Moral philosophers spend a lot of time thinking about utilitarian sheriffs, that is ones that embrace the teachings of Jeremy Bentham and John Stewart Mill and consider the right course of action to be one that promotes good consequences over bad.
Consider the situation where the sheriff is fighting a rising tide of crime. Suppose he were to frame and execute an innocent man in order to frighten the criminal population into mending their ways? For society in general the situation is better. The problem of course is that this takes no account of concepts of justice or rights where the innocent man is concerned.
You can change the situations slightly and examine the limits of utilitarianism in all sorts of interesting ways.
I was reminded of the debate today while writing about Afghanistan and in particular the photograph above, showing a senior US general meeting the police chief of Kandahar.
Maj Gen Abdul Raziq is almost – but not quite – analagous to the sheriff. And Afghanistan’s warzones might almost be one giant experiment in practical ethics.
And here is my own commentary on it: The grinning generals who highlight flaws in our Afghanistan exit