Right and wrong

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Right and wrong is a concept in morality of there being some actions that are morally correct, and others that are morally incorrect, and that the person acting should know one from the other, and prefer to take the right action.


  • And so Doctor Beckett finds himself leaping from life to life, striving to put right what once went wrong and hoping each time that his next leap... will be the leap home.
  • Luke: Vader... Is the dark side stronger?
Yoda: No, no, no. Quicker, easier, more seductive.
Luke: But how am I to know the good side from the bad?
Yoda: You will know... when you are calm, at peace, passive. A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, NEVER for attack.
  • To see what is right and not to do it is want of courage.
    • Confucius, Analects, book 2, chapter 24; reported in Confucian Analects, the Great Learning, and the Doctrine of the Mean, trans. James Legge (1893, reprinted 1971), p. 154.
Solomon 'Beauregard' Bennet: I'm doing what I think is right.
Fletcher: "Right"! What does that mean? How do you know what's right? Was it right for Siringo to kill the sheriff just to get into your gang? Maybe you think the vigilantes were right. Answer me! Is that it? Listen, Beau - there's only one kind of right in the world. The kind you make for yourself if you're big enough and strong enough! And we're both strong, Beau. You and I together, we can recruit the best men in the West; Bennet's Raiders, a hundred times stronger than before! I have some wonderful plans. There's no other kind of right, can't you understand that?
Bennet: (punches Fletcher) There is, damn you, there is! There is! Know where? Right here in my heart! Go away and leave me, Brad. There's nothing more you can do.
Fletcher: No. There's still one thing I can do... And I should have done it long before. (Fletcher readies his rifle and prepares to kill Charley Siringo. Suddenly, a shot rings out - Bennet has shot Fletcher) But... Beau, what made you do it?
Bennet: It was what I had to do.
Fletcher: I had many ideas... so many... so many plans, Beau... great... great... (dies)
  • You may burn my body to ashes, and scatter them to the winds of heaven; you may drag my soul down to the regions of darkness and despair to be tormented forever; but you will never get me to support a measure which I believe to be wrong, although by doing so I may accomplish that which I believe to be right.
    • Attributed to Abraham Lincoln. Ida M. Tarbell, The Life of Abraham Lincoln (1900), vol. 1, p. 139. This book is based on the reminiscences of contemporaries of Lincoln's. General T. H. Henderson of Illinois related this story—told by his father, who had served with Lincoln in the Illinois legislature—which "illustrates his character for integrity and his firmness in maintaining what he regarded as right in his public acts". This incident is supposed to have occurred during the session of 1836–1837, when efforts were made to move the capital of Illinois to Springfield; a bill to that effect was coupled with another measure that Lincoln did not approve of. "Finally, after midnight … Mr. Lincoln rose amid the silence and solemnity which prevailed, and, my father said, made one of the most eloquent and powerful speeches to which he had ever listened. He concluded his remarks" with the words above (pp. 138–39).
  • [T]he Declaration of Independence: I think the authors of that notable instrument intended to include all men, but they did not mean to declare all men equal in all respects. They did not mean to say all men were equal in color, size, intellect, moral development, or social capacity. They defined with tolerable distinctness in what they did consider all men created equal — equal in "certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." This they said, and this they meant. They did not mean to assert the obvious untruth that all were then actually enjoying that equality, or yet that they were about to confer it immediately upon them. In fact, they had no power to confer such a boon. They meant simply to declare the right, so that the enforcement of it might follow as fast as circumstances should permit. They meant to set up a standard maxim for free society which should be familiar to all, constantly looked to, constantly labored for, and even, though never perfectly attained, constantly approximated, and thereby constantly spreading and deepening its influence, and augmenting the happiness and value of life to all people, of all colors, everywhere... That is the real issue. That is the issue that will continue in this country when these poor tongues of Judge Douglas and myself shall be silent. It is the eternal struggle between these two principles — right and wrong — throughout the world. They are the two principles that have stood face to face from the beginning of time; and will ever continue to struggle. The one is the common right of humanity, and the other the divine right of kings. It is the same principle in whatever shape it develops itself. It is the same spirit that says, "You toil and work and earn bread, and I'll eat it." No matter in what shape it comes, whether from the mouth of a king who seeks to bestride the people of his own nation and live by the fruit of their labor, or from one race of men as an apology for enslaving another race, it is the same tyrannical principle.
