Learn English – Is this a Fallacy: “Never let your sense of morals prevent you from doing what is right”?


This is in my quote collection and said by some Salvor Hardin. I forgot when and why I had added it to the collection, but now that I was randomly going through it, this quote has just stumped me.

I think this statement is totally conflicting and a logical fallacy in itself. How can you stop your sense of morals from preventing you from doing what is right, when the moral sense itself determines what is right and wrong? To be more clear, it is our sense of morality that determines what is right and wrong. So, its like saying "jump from this table, and at the same time don't jump". Am I not understanding something?

Best Answer

A fallacy is an error in reasoning that renders an argument false. It is also used to describe a mistaken belief. The quoted saying is not a fallacy.

Asimov's characters in the Foundation novels describe the quoted saying as an "epigram": a pithy saying or remark expressing an idea in a clever and amusing way. In this case the idea being expressed is that ones "sense of morals" can be an unreliable guide to the right action, and that sometimes an action that appears immoral on the surface can actually be the most moral course of action when properly understood.

There is an area where psychology and moral philosophy overlap called "trollyology" after its paradigmatic example, in which you are asked to choose between diverting a runaway rail trolly so that it will kill one person, or doing nothing and watching several people be killed. Researchers in this area are concerned with understanding situations where someone's sense of morals would prevent them from doing the right thing. For instance, most people are willing to pull a lever to divert the trolly onto a line with one victim, but not to actually push the victim under the trolly with their own hands.