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The Way of Judging the Morality of an Action

There is one eternal debate that has been confusing all human beings and this debate has represent a problem that people in most professions have to be faced with. It is about whether it is morally permissible to murder one innocent person at the aim of saving a bigger number of people. In fact, it has revealed the problem that human beings are confused about. Is it correct to trash the right of the minority in order to protect the “greater good” of our world? If you say yes to this question, most opponent will make a rebuttal, saying that it is wrong to disregard a person’s life even if we can end up saving more people. The reason is every one has the equal right to enjoy his or her life and no one is granted the power to take it away. Although hundreds of years ago, the rich and the powerful had the right to murder anyone based on their mood, in the modern world, even the president should be treated equally as a working class according to the law. Therefore, based on these people’s beliefs, we should sacrifice the life of the majority of people solely because we have to save one life.

In fact, this debate is rather similar to the one about whether chicks come our first or the eggs come out first. No matter which side you are on, you will always be able to find out the way to make a rebuttal because there is no correct answer to this philosophical question because both sides have reasonable statements and beliefs to support themselves. In fact, this problem is generally regarded as the problem of Utilitarianism and Deontological ethics debate. According to the Utilitarianism, we need to make a decision by figuring out which decision can do most good and can be more useful and helpful. Therefore, based on the theories of utilitarianism, it is correct to kill one life as long as we can end up saving more people. On the contrary, for those who support the deontological ethics which was created by a philosopher called by Immanuel Kant, he strongly claimed that it will never to right to kill any one, not even a criminal or an evil person, let alone an innocent being. As a result, they hold the belief that the morality of a person’s action actually has depended on what the action is. If the action is not correct, even though it might bring good results, this action can never be regarded as correct. On the contrary, if a person does something according to their good intention, no matter what the consequences of his or her actions are, this person has made a correct choice. Therefore, these two theories are the exact opposite of one another because one claims that the results of a person’s action can never justify his or her actions. For me, I do not agree with that the action’s morality matters. In fact, I tend to support the ideas of the consequentialism and I believe that the consequences of an action are more important than the action itself. Therefore, if killing a person means saving the lives of more people, then be it and yes it is indeed morally permissible.

It is necessary to study what “morally permissible” really means. According to its definition, if a behavior is “morally permissible”, it means that what a person does is regarded as “correct” based on the moral code of conduct accepted by the public in our society. (Wayne, 1998)

Actually, there are many ways for us to judge the actions of people. If we want to know whether a person’s decision, views of the world and ideas are appropriate and correct or not, we can find out and discuss whether his action produces positive result for the majority. While we are looking at the result, one can ignore that person’s life experience, his ideas of the world and his characteristic. For example, if a person killed a raper by self-defense, her action is most probably appropriate depending on how dangerous the situation she is put into. If this victim is seriously threatened by the raper and we can assume that if this person does not kill the raper in kill, she will end by being murdered instead. In this situation, it is acceptable for this person to kill another one. As a result, the conclusion can be immediately made that her action is morally correct because the death of the raper can prevent other girls from being raped. Therefore, the result for the majority of the people is what counts the most.

As the statements of the previous paragraph have stated, I strongly believe that it is definitely correct to kill an evil person in order to save other innocent people. In fact, even if this person is not evil and he is innocent, if skilling him or her can help us save a majority of other people, that means the consequence of this action is acceptable, thus the killing should be acceptable too. (Wayne, 1998)

What I have mentioned above has represented a way for us to measure and judge if a person’s behavior represents goodness or if a person’s behavior means evilness. his way of measuring goodness from evilness is similar to that of the Consequentialism. According to the theories of Consequentialism, the supporters of Consequentialism believe that if we wan to decide whether a person’s action is morally correct, we need to take a look at the consequence. Consequentialism is an ethical theory that has focused on the consequences, as well as results of our moral actions. However, Consequentialism is a very broad notion. Although the supporter of Consequentialism propose that the result has decided the person’s action, the definition is still very ambiguous because the result can be various. For example, if we decide to execute a serial murderer, most people, especially those who believe in Consequentialism might say that this could be too cruel and harsh for the murder himself and his family. However, I support this one hundred percent and I firmly believe that this action is correct because the death of this serial murderer can be positive to dozens of other future victims’ family. Therefore, Consequentialism as a broad notion can be biased to different group of people due to different ways of looking at the result.

There is one most typical example for professional doctors who have to do the operations of organs. For example, a doctor has to face with five patients who are dying and these five patients are all in need of organs but in the hospital, there are not enough organs. At this moment, there is a patient in the hospital who can be saved if he agrees to do an operation. So, these five dying patients are in urgent need to get five different organs in a hurry and the doctor has to decide if he should just let the one dying patient die and use his organs to save other five people. Most people who support the morality of an action will frown on this idea and claim that if the doctor only lets the patient die, it means murder because no one deserves to be dead even though the life of this person can help save more people. However, I believe that the doctor should let the one person die and save other five people because I tend to focus on the consequences of this behavior and if the doctor lets the patient die and saves the other five people, the family members of the five patients will be blessed and happy. However, if the doctor does not save the other five patients, only a few family members of the survived patient can be happy and the result is that the majority of people, which means that family members of the other five patients will be devastated and the result is worse. Thus, I do not agree with saving only one person by letting the other five die.

Some opponent might argue that my point is too cruel because I prefer to let the one patient die and they might rebut that everyone should have the same right, even including the one dying patient and no one is granted the right to take away his life. However, I think that if what they say is reasonable, then no one has the right to take away the lives of five people.

As the flaws expressed in the previous paragraph shows, if we use Consequentialism to judge a person’s behavior, the result can be biased, because an act produces a good result for group X at the same time may also produce a bad result for group Y. Therefore, the fairest measuring method is the Common sense Consequentialism. According to the Common sense Consequentialism, it suggests that the way of judging a person’s action is to see whether his action produces good results for the majority of people. For example, recently, some ten-year-old child in the terrorists’ group has ruthlessly murdered several spies working in American Intelligence Agency. These children are little but punishing them is not wrong because it can save many other innocent people’s lives. That is why Douglas W. Pormore has said that “it is permissible to torture an innocent child if that would produce the most aggregate utility. In fact, it is not only permissible but also obligatory” (Portmore 3).

Every act human beings commit is judged by its result. There is one typical example to illustrate Commonsense Consequentialism. In a mine accident, about 100 people are trapped. There are three gates. If the fireman closes Gate 1, and if he is lucky, he can save all miners but there are 20 percent chances that he may risk saving no one. If the fireman closes Gate 3, he cannot save all 100 people. However, there is no risk in doing it. In the end, whether he is lucky or not, he can definitely save 80 people although 20 of the miners will definitely die. In this case, he knows that he “obligatorily” ought to close Gate 3, even though he knows 20 lives will be lost, it is still the best and morally correct decision. Because the fireman knows that “this objectively right action” (closing Gate one) can put him into the risk of save no one.

Thus, the most common solution to this problem is to look at the consequences for a large group such as ‘society in general’. Plus, the past actions of the person doing the act are irrelevant; the character of the person doing the act is irrelevant; the fairness of the consequences is not directly relevant. Only the result for the general public is relevant. Therefore, if killing a person means we can save more people, then it is morally permissible because it produces better results.


Wayne, Booth.1998. Why Ethical Criticism Can Never Be Simple [M]. Rowman & Littlefield.

Portmore, Douglas W. 2011. Commonsense Consequentialism: Wherein Morality Meets Rationality [M]. Oxford University Press.


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