biting the bullet

Bite the bullet


To "bite the bullet" is to accept the consequences of a hard choice. It is derived historically from the practice of having a patient clench a bullet in his or her teeth as a way to cope with the extreme pain of a surgical procedure without anesthetic.

In philosophy, a major goal is to always sustain a consistent set of beliefs using sound reasoning. Often this will involve accepting a belief that is a disturbing truth. It may be disturbing because it is counterintuitive or has other disturbing consequences. Given a philosopher's previously held beliefs he or she may have to bite the bullet by accepting a particular claim offered as an extreme case or counterexample.


  • The strict utilitarian will be forced to admit that if it can be shown that punishing an innocent person would increase the total happiness of the whole society, then there are times when it is morally good to punish an innocent person.
  • The Euthyphro dilemma can be resolved by a Divine command theorist by simply accepting that if God tells us to do something which appears to be immoral, then we are to accept that it really is moral in the bigger picture, and that it only appears to be immoral.
  • A consequentialist believes that what is called right or wrong depends on what consequences come about as a result of a proposed action. As a way to test this view, some counterexamples may be considered which are intended to find out if this view holds up in extreme cases. One may object, for example, that some actions appear to be right in principle even when terrible consequences have resulted from them. Also, there may be times when an action appears to be wrong in principle, but has wonderful consequences. A person wanting to stay faithful to the consequentialist view in the face of an extreme case may have to bite the bullet by taking the position that even though these counterexamples do exist the original view still holds up:

Even though both drivers were driving recklessly, only the one that is caught and ticketed suffers a penalty. It's okay that some people are treated differently based solely on their luck.
Accepting the existence of moral luck may seem counterintuitive or even unreasonable to some, so this statement of acceptance can be seen as biting the bullet.

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