Right and Wrong

Right and Wrong

Dennis Bradford

388 Posts




Thinking clearly about right and wrong is important.

The reason is that, at least sometimes, we all find ourselves making decisions that will have at least relatively important consequences.

As is obvious and philosophers like Camus have pointed out, the most important question is the question of suicide. If we opt for it, everything else becomes valueless.

Would it be right to kill myself?


My thesis here is simple; it’s that the author of the oldest extant zen document is correct when he states “If there’s a trace of right and wrong, / True-mind is lost, confused, distraught.”


When we think about what action or inaction would be right or wrong to do or not to do, we inevitably find ourselves imagining the possible future consequences of doing it or not doing it. That’s thinking about the future.


To think is to conceptualize (categorize, sort, classify, discriminate, evaluate). All judgments are conceptualizations.

For example, if I think “that is a tree,” I’ve conceptualized that object as being an object of a certain kind. I’ve used a principle of classification, namely, my idea of the nature of a tree, to sort that object into one category rather than another.

To think about actions or non-actions as being either right or wrong is to conceptualize them in a certain way.

Are the consequences of an action relevant to its moral evaluation as right or wrong?

Of course they are relevant. It may also be that someone’s intentions in acting a certain way are also relevant, but it would be folly to ignore the consequences of an action in evaluating it morally.

The alternative is absurd. To take an extreme example, if someone whose intentions were wholly loving accidentally did something to initiate World War III, would any sane person claim that that act was right? Certainly not. We’d think that, although it was done with good intentions, the act itself was wrong became of its enormously harmful consequences.

If so, given that an act’s consequences are relevant to its moral evaluation, how can we know (in the present moment) whether or not an act is right or wrong?

We can’t.

The reason is that, used correctly, “knowledge” is the impossibility of mistake. There’s no such thing as false knowledge. Every adult capable of minimal thought already understands that it’s impossible to know the future. There is no foreknowledge.

So, we are left with our opinions (beliefs) about what the future consequences of an act may or may not be. There is such a thing as a false opinion – and there’s no infallible criterion for distinguishing false opinions from true ones. (This is what all fanatics get wrong.)

So, we can, and often do, have opinions about whether or not such-and-such an act is right, but knowing that such-and-such an act is right is impossible.


I learned this morning that a close friend of mine is seriously contemplating suicide. If the argument I’ve just given is sound, it’s impossible for my friend to know whether or not that would be the right thing to do.


What can be done? We want to do what is right, but how? Given that knowledge of right and wrong is impossible, how shall we live?

A “philosopher” is someone who seriously seeks to live well. Successful philosophers succeed in that quest.

Is wisdom possible?

The answer [as I have argued more thoroughly elsewhere in print] is that the moral (ethical) imperative and the spiritual imperative need to coalesce.

The spiritual imperative is “Wake up.” That is opening to what is sometimes called “superconsciousness,” which is beyond all thought. Waking up is opening to Being.

Those who have attained a significant degree of awakening are sages (successful philosophers, saints). They are not only the most peaceful and joyful human beings, but they are also the most loving, which is why they are nearly universally admired.

The moral imperative is “Do right and don’t do wrong.” As we’ve seen, it’s impossible to know how to do that.

However, sages who act from Being (rather than from Becoming) nearly always manage it. I don’t claim that they never make mistakes; they are, after all, human beings.

I do, though, claim that they are the morally best human beings. Anyone who acts from Being is doing the best that is possible for us to do.

The practical consequence of this is that we need to focus more on waking up than on acting rightly. Why?

The more deeply we awaken, the more right our actions are likely to be.

Thinking occurs only in Becoming. Apprehension of Being is beyond thinking; it’s nonconceptual.

Actions done from Becoming are nothing but shots in the dark. On the other hand, actions done from Being are nearly always right. They are the best we’re able to do.

Ego attrition is the way to awakening. It’s difficult, but it’s the requirement for living wisely or well. Wisdom is egoic detachment. It’s that simple.

That’s my message to my friend – and to everyone else.


I discuss these topics more thoroughly in some of my books such as ARE YOU LIVING WITHOUT PURPOSE?, LOVE AND RESPECT, and MASTERY IN 7 STEPS and each of them contains my best suggestions with respect to reading the works of others. I also discuss it more in multiple posts in this blog.

3 thoughts on “Right and Wrong

  1. Amber

    I always struggled with making decisions. One thing that has stuck with me is having right intention. This idea has given me some emotional freedom in the sense that im less paralyzed by fear/anxiety when making a choice. Ive grown to understand that i can never KNOW the outcome, but i CAN feel more confident knowing that i objectively evaluated a situation and have right intention.

    28/07/2018 at 10:11 am
  2. Dennis Bradford

    All thoughtful people can experience anxiety with respect to important decisions. That’s normal. Such anxiety comes from one’s thoughts. Since sages are not burdened by heavy thoughts, they experience less anxiety. This, though, certainly does not mean that they are inevitably excellent thinkers. They are not. For example, just because the historical Buddha was a sage, it simply doesn’t follow that his political philosophy was excellent or that he had any great understanding of physical well-being. Sages can be quite ignorant, even illiterate. If we think of excellence in Becoming as being “successful” and excellence in Being as being “masterful”, then the ideal human would be both successful and masterful. Of course, life is short and excellence in either domain typically requires a lot of time and effort, which sufficiently explains why you’ve never met an ideal human being. There are none.

    28/07/2018 at 10:57 am
  3. sharon

    helpful message to work on getting rid of all thoughts by practice of meditation…

    29/07/2018 at 8:48 am

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