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weeveeship's avatar

Which of these do you prefer? (ethics question)

Asked by weeveeship (4343 points ) 2 months ago

Which of these people do you prefer (i.e. is more admirable)?

1. A person who intended to do something evil but ended up doing something very good. (e.g. A scientist developed something that he thought was a poison that could be used to kill people. The “poison” turned out to be not only nontoxic but also a cure for a particularly grievous disease. Millions were cured because of that “poison.”)

2. A person who intended to do something good but ended up doing something very evil. (e.g. A scientist developed a device that he hoped would revolutionize the economy and create jobs for many people. Instead, the device turned out to be an efficiently lethal weapon that many dictators used to carry out mass genocide.)

Assume: Both people died immediately after making their “contribution” to the world (mentioned above). Thus, the “evil” person could concoct no more evil plots, and the “good” person could develop no more well-intentioned plans. Both are powerless to stop or reverse the aftermath of what they had wrought.

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17 Answers

Khajuria9's avatar

Intention matters more for me, so I would pick #2.

eno's avatar

Practically, intentions mean nothing. The end result is all that matters. That is what I judge on, so I’m all for #1

cazzie's avatar

The road to hell is paved with good intentions. I’ll take the inept evil scientist. Just because you call yourself an evil person, doesn’t mean you are. This goes for many titles people give themselves. ‘Historian’, ‘Rapper’, ‘Dancer’.... Plus, I have a soft spot for the scientists who worked on ‘The Manhattan Project’.

Thammuz's avatar

Personally, i would rather have worked with #2 but I would love for more #1s to exist in the world.

Pragmatically, #1 are better for the world at large, but I would not want to associate with one because between evil and incompetence, they’re basically the worst human being I can figure.

@cazzie Plus, I have a soft spot for the scientists who worked on ‘The Manhattan Project’.
And you picked #1?

You do realise the manhattan project is the very successful attempt to create one of the most distructive WMD types so far?

cazzie's avatar

@Thammuz Yes. I realise that, but they also advanced science. Hate the bomb, not the science. Also: 1.2 million people are killed in road crashes each year and cars are useful. In its history, the atomic bomb has only killed probably less than 200,000… depends on whose estimate you go on, but no one figures more than 200,000. You could say that the bomb has been useful too, in deterring escalations because no one wants to see it used or is in a big hurry to use it again. So, love it or hate it, atomic bomb lead to atomic energy and a whole lot of knowledge about radiation and look at the build of the LHC. So….. yeah, bombing and killing and shooting with guns sucks, but the research done and still being done at Los Alamos is important.

BosM's avatar

An ethical dilemma? – Not really a big one as the question asks which of “these people” we might prefer. Simple, the person who intended to do good in scenario 2 is the type of person that those in a civilized society would prefer to walk among them.

As a species we want to improve our ability to thrive and as a result it’s the good outcome in scenario 1 that we would prefer because it fuels the good we want to be part of our society. However we would not think highly of a person who intended to do evil regardless of the outcome.

LostInParadise's avatar

Judging intentions is a tricky business. Sometimes we misgauge our own intentions. I go with what a person actually does, so I pick person 1.

Related to this question is the life of Fritz Haber, who developed the process of fixing nitrogen, which he used to both create fertilizer and to make deadly weapons. The NPR radio show tells his story How should we judge him?

Mimishu1995's avatar

I would choose #1, but I feel sympathetic for #2…

Bill1939's avatar

The ethics of the first situation described is focused on the intent of the individual and as well as how others perceive the result. However evildoers, the “mad scientist” often depicted in films and TV series such as Mr. Big in “Live and Let Die” or the Stewmaster in “Blacklist”, or actual villains such as Pol Pot or Hitler whose desire for power caused the deaths of so many, did not consider themselves as evil.

Einstein’s equation made the atomic bomb possible, and he often stated that he regretted the results of his discovery. However, it was inevitable that the relation between energy and matter would be uncovered and the bomb would be created.

Those who were party to the invention of the atomic bomb did so with the knowledge that, though this weapon would be horrific, its purpose was to deter their enemies from conquering the world and imposing their will upon other nations. Some of these scientists had misgivings, but felt that the greater good demanded their participation. While many not view the development of this weapon as admirable, neither Einstein nor the scientists involved deserve condemnation.

The second situation, however, is all too common. Though unintended consequences often arise despite the best of intentions, the intention is usually considered admirable.

filmfann's avatar

OP: Which of these people do you prefer (i.e. is more admirable)?

Number Two is more admirable, but I prefer Number One.

Crazydawg's avatar

Doing the right thing matter most to me. If I see someone out intentionally causing trouble or making mistakes but in the end they do the right thing by righting there wrong is good in my book. If someone intended on doing a good deed and switched paths and did something wrong in the process and then left it as is, is a loser with no morals or ethics.

stanleybmanly's avatar

The question is much too slippery for me. I mean its easy to assume that folks working in biological warfare or thermonuclear weapons labs carry some pretty awkward karmic baggage. Their employers (regardless of which government or agency) will reward them handsomedly, declare them patriots and heroes. Good and evil are not always that clear cut. Words like “prefer” and “admirable” take a back seat in our bubbling cauldron of a world to more pragmatic terms, such as “lucrative” and “prize winning”

Coloma's avatar

I agree with intentions as well. Even if the end result is good, the person capable of evil intent will always be prone and propelled by less than savory intentions. I also choose to not choose the lesser of 2 evils.

Skaggfacemutt's avatar

When you ask which one I prefer, do you mean which one I would like as a friend? Which one would I admire? Or which one made the better contribution to society? Which one would I consider evil – which one would I consider good?

I prefer the bad guy’s invention over the good guy’s one. That doesn’t mean I prefer the guy himself.

flutherother's avatar

I would prefer #2 as the nicer person as he intended to do good but being more objective I would prefer #1 as the outcome is better and maybe that’s what counts at the end of the day.

antimatter's avatar

Speaking under correction… Einstein had good intentions with his e-mc-2 or something like that and yet we used his formula to build better ways that can nuke us into extinction.
So no #2 reminds me of him.
No#1 reminded me of Nazi researchers on their prisoners, some of their evil work they did are still been used in modern medical science. I think Chemo therapy were one those things they did. Once again I stand corrected. And I would go for no#1

DipanshiK's avatar

Ofcourse the answer should be #2. Because if people initiate with a genuine contribution for the welfare of the society, they are always remembered. Number 1 Infact was just luck I guess, because you can not credit people for things that happen accidently or are never thought of all together.

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