The Instigator
Con (against)
11 Points
The Contender
Pro (for)
0 Points

Two Wrongs Don't Make A Right

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 2/20/2012 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 6 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 8,081 times Debate No: 21291
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (5)
Votes (3)




This one just had to be done.

I will be arguing against this common social perspective/English phrase and will show that two wrongs can in fact equal a right.

First round for acceptance, and for my opponent to post his/her argument if he/she so chooses.

Let's make this a good debate, no equivicating, or silly semantic tactics.

I look forward to debating this :).


Terrific topic.

Good luck.
Debate Round No. 1


Let us begin, many thanks to my opponent for accepting this debate.

Two wrongs don't make a right. This phrase is commonly used to discourage revenge and retaliation, and to convey that one is just as bad as the person who first committed the wrong. However, I find this statement to not be true. For example:

It is widely accepted that it is wrong to stab people.
Cindy just left her store and is in the parking lot, headed to her car. En route, Cindy is stopped by a big, burly, and rather intimidating fellow. He lunges at her, and makes forceful sexual advances on her. Cindy kicks, punches and screams but being much weaker than her attacker, her attempts have little effect. So Cindy stabs the attacker with her key, so he lets go of her. He recovers quickly and comes at her again, so this time she stabs him in a far more effective area (eye, groin, etc). This gives Cindy enough time to get in the car and escape with her chastity, dignity, and quite possibly her life.

Now let's put this in terms said quote.

1st wrong: Fellow attempting to rape and possibly kill Cindy.
2nd wrong: Cindy stabbing fellow.
Right: Cindy avoiding rape and death.

It is almost certain that just about everyone will agree that the fellow was wrong for attempting to rape Cindy, but how many people would say that it was wrong for Cindy to stab the guy? After all, is it wrong for a woman to defend herself? Is it wrong for her to protect her chastity, her dignity, and her life? It is not. There are even many more latent "rights" that result from Cindy's actions such as avoidance of depression, and emotional trauma for her and her loved ones. Or even money saved on therapy to overcome such trauma. The good (right) that resulted in her actions MADE a wrong a right.


I thank my opponent for the opportunity to debate such an interesting topic. It is nice to get the chance to examine a common proverb and see if it truly holds. I think, and will now show, that it does.

As my opponent pointed out by his concern over semantics, the word "right" has many meanings. Given the context of the word's use in the resolution, and my opponent's use of the term, I think it best to use the first noun definition from Merriam-Webster:

qualities (as adherence to duty or obedience to lawful authority) that together constitute the ideal of moral propriety or merit moral approval

That is, a "right" or doing right is opposite of a "wrong" or doing wrong. So, what we are really talking about is qualities (or behaviors) that are moral, or are just. I trust my opponent will not think I'm playing semantics, as this seems to be the definition he has been using.

There are many different definitions of justice (for review: but they have in common that any given thing can be either just or unjust. This is the part that is important for my argument, so I will not take a particular position on which definition of justice is right, only that they all classify things as just or unjust. If my opponent wishes to pick one to work from, I am happy to use it in the final round.

With that out of the way, I will move on to my opponent's argument. He makes a great error in his understanding of what makes something right or wrong. He seems to equate action with purpose. The distinction between just actions and just purposes is not new; it's been around at least since the writing of Plato's Republic ( It is only by this conflation of action and purpose that my opponent purports to show that two wrongs can make a right.

My opponent begins by stating that stabbing someone is wrong. I reject this premise (as would Plato, and Kant A surgeon who stabs someone is not doing a wrong, nor or the woman in my opponent's example. This is because stabbing is not wrong, it is the purpose for which the stabbing was done that makes the stabbing a right or a wrong. Self defense is a just action, as is performing surgery. Murder is an unjust action, as is assault. My opponent attempts to use his parable to show that two wrongs make a right, but he has not shown two wrongs. Rather, he has shown one wrong (the attack) and one right (the defensive stabbing). So, yes, I will concede that if there is a wrong and a right, then there is a right. This is very different than saying if there is a wrong and another wrong, there is a right.

Let's examine how there might be two wrongs in that situation. Suppose that Cindy is white and the attacker black, and suppose that Cindy does not have a weapon when she is attacked. Consequently she is assaulted and raped. This is the first wrong. The next day, Cindy buys a knife and returns to the scene of the rape. She hides between cars and waits for a black man to walk by, at which point she jumps out and stabs him to death. This is the second wrong. It is possible that Cindy feels she has gotten some vengeance by stabbing someone else. She may feel less victimized by the power she gets killing an innocent person, but neither of these make it a right. This is the situation that the phrase "two wrongs don't make a right" refers to. It only applies, when, indeed, both actions are wrong. My opponent has only shown that some actions that are often done for wrong, can be right in certain contexts -- a point I will happily concede.

