Math and moral philosophy

Have you ever head the phrase, “Two wrongs don’t make a right?” It’s what you say, for example, when someone has acted obnoxiously and a person is lead to retaliate with equal or greater obnoxious behavior. When confronted, the retaliator will typically resort to the defense, “But they did something just as bad to me! 1

Two wrongs don’t make right.

The problem is, this statement doesn’t make any sense (and people’s continued use of this as a defense if proof of it). After all, in math, when you multiple two negative numbers the result is a positive number –

-3 * -5 = 15

So, OBVIOUSLY, if we retaliate with an negative action the result is going to be a positive (and as the initiator, we “win”).

That’s really not the message we want to give folks. It also turns out it’s completely wrong. That’s because, when we’re dealing with people’s actions, “negative” isn’t a description of value (placing it in the positive or negative positions on a number line). Rather, it’s a unit of measurement.

3 negative actions * 5 negative actions = 15 negative actions

So, not only does the negative behavior carry over in when people take up the pursuit of retaliation, it actually has a tendency to increase the negativity. Two wrongs not only don’t make a right, they actually tend to make a whole lot more wrong.

And you thought math wouldn’t be applicable in “the real world.”


  1. AKA, “United States Politics” 
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