Perhaps I am simply reiterating what has already been said when I write on the nature of necessity. I am not nearly well-read enough, worldly enough, nor arrogant enough to claim that my thoughts on the matter are wholly original. It may also be that I am simply wrong when I claim that there has been an equating of necessity and the morally justifiable, but it is something that I’ve noticed and wish to speak against.

To me, necessity is a feature of cause and effect: “This” is necessary for “that” to happen. Necessity itself has no moral dimension. For example: It is necessary that the radio contain batteries for it to work. This is a statement of necessity and, as you can see, it contains no moral aspect. Unless you consider radios to either be the intrinsically good or intrinsically evil, then the statement is morally neutral. It is when necessity overlaps with moral judgements that I believe is the area where the confusion occurs.

Note: While I will be mentioning moral justification and discussing its relationship with necessity I will not attempt to define moral justification and exactly what and what isn’t morally justified. While I will be using examples of morally justified and morally unjustifiable acts, I will attempt to draw them from broadly agreed upon terms. I do this, not to avoid tackling the issue, but because I do not fully understand it.

I propose that there exists a continuum containing the overlap of necessity and moral judgements. This continuum consists of four main aspects:

1.) Necessary, morally justified acts.
2.) Unnecessary, morally justified acts.
3.) Necessary, morally unjustified acts.
4.) Unnecessary, morally unjustified acts.

I shall draw examples of each of the above from what I believe are two generally agreed upon grounds:

A.) Helping people is good.
B.) Killing people is bad.

From “A” I draw these two examples:

i) Calling an ambulance for someone who is bleeding heavily. This is an example of “1”.

ii) Helping someone to pick up some papers that they have dropped. This is and example of “2”.

From “B” I draw these two examples:

i) Killing someone to prevent them from killing you. For me, this falls under “3”.

ii) Killing someone because you don’t like them. This is obviously an example of “4”.

I would hazard a guess that most people would agree with me on the two examples from “A” and the second example from “B”. I would also guess that the first example from “B” might be a sticking point for some people. I hope that the following explanation is enough to lay out my view on the matter.

I think that the equating of necessity and the morally justifiable has developed as a way to absolve oneself of guilt, especially with regard to killing. I my opinion, you should feel guilty after killing someone, even if they were trying to harm you. You shouldn’t wallow in guilt, of course, but you shouldn’t deny it either. To do so is to deprive yourself of part of your own humanity.

Furthermore, this principle can be applied on a grander scale. Take civilian deaths in war, or collateral damage as it is now euphemised. If we accept – as many argue – that these deaths are an unfortunate but necessary part of war, then it becomes all to easy to dismiss them entirely. To absent-mindedly wash your hands of blood. Not acknowledging the moral wrongness of these deaths, even if you consider them necessary, is weak, immature and, again, denies your own humanity.

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If one’s ever killed for whatever reason it lives with them forever.


Caru, it’s refreshing to see such views presented in a formalized style.

You write that you’re not undertaking a thesis of what’s “morally justifiable”. This makes sense, as the blog would be too long, and with TV today my attention-span is already shot.

I like these written arguments, not because I wish to substantially counter your points, but rather use your own rationale to play devil’s advocate.

…so here’s my feeble critique, you write:

–Calling an ambulance for someone who is bleeding heavily. This is an example of “1″–

Why couldn’t an example of (1) be:

(1+) “Stopping someone from being murdered in an attack”

Wouldn’t you be saving that someone’s life and helping her more than just making a phone call to the ambulance?

If (1+) is just as valid as (1), then what if (1+) could only be achieved by killing the attacker?

Now, not helping isn’t justified but neither is killing the attacker.

Hmmm, it’s a pickle…

You write that killing someone was unjustified but necessary (in fact, it was the crux of your thesis).

That same rationale could be applied to (1+) as killing the attacker is necessary, not for your own survival, but to do the right thing by helping someone.

Thus, you’re committing one immoral act to secure a moral one. This also squares with the cause/effect flavor of your general notion of necessity.

If that’s the case, then the rule is that the ends justify the means. And if the ends justify the means then doing whatever is necessary to secure a moral act is justified as well.

Thus, justification for an immoral act only comes from securing a moral one. This BTW, is what I think is the real litmus test of moral necessity.

However, not all moral acts require immoral ones, like picking papers up for someone; thus, it’s not a moral necessity, and this also squares with your (2).

But still the morally justified act, and all it may entail, doesn’t equate to feeling swell and I don’t think it has to (morality doesn’t equal happiness)–that’s just the world we find ourselves in–but that would be an interesting topic for another time.

I really liked your work and hope you keep writing, as it’s one of the most interesting posts I’ve read this week, and judging by the feedback I’m sure many others would agree.


