Right Things Can Still Be Wrong Things

A quick point. In recent arguments I had over guns, many among the noisy horde were baffled by my position that the right thing to do can nevertheless be wrong. This arose in the context of using violence to defend a child against harm. I said that while it might be necessary to use violence, and while this might be the right course of action to take, the act itself is still a bad and wrong thing. This made them furious, because they insisted I was contradicting myself. How can the right thing be a wrong thing? Isn’t that definitionally untrue?

No. Here is a hypothetical. A man tells you that if you do not cut off either your husband’s nose or your son’s nose, he will cut off both of their noses. In this situation, it is obvious why someone might find cutting off one of the noses both necessary and the right course of action. But I think many of us would hesitate to say it was a “right thing to do.” It is the sort of situation where it seems like there is no right thing to do, only a series of wrong things that one must choose among. Doing the right thing means selecting the least wrong thing, but that does not thereby make it not a wrong thing. Cutting off a nose doesn’t become good because it was necessary.

I think this is extremely simple and I don’t know why anyone failed to understand it.