Actions are neither right nor wrong, only purposes can be. An action taken for a particular purpose is either right or wrong, it cannot be both. The addition of a wrong to a wrong can never make a right. If the second action is right, then it is right -- not wrong. The fact that context matters in determining whether an action is right or wrong does not change a wrong into a right. Rather, the second actions was right to begin with.

Consider the possibility that the actions were in reverse order. What if Cindy stabbed the burly man first, but not so bad that he might die? While he was standing in the parking lot bleeding, he overpowered Cindy, took the knife, and then raped her. By my opponent's logic this rape should make the stabbing justified, since the same two actions summed to a right some how. Anyone can see that this is preposterous. What made Cindy's action just was that it was a stabbing in defense, not the rape itself. Consequently any action (in context) is either right or wrong. Adding another wrong can never make a wrong right.

The proposition "two wrongs don't make a right," must be affirmed.

Debate Round No. 2


Thanks to my opponent for his prompt response.

First of all let me make one thing clear, I said "It is widely accepted that it is wrong to stab people." This means that in most cases or often times, it is wrong to stab someone. Stabbing carries with it a negative connotation. I used "widely accepted" for a reason. If you were to approach a number of people and ask them plainly "is stabbing people wrong" most of them would reply yes. Which affirms my point that stabbing people is widely accepted to be wrong. My opponent rejecting my premise doesn't matter much, if any.

My opponent attempted to debunk my example by reversing the order in which things happened, but this changes my example completely because now Cindy had no viable reason to launch a preemptive strike on the man. He then says "By my opponent's logic this rape should make the stabbing justified, since the same two actions summed to a right some how." This is completely different from the scenario I presented. Why would the stabbing be justified if there was nothing that warranted the stabbing in the first place? In my opponent's scenario, there really wasn't a right, it was wrong for Cindy to stab the man first, wrong for the man to rape Cindy, and wrong for Cindy to stab a black man to death the next day. The only thing my opponent succeeded in doing was forming his own completely different scenario, and then trying applying my logic to it. It is blatantly obvious that this doesn't make any sense; my logic was meant for my scenario, not his new one with different variables.

Debunking examples doesn't matter much so I will now go straight to my opponent's main argument and rebut that, as this is what really matters.

I was almost sure my opponent would take the stance that he did, so I'm well prepared to defend my stance. I looked through his source and could not find the exact definition that he provided, so just for clarification I will provide one here.

Right: morally good, justified, or acceptable (6)
Purpose: the reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists (2)
Intention: a thing intended; an aim or plan (3)

The two words purpose and intention are very interchangeable and essentially mean the same thing (4, 5). I hope my opponent will not attempt to refute times where I might use one word in place of the other.

My opponent says that "Actions are neither right nor wrong, only purposes can be." This statement is false. For example people who steal because they do not have, or to be more specific a person who robs a bank because he needs money for his mother's surgery, the purpose here is to save his mother's life. His purpose is a righteous one; certainly it is good for one to save their mother's life. Robbing the bank is the action, and saving his mother's life is the purpose. Now can we say that it was right for him to rob the bank? No we cannot. I will delve into this even further, let's say in the process of robbing the bank, people get hurt, and some people actually die, but he never meant to kill those people, it was never his purpose to do so. So was it right for him to rob the bank? No it was not. By robbing the bank he quite possible put many people in poverty, caused a few suicides, along with many other ill results such as severe mental trauma and depression, not to mention the deaths that occurred while he robbed the bank. I contend that purposes alone do not determine whether actions are right or wrong, but rather the result of the action that determines such. I am not saying that result is always the only deciding factor, but rather showing that the result can be the sole factor in determining whether the action was right or wrong, or it could be the combination of purpose and result, or some other reason.

Having good/bad intentions alone does not make an action right/wrong. Thus why we see such laws in our society that punish regardless of intent. An example being involuntary manslaughter, where there is no purpose/intent to kill but a death resulted none the less (1).

Everything I have presented still affirms my point that two wrongs can indeed make a right. The right (result of action) is a factor that can make a wrong, a right. If you take the positive result of the action away, or you change the positive result into a negative one, then the action still remains as a wrong one. Of course this will not hold true in every example but it will hold true in some if not many. It probably doesn't even hold true in the scenario I first presented. Remove the result: Cindy escaping rape and murder, this of course does not mean that Cindy was not right in stabbing her attacker. My scenario was a mere example to help shine light on my point. I chose that scenario so it could be further expounded on, and an interesting debate would result of such.

