Following up on the Bad Arguments to the Death Penalty post, we have the question Ought Wrongs To Be Righted?
No: not all of them. Here is the great late philosopher David Stove’s answer. From On Enlightenment (Transactions Publishers, New York, p. 174; link is not to same edition I have):
It does not follow, from something’s being morally wrong, that it ought to be removed. It does not follow that it would be morally preferable if that thing did not exist. It does not even follow that we have any moral obligations to try to remove it. X might be wrong, yet every alternative to X be as wrong as X is, or more wrong. It might be that even any attempt to remove X is as wrong as X is, or more so. It might be that every alternative to X, and any attempt to remove X, though not itself wrong, inevitably has effects which are as wrong as X, or worse. The inference fails yet again if (as most philosophers believe) “ought” implies “can.” For in that case there are at least some evils, namely the necessary evils, which no one can have any obligation to remove.
Necessary evil? Difficulty is that evil is equivocal, thus there are different ways to think of necessary evils. Guy is running down the street toward you and your daughter. He’s got a copy of the New York Times in his back pocket, a Koran in his left hand, and a machete in his right, well bloodied, which he’s used to hack up half a dozen pedestrians farther up the road. You have in your left hand your daughter’s right, and in your right hand there’s a well-oiled, fully loaded Smith & Wesson 460XVR, .460 Magnum five-round revolver (the rounds are too big for the weapon to hold six). Killing this maniac is an evil, a wrong, but a necessary one.
Those hours you put in to make it to Carnegie Hall were sure painful, and pain is an evil, but a necessary one to bring about this greater good.
Could the death penalty, in some cases and circumstances (but not all), be a necessary evil? Surely our imaginations are fecund enough to show that it can.
[The above] are purely logical truths. But they are also truths which, at most periods of history, common experience of life has brought home to everyone of even moderate intelligence. That almost every decision is a choice among evils; that the best is the inveterate enemy of the good; that the road to hell is paved with good intentions; such proverbial dicta are among the most certain, as well as the most widely known, lessons of experience. But somehow or other, complete immunity to them is at once conferred upon anyone who attends a modern university.
The only possible response to this is amen. And more proof universities ought to be nuked from orbit. Though perhaps we ought to add media organizations to the Consigned-to-Rubble list. Something happens to people once the align themselves with sizable media organizations that causes them, over time, to not only surrender to political correctness, but to promulgate it. That, however, is a contingent and not philosophical statement, and you are free to disagree with or disparage it.
Back to the topic. Nearly all mutations are dysgenic, most Change We Can Believe In is harmful, the bulk of “innovation” corrodes and weakens. Tinkering with complex systems produces unforeseen events. These truths are why the Church advocates subsidiarity, the keep-it-small, keep-it-simple principle which acknowledges that humble is easier to control and predict than the hideously complex. I suppose socialism is the opposite of subsidiarity, and is the political system advocated by universities, media, pretty much everybody who look to the State to cure their ills.
Let’s keep on track! The Doctrine of Unintended Consequences is one of the few hard won, adamantine, indisputable moral truths known to us. Yet we eagerly cast it aside in the pursuit of Beautiful Theories which hold that if only we pass enough laws or implement enough regulation human perfection, or something rather like it, will be ours at last.
The very purpose of modern Western education is thus to seek an end around Stove’s logical truths, an impossible goal. It’s no wonder literature departments don’t want students reading poetry.
The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!
For promised joy.
I should have known better to put the business about necessary evils into this. Mea culpa. We are forgetting Stove’s more important, and simple, words:
It does not follow, from something’s being morally wrong, that it ought to be removed. It does not follow that it would be morally preferable if that thing did not exist. It does not even follow that we have any moral obligations to try to remove it. X might be wrong, yet every alternative to X be as wrong as X is, or more wrong. It might be that even any attempt to remove X is as wrong as X is, or more so. It might be that every alternative to X, and any attempt to remove X, though not itself wrong, inevitably has effects which are as wrong as X, or worse…
But comments have inspired this new joke revealed to us today.
Utopianist and a realist fall off a cliff. Realist says, “Been nice to know you.” Utopianist says, “Not acceptable! It’s up to you to find a solution to our predicament!”