"''...outweigh the needs of the few, or the one.''"

Sometimes, there is no easy choice to make. No matter what you do, something is going to go badly for someone. The choice of who to save and who to let die often falls on TheHero, and when it does, there's only one choice to make. Whether he has to save the world, the country, or the city, he almost always has to let go of his best friend or LoveInterest in the process. However, this trope is averted nearly as often as it's played straight, especially among {{Anti Hero}}es who are willing [[AlwaysSaveTheGirl to screw over the whole world for the ones they love.]]

Of course, it isn't always TheHero who has to make the decision. Monarchs or generals may be forced to sacrifice large numbers of troops or citizens "for the Greater Good" (former trope name). {{Well Intentioned Extremist}}s and {{Knight Templar}}s often use this as a justification for their actions; they're more than willing to kill dozens if they think it will save thousands.

In ethical philosophy, this is an important tenet of Utilitarianism (which is kind of present on this wiki as UsefulNotes/EthicalHedonism), which considers the best action as the one that maximizes well-being - if more information is required, please Website/{{Google}} J. S. Mill and/or "trolley problem" for an example of this.

Keep in mind, "many" and "few" are relative. The most important part is just that someone has to be sacrificed to save significantly more. Although it is an old concept, the phrase itself is much NewerThanTheyThink, the TropeNamer being ''[[Film/StarTrekIITheWrathOfKhan The Wrath of Khan]]''.

Compare HeroicSacrifice, ColdEquation and SadisticChoice. If some member of a group needs to make the sacrifice, the question of WhoWillBellTheCat arises. If someone is being asked to sacrifice ''themselves'', this is likely to be WhatIsOneMansLifeInComparison. If a group of heroes argue over who gets to make the sacrifice, then you have MoreHeroThanThou or MoreExpendableThanYou. For the more morally gray versions, compare UtopiaJustifiesTheMeans, TotalitarianUtilitarian and AMillionIsAStatistic. A catchphrase of every other HiveMind.

The SmallStepsHero either doesn't believe in this or [[TheParagon finds it inseparable from everyday acts of kindness]]. An IdealHero will TakeAThirdOption. See also FriendOrIdolDecision. When the sacrifice turns out to have been inadequate, or the ''wrong'' people are sacrificed through misunderstanding or inadequate information, MyGodWhatHaveIDone is the usual reaction.

!! Examples:


[[folder:Anime & Manga]]
* Gut-wrenching example in ''Manga/AttackOnTitan''. When Wall Maria is abandoned, there are too many refugees to feed and the food supplies look grim. The government's solution is to draft 250,000 people (20% of the population) to [[BlatantLies reclaim the lost territory from the Titans]]; only a [[CurbStompBattle handful survive]]. Pixis doesn't mince words about this and goes further to say that if Wall Rose falls, this time over ''50%'' of the remaining humans are going to be sent to die.
** This is the justification that commanders use in this series when they sacrifice their troops (except for the ones that are just plain [[DirtyCoward Dirty Cowards]]).
* A recurring theme in many of Creator/GenUrobuchi's works:
** Discussed in ''Anime/PuellaMagiMadokaMagica'': [[spoiler:The Incubators defend their decisions to use [[PoweredByAForsakenChild the souls of magical girls tortured to the point of absolute despair]] to prevent [[ApocalypseHow Universal Entropy]] on the basis of humans similarly using cattle in order to eat. Also, the Incubators, by interfering in human affairs, [[AncientAstronauts have brought Civilization and technology]] to the human species at the expense of a few magical girls sacrificing themselves. In other words, the needs of both Humans and Incubators outweigh the needs of a Magical Girl. In the end, Madoka, while disgusted at the callousness of the Incubators, accepted their logic, and decided to ''[[MessianicArchetype sacrifice herself to absorb all Magical Girls' despair at every point in space and time]]'' in order to save them yet allowing the benefits given by the Incubators to influence humanity. A win-win scenario on the expense of Madoka's very own existence.]] [[http://wiki.puella-magi.net/Talk:Philosophical_Observations The Puella Magi Wiki]] provided an Analysis of ''Madoka'' and the Utilitarian philosophy.
