They don’t.

Alright, we can talk about extraordinary situations like having to tell a lie to say thousands of lives.

But for the vast majority of us, for the vast majority of our lives, we are not in anything like such extraordinary situations.

I heard an ethics presentation recently in which a philosopher was arguing that the way ethicists are continually talking about such extraordinary situation—to test the limits of their ethical theories—is actually morally corrupting: We focus on an extreme situation—usually hypothetical—in which one would have to lie to say of thousands of lives. We conclude that in such a case maybe lying would be ethically justified. But then we start concluding that lying may be OK after all. And so I guess its okay for me to lie to make myself look good or to help me accomplish my goals.


It’s an obvious logical error, of course. A non sequitor—a hasty generalization. That there could be extraordinary situations in which lying may be justified in no way entails that lying is anything but very seriously wrong in more ordinary situations.

But it’s so tempting to rationalize. When I see that lying (or . . .) would make life so much more comfortable for me, or us, or would help me, or us, achieve our personal goals, it is so tempting to rationalize. Ethics gets in the way.

So tempting to cut ethical corners.

But this is the road to hell. There is so much suffering evil and death in the world precisely because we engaged in this kind of rationalization. Even the most horrific evils have typically been committed in pursuit of a noble goal. Hitler and Pol Pot we’re trying to make things better for Humanity. They just had to kill millions of people to accomplish this. Imagine a world in which people did not succumb to the temptation to rationalize unethical behavior in pursuit of their typically-ethical goals. It would be unrecognizably better. Even on Consequentialist and Utilitarian ethics, pursuing our goals by means that would normally be considered on ethical is just wrong. And it is the cause of enormous amounts of suffering.

Let us choose the higher road.

If something cannot be done in an ethical manner, it cannot be ethically done.

To do otherwise is to contribute directly to the corruption and suffering of this world.

-November 2016