May I sneak in a sincere “Welcome to the Planet,” polishlogician, if you haven’t been welcomed previously? Hope to hear more from you!


oh thank you….I’ve been here reading off and on for a couple weeks but I think this was my first post…I may have written something when I first created an account, but it obviously wasn’t that memorable…


Caru, you picked one hell of a topic, here.
Necessity, in and of itself is a muthah. (period)
As I read your ideas on the four groups (examples?)of things necessary I was rocked by the blurring (or “overlap”) but I never did find any clean delineation between one or the other. Even the two givens (re: what is good and what is bad) you provided seemed to blur into others like egg whites from a tea spoon.
For example, helping people is good and killing people is bad. Now I can accept that for sake of this conversation, but the world around us has shown me that this is a very digital approach. I genuinely believe we share this society and this planet with people who would contest that perhaps killing people is not necessarily bad and if it need be done even for the lowly purpose of material gain it (to them) is deemed ‘necessary’. Nor is helping people ‘necessarily’ good, if in fact they were helping someone kill someone. So helping IS good…but to what end and by whose concept of ‘necessary’.
[I’m not arguing with you here or trying to dispute. It’s a huge subject and I’m just thinking with my keyboard.]
To make matters worse for me, I can imagine that there are people who would not find it “necessary” to call for an ambulance to aid with a heavy bleeder. I think most would do so and for a variety of reasons, but I’m not certain if this would necessarily qualify as a necessity so much as a convenience or a moral or justifiable nicety.
Now if someone is truly intent on saving the life of this person who is severely bleeding, it’s likely they would call an ambulance given one is in close proximity…others might simply try a tourniquet but in either case there would have to be a necessity on the part of the bystander to do one or the other as a means to save a life.
The necessity that would be served immediately would be to stop the bleeding. All else, including the saving of a life would be a spin off coincidental to the response to that original act which was seen as a necessity. That being to stem the flow of this guys vital fluids.
Do I have any idea what I’m talking about? I doubt it. I just felt it necessary to join in and kick some thoughts around with someone who has obviously spent more time pondering this ellusive subject than I have.
I guess what I’m getting at is it would be extremely hard to find a one size fits all “necessity”. And the moral attachment only makes it that much harder for me to get my mind around it all.
Still…nice job Caru, in at least having the where-with all to get this exasperatingly huge concept primed and rolling to begin with.


I think people’s attitude about killing is based on how much value that person puts on human life. Most people consider human life “priceless”. But they make exceptions. Abortion, death penalty, etc.

I’m not a fan of mindless killing. But I have no problem with abortion. In fact, I’d like to see more. I want the death penalty to be done away with but if you kill a guy who killed your wife, I got no problem with you.

I guess I don’t value human life so much as the human experience. And I think you have to have at least a halfway decent reason to take that away from someone.

“It’s a hell of a thing, killing a man. Take away all he’s got and all he’s ever gonna have.”
~Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven


Caru –

This discussion reminds me of the training I received for almost 2 decades in various forms of martial arts. Since most of them are derived from Buddhist monks and the morality of that lifestyle and belief system, ‘necessity’ and ethics are a big part of ***proper*** martial art training.

As to self defense, the ideal is to never put yourself in the situation where it’s needed or warranted. However, recognizing the fact that not everything is under your personal control, sometimes it is warranted.

So, how to proceed? The answer, according to my training, is to only apply as much force as necessary to extract myself (or another in the case of the defense of others). Any further force is now aggression, and not ‘approved’ or moral.

In the end, the only fight you win is the one you never have to fight. I always think of it this way… An axe will cut down a tree, but the axe is harmed in doing so, becoming dull and corroded to some degree, and in the end, becomes useless. Any act of intentional violence harms the perpetrator as well as the victim.


Hey PW! Good to see you.. and She who Must Be Obeyed is doing her usual task of keeping the riff-raff under control?
Aren’t we overdue for a walk with HRHMsMaggie? 🙂


Hi jjk –

I know it’s been a while. I’m in the process of moving, lots of packing and sorting through all my crap. I hate it, and Maggie doesn’t much care for it either, other than the opportunity it gives her to paw through closets she usually doesn’t have access to… LOL!

We’re moving in with my daughter for the summer up in Wisconsin, and Maggie will be riding shotgun in the UHaul truck. Should be an experience! My daughter has 2 cats, Bob (a girl that looks like a bobcat) and Jasper, a male. I hope they will all get along. She lives out in the country in the woods, so we’ll have an opportunity to explore. I’ll have to figure out a way to keep the deer ticks off her, though.

Once I’m settled (should be in about 2 weeks), I’ll see if I can get some video to post.


PW, Frontline is the way to go for deer ticks.
The woods in the mid west are far too populated with the little bastids to take any chances.
Pricey, but the only thing on the market that kills eggs and larvae as well as the tick.
Then…enjoy the woods!