** [[VisualNovel/FateStayNight Shirou Emiya's]] father, [[AntiHero Kiritsugu]], possessed this principle and we get to see it in action in the prequel, ''Literature/FateZero''. The contradiction in this ideal is also exposed [[spoiler:by the corrupted Grail]] when he gets shown an illusion where he has to save either the many or the few until he has killed 498 people for his two most beloved people. His alternate solution was to get access to a perfect, omnipotent RealityWarper wish-granting artifact to save everyone. If the Grail [[spoiler: hadn't been corrupted]], then likely everything would have turned out much better.
*** He is noted to have gone soft after joining the Einzbern family. Early in the War he bombs a hotel to kill an enemy Master but calls in a bomb threat first. In the past he would have just killed everyone in the building to be absolutely certain his target died too. Civilian casualties weren't a concern for him, because so long as he killed his target he was saving more people in the long term.
** The Sibyl System in ''Anime/PsychoPass'' falls into this. [[spoiler:The Sibyl System consists brains of criminally asymptomatic individuals that want to "perfect" society. The ideal society that the Sibyl System wanted to create involves an isolationist Japan where society is focused on pleasure and happiness. However, this involves the elimination of individuality and sacrificing undesirables from political critics, emotionally unstable individuals, students, teachers, and even farmers to create their perfect society. Akane does not like how the Sibyl System was operating (particularly the idea of ''killing'' people to protect others) once she found out the AwfulTruth, but she still continues to work with the system because she believes that there is a better alternative to maintaining society while bringing order ''and'' justice at the same time.]]
*** [[spoiler:However, according to Touma, he exposes the irony on the Sibyl System's beliefs, as their members highly value their own unique individuality over the average citizen as they believe that [[AboveGoodAndEvil they are morally, mentally, and philosophically superior to everyone else]], and thus they are more fit to rule society. Yet, for their value of uniqueness, they don't see the irony of being HiveMind, thus showing the irony that the Sibyl System only benefits their members and not everyone else]].
* Anime/SailorMoon's refusal to do this in the S series is what enraged Uranus and Neptune near the end, as Sailor Moon couldn't stand sacrificing Hotaru to save the world (she didn't have to, but the conflict of one person vs. the world was brought up at least somewhat).
* In ''Anime/TengenToppaGurrenLagann'' using this trope as a mantra is why [[spoiler: Simon is happy with the series ending despite the heart-rendingly painful price he had to pay to save the universe. It perfectly shows how strong and heroic Simon has become.]] It's also extremely Japanese.
* In ''Manga/FateKaleidLinerPrismaIllya'', the Ainsworth family is willing to trade the life of [[spoiler:Miyu]] to save the human race. Interestingly, [[spoiler:Kiritsugu, who would sacrifice the few to save the many, Kuro, the wielder of the Archer card who carries Kiritsugu's beliefs, and Shirou, whose original philosophy was to save everyone,]] chose to save the ones they loved at the expense of others. Only [[spoiler:Illya]] decides that she wants to save everyone.
* ''Anime/MobileSuitGundamWing'' is capped off by [[TheRival Zechs Merquise]] and [[TheChessmaster Treize Khushrenada]] trying to bring world peace by [[StartXToStopX starting a war]] [[WarIsHell so utterly horrifying and pointless]] that humanity will gladly move to the negotiating table. Both are perfectly fine with being [[SilentScapegoat Silent Scapegoats]] for this cause, but it still weighs on them; at one point Treize utterly averts AMillionIsAStatistic by giving the ''exact number'' of people who have died so far and says he also knows the ''names'' of everyone who has died in his service. [[spoiler:Unfortunately, the lesson doesn't quite take until TheMovie, where Relena (and, in the Special Edition, Dorothy) finally get the civilians to realize that they can't just [[HoldingOutForAHero Hold Out for a Hero]] forever.]]
