The One Moral Question

This is taken from Hannah Arendt’s brilliant book, Responsibility and Judgement.

What is the most central moral question, the one that holds itself against evil’s banality, is never the imperative: ‘thou shalt’ (either in the commandments or from Kant), nor the normative: “I ought”, I “should”, but the I cant, which stems from the categorical: “It is better to suffer wrong than to do wrong” (Socrates). It is the I can’t, the things that, however the situation impels, whosoever commands, what ultimate good lies at the end, I am not willing to do because I cannot live with myself once I’ve done it, that is the personally moral. The I can’t is nothing political. It cannot change the world; but it can make us be at peace with ourselves.

Ask oneself: what are my principles; what am I not willing to do; what, within me, overrides any utilitarian concerns. It is those that we have to hold fast to.

It is by no means an easy thing. It is the hardest of all.

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