Where do you draw the line for murder?

WEDNESDAY, 19 OCTOBER 2016

On Friday, 5 October 2007 at 17:04 I wrote a note which began as follows: “Is self-denial – the denial of your values, of who you are – justifiable if the end result is good?”

I sketched a situation where someone who seems to be a good person commits an evil act, but for good reasons.

Long story short, I decided not to use the original text because I think when a “good person” commits an evil act – such as murder, for a good enough reason – like saving a hundred lives, he did not really act against his moral values, and he did not really sacrifice his “good conscience” in the same way as someone sacrificing his or her life or a limb to save someone else.

Nevertheless, I thought, surely one must draw a line somewhere:

I

Say someone saves a hundred lives by deceiving someone else and then killing them in the middle of the night – after winning that person’s confidence, or something like that. The person feels very guilty, but the world is a better place. Is this not also a case of a person sacrificing himself for other people?

II

Say someone ends up providing long-term shelter to two hundred homeless people by deceiving someone else and then killing them in the middle of the night – after winning that person’s confidence. The person feels very guilty, but the world is a better place – those two hundred people will have a warm place to sleep. Is this not also a case of a person sacrificing himself for other people?

III

Say someone saves a thousand people’s feelings by deceiving someone who insulted their religion and then killing them in the middle of the night. The person feels guilty, but the world, so he believes, is a better place because the community feels that justice was done. Is this not also a case of a person sacrificing himself for other people?

Where does one draw the line?

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