* In ''Manga/OnePiece'', this is the philosophy of the Marines who pursue Absolute Justice. Though this does become quite hypocritical of them when they decide what "many" these needs help. Such as destroying a battleship filled with 1000 marines just to kill 1 pirate and even killing a marine who dares question the order.
* ''LightNovel/BlackBullet'': Rentaro Satomi's ForHappiness ethics have an interesting variation of "The happiness for others outweigh the happiness of myself." [[spoiler:Apparently, this bites him in the ass when he was accused of murder in volumes 5 and 6.]]
* ''Manga/{{Saiyuki}}'' deliberately defies this as being [[{{jerkass}} selfish jerks]] is essential for their success, because this way they have a chance to survive their mission.
** The most blatant example occurs in [[spoiler:Hakkai]]'s backstory, when he goes completely insane after [[BrotherSisterIncest his sister]] is sacrificed to the local demon clan for the sake of saving the village, ''murders half the villagers along with most of the demon clan'', [[spoiler:only to witness her commit suicide]]. One of the survivors points out that he basically ruined everyone's lives for the sake of his own happiness, and while the reader is clearly not supposed to sympathize with the character, the villagers' actual justification (not wanting to give up their own daughters, choosing an orphan instead and claiming that orphans would never understand how they feel anyway) doesn't exactly sound convincing in the context, either.
** In ''Saiyuki Reload'', Sanzo and company stop in a town that is said to be protected from demons thanks to a barrier spell maintained by the local priest -- raising some questions, since Sanzo's three [[WithFriendsLikeThese "servants"]] happen to be demons themselves, which the priest seemingly couldn't even tell despite Goku and Hakkai wearing {{Power Limiter}}s and Gojyo having the typical crimson hair of a [[HalfHumanHybrid half-demon]]. It quickly turns out that [[spoiler:the barrier is a hoax, and the priest kept sacrificing unwitting travelers to the nearby pack of demons in exchange for the demons staying out of the town]] -- because, in the priest's opinion, no local would ever start thinking about ''how exactly'' they're protected as long as they're safe. Then the townspeople are revealed to be ''aware'' of the scheme, to the priest's utter shock -- but they ''really'' do not mind as long as they're safe. Sanzo's team is completely disgusted by their attitude, since they apparently didn't even consider the alternative of ''fighting the demons off''.
* This was the basis of [[spoiler: Admiral Graham's]] plan in ''Anime/MagicalGirlLyricalNanohaAs''. [[spoiler: He was going to freeze Hayate for all eternity to stop the cycle of the Book of Darkness destroying planets, despite the fact that she had never done anything wrong.]]
* Dr. Marcoh in ''Manga/FullMetalAlchemist'' is forced to work for the BigBad or they'll destroy the village he lives in. Envy mocks him afterwards over the fact they plan to wipe out the entire country so it would have been smarter for him to sacrifice the village.
* [[DiscussedTrope Discussed]] in ''Manga/WorldTrigger'', between Chika and her mentor Reiji. At one point Reiji reveals that his father was a rescue worker, but died to save a child's life. Chika attempts to console him, stating that [[HeroicSacrifice he was able to get the child out alive,]] but Reiji points out that he could have saved more people if he had survived. His father even inspired Reiji to follow the ideal that rescuers who don't return alive fail.
* In ''Manga/VinlandSaga'', [[spoiler:Canute]] uses this trope as defense for his actions. By appropriating land by force, he gains wealth. Through wealth, he can attract vikings. By attracting vikings, he can select who they fight, or encourage them to settle his lands in peace. By directing and settling vikings, he saves the rest of the world from their predations.

[[folder:Comic Books]]
* In ''Comicbook/{{Watchmen}}'', [[spoiler: Veidt]]'s final plan is to [[spoiler: kill millions of people in order to trick everyone else into world peace]].
