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  • Writer's pictureD. Randall Faro

Do No Harm

What is right and what is wrong? Well, it depends on who you ask.

This question has been explored and debated from Sophists to Stoics to Socrates to Plato to Aristotle to Epicurus to ad infinitum. Philosophy and theology, even mathematics, have been used in attempts to establish a reasonable answer. Google the question on the internet and reading to keep one busy all week will pop up. The problem is, of course, identifying the authority which determines rightness and wrongness.

From the online site, The Great Courses Daily: “Different people may claim very different truths are self-evident. George III certainly didn’t think it followed from self-evident truths that the colonies should be free of English control. His self-evident truths were something different; they were things like the divine right of kings. Different people seem to take very different things to be self-evident, and that again makes you doubt the self-evidence of ethics as some infallible mode of inner perception.”

The foundational concern: if something is right, what makes it right? If something is wrong, what makes it wrong? As noted above, “self-evident truths” can be very tricky. To wit, KKK adherents, Stalin, Mao Tse Tung, firm believers in the Third Reich, etc. Simply thinking something is right or wrong is no guarantee that it is so.

Realizing that a 300-word blog post can only acknowledge the problem and prompt cogitation, here follows a proposition. In the spirit of the Hippocratic Oath, first, do no harm, rightness begins with the goal and intent to do no harm, to self or others. There are, of course, situations where harm will be done no matter what the choice, in which case the right thing to do is that which causes the least harm. Complementarily, that which does harm (or the most harm) would be a wrong choice.

This still begs the question: what is the authority that makes doing or avoiding harm good or bad? Thinkers wax long and eloquently on this subject. By my lights, seeking well-being for self and all others is a commendable maxim while sages debate the philosophical/theological underpinnings.

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