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In the novel (I think, could be another in the trilogy) "Beetle in the Anthill" one of the protagonists states that it is wrong to do acts that are irreversible, in the context of a grand decision possibly affecting the fate of humankind.

Thermodynamics and common sense tell us that this is strictly speaking impossible. But there are acts where this seems prudent - causing the extinction of species comes to mind.

Was this argument thought up by the Strugatskys for their novel, or is this grounded in some philosophy?

If yes, how are (moral) questions where this maxime is applicable identified?

  • Good example, and recently discussed. I agree with @iphigenie's answer, that the prudence derives from not committing to actions with unforeseeable consequences, e.g. reduced biodiversity, ecological chain reactions. – Andrew Cheong Aug 10 '12 at 18:06
  • I can think of situations where the virtue of a courage would require an irreversible act, so I am unsure of the import of this statement as a rule of thumb, or maxim. – thisfeller Aug 11 '12 at 18:41
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Why would you say that this is a "statement about morals"? I'd say it's a "counsel of prudence" (Kant, "Ratschlag der Klugheit"), a hypothetical imperative of the second subcategory. It's not wrong to commit an irreversible act in the sense that the act is a morally bad type of act; one should simply avoid it because one knows that one cannot foresee the consequences of the act. As a maxim you'd not only apply it to ethical decisions, but to decisions in general. Therefore this maxim does not need an ethical ground, just reason.

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