I'm currently writing a screenplay, and one of the philosophical themes arises out of a very specific conflict, with I call:


One of the characters sacrifices everything for the good of the state. You can think about it like Dostoievski's extraordinary man in Crime and Punishment. Someone willing to inflict tremendous harm on himself and others in order to achieve greatness and progress for the state and to benefit the people that live in it. A "Napoleon", if you will.

Meanwhile, we see another character who has suffered the consequences of said behavior. He wants to "change the world", he risks everything (like Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment) and commits a crime, he thinks this action will make his country a better place and ends up losing everything because of it.

¿Does this debate have a name?

¿Do you think we should risk our own good (and the good of the people we love) for the nation's good?

Any help is much appreciated.

  • 1
    "What do you think?" questions are off-topic on this site, and there is no debate. Some rank state/social benefit higher and others do not, it is a personal choice. Typical keywords are "needs of the many" vs "needs of the few”, "egoism" vs "altruism", etc. – Conifold Feb 25 '20 at 0:02
  • Welcome to SE Philosophy! Please be aware that questions are subject to editing and closure, and that reflects the site's policies on acceptable questions and NOT a personal attack. What to avoid in questions. Questions, including those that are closed, can be edited to bring them within guidelines. Keeping questions on-topic Additional clarification at the meta site. – J D Feb 26 '20 at 16:59

¿Does this debate have a name?

It's a question of personal identity. Apparently your main character has a strong national identity, which overpowers their personal, family, religious, professional, human, etc. identities. They may feel strong nationalism or/and patriotism.

If their national identity is more powerful than their personal identity, then they'd be prone to hold the interests of their country over the interests of their person. They simply care more about their nation than their person.

If your main character tries to get others to similarly identify with their nation over other identifications, then they'd be engaging in nationalist identity politics.

¿Do you think we should risk our own good (and the good of the people we love) for the nation's good?

The knee-jerk response is to say that it's a matter of opinion, while the more thoughtful response would be to discuss the consistency of such beliefs.

For example, say that their national identity overpowers all other identities, leading them to dedicate their life to the advancement of their nation. What if they sacrifice their person – how would their country fare with the loss of such a dedicated scion? It'd be only natural for them to realize that their nation is served by their person, leading them to value their person.

The emergent identification-dynamics can be complex. But, in short, the correctness of such identifications is tempered by their consistency; a moral position that immediately contradicts itself, both in principle and practice, might be objectively criticized, making this not simply a matter of opinion.

The loss of a dominant identification might be described as ego death. This term is usually used with respect to the loss of a dominant personal identification, but the same should tend to apply to other types, too; it's just that personal identifications are usually dominant, with folks like your main character being uncommon.


In some circumstances, there is conflict. For example, when a state exists for the purposes and benefits only of its leaders. In such a situation one should attempt to navigate choices such as to avoid risk and maximize benefit to oneself. There is no alternative.

An example might be a despotic and tyrannical leader who punishes any misstep with violent and drastic things such as execution, confiscation, torture, etc. In such a situation the best you can do is to attempt to pick your way through many bad choices. There is unlikely to be a good choice.

The fundamental thing in this case is, the situation as it exists has put a very large barrier between "the good of the individual" and "the good of the state."

However, there are other choices. They are nearly always achieved more in the intention as ideals rather than actual situations. But the alternative is to set up a system where the good of the state and the good of the individual are not in opposition. That is, "the good" is defined as the good for each individual. And the purpose of the state is to maximize the potential for good, or at least not increase the potential for harm.

When the state and the individual have aligned motives, then the choice becomes easier.

Now you may say "that's an easy thing to say, but an incredibly difficult thing to do." And you would be right. However, as an ideal it can be a guiding principle. In any situation the question to be asked is this: Is there a choice where everybody wins? Is there a choice that does not treat anybody as a sacrificial victim? Not any individual, not any group, not society as a whole. Nobody gets to be a victim, everybody benefits. If you can find something resembling that, then you should at least pause and consider if that's the right choice.

And, having buried the lead, here is the name of the conflict. It is this. Does an individual have a right to exist apart from his value to the collective?

I answer this question as Mark Twain did. The Public is merely a multiplied 'me.'


Our most deep goal is to survive (justification 1: logically, any other goal is subject to that; justification 2: Maslow's base of the pyramid is survival).

Therefore, at an individual level, the most important priority is not the human group one belongs to, but oneself. If the group wants to kill me, I will tend to digress. So, from an instinctive perspective, the individual priority is on onself, not on the group. Again: instinctively, the priority is always on oneself.

But the group prevails. When the group decides a criminal should die, he will die. A reasonable person will make an equivalent choice in face of a risky situation. If I have to choose between me and my family, I prefer to myself to die. Of course, this is a rational decision.

So, following morals (or ethics, or religion, or any other system of rules, given that all systems of rules have the goal of allowing the survival of the group), it is the group that should prevail (the nation, in your question). But as said, it is not so for all individuals. Some would prefer to survive and let the whole nation to perish.

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