Further examples in favor of my point:

In the series "Watchmen" a nuclear war was imminent between the U.S.A. and the Soviet Union. This war was seemingly unavoidable and there was no way to come to a peaceful resolution, many people were going to die as a result of this war. Ozymandias (character from the Watchmen series) devised a plan in which he created a biologically engineered creature made from the same energy signature as Dr. Manhattan (immensely powerful superhero that emits radiation). He detonated the bomb in New York, leveling a big chunk of the city, as well as killing millions of people. The explosion and radiation from the explosion was analyzed and it was determined to be the very same energy emitted by Dr. Manhattan so of course he was blamed for the incident. Both the U.S. and the Soviet Union now saw Dr. Manhattan as a huge threat, so they set their differences aside and teamed up in a conjoined effort to stop him. This was the plan of Ozymandias all along, and clearly the plan worked. As a direct result of blowing up NY he caused plenty of collateral damage, killed millions of people, and ruined Dr. Manhattan's reputation and chance of living peaceably on Earth. However, the overall result was him saving billions of lives (7). His purpose was a righteous one, but if his plan had failed, and the nuclear war persisted anyways, then the purpose would not have been sufficient enough to declare Ozymandias as right. His actions would have been wrong because the end result of his plan was not a positive/right one; no viable good occurred from him killing millions of people and destroying NY.
For those who watch the anime Code Geass, a very similar thing took place, but I will not waste characters explaining this, since essentially the same thing happened (8).

My opponent has even agreed with me that "My opponent has only shown that some actions that are often done for wrong, can be right in certain contexts -- a point I will happily concede." The result of an action definitely falls into the context of the action. If the result of the action is wrong, then the action is almost often times wrong, regardless of the initial purpose of the action. Also if the result is right, then the action can be right, regardless of the purpose of action. The end result can determine whether the action was right or wrong. The result must manifest itself to fully determine whether the action was right or wrong.

I have effectively rebutted my opponent, and upheld my stances, please vote Con.

I thank my opponent for an excellent and enjoyable debate. Good show old chap :)



Once again, stabbing is neither right nor wrong. Self defense is right and assault is wrong. It is only in this sense that context matters. Once an action (in context) is wrong, it can never be made right with the addition of another wrong. Thus two wrongs do not make a right.

My opponents complicated ethical dilemmas from comic books are not examples of times where two wrongs make a right. They are examples of situations in which one harm prevents a greater harm. This is not a new ethical debate (see: None of his examples, however show how one wrong, plus a second wrong, creates a right.

The proposition should be affirmed.
Debate Round No. 3
5 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 5 records.
Posted by wrichcirw 4 years ago
An excellent debate. I was about to start a debate with the same resolution, so I read this one first.

At first I was convinced of PRO's rebuttal regarding purpose determining right and wrong...until CON pointed out that even action with "wrong" purpose may be considered "right" and vice versa.

However, CON did not flesh out an actual scenario in his final rebuttal that actually demonstrated that "two wrongs make a right". In Cindy's case, stabbing a potential rapist cannot be put in a "wrong" context (stabbing someone is not necessarily wrong as PRO pointed out), whereas robbing a bank and thus saving a mother's life can easily be put in a "wrong" context as CON noted.

So, while I think CON is correct that purpose alone is not enough to determine right and wrong, I think PRO more adequately demonstrated that CON's scenarios did not actually prove the resolution (as rapist is wrong, Cindy is right, one wrong and one right make a right, which is not relevant to the resolution as PRO pointed out), and so I don't see CON meeting his burden. I see BoP on CON for instigating a debate as CON on a negative affirmation, and because it wasn't stipulated beforehand.

Args PRO, great debate.
Posted by MikeyMike 6 years ago
U do know u have 2 hours left to post an argument, right?
Posted by Mimshot 6 years ago
I already know how I'm arguing this. Don't worry about him.
Posted by MikeyMike 6 years ago
plz refrain from posting anything that can aid or hinder any of the debaters.
Posted by 16kadams 6 years ago
depends, 2 - - = +
3 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 3 records.
Vote Placed by 16kadams 6 years ago
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Reasons for voting decision: Pro, I am surprised at this lacked preference, you are better then this. Anyway I think cons points, like the accepted wrong, where great arguments that pro never refuted. Pros cases where, as it seemed, mainly aimed as self defense, well defense is a right so... ok. It didn't fully relate, and cons arguments where longer and way more in depth and well pro didn't really refute 3rd round, basically dropping most arguments at the end, which means he concedes cons case in R3. Hence a con win.
Vote Placed by imabench 6 years ago
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Reasons for voting decision: pro should have argued that the con's example doesnt count since that is an example of self defense and move on back to the resolution. I was entertained by this debate though
Vote Placed by Greyparrot 6 years ago
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Reasons for voting decision: Con did an excellent job of explaining "widely accepted wrong" Pro does not rebut this point well. Great sources too.