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Is it ethical to sacrifice your life in order to uphold a principle of ethics?

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In part, I am thinking of the case of Socrates.

If, at this trial, Socrates had admitted that he was introducing new, foreign gods, and if he'd admitted that he was corrupting young men by teaching them to use critical, rational thinking to investigate received wisdom, Socrates would almost certainly have never been sentenced to death. Yet, Socrates refused to admit any wrongdoing, or even to recognize that his accusers might have some legitimate concerns with his teaching. Was that ethical on the part of Socrates? 

And, more generally, is it worth dying in order to make a public stand for principles of metaphysical and ethical truth?  Or is a more pragmatic approach of compromise more ethical when your life, or the lives of others, is at stake?

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Are you seeking a principle worth sacrificing yourself publicly for?

Wouldn't finding a purpose to live passionately for be more fulfilling? And if you discover that you have to die for living and pursuing that passion, would you not also have discovered the answer to your question, albeit indirectly? 

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One doesn't have to be a martyr, no. When force is directed towards you or those you value, there is no rationalistic duty on your part to uphold any notion of virtue at the expense of your well-being. The common example is an axe-murderer knocking on the door asking for your wife. Honesty is a virtue, yes, but virtue is not disconnected from reality. In fact, you would be immoral if you led the axe-murderer to the room where your wife was only for him to brutally kill her. It would be a monstrous betrayal of your values. You don't try to gain a value by being deceitful, but in this example it's obviously a case of trying to protect a value under the threat of physical force. 

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Rand had her character Henry Rearden say in his own defense at his trial that he would keep fighting through his last minute against the mob, against the principle that man is rightly a sacrificial animal. As the story advances, he ends up leaving the devouring society in which he had created (and loved) his industrial enterprises and living in a secret community for a while.

Rand herself ended up leaving post-revolutionary communist-dictatorship Russia, rather than sacrifice her life by choosing to stay and speak out there.

Rand wrote after the Pueblo incident, that the US should have a policy that its service personnel if captured should make any sort of propaganda statement the enemy requires of them.

I applaud the comments preceding this one. I'd like to mention that this issue is taken up in Kathleen Touchstone's recent book

I'd like to share a window into an historical horror in which LB's question was hanging over a population. This is from the Ph.D. dissertation of my childhood pastor:




A more honest confession was issued on 8 August 1947. Titled "Ein

Wort des Bruderrates der Evangelischen Kirche in Deutschland zum poli- tischen Weg unseres Volkes" (the so-called Darmstadter Wort), it was a confession of guilt of the whole church, including the CC. The so-called "Christian Front" was in reality a binding of the church with the old and traditional conservative powers. It betrayed Christian freedom.

It denied the right of revolution, but validated the development of an absolute dictatorship. "... [W]e falsified the free gift of grace to all. . , and gave up the world to its self-justification."

If the Confessing Church had offered more overt resistance to the demonic Nazi tyranny, would the history of the Third Reich been altered in any appreciable way? Perhaps. After the war, Martin Niemoller speculated on that possibility when he spoke to German audiences in words full of pathos:

"In 1933 and the following years there were in Germany 14,000 Protestant clergy and nearly as many parishes. If we had then recognized that in the Communists who were thrown into concentration camps, the Lord Jesus Christ himself lay imprisoned and looked for our love and help, if we had seen at the beginning of the persecution of the Jews . . ."

Prolingheuer told this writer that after the war the German bishops scapegoated Miiller and Marahrens, but Dibelius did not do this. The day after the Berlin Synod in August 1945, Miiller committed suicide with an overdose of sleeping pills. Lilje really gloated over this, but Dibelius wanted to be "nice," so he said Miiller died of natural causes. (Interview with Hans Prolingheuer, 16 December 1987, in Wuppertal.)

"It was the Lord Christ in the person of the least of our human brothers who was being persecuted and beaten and killed, if we had stood by him and identified ourselves with him, I do not know whether God would not have then stood by us and whether the whole thing would not have then have had to take a different course" (Joachim Beckmann 1950).
But to "love and help," to "stand by and identify," would have meant in the Third Reich, to resist to the death.


Edited by Boydstun
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