We’ve all heard the saying, but have you ever really thought about the meaning behind it? It’s a very bold and radical stance. But before we debate our beliefs, it’s important we lay the groundwork by defining our concepts and further dissect the thought behind the cliché.
Essentially the quote implies anything, and everything, is acceptable to achieve true love or to become victorious in war. Basically it’s a “whatever it takes” mentality. I will begin with this assumption and continue the argument comparing two contrasting philosophical ideologies.
Consequentialism vs. Moral Absolutism
I believe that the two philosophical extremes that are most relevant for this argument are Consequentialism and Moral Absolutism. Consequentialism is the school of thought that believes ones actions should be based on the overall outcome. This concept fits nicely with utilitarianism, which is best summed by Jeremy Benthams quote “that action is best that produces the greatest good for the greatest number.” The classic example that is always coupled with this is theoretical situation of killing a baby to save the entire world. Although it is terrible to kill a child, is absolutely and unequivocally worth it. The act of killing is jut a necessary evil. Naturally this can lead down a slippery slope. What if it is no longer just one baby, but what about 1 billion babies? According to consequentialism, it’s still ok because you still have 5 billion other people in the world who would be saved, yet I doubt few people that would be able to follow through that idea.
Moral Absolutism is in direct contrast to Consequentialism. It proposes the notion that all actions are absolutely right or wrong, regardless of the overal consequence or even their desired intention. Therefore if we revisit the “kill baby to save the world” scenario, it is still morally wrong to kill the baby EVEN THOUGH the intention and consequence is the salvation of the entire earth. It leaves very little room for interpretation by making all decisions black or white, while Consequentialism deals with shades of grey.
Love and War
Now that we’ve delved into the opposing philisophical theories, let’s address the “Love and War” scenarios. Love is a complicated idea, filled with layers of complexity. Here I will provide a case study using the contemporary romantic comedy “Love and Basketball” to give a concrete, and somewhat simple example. Near the end of the movie, when the male protagonist is months away from his wedding with another women, the female protagonist admits to him that she has been in love with him since they were 11 years old. Then after a emotion-filled one-on-one game of basketball, they realize their true love for each other and embrace in a kiss of true love. The movie then fades to the near future where they are happily married and have a child. Yet what happened to the original fiancée? What about her feelings? But then again, they were made for each other, so everything ok because they found true love, right?
The consequentialist would believe as long as your intention is to achieve true love, it’s moral acceptable to do whatever it takes to achieve true love. Therefore their actions are morally acceptable, because they overall outcome was better.
The moral absolutist would detest such actions, claiming that the male protagonist is commiting infidelity. And her actions were equally morally objectionable because she is intentionally intervening in their relationship just so she can fulfill her selfish desires to marry the man she let get away.
As with Love, many of the actions we take in War often lie in shades of grey. Just to make it even more controversial, I’ll use the historical event when the US dropped the atomic bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima that effectively ended WWII.
The consequentialist would definitely side with the actions that the American government took. The Japanese attacked the US at the Pearl Harbor unprovoked, which eventually lead us to enter the war, so dropping those bombs were both a form of redemption and a decisive victory that easily convinced the japanese to surrender.
The moral absolutist would unquestionably call the action unthinkable. The act of killing hundreds of thousands innocent civilians simply to demonstrate the power they now wielded was not worth it. Killing people is wrong, and especially killing so many civilians, makes the action even more horrendous.
So what do you believe? If you don’t completely agree with either of the extremes, where do you fall on the spectrum?