* [[Franchise/{{Batman}} The League of Shadows]], led by Ra's Al Ghul, has been around for centuries wiping out any civilizations that they think have become too corrupt, in order to stop them from spreading their corruption to the rest of the world.
* In ''Comicbook/GoldDigger'', almost all of the atrocities Dreadwing has committed (mass murder, torture, rape, enslavement, etc.) can be placed directly at the feet of Ancient Gina. She needed a pawn to help her build the Infinity Engine, a machine that will assist in stopping the undead previous universe from wiping out the current one. Therefore, she indirectly gave Dreadwing the Time Raft to take revenge on T'Mat and her council and his obsession over the device would be his [[HoistbyHisOwnPetard undoing]] as he eventually was blasted millions of years into the past where Ancient Gina had him work on the Infinity Engine.
* Parodied in ''Comicbook/{{Runaways}}'', where a villain is trying to justify an attempt to exterminate the entire human race "for the greater good," and quotes the ''Franchise/StarTrek'' example as "proof." The heroine is not impressed and responds with YoureInsane.
* In the Creator/CrossGen graphic novel series ''ComicBook/TheFirst'', the gods of House Dexter live by this trope. Their creed is to place the needs of others before self.
* The titular heroine of ''ComicBook/AlbedoErmaFelnaEDF'' face a similar dilemma like [[Anime/TengenToppaGurrenLagann Simon]], except the sacrifice [[UpToEleven was even bigger]]: [[spoiler:in the final part of the first StoryArc, Erma's homeworld is attacked by enemy forces (the ILR), while the ILR are ignoring they were part of a FalseFlagOperation from a member of Erma's own side, in this case her former boyfriend. Erma is forced to save her planet first from being destroyed, while being unable to save her family, and also her actual boyfriend getting killed during the whole conflict, without mention she was exiled from her world after that as a retaliation from both her ex and her own corrupt army in an attempt to get rid of her]].

[[folder:Fan Works]]
* ''Webcomic/{{Troller}}'': The human inspired form of Reproduction that the Cybertronians are seen to be adopting produces young which are unable to transform (Sorry, ''Transmute''). It will eventually breed out their transforming abilities, but it is the only way the Species can survive.
* ''Fanfic/PassionatePragmatism'': Erwin and Hange feel that making sacrifices is sometimes [[IDidWhatIHadToDo necessary]] in order to [[ForHappiness maximizing happiness]].
* In ''Fanfic/HellsisterTrilogy'', ComicBook/{{Supergirl}} and fellow [[ComicBook/{{Legion Of Super-Heroes}} Legionnaire]] Dev-Em argue because of her unwillingness to let one little girl die to protect their cover during a mission. Dev points out leaders often have to sacrifice a few lives to save a greater number of people.
-->'''Kara Zor-El:''' (shaking her head) Oh, Dev. I thought I knew you better than that. I thought you knew me better than that. If we don't step in to save people from the evil we're fighting, than what in Sheol are we fighting it for?\\
'''Dev-Em:''' Kara, you ever have a chance to read military theory and / or history? In case you don't know, commanders have to make decisions that will endanger some innocents, perhaps even kill them--\\
'''Kara:''' Not me. Not ever.\\
'''Dev:''' --Perhaps even kill them, to save the greater number and achieve the greater objective. You have to hold to the greater objective. You simply have to. There is no escaping that fact.
* ''FanFic/KyoshiRising''; this is essentially Yangchen's philosophy; the Avatar must place the safety and balance of the world before their personal beliefs and desires (in her case, killing potential threats despite being raised in a society that was built upon non-violence). Kyoshi agrees with her to some extent, but vows not to lose herself in the way Yangchen did.
