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Thu Feb 7, 2013, 12:47 PM

How "Kill List" Defenders are Wrong (Unethical Rationalizations and Misconceptions)

Last edited Thu Feb 7, 2013, 05:42 PM - Edit history (4)

Discussions about ethical issues, not to mention attempts to encourage ethical behavior, are constantly derailed by the invocation of common misstatements of ethical principles. Some of these are honest misconceptions, some are intentional distortions, some are self-serving rationalizations, and some, upon examination, simply make no sense at all.


3. Consequentialism, or “It Worked Out for the Best”

The ethical nature of an act must be evaluated when it is done, and not based on its results. Consequentialism is an open invitation to extreme “the ends justify the mean” conduct, where even cruel and illegal conduct becomes “ethical” because good consequences happen to arise out of it, even when the good was completely unintended or unpredictable. ......

4. “If it isn’t illegal, it’s ethical.”


10. The King’s Pass

One will often hear unethical behavior excused because the person involved is so important, so accomplished, and has done such great things for so many people that we should look the other way, just this once. This is a terribly dangerous mindset, because celebrities and powerful public figures come to depend on it. Their achievements, in their own minds and those of their supporters and fans, have earned them a more lenient ethical standard. This pass for bad behavior is as insidious as it is pervasive, and should be recognized and rejected when ever it raises its slimy head. In fact, the more respectable and accomplished an individual is, the more damage he or she can do through unethical conduct, because such individuals engender great trust. Thus the corrupting influence on the individual of The King’s Pass leads to the corruption of other others through…

11. The Dissonance Drag

Cognitive dissonance is an innately human process that can muddle the ethical values of an individual without him or her even realizing that it is happening. The most basic of cognitive dissonance scenarios occurs when a person whom an individual regards highly adopts a behavior that the same individual deplores. The gulf between the individual’s admiration of the person (a positive attitude) and the individual’s objection to the behavior (a negative attitude) must be reconciled. The individual can lower his or her estimation of the person, or develop a rationalization for the conflict (the person was acting uncharacteristically due to illness, stress, or confusion), or reduce the disapproval of the behavior.

This is why misbehavior by leaders and other admired role models is potentially very harmful on a large scale: by creating dissonance, it creates a downward drag on societal norms by validating unethical behavior. Tortured or inexplicable defenses of otherwise clearly wrong behavior in public dialogue are often the product of cognitive dissonance.

12. The Saint’s Excuse: “It’s for a good cause”

25. “The Favorite Child” Excuse

What my guy did is OK, because your guy did it.


27. The Revolutionary’s Excuse: “These are not ordinary times.”

An argument for those who embrace “the ends justify the means”—but only temporarily, mind you!—the Revolutionary’s excuse has as long and frightening a pedigree as any of the rationalizations here. Of course, there is no such thing as “ordinary times.” This rationalization suggests that standards of right and wrong can and should be suspended under “special” circumstances, always defined, naturally, by those who defy laws, rules, and societal values. Their circular logic results in their adversaries feeling justified in being equally unethical, since times in which the other side engages in dishonesty, cheating, cruelty, and more is, by definition, extraordinary.

The inevitable result is a downward spiral of conduct, until unethical behavior is the norm. Ironically, the rationalization that “these are not ordinary times” no longer is necessary at that point. Unethical conduct has become ordinary, the new normal. This is, it is fair to say, the current state of American politics.

30. The Troublesome Luxury: “Ethics is a luxury we can’t afford right now”

....In a true crisis, ethical values are often the only thing standing between us and catastrophic misconduct in the throes of desperation and panic; they aren’t luxuries, they are life-lines. When you hear yourself saying, “I’ll do anything to fix this! Anything!” it is a warning, and the ethics alarm needs to start ringing hard. Grab those ethical values, and hold on to them. They are the last thing you can afford to be without at such times.

31. The Unethical Role Model: “He/She would have done the same thing”

This is a fantasy rationalization, and therefore a wonderfully versatile one. Just pick the great, famous and admired man or woman who you think would be most likely to engage in the wrongful conduct you are considering, and you will immediately feel good about it......


I don't think there is one "reason" that's been stated for the President's kill list, et al, that has not been shown to be a fallacy in the above information.

Wrong is Wrong.

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Reply How "Kill List" Defenders are Wrong (Unethical Rationalizations and Misconceptions) (Original post)
grahamhgreen Feb 2013 OP
Kelvin Mace Feb 2013 #1
grahamhgreen Feb 2013 #2
1-Old-Man Feb 2013 #3
RedCappedBandit Feb 2013 #4
Fantastic Anarchist Feb 2013 #7
el_bryanto Feb 2013 #5
grahamhgreen Feb 2013 #6
Luminous Animal Feb 2013 #8
grahamhgreen Feb 2013 #10
leftstreet Feb 2013 #9

Response to grahamhgreen (Original post)

Thu Feb 7, 2013, 12:54 PM

1. While some of the excuses are self-explanatory

a number are not, and it would be helpful to provide an explanation for all justifications.

Outstanding start to an outstanding list.

UPDATE: Ah, I see, you are quoting another article. Never mind...

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Response to Kelvin Mace (Reply #1)

Thu Feb 7, 2013, 03:38 PM

2. Ethics, the lost art of reason.

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Response to grahamhgreen (Original post)

Thu Feb 7, 2013, 03:57 PM

4. Thank you OP. This is excellent.

I strongly disagree with this, though:

29. The Prospective Repeal: “It’s a bad law/stupid rule”

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Response to RedCappedBandit (Reply #4)

Thu Feb 7, 2013, 07:01 PM

7. That's the one I had issue with, too.

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Response to grahamhgreen (Original post)

Thu Feb 7, 2013, 03:58 PM

5. It's an interesting list and well worth considering. nt

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Response to el_bryanto (Reply #5)

Thu Feb 7, 2013, 05:49 PM

6. As we engage in a discussion of whether summary executions are moral and ethical,

I feel it is important to keep note of the kinds of ethical arguments that have been adjudicated already. Saves a lot of wasted breath.

I note that the usual suspects are not here defending themselves or their arguments.

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