Sta Hungry Stay Foolish

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

A blog by Leon Oudejans

The lesser of two evils principle

The Greek philosopher Aristotle (384–322 BC) once wrote in Nicomachean Ethics (c.335 BC-322 BC): “For the lesser evil can be seen in comparison with the greater evil as a good, since this lesser evil is preferable to the greater one, and whatever preferable is good”. Is this even true??

I had never questioned this principle. Current events make me wonder if this “principle” is even a principle. Isn’t evil just evil, whichever evil you choose?? Moreover, Aristotle’s argumentation is not (very) strong. To some ironic extent, it mirrors the indifference curve by Vilfredo Pareto.

Pareto’s indifference curve is about the added value of a product or service. Hence, a positive matter. Evil is – by definition – negative. Our indifference towards evil is hardly a positive issue. If and when evil is bad then making a choice for the lesser of two evils must also be a bad choice.

Example 1: I assumed that Canada had the moral high ground in its row with India following the (alleged) murder by India of a Canadian-Sikh on Canadian soil. A recent article in Bloomberg Businessweek made me doubt my earlier view: India feels less bad and Canada is more wrong.

Example 2: In my blogs on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, it is clear that I consider Russia as the aggressor. The arguments for that aggression are (very) weak. Nevertheless, I consider both countries as evil. I prefer not to make a choice between the lesser of those two evils.

Example 3: Decades ago, I had a clear sympathy for Israel. Those days are long gone. I have neither sympathy for Israel nor for the Palestinians. The lesser of two evils principle would consider both entities as evil. If and when evil is bad then why would I want to make a bad choice??

The Aristotle quote above wants us to make a choice between “black” and “white”, and ignore the many different shades of grey. Aristotle provides a tool for that choice: essentially, it’s Pareto’s indifference curve. In my view, it’s better being indifferent than making a bad choice.

“Good decisions come from experience. Experience comes from making bad decisions.”

A quote by Mark Twain (1835-1910), an American writer and humorist; also see related quote in Quote Investigator

Bad Choices (2023) by Ryan Langdon
artist, bio, Facebook, lyrics, video, no Wiki info

Note: all markings (bolditalicunderlining) by LO unless in quotes or stated otherwise.

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