* In ''[[https://www.fanfiction.net/s/10561760/7/What-Happens-in-Vegas What Happens in Vegas]]'', [[Literature/HarryPotter Dumbledore]] tries to pull this card on the WesternAnimation/TeenTitans when they refuse to let [[GenderFlip Willow Potter]] return to England until her bond with Raven settles (they can't leave each others side until it does). In his words, there's fourteen thousand witches and wizards who need hope. Robin responds that by their own admission, Voldemort has about thirty followers and the Ministry has far more Aurors than that. Meanwhile, the Teen Titans are five people responsible for protecting seven ''hundred'' thousand people from roughly two hundred different supervillains.
* In ''FanFic/MegaManDefenderOfTheHumanRace'', there's a villainous version when Sunstar and Terra allow several other Stardroids to be destroyed so the rest of their race can survive.
* In ''Fanfic/ThePowerThatsInside'', [[spoiler: Professor Oak]] uses this to justify the system that uses Pokemon as a renewable energy source.
* In ''Fanfic/PartingTheClouds'', an ongoing conundrum for Cassie is just how many innocent deaths are worth small advantages in the war, and where killing for military advantage turns into killing for mere convenience.

[[folder:Films -- Animation]]
* ''Disney/AtlantisTheLostEmpire'': There's a short scene where the Ulysses has a hole blown in it and the Engineers are seen scrambling to escape. Audrey closes the section off when there's at least one more guy stuck in there and he presumably drowned. More of the sub would have been flooded with water if she hadn't done it, and a good portion of the staff there, like the gunners, had already died when the blast hit.
* ''WesternAnimation/{{Antz}}'', with numerous references to (often morally dubious) actions being made "for the good of the Colony". This eventually gets thrown back in the villain's face when he tries to claim that [[spoiler: drowning the entire colony and murdering the Queen is for the good of the colony.]]

[[folder:Films -- Live-Action]]
* ''Franchise/StarTrek'':
** ''Film/StarTrekIITheWrathOfKhan'' is the TropeNamer, specifically the scene where Spock explains his HeroicSacrifice.
** Explicitly averted in the ''Film/StarTrekIIITheSearchForSpock'' when Kirk [[spoiler: tells Spock that the needs of the one outweighed the needs of the many (in this case, the Enterprise crew).]]
** Ironically reversed in ''Film/StarTrekInsurrection'', where Picard argues against relocating 600 people from a planet so the Federation can harvest the planet's immortality-granting radiation to save billions of lives. However, the fact that they could already use the planet to save billions of lives without having to harvest it, and that the stated reason for resorting to said harvest is to save a specific group of people [[spoiler:even smaller in number than the Ba'ku from dying of what turns out to be old age]] supports Picard's case.
** In ''Film/StarTrekIntoDarkness'', Spock, The TropeNamer, tells the ''Enterprise'' to leave him to die in order to protect the ''Enterprise'' and uphold the [[AlienNonInterferenceClause Prime Directive]] during the prologue. [[spoiler:Kirk later sacrifices himself to save the ''Enterprise'']].
* ''Film/TheLeagueOfExtraordinaryGentlemen'': As the damaged Nautilus is sinking to the bottom of the ocean, Captain Nemo must make a decision.
-->'''Ishmael:''' Aft bulkhead open. Pump valves jammed!\\
'''Nemo:''' Seal it off!\\
'''Ishmael:''' There are men in there!\\
'''Nemo:''' For the greater good, we must seal it!
* The antagonist in ''Film/TwoThousandTwelve'' does this. It turns into StrawmanHasAPoint, considering that he believes some (or many) people can be sacrificed to save the human race.
* ''Film/TheMatrixReloaded'': Neo is forced to make the choice of returning to The Source, and allowing the Matrix to be re-booted, saving the lives of everyone still jacked in, or leave and save Trinity from the Agent she's fighting while letting the Matrix crash, killing pretty much all that's left of humanity. He decides to TakeAThirdOption.
* The [[PolishMedia Polish]] short film ''Most''[[labelnote:translation]] "Bridge"[[/labelnote]], in which a man ends up sacrificing his son by lowering a drawbridge to prevent a train crash.
