Responses to Symposium Papers
by Virginia Held
I would like first
to express my appreciation for how interesting these papers are. Instead
of redeveloping previous debates, they launch into territory often unfamiliar
to me and very well worth thinking about. I will continue to think about
many of the points raised in them and will offer here a preliminary response.
I sincerely thank all four of the commentators for their thoughtful discussions.
I would like to say at the outset that I have never satisfactorily resolved
for myself how to treat what we do when we choose between two courses
of action that would each be, in itself, wrong. One can, in theory, add
exception clauses to principles, and establish priorities between principles,
to avoid moral dilemmas. But in actual experience, we may well judge that
sometimes we really are faced with genuine dilemmas, and we may conclude
that in some situations, we can only choose between wrongs. Would whatever
we do then still be wrong, or, if we make the right choice, and choose
the lesser evil, would the action then be not wrong, or not unjustifiable,
or permissible, or perhaps even justifiable or right? For instance, if
we must choose between accepting the continuation of systematic
injustice, which it would be wrong to do, and violating the rights
of some persons, which would be wrong, in order to combat such injustice,
would whatever we do still be wrong? Or unjustified? Maybe not. But it
would not be altogether justified or right either.