Dirty Harry Ethics


The former Bush administration in the United States was accused by some at the time of exhibiting a “Dirty Harry ethics.” The charge here is that the administration showed a willingness to depart from many standard ethical constraints in its response to terrorism, on the principle that the end, preventing further terrorist attacks, justified any means, including preventive war and torture (see Lopez 16-18). What this also suggests is that Don Siegel’s 1971 crime thriller Dirty Harry has become synonymous in the popular imagination with the practice of a certain kind of brutal utilitarian logic, in which the ends justify any means, however shocking, as long as they contribute to the greater good.

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