticking.
    The question is... would it be okay for the police to justifiably torture the bomb plotter? Would the Greater Good of saving lives be enough justification for torture, in your opinion? What about torturing his wife so that he gives up the location? His kids?

    I'm not asking for a specific answer to that example, I personally don't like that thought experiment.

    Another example:
    You have a good friend who you've known for quite a number of years. Your friend is moving to another country, one that you're unlikely to visit, and the chances are you're never going to see her again. You wish her a tearful goodbye, so long.
    On the way to the airport, your friend's car crashes, and she dies! This is unknown to you, but another one of your friends finds out about this. Your other friend decides that it is best to not tell you about her death. He figures that you will get upset, naturally, because of her death and he knows that you probably wouldn't have seen her again.
    You may get annoyed that your friend never tries to email/keep in contact with you, but your annoyance and the process of losing a friend through never seeing her is no way near as bad as the hurt that you would feel if you lost her through death.
    So the question is... Is your friend right to deceive you for the greater good? Is the lie (or absence of important truth) justified by the fact that it saves you a great deal of sadness?

    So there's two examples...

    Do you think that the greater good is the most important thing? Do you think that any action is acceptable if it aims for some greater good? Do you think that some things (like torture for example) are always wrong? What things (if any)? What does your religion (if you have one) say on the matter?
    What do you think the greater good actually is?
    (Don't dare quote each question and reply survey style... These are just things to consider.)

    If you see any problems with the two examples, point them out...

    Anyway, the actual point of this thread is to ask: How important do you think the consequences of an action is in determining whether it's right or wrong morally? Or: Is any action okay if it aims at the Greater Good?

  2. #2


    My point of view on this is there is no right and wrong per se, but that right and wrong is relative to the situation and the person.

    The "greater good" is non-existent because what might help one person might inadvertently hurt another(using the car crash as an example: although at the time you think it right to not tell that person, if they later find out what you did originally to protect them, may come back to bite you later. And they will experience both contempt to you and that exact sadness that you tried protecting them from.)

    My belief is that no action is justified totally whether it is for good or bad, it comes down to the individual to justify the action, for example:

    If you're on an island where human sacrifice is a great honour among the tribe, does this make the islanders wrong for this belief? In my belief no it doesn't, even though they are taking a human life,the Islanders see it as justified, even though from how I was raised and taught that killing was wrong it doesn't make them wrong for following their traditions. (Don't, and I say don't ask if a serial killer is justified from this philosophy, because my answer is yes, but it is not by society, thus retribution)

    So, although you may think something is wrong or right or doing it for 'The Greater Good" it all comes down to the person doing the actions, if someone is to do something for the "Greater Good" they should be aware that just because it will help someone does not mean that it will do any good(or bad) for anyone else(refer to my example of Charlie F's car crash example).

    No matter what you do or say "The Greater Good" doesn't truly exist, because the concept of a "Greater Good" would mean that it would be universally accepted that it was a morally correct decision which cannot exist.

    Please note this is MY opinion, so if you're going to say something about it realize that it is my opinion and that I'm not telling you what to think, contrary to popular belief.

    (Please excuse any typos, I'm tired, and Firefox isn't finding them)
    Last edited by Mink; 06-Aug-2008 at 21:26. Reason: Edited for clarity

  3. #3


    There needs to be a limit in just what the greater good is. It's all fine and dandy until something goes wrong afterwards.

    I quote Mohandas Gandhi.

    "An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind."

  4. #4


    As for your examples.

    1) I'll not allow the use of torture simply because I think it is useless.
    2) I think it will be better if this friend tell the truth just in case you'll discover it in the future.

    I quote what Fallen said.
    I don't think the greater good exist because it is not Absolute, is relative to somebody or something.
    I think, in the end, the truth is painful, but always discovered, so it's better tell it as soon as is possible and do not lie.

  5. #5


    First the first example... I'm one to take a simple approach and just torture the bastard. If you weren't able to procure that information, the chance of it going off before anyone could do anything would be much, much higher. Instead of killing thousands of innocent people and destroying the lives of manny more, you're harming - but not killing - one scumbag. It sounds like more than a fair enough trade off.

    To me, that's the moral and ethical thing to do. Does the value of one asshole really outweigh the value of many innocent? Not at all in this particular circumstance. This isn't a case of "an eye for an eye and the whole world goes blind" because this guy is willing to claim the lives of thousands. Besides, regardless of whether or not he gets tortured or not, he'll have to face the general public eventually - and I know that they'd want him dead anyway.

    So in such an instance the two options are to torture the guy and in the process increase your chances to save many innocent lives. Or don't torture the guy, have a greater chance of many innocent people being needlessly killed. Either way, there would be a huge amount of public outcry to lock the guy up or even execute him. You may as well torture him, save innocent lives and get backlash from the public to sentence him to life in jail/death. As opposed to sparing him some pain for the pain of many thousands of people, you don't save any innocent lives and get backlash from the public to sentence him to life in jail/death.

