I don’t have a convincing and long essay for this. It’s more the “thought for the day”, but it’s something I’ve believed for a while.
A very tempting question to ask about courses of actions is “Does it cause more good than harm?”
I think this may be a wrong question.
It’s nice to be able to look at the world in terms of there being harm and good and one harm point is worth minus one good point. If you score positive, winning! If not, losing!
I think this may be a wrong way of looking at things.
Harm and good are not necessarily paid in the same currency, or by the same people. They don’t neatly balance out. A life saved does not balance a life lost.
A course of action is better (or equivalent) if it causes no more harm and at least as much good. If it causes more harm and more good, or less harm and less good, I think the answer is much muddier.
How do you decide in that case? I don’t know, but I think the answer is inevitably going to be more complicated than a balance sheet.