The Case of the Essential General
In the Greek city-state of Thucidae, General Demas has spent a long career
in the service of the government. In seven major military campaigns he has led
the soldiers of Thucidae to victory, defending the state and preserving the prized
freedom of its citizens. His family, however, is now in dire straits. Both his
mother and his wife are ill and require care that only Demas can provide. In
addition, a rival has begun a vicious campaign of harassment against Demas'
family. The general feels that he has served his country long and well, and that
the time has come for him to devote his attentions to his personal affairs and
those he loves. He has developed a number of highly capable subordinates who, in
his view, can assume his responsibilities for defense of the state.
A new menace has appeared, however, a strong army from lands to the north
whose leader has announced his intent to extend his empire to include Thucidae.
He is notorious as a ruthless dictator with a particular dislike for the people of
The state assembly calls on General Demas to continue his leadership of
the Thucidaean military, and he feels the weight of that responsibility. He also
recognizes the needs of his family, needs that in his view only he can fulfill.
Without him, his family may be in real danger.
What should he do, from a moral point of view--and why?
Would the state be justified in passing legislation requiring him to lead
the military forces?