    As for the second scenario - ignorance is bliss. I've been told some things in my life that I just wished I never knew about. And in all those cases, my life just dropped low at those times. Either way, I'd never see the girl again, so I'd prefer to have her live on in my memory, knowing she's still out there, and hang on to good moments, than to have the pain and memory of finding out she died so shockingly.

  6. #6


    Been reading up on your Mill and Bentham, Charlie?

    I would say, briefly, that each action has worth in itself and that isn't changed by context - torturing a person is always wrong - and that shouldn't be forgotten. However, if you have a concept of good (and I'll ignore the arguments of moral relativism for the moment because it's interesting) then it seems natural to have a concept of utility maximization so if a bad thing has to be done to cause something good then the net outcome is still good and you're in the right. If good exists, the greater good exists.

    Now, that all makes sense in theory but it doesn't give itself well to a structured society so we need to consider every bad/illegal deed in its own right and on its own merits. The moral worth of one thing is determined only by what happened and that has to be the case in any sound philosophy of law but if you're asking whether my moral code would permit me to torture a man to save thousands, then I would say yes, it would. For me the action is not made acceptable but it is necessary; we cannot tolerate any action that is for the greater good - even if such a thing could be evaluated - because society needs equal laws and so the same things must be forbidden to all, but my personal moral code would allow me to do such a thing in such an extraordinary setting.

    Consequences matter in morality but you can't defeat something by becoming it so individual actions in themselves should never be taken lightly.

  7. #7


    1): Of course we should torture him. However the term "torture" has a rather subjective definition. My idea of torture is not with pain and agony. The most resilient and determined men in the world will never give in to that. Rather,... tickle the subject while he is bound in a way so that he cannot move. I mean to do stuff like take a feather and stick it in his ear or the nose. Since pain is so often used as a means of extracting information, people have developed a sort of resistance to it. With tickling, no one has ever used it. So therefore the subject will give in, eventually.

    2): What we don't know won't hurt us. Although it would be very depressing if we found out.

  8. #8


    Without a doubt (concerning the terrorist example). I don't think it's right to torture his wife and kids, as they have no direct involvement, but you could probably find a use for them that would not involve killing or harming them, that would cause him to reveal the location of the bomb.

    I don't think there's any greater good about the friend story. I'd rather know the truth than go on being annoyed at someone for not keeping contact. Plus I imagine that after not recieiving any contact from him/her, I'd be trying to find out what is going on, and I'd end up finding out anyway - and I'd lose two friends. I'd be pissed at the friend who lied to me, perhaps for a very long time considering the gravity of the lie, and I'd have lost the friend who died as well.

    I guess I'm sort of an "ends justify the means" sort of person, but I don't blindly apply that to every situation. If the right things for the right reason don't work, it's time to move on to the wrong things for the right reason.

    A lot of times too, depending on the situation, what is good in one situation, is evil in another. Good and Evil are sometimes very situational concepts.

  9. #9


    I don't believe in right and wrong, good and evil, or the greater good because honestly about 90 percent of the worlds population needs to die for the other 10 percent to survive in the long run. So to be honest I would probably shoot the guy and let the bomb explode it would suck ass for a little bit but then everyone would be united against terrorism again people would enlist in the military in higher numbers then two years later we would be bickering and at each others throats until there was another such attack. Or I would just put his family in the city and tell him that if he didn't tell me the location of the bomb that his family would die and he would be thrown in jail for the rest of his life knowing that he killed his own family.
    To the second option I would rather be told about my friends death and grieve appropriately because I don't believe in god preserving someones memory is the best thing you can do for them in death. So I would rather remember them as a great friend who changed my life forever, than a fake asshole that left the country and never contacted me again.
    Edit: (Not saying that I would ever kill someone unless the situation called for it, I might sound a little crazy but I follow most laws because I would rather kill myself than go to jail)
    Last edited by Dave; 07-Aug-2008 at 14:13. Reason: I just realised how crazy that first bit sounded

  10. #10


    It all depends on the context for instance in the first example: I see it as a choice between two evils, 1: torture 1 person and that way it being possible that only he will be hurt or 2: kill lots of people due to failure of you taking action. In the second case you're passively killing lots of people. The right of living is also a human right, as is it to not be tortured. But in this case that guy is wanting to kill lots of people and therefore depriving them of the right of living, why should he get his rights?

    I'm really straight forward when it comes to killers and terrorists, they are going against the most fundamental human right (the right of living) so why would the human rights apply to them if they ignore it?

    Torturing his wife would be wrong as she didn't do anything other then marry him, if she was also in the plot I wouldn't mind. Also fooling the terrorist into believing that his wife is being tortured is fine in my eyes.

    With the second example: I'd like to know other then to find out some other way because the truth will always come some day. I think I'd rather know then to find out some strange way.

    The greater good is a very stretchable thing, it is different for each situation. Break everything up into choices like I did in the first example and choose the lesser evil.

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