• 'Switching' morality on/off to reach a specific objective (ie, more practical to impact the problem through dishonest rather than though ethical means)
  • Doing wrong things for the right reason

If there is anything you can think of that may relate, please share.

  • How do you switch your morality 'off'? Is it like switching ones consciousness 'off' or is it when one sleeps, but when one sleeps, perchance to dream...and thus the Native hue of resolution is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought... – Mozibur Ullah Mar 9 '14 at 17:01
  • I don't think armchair philosophy is welcomed here; I'd rather not explain. – adamaero Mar 10 '14 at 3:40
  • Discussion-based and list-style questions are not good fits for Stack Overflow sites (even Philosophy.SE). Please try to ask a specific question instead of "anything you can think of that may relate". – Rex Kerr Mar 10 '14 at 22:25
  • Maybe this is to lowbrow, but action heroes do this all the time: e.g. John Wells does so before switching into action. – Drux Mar 12 '14 at 7:23

The most widely-discussed theories of right-action in recent anglophone philosophy, Kantianism and Utilitarianism, each have ways of allowing that actions that would otherwise be wrong can be right under certain circumstances. Both understand such an action as right when it's done for the right reason (and no longer wrong).

Kantians have long discussed the “murderer at the door” scenario, where a murderer asks you where someone you know is, because the murderer wants to kill him/her. Kant brought up this example in Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals. Recent Kantians have argued that while it is usually wrong to lie, it is morally right to lie in this case. Philosopher Christine Korsgaard has a great discussion of this in her essay “The Right to Lie: Kant on Dealing with Evil."

Utilitarians, similarly, would argue that it's possible for actions that, performed in isolation, would be harmful to be good, if they produce the most overall happiness. The second chapter of John Stuart Mill's Utilitarianism discusses this point.

This forum is not the best place to find literary/fictional references, but one fun example I think of is Jack London's The Assassination Bureau, Ltd. which is about a group of professors who decide that it's okay to murder people who are harmful to society, and argue with each other about that.

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  • Why can't the person just refuse to answer the murderer at the door? Is that because the murderer would then kill the person for not answering? It seems that this would transition the thought experiment to a ransom situation. – labreuer Mar 10 '14 at 22:34
  • @labreuer: Its akin to lying. By not answering the knock on the door you're saying that you are not at home - a lie. – Mozibur Ullah Mar 16 '14 at 4:52
  • @MoziburUllah, I was thinking of answering the door, but refusing to answer the question. – labreuer Mar 16 '14 at 16:22

John Rawls and Robert Nozick may be an option. Although, they are political philosophers.

This question relates to liberty vs equality.

Here are some relevant links, unrelated to above:

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You might consider Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, upon which Coppola's film Apocalypse Now is based.

KURTZ "Have you ever considered any real freedoms? Freedoms -- from the opinions of others... Even the opinions of yourself. Did they say why..., Willard, why they wanted to terminate my command?"

WILLARD "They told me that you had gone totally insane and that your methods were unsound."

KURTZ "Are my methods unsound?"

WILLARD "I don't see any method at all, sir."

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A theory of ethics should take the whole field of human action as its proper domain. In which case identifying difficult tests for the theory is to critique it. To abandon ethics to handle a difficult test-case is not to abandon ethics per se but to abandon a particular theory of ethics.

A classic literary reflection on switching 'morality' off is Crime & Punishment by Dostoyevsky.

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