    • Abraham Lincoln, seventh and Last Joint Debate with Steven Douglas, at Alton, Illinois (15 October 1858)
  • Stand with anybody that stands right. Stand with him while he is right and part with him when he goes wrong.
    • Abraham Lincoln, speech in reply to Senator Stephen Douglas, Peoria, Illinois (October 16, 1854); in Roy P. Basler, ed., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (1953), vol. 2, p. 273. "This speech, together with one delivered twelve days before at Springfield, made Lincoln a power in national politics. He had had little to do with politics since the expiration of his term in Congress, but the repeal of the Missouri Compromise aroused him to instant action…. When closely studied the Peoria speech reveals germs of many of the powerful arguments elaborated by Lincoln later in his career". John G. Nicolay and John Hay, eds., The Complete Works of Abraham Lincoln, new and enl. ed. (1905), vol. 2, p. 190, footnote.
  • Let us not be content to wait and see what will happen, but give us the determination to make the right things happen.
    • Peter Marshall, Senate chaplain, prayer offered at the opening of the session (March 10, 1948). Prayers Offered by the Chaplain, the Rev. Peter Marshall … 1947–1948 (1949), p. 49. Senate Doc. 80–170.
  • Nothing is politically right which is morally wrong.
    • Attributed to Daniel O'Connell; in Wendell Phillips, speech on the 100th anniversary of O'Connell's birth (August 6, 1875), Speeches, Lectures, and Letters, 2d series (1891), p. 398. Reported as unverified in Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations (1989).
  • Joey: So, what happens when you're wrong?
Nick: Well, Joey, I'm never wrong.
Joey: But you can't always be right.
Nick: Well, if it's your job to be right, then you're never wrong.
  • Joey: But … you didn't prove that vanilla's the best.
Nick: I didn't have to. I proved that you're wrong, and if you're wrong, I'm right.
  • Aggressive fighting for the right is the noblest sport the world affords.
    • Theodore Roosevelt, saying. Gifford Pinchot, "Roosevelt as President" in State Papers as Governor and President, 1899–1909 (vol. 15 of The Works of Theodore Roosevelt, national ed.), p. xxxiii (1926). Pinchot commented, "There are few sayings of his that hold for me so much of him as this".
  • Sarah: [voiceover] People once believed that when someone dies, a crow carries their soul to the land of the dead. But sometimes, something so bad happens that a terrible sadness is carried with it and the soul can't rest. Then sometimes, just sometimes, the crow can bring that soul back to put the wrong things right.
  • The Senator from Wisconsin cannot frighten me by exclaiming, "My country, right or wrong". In one sense I say so too. My country; and my country is the great American Republic. My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.
    • Carl Schurz, remarks in the Senate (February 29, 1872), The Congressional Globe, vol. 45, p. 1287. The Globe merely notes "[Manifestations of applause in the galleries]" but according to Schurz's biographer, "The applause in the gallery was deafening". This is "one of Schurz's most frequently quoted replies". Hans L. Trefousse, Carl Schurz: A Biography (1982), chapter 11, p. 180. Schurz expanded on this theme in a speech delivered at the Anti-Imperialistic Conference, Chicago, Illinois (October 17, 1899): "I confidently trust that the American people will prove themselves … too wise not to detect the false pride or the dangerous ambitions or the selfish schemes which so often hide themselves under that deceptive cry of mock patriotism: 'Our country, right or wrong!' They will not fail to recognize that our dignity, our free institutions and the peace and welfare of this and coming generations of Americans will be secure only as we cling to the watchword of true patriotism: 'Our country—when right to be kept right; when wrong to be put right.'" Schurz, "The Policy of Imperialism", Speeches, Correspondence and Political Papers of Carl Schurz (1913), vol. 6, p. 119–20.
  • The greatest right in the world is the right to be wrong. If the Government or majorities think an individual is right, no one will interfere with him; but when agitators talk against the things considered holy, or when radicals criticise, or satirize the political gods, or question the justice of our laws and institutions, or pacifists talk against war, how the old inquisition awakens, and ostracism, the excommunication of the church, the prison, the wheel, the torture-chamber, the mob, are called to suppress the free expression of thought.
    • Harry Weinberger, "The First Casualties in War", letter to the editor, The Evening Post, New York City (April 10, 1917), p. 11.

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