Let’s Discuss: For the Greater Good

Posted February 2, 2015 in Discussion / 4 Comments



Note: I will never omit my true opinions. However, because some of them may be offensive to certain groups of people, I have chosen to write those in white text and they must be highlighted to be read.


The phrase ‘for the greater good’ is one that I have come across quite a few times in my reading, only two of which I can remember off the top of my head. But in the last reading, it occurred to me how meaningful the phrase is and I wanted to address it. It, and variations of it. Such as, for the greater good of humanity, or science, etc.

Where did I read it?

At this point in time, I can’t remember exactly, but I have a suspicion it was The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner’s Dilemma by Trenton Lee Stewart. Pretty heavy stuff for a kid’s book, right?

Well, I can say this- probably one of the most poignant mentions of it in literature is in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, chapter 2 (In Memoriam). How can I say this? Because when you Google search the phrase, it’s the first thing that comes up, and the other results are for some sort of project.

And honestly, I agree that that specific mention is where it truly hits you that wow, that is an important phrase.

What does it mean?

Putting this in my own words, I’d say that when you’re doing something for the greater good, you’re doing it to benefit the most amount of people, say, humanity in general. Not for yourself, or for a select group of people, but everyone in general. When you’re doing it for the greater good of science, well, you’re making a huge leap forward in the scientific community and science will benefit greatly from it.

Why is it so important?

I’d say that’s because it, like religion, is often used to justify actions that most people would consider terrible or horrific. Notice that in literature it is usually said by the villain. They mean to say that what they’re doing may involve a lot of death and sacrifice, but in the end it will be worth it because the majority will benefit. And most of the time, this can be seen through. The protagonist simply regards it as false. It is not worth the casualties, fatalities and collateral damage. And so the protagonist puts an end to the villain.

But what if?

What if the villain is right? That’s a huge moral dilemma here. How much of a benefit does legitimize the sacrifice? How many people would you be willing to kill for the sake of mankind? I’m going to use a movie reference here, and that movie is White House Down. Great movie, by the way, made me tear up a little.

So in the movie, the villain is holding a gun to the main dude’s daughter in order to force the President to give him the nuclear launch codes. And the President looks her in the eyes and says, “If I give them to him, millions of people will die, do you understand that?” and she nods, knowing that he would let her die for the greater good.

But there’s a twist here. The President isn’t the villain, yet he’s willing to make a sacrifice for the greater good. So it’s possible, then, for the protagonist to make similar sacrifices for the greater good. In this case, is it more justified than if the villain does it? Who’s to say in which case it’s wrong, and in which case it’s right?

What do I believe?

Of course I have to have an opinion on this; I’m writing about it, after all. I am usually pretty good at staying neutral, but in this case I won’t be. My opinion is this: If it came down to sacrificing the minority in order to save the majority, I’m all for it. Even if I’m in that minority. I am a nihilist at heart.

What about you?

What do you think about the phrase ‘for the greater good’?

Where have you seen it in literature/pop culture?

What is your opinion on sacrifice?

Food for thought (:



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4 Comments on "Let’s Discuss: For the Greater Good"

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I’m very ambivalent on this topic. On one hand, I know that sometimes it may be worth to sacrifice the minority, but on the other, “a person’s a person, no matter how small”, meaning that even the minority is important.
That’s why books like The Maze Runner and The Giver really frustrate me. I can’t identify the villain!


I am totally with you in the end. But in movies and books they are often very quick to the draw in the wanting to sacrifice the smaller group, so our hero can save the day and keep everyone alive.