Is it moral to take the life of another
| A thing devised by
the enemy. --
Go, gentlemen, every man unto his charge.
Let not our babbling dreams affright our souls.
Conscience is but a word that cowards use,
Devised at first to keep the strong in awe.
Our strong arms be our conscience, swords our law.
March on. Join bravely. Let us to it pell mell,
If not to heaven, then hand in hand to hell.
" Richard III"
"It would be interesting to know what it is men are most afraid of.
Taking a new step, uttering a new word."
from "Crime and Punishment" by Fyodor Dostoevsky
"I maintain that if the discoveries of Kepler and Newton could not have been made known except by sacrificing the lives of one, a dozen, a hundred or more men, Newton would have had the right, would indeed have been in duty bound... to eliminate the dozen or hundred men for the sake of making his discoveries known to the whole of humanity. But it does not follow from that that Newton had a right to murder people left and right to steal every day in the market. Then, I remember, I maintain in my article that all... well, legislators and leaders of men, such as Lycurgus, Solon, Mahomet, Napoleon, and so on, were all without exception criminals, from the very fat that, making a new law, they transgressed the ancient one, handed down from their ancestors and held sacred by the people, and they did not stop short of bloodshed either, if that bloodshed - often of innocent persons fighting bravely in the defense of ancient law - were of use to their cause. It's remarkable in fact, that the majority indeed, of these benefactors and leaders of humanity were guilty of terrible carnage. In short, I maintain that all great men or even men a little out of the common, that is to say capable of giving some new word, must from their very nature be criminals - more or less, of course. Otherwise it's hard for them to get out of the common rut; and to retain in the common rut is what they can't submit to, from their very nature again, and to my mind they ought not, indeed, to submit to it. The common people preserve and populate the world, the extraordinary move the world and lead it to its goal...."
"....Listen, I want to ask you a serious question," the student said hotly. "I was joking of course, but look here; on one side we have a stupid, senseless, worthless, spiteful, ailing, horrid, old woman, not simply useless but doing actual mischief, who has not an idea what she is living for herself, and who will die in a day or two in any case. You understand? You understand?"
"Yes, yes, I understand," answered the officer, watching his excited companion attentively.
"Well, listen then. On the other side, fresh young lives thrown away for want of help and by thousands, on every side! A hundred thousand good deeds could be done and helped, on that old woman's money which will be buried in a monastery! Hundreds, thousands perhaps, might be set on the right path; dozens of families saved from destitution, from ruin, from vice, from the Lock hospitals - and all with her money. Kill her, take her money and with the help of it devote oneself to the services of humanity and the good of all. What do you think, would not one tiny crime be wiped out by thousands of good deeds? For one life thousands would be saved from corruption and decay. One death, and hundred lives in exchange - it's simple arithmetic! Besides, what value has the life of that sickly, stupid, ill-natured old woman in the balance of existence? No more than the life of a louse, of a black-beetle, less in fact because the old woman is doing harm. She is wearing out the lives of others; the other day she bit Lizaveta's finger out of spite; it almost had to be amputated."
"Of course she does not deserve to live," remarked the officer, "but there it is, it's nature."
"Oh well, brother, but we have to correct and direct nature, and, but for that, we should drown in an ocean of prejudice. But for that, there would never have been a single great man. They talk of duty, conscience - I don't want to say anything against duty and conscience;- but the point is, what do we mean by them? Stay, I have another question to ask you. Listen!"
"No, you stay, I'll ask you a question. Listen!"
"You are talking and speechifying away, but tell me, would you kill the old woman yourself?"
"Of course not! I was only arguing the justice of it... It's nothing to do with me...":
"But I think, if you would not do it yourself, there's no justice about it... Let us have another game."