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In an ideal world, I know "two wrongs do not make a right" but in the real world (or at least mine) I have often found that although they may not make a right, they often stop further "wrongs".

However, that does not stop smug third parties sometimes commenting "two wrongs don't make a right" - what would be a an appropriate proverbial response?

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11 Answers 11

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To provide the reference for Peter Shor's comment, now removed:

fight fire with fire

to fight against an opponent by using the same methods or weapons that the opponent uses

[Merriam Webster Dictionary]

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    Burn them! Burn them all! – hobbs Sep 10 '20 at 18:31
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Two wrongs don't make right, but three lefts do.

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    And two Wrights make an airplane. – fectin Sep 10 '20 at 17:09
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    So, six lefts make an airplane. Good to know. Look out, Boeing, here I come. – Dave Sep 10 '20 at 21:21
  • Don't know this would actually be a good comeback in a rhetorical sense, but as for diffusing the argument and getting laughs... Well, it definitely earned a chuckle from me! – DoublyNegative Sep 11 '20 at 15:24
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evil prospers when good men do nothing

This saying appears in various forms. Here's one

Edmund Burke, one of the foremost political speakers of 18th century England, said: "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."

https://www.crossrhythms.co.uk/articles/life/Evil_Prospers_When_Good_Men_Do_Nothing/37074/p1/

To be politically correct I suppose some would change it to, "evil prospers when good people do nothing"

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    It's a fine maxim, but doesn't imply that the something done is in itself wrong. – Edwin Ashworth Sep 10 '20 at 21:52
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I was going to say “the ends justify the means” and link to Wiktionary. That article links to “all’s fair in love and war”, which I like much better as a retort to “two wrongs...”

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Leviticus 24:19–21 has:

“eye for an eye; tooth for a tooth”

which may be ‘appropriate’ to the poster’s purpose in some circumstances, although civilized societies are supposed to have outgrown this attitude.

(Not strictly a proverb, but biblical quotations have that kind of status. )

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    Do be careful, because this one has an immediate retort of "eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind" or something similar. Since we're already playing this game, this response is fairly likely. – htmlcoderexe Sep 10 '20 at 7:15
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    One obvious riposte being "I'll see your Leviticus and raise you Romans 12:17–21.". – JdeBP Sep 10 '20 at 8:08
  • @JdeBP — I could use that as support for my final remark, but I don’t want to come over as a bible thumper. – David Sep 10 '20 at 8:26
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    Worth noting that "eye for an eye" is a limitation on retaliation -- let the punishment fit the crime. – Andrew Aylett Sep 10 '20 at 11:02
  • @AndrewAylett — Understood. It’s all coming back to me. But today it wouldn’t have that force. – David Sep 10 '20 at 11:14
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"Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good", there are times where an action may be wrong but it's still the best choice you've got. An insistence upon some fanciful perfect action that realistically cannot be achieved in the circumstances - and thus doing nothing - may well make things even worse.

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    That's really not how that phrase is used. – Kevin Sep 10 '20 at 21:08
  • @Kevin I think it is, pretty much. The action can't be completely wrong, but it is certainly non-optimal - it's just what is available right now. – Graham Sep 11 '20 at 7:51
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    @Graham "Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good" is used to say that you shouldn't be so focused on making your product perfect that you never get it out the door when it's good enough. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perfect_is_the_enemy_of_good – Kevin Sep 11 '20 at 13:43
  • @Kevin Not just products. As the answer says, the same applies to actions you might take. – Graham Sep 11 '20 at 18:04
  • @Graham yes, but it does not mean the opposite of "two wrongs don't make a right" which is what the question is asking for – Kevin Sep 11 '20 at 18:57
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Don't dish it out if you can't take it.

This phrase suggests that someone who does something bad implicitly opens themselves up to having bad things done to them. Two wrongs don't make a right, but it is more acceptable to wrong someone who has wronged you. A second wrong in retaliation for a first one may not be the "right" thing to do, but the person had it coming.

If someone calls you a foul name, you could respond in kind. While someone might point out that "two wrongs don't make a right", you can justify your retort by suggesting that the person "shouldn't dish it out if they can't take it".

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Consider a specific case: if a 'wrong' was 'damage to a ship' on the starboard side - causing said ship to list - and another, intentional but measured/controlled 'wrong' was judiciously affected to the port side such that the list was corrected, the ship 'righted', lives saved, etc. - it would be true that 'two wrongs make aright' (the ship in this case). Is this a retort? Not yet, but it does provide a basis for defense of the initial 'proverb' (which it is not, biblically speaking).

Like many sayings, intended meaning is dependent on the meaning as understood by the speaker (even if colloquial / common), perceived meaning as perceived by a hearer. Only after establishing 'intended meaning' can useful dialog begin.

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In for a penny, in for a pound.

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My frequent answer to people who say this to me is, "Does your hypocrisy know no bounds?" and proceed to question their moral and ethical boundaries to determine the reasons they believed my actions were in any way wrong.

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If at first you don't succeed, try, try again.

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    I don't see that as a response to "two wrongs don't make a right". – KillingTime Sep 10 '20 at 4:53
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    No, but if they post it on enough different questions, eventually it will. Appropriate, no? – DoublyNegative Sep 10 '20 at 9:59
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    @DoublyNegative : enough different wrongs does make a right, then ? – Evargalo Sep 10 '20 at 10:52
  • In which case, I guess this technically does answer the question! :P – DoublyNegative Sep 11 '20 at 15:21

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