[lit-ideas] When Two Wrongs Make A Right

  • From: Jlsperanza@xxxxxxx
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Tue, 10 Jul 2012 20:21:57 -0400 (EDT)

Was: Whig 'n' Tory

In a message dated 7/10/2012 7:12:36 P.M. Eastern  Daylight Time, 
_profdritchie@xxxxxxxxxx (mailto:profdritchie@xxxxxxxxx)  wrote

>>>'whig', a synonym for "wrong."  
and now:
>another synonym for "wrong."

Oddly, the consequence seems to be obvious.

HOWEVER: _both_ "Two wrongs do not make one right" and "Two wrongs make  a 
right" are an English phrase, and as Geary notes, we might need to decide 
(or  otherwise not).
This sentence expresses a Norm (philosophy), according to Witters.  
However, somewhat confusingly, in the Blue Book, he writes of "two wrongs  make 
right" as a norm, while in the Brown Book, the norm is "two  wrongs do NOT 
make one right". (Cora Diamond thinks the "not" is  'apocryphal' -- "hardly 
his handwriting"). 

Grice considers the implicature of the following:
Speaker A: You shouldn't embezzle from your employer. It's against the law. 
Speaker B: My employer cheats on their taxes. That's against the law, too! 
The unstated premise (or 'enthymeme', as Grice calls it, echoing Aristotle  
-- literally, 'in the chest') is that breaking the law (the wrong), Grice  
thinks, is justified, as long as the other party also does so. 
It is often used as "a red herring" (metaphorically speaking), or an  
attempt to change or distract from the issue. 
Grice gives this further example of an odd conversational  implicature:
Speaker A: 
President Williams lied in his testimony to Congress. He should not do  

Speaker B: 
But you are ignoring the fact that President Roberts lied in his  
Congressional testimony!

Even if President Roberts lied in his  Congressional testimony, that does 
not make it acceptable for President Williams  to do so as well. ("At best," 
Grice notes, "it means Williams is no worse than  Roberts. By invoking the 
fallacy, the contested issue of "lying" is  ignored".)

The tu quoque fallacy is a specific type of "two wrongs make a right". 
-- cfr. Julius Caesar's ultimate use of the fallacy.
Accusing another person of not practicing what they preach, while  
appropriate in some situations, does not in itself invalidate an action or  
statement that is perceived as contradictory.

On the other hand, as Buddha, and indeed Geary, note, :Two wrongs  don't 
make a right" is the proverb that contradicts this logical fallacy. 
It means that a wrongful action is not a morally appropriate way to correct 
 or cancel a previous wrongful action.

Common use of the term, in  the realm of business ethics, has been 
criticized by scholar Gregory S. Kavka  writing in the Journal of Business 
Kavka refers back to philosophical concepts of retribution by Thomas  
Hobbes, whom he quotes in the vernacular.
Hobbes, in the "Leviathan" (a bestseller in his day) states that if  
something supposedly held up as a moral standard or common social rule is  
violated enough in society, then an individual or group within society can 
that standard or rule as well since this keeps them from being unfairly  
As well, in specific circumstances violations of social rules can be  
defensible if done as direct responses to other violations. For  example, 
states that it is wrong to deprive someone of their  property but it is 
right to take property back from a criminal who takes other's  property in the 
first place. He also states that one should be careful not to  use this 
ambiguity as an excuse to recklessly violate ethical rules.

Conservative journalist Victor Lasky wrote in his novel, "It Didn't  Start 
With Watergate" that while "two wrongs don't make a right", if a set of  
immoral things are done and left un-prosecuted, this creates a legal precedent. 
Thus, people who do the same wrongs in the future should rationally expect  
to get away as well. 
Lasky analogizes the situation between John F. Kennedy's wiretapping of  
Martin Luther King, Jr. (which lead to nothing) and Richard Nixon's actions in 
 Watergate (which Nixon thought would also lead to  nothing).

The idea that a double wrong might infer/make a  right was yet published in 
a poem as soon as 1734.

See also Norm (philosophy), and look for moral justifications alla Kant  of 
both: An eye for an eye, and 
Tit for tat 
butter for fat
if you kill my dog
I kill your cat.

Retributive justice 


Kavka, G. S. (1983). "When two "wrongs" Make a right: an essay on business  
ethics". Journal of Business Ethics 2: 61–66. DOI:10.1007/BF00382714. edit

It Didn't Start With Watergate. Victor Lasky. 

C. Ackers for J. Wilford, ed. (1734). "Poetical Essays in NOVEMBER  1734". 
The London magazine, or, Gentleman's monthly intelligencer, Volume 3. p.  

An orient star led, thro' his blind- / Side, to a prize his eye  of mind: / 
The lightning said, its he; in Spight / Of fate two wrongs infer one  
right. / let fly; well shot! thanks to my Spark; / A blind boy, once, has cleft 
the mark. /
— The Moral (translated - origine ? - in  Hudibrastic)
 The Fallacy Files: Two Wrongs Make a Right 
Nizkor: two wrongs  make a right 
 Fallacies of relevance 


Dicto simpliciter ad dictum secundum quid (Accident) ·Ad nauseam  (Argument 
from repetition) ·Argumentum ad ignorantiam (Argument from ignorance)  
·Argumentum e silentio (Argument from silence) ·Argumentum ad temperantiam  
(Argument to moderation) ·Argumentum ad populum (Appeal to the people) ·Base  
rate ·Compound question ·Evidence of absence ·Ignoratio elenchi (Irrelevant  
conclusion) ·Invincible ignorance ·Loaded question ·Moralistic ·Naturalistic  
·Non sequitur ·Proof by assertion ·Special pleading ·Straw man ·Two wrongs 
make  a right 
Appeals to emotion

Fear ·Flattery ·Nature ·Novelty ·Pity ·Ridicule ·Children's  interests 
·Invented here ·Island mentality ·Not invented here ·Repugnance ·Spite 
Genetic fallacies

Ad hominem ·Ad hominem tu quoque ·Appeal to accomplishment  ·Appeal to 
authority ·Appeal to etymology ·Appeal to motive ·Appeal to novelty  ·Appeal to 
poverty ·Appeals to psychology ·Argumentum ad lapidem (Appeal to the  stone) 
·Appeal to tradition ·Appeal to wealth ·Association ·Bulverism  
·Chronological snobbery ·Ipse dixit (Ipse-dixitism) ·Poisoning the well ·Pro  
·Reductio ad Hitlerum 
Appeals to consequences

Appeal to force ·Wishful thinking 

Categories: Relevance fallacies
English phrases
Ethical  principles

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