Frequent commenter Dan Trabue has several times noted with distaste the idea that he views conservatives (or neo-conservatives whatever they might be) call good, things which he terms “a lesser of evils.” I think this is not just a distinction without difference, in my view of ethics “lesser evil” is a meaningless statement.

I view the study of ethics as a study of the good. When we make a choice (practice ethics) we choose the good. Our view of what is good is defined by our choice. That is to say, my choices define my view, my understanding of what good means. The set of choices that I make in my life, therefore defines and elaborates my (perhaps evolving) view of what good means.

Mr Trabue would like to posit that killing a child is always evil/bad. If one was faced with a trinary ethical choice:

  1. Press button A, one child (yours) dies.
  2. Press button B, 10 children (foreign) die.
  3. Do nothing, all the children and you die.

Pressing button A is not “the lesser evil”, it is a way of defining your view of good. Choice #1 -> less children dying is good), #2 my child is more valuable than those of others because of my prior responsibilities or the value placed on your family, or #3 my active choice to kill is always wrong. You can choose, but whatever you do choose will result by your choice in the death of children and at the same time defines your view of good.

The point is, the choice you make is not a lesser evil, it defines your view of what good means.

Filed under: Ethics & MoralityMark O.

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