* Averted in ''Film/JohnnyMnemonic''. The data Johnny is carrying inside his head can save millions of lives. However, Johnny spends a significant portion of the movie putting his own life ahead of everybody else, as well as initially rejecting every proposal to retrieve the data because there is a chance that doing so could kill him or leave him with significant brain damage (even though he would die if he doesn't get the data out of his head, anyway). In the end, Johnny is convinced to go through with an attempt at removing the data from his head NOT because he'd be helping millions of other lives but because it's pointed out to him that that there being a chance that retrieving the data would kill him would also mean there is a chance he'd survive, whereas Johnny's other possible fate leaves him no such chance.
* Spoken word for word by Sentinel Prime in ''Film/TransformersDarkOfTheMoon''. [[spoiler: This time, though, it's in a much more sinister context. Essentially, Sentinel uses this as justification for enslaving mankind to rebuild Cybertron (by "the many" he means all Cybertronians; he couldn't care less about humanity).]] Doubles as an ActorAllusion, since Sentinel is voiced by Creator/LeonardNimoy.
* ''Film/CaptainAmericaTheWinterSoldier'':
** This is part of [[spoiler: HYDRA's]] rationale, culminating in a plan to institute world peace at the barrel of a gun... with twenty million lives as the first cost.
** Steve himself ends up having to fight his brainwashed, tortured best friend to save the lives of ''millions'' of people.
--->'''Steve:''' People are gonna die, Buck. I can't let that happen. ''Please'' don't make me do this.
* This is the message of ''Film/TheSchoolgirlsDiary'', in which Su-ryeon learns not to resent her father for spending virtually his entire life at work, because Dad is working for the benefit of the state. The state being UsefulNotes/NorthKorea.
* ''Film/WildRiver'': Not spelled out in dialogue but an obvious theme of the film. The Tennessee Valley Authority will be a boon to the whole region, creating jobs, bringing electricity (one of the farmhands gapes with delight at the electric light in his cottage), and saving lives and property by ending the uncontrolled flooding of the river. But for this to happen, people like Ella Garth have to give up their river land, to allow for the construction of dams.
* ''Film/{{Kapo}}'': A group of prisoners are plotting to break out of a Nazi slave labor camp, helped by Nicole, a "kapo" (prison trusty guard). The plan for the prison breakout has already been made and is about to go forward when the Russians plotting their escape find out that cutting the power to the electrified fence will set off an alarm siren. That means that whoever cuts the power is doomed to be caught by the guards and immediately shot to death--and that's Nicole's job. A horrified Sasha has a hurried debate with another Russian who insists that Nicole can't be told.
-->'''Sasha:''' Why should she do it?\\
'''Other Russian:''' Her life for many others.\\
'''Sasha:''' Is it all right to barter with lives like that?

* ''Literature/AtlasShrugged'' ridicules this trope due to Creator/AynRand's AuthorTract. Examples of altruistic ideals turning into spectacular failures abound, but a special mention goes to the 20th Century Motor Company of Starnesville. After the company passed from the founder to his children and they reorganized the plant to a pay system of "from each according to ability, to each according to need," it turned into a nightmare train wreck for the employees before collapsing in on itself. This inspired [[spoiler:John Galt]] to abandon his revolutionary electro-static motor and [[spoiler:begin his quest to spur "the men of the mind" all over the world to strike and bring the end of the world ruled by altruist, Collectivist morality.]]
* ''Literature/TheDresdenFiles'' gives us at least three subversions where the main protagonist refuses to put the many ahead of the few.
** First in ''Literature/GravePeril'' Harry [[spoiler: rescues Susan from Red Court vampires,]] even knowing that his actions will trigger a war with the Red Court.
** A second time is in ''Literature/DeadBeat'' when [[spoiler:Wardens of the White Council stop their attack to prevent a necromancer from setting off a powerful ritual to get trick-or-treating children to safety]] despite knowing the dire consequences of failure.