Hi Caru,

Well thought out. Your entire argument seems to hinge on the assumption that killing another human is “immoral”, or at least “morally unjustifiable”, in case by any chance those two don’t mean precisely the same thing.

I think there is a reasonable rationale behind that. Most people would agree with something like “well, sometimes it is necessary to kill, for example to save ones own life or protect innocents, but we should always be VERY mindful of what an extreme, and potentially traumatic to ourselves, act that would be”.

If the fact that most people in any society feel that way (I’m assuming, of course, but hopefully with cause to), then perhaps that equates to killing being immoral.

In that sense, I agree with you. Furthermore, I agree with where that argument leads you (and me): We must NEVER allow killing to become a casual, easily justified, commonplace occurrence, such as always happens in wars.

Nicely done!


Caru, if I’m not mistaken, I think you mentioned earlier that you’re 18 years old. I’m so impressed at the depth of your thoughts and arguments. I hope you don’t ever stop writing — or thinking.

You raise such important points. When is killing justified? And is it ever entirely justified — beyond a shadow of a doubt? One of most difficult ethical dilemmas I can think of was the one faced by Dietrich Bonhoeffer in WWII. As you probably know, he was a Lutheran theologian/pastor, who although he was a brilliant man, and a pacifist at heart, eventually decided to participate in a plot to assassinate Adolph Hitler. I’m sure he did a lot of soul searching before he entered into this conspiracy. As a pacifist, I’ve often asked myself what I would have done in his situation. To this day, I’ve been unable to come up with a conclusive answer. Could I personally have killed Hitler? I don’t know.

The irony was that the plot failed. A bomb that the conspirators had planted in a meeting room did go off, but Hitler escaped injury. It was Bonhoeffer who died. He was hanged for treason. Did he “throw away” his life?

None of this is simple. And I’m glad to see that in a world that encourages binary thinking, you’re so ready to recognize complexity.

For me the abortion issue is like this, too. I’m fundamentally pro-choice. But if pressed to say at what point I would say no to the morality of abortion, I falter. I don’t know. I mean, strictly logically speaking, that little embryo is genetically a different entity from the mother from day one. A separate person, as it were. Does this mean that eleven year old children need to bear the children of men who molested them, though? It seems that can’t possibly be right either. It’s frustratingly complex.

I wish I had answers. But I know one thing. I’m grateful that there are people out there like you, who still ask the hard questions


In situations where my morality is on a sliding scale, I tend to delegate it to the actors involved… they are best left to make the choice and deal with the consequences… I also believe that there is no gray area in morality, that when we use sliding scales we are trying to find an optimally moral action for a situation that we know to be wrong but feel a need to justify… In short, no one wants to be immoral, but sometimes it is necessary.

I struggle with the idea of abortion… so I defer it to the mother. I am anti-abortion except in cases like you mentioned (financial burden to me does not justify it), but I try never to impose my particular brand of morals (especially the fuzzy ones) onto others.


“i) Killing someone to prevent them from killing you. For me, this falls under “3″.”

So, are you saying that killing someone who is trying to kill you, is an immoral act? You say it is a necessary act, but not morally justified? Is killing to save one’s own skin a moral issue at all? I would say it heavily depends upon the situation. If you kill someone to prevent them from testifying against you in a capital murder case, that would result in a death penalty, I would not consider that moral, to any degree. But if you shoot someone who is shooting at you, then yes, I would consider that a moral act. But then, it would depend on why the person is shooting at you in the first place. There are many, many different scenarios.


IMO, murder in any instance for any reason is immoral… the question than for me is, is the necessity of survival enough in the case of self-defense to mitigate the murder… In a way I guess I am thinking of an “eye for an eye” justification, that you are only allowed to defend yourself at the same moral level as your attacker… but in reality, I would most likely break my own morality and murder my attacker because in those instances my necessity for survival would outweigh my need to be a moral person… I am a hypocrite! 🙁

What necessities cause us to break our morality? Is it truly only survival, could it extend to our “standard of living” and greed?


Invient, not all killing is “murder.” Killing someone, in defense of yourself or more importantly, your family is not murder. It becomes a necessary act.


I don’t think you’re retreading anything, Caru. I’m just angry you beat me to it ;). So here’s my thoughts and what-not.

I think you should have steered away from moral justification entirely and just focused on the necessity.

Every organism on earth shares one common necessity. Survival. It’s hardwired into basically everything. Even in humans it can override every other impulse.

If you enter into a kill or be killed situation, first of all, how unfortunate, and second,I highly suggest you kill. It is necessary for your survival. And no one’s morals are above that. If someone is going to kill me and I kill them first, I will sleep with a clear conscience.

Likewise in killing for the sake of killing. Of course it’s morally reprehensible by almost anyone’s standards but even without that, it’s highly unnecessary.

And it’s easy for many, especially in America, to accept “collateral damage” during “war” because we rarely see it.