** Harry does it again in ''{{Literature/Changes}}'' when [[spoiler:his daughter is kidnapped by the Red Court during a cease-fire.]] This time around someone directly asks him to consider the needs of the many, but Harry makes it clear he'll let the entire world burn before letting [[spoiler:the vamps hurt his daughter.]]
* From ''Literature/TheBible'', John 11:49-50: "And one of them, named Caiaphas, being the high priest that same year, said unto them, Ye know nothing at all, Nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not."
** Similarly, in ''Literature/TheBookOfMormon'', 1 Nephi 4:2: "It is better that one man should perish than that a nation should dwindle and perish in unbelief."
* In the third ''Literature/{{Pendragon}}'' novel, Bobby has to choose between [[spoiler: letting the Hindenburg burn, killing a few dozen people, or saving it and letting Germany win WWII]]. He almost makes the wrong choice, sending him into a temporary HeroicBSOD.
* In ''[[Literature/HonorHarrington Crown of Slaves]]'' Berry Zilwicki risks her life to save the occupants of a captured slave ship, reasoning that one life against several thousand is "no contest, the way I see things."
* ''Literature/TheOnesWhoWalkAwayFromOmelas'' almost (?) poses this as a question: If you lived in a {{Utopia}} that bought the happiness of the Many with the [[PoweredByAForsakenChild utter suffering of one child]], [[WasItReallyWorthIt would you accept it, or walk away]]? The story has been used in at least one ethics class.
* In the ''VideoGame/StarTrekOnline'' novel ''The Needs of the Many'', when Data is revived inside of his brother B-4, he comes to the conclusion that his resurrection should not come at the cost of his brother's and proceeded to create a program to erase himself, effectively committing suicide. However, when B-4, in an attempt to persuade Data to stop at Geordi La Forge's insistence, comes to realize that Data's survival would mean the survival of numerous Federation citizens, he pulls a HeroicSuicide by taking over Data's program and deleting himself. Data's not happy over this and neither is Geordi when he finds out that neither Starfleet nor the Soong Foundation actively care about trying to restore B-4 now that Data's back.
* [[InvertedTrope Inverted]] in the ''Series/DoctorWho'' novel [[Recap/NewSeriesAdventuresEnginesofWar "Engines of War"]]. That's how the Time Lords try to justify closing the Eye of Tantalus, even though it will destroy 12 worlds and kill billions. The Doctor decides it would be better to destroy the Daleks than saving Cinder, though the latter was due to her wanting him to do so.
* [[DeconstructedTrope Deconstructed]], mocked and shown a middle finger by ''Franchise/TheWitcher'' universe. One of the main running themes of the books is that the every day, basic human decency is ''always'' more important than the grand political ideas and 'the greater good'. Several of the main villains are [[WellIntentionedExtremist trying to save the world]] by sacrificing [[TheChosenOne Ciri]] and everything is set in a [[WarIsHell continental-scale war]] fought for petty ideological reasons with numerous atrocities committed by [[EvilVersusEvil every single side]].
-->'''Geralt:''' If you have to save the world [[RapeIsASpecialKindOfEvil like]] [[ParentalIncest this]], this world would be better off disappearing. Believe me, [[spoiler:Duny]]. It would be better to perish.
* In ''Literature/TheMachineriesOfEmpire'', Cheris has to sacrifice hundreds of her soldiers in a blatantly suicidal plan (one that involves them killing themselves, no less) for the sake of saving the Hexarchate. Understandably, she doesn't take it well.

[[folder:Live-Action TV]]
* ''Series/GameOfThrones'': When asked where his allegiances lie, Varys says he serves the ''realm'', not the ruler. This is his justification for going along with the plan to assassinate Daenerys, for trying to prevent Littlefinger from gaining even more power, and most likely his reason for selling out Tyrion despite obviously having no desire to do so.
* ''Franchise/StarTrek'':
** In ''Series/StarTrekTheOriginalSeries'' episode "The City On The Edge of Forever", Kirk had to let Edith Keeler die to save his own timeline, because her peace efforts would have prevented the US from entering what would be World War II when they needed to, and cause Hitler and Nazism to conquer the world by developing the atomic bomb first. To save all those of their future, Kirk must stop Dr. [=McCoy=] from saving Edith from getting killed in a car accident. Kirk can't speak when Bones exclaims: "Jim! I could have saved her...do you know what you just did." Spock can only reply: "He knows, Doctor. Soon you will too. For what once was...now IS again." In Creator/JamesBlish's transcript in "The Star Trek Reader" Spock also comes across as trying to help Kirk rectify this. "No, you acted. Because no woman was ever loved so much, Jim. Because no woman was ever offered the universe for love."
** A very dramatic version in ''Series/StarTrekDeepSpaceNine'' episode "In The Pale Moonlight", when Sisko enlists Garak in coming up with a scheme to draw the Romulans into the Dominion War on the side of the Federation. Garak succeeds, but has to assassinate a Romulan official in the process, along with the criminal who forged the recording they are using to fool the Romulans into thinking the Dominion was planning to attack them. When Sisko confronts him over this, Garak points out that they might have just secured a Federation victory in the war, saving not only the Federation, but the Klingons, and eventually the Romulans and the rest of the Alpha quadrant from Dominion domination -- "and all it cost was the life of one Romulan Senator, one criminal, and the [[MyGodWhatHaveIDone self-respect of one Starfleet officer]]. I don't know about you, [[NecessarilyEvil but I'd call that a bargain.]]" At the end of the episode, Sisko admits to himself that it was [[IDidWhatIHadToDo a sacrifice worth making]] and that he'd do it again if he had to.
** Played with in the ''Series/StarTrekTheNextGeneration'' episode "Thine Own Self". Troi is applying to become a Commander. One of her exams is a scenario where the ship suffers a critical malfunction that will destroy it, and the repair teams cannot fix the damage without perishing. It's presented as an engineering problem, but it's actually a SecretTestOfCharacter. The solution is to order Geordi to do it anyway, knowing that he'll definitely die. Having passed the test after realizing that, Troi confesses she may not be cut out to be a Commander.
*** In "Yesterday's Enterprise", a temporal anomaly throws the USS ''Enterprise''-C from [[HeroicSacrifice its fateful battle]] at Narendra III to a Bad Future where the Klingon Empire and the Federation have been waging war for over 20 years, and this timeline's Picard tells ''Enterprise''-C Captain Rachel Garrett that Starfleet Command will likely surrender within 6 months.
-->'''Picard:''' One more ship will make no difference in the here and now. But 22 years ago, one ship could have stopped this war before it started.
* This occurs in ''Series/BuffyTheVampireSlayer'' in the season 2 finale "Becoming part 2". The BigBad, Angelus opens a "swallow the Earth into Hell" vortex. The only way to close it is with the lifeblood of the one who opened it. Just before Buffy is about to deliver the needed deathblow. Plan B is executed by Willow too late, returning his soul and reverting him back to good-natured Angel. After delivering an "I love you" speech, Buffy thrusts a sword in him anyway for the greater good, tossing his into said vortex to close it. She then sends herself on a bus between seasons and the first episode of season 3.
** Giles attempts to invoke this trope but Buffy defies it at the end of Season 5, when Giles tries to persuade Buffy to go along with this trope and kill her not-really-sister Dawn if that's what it takes to save the world. Buffy is completely unwilling and threatens anyone who attempts it that she will kill them. It was a very compelling case, because if the world ended Dawn would have died anyway. In the end [[spoiler: it does come down to that, but Buffy finds a way to TakeAThirdOption]]. Discussing her previous actions a couple of seasons later, Buffy tells Giles she feels differently and probably would be willing to kill any one person to save the world at that point.
** In the same episode, Giles actually does invoke this trope, as the BigBad, Glory, was forced by being battered by the gang into changing into a badly-injured Ben (a relatively-innocent human with whom she was forced to share a body). Ben being human, Buffy doesn't kill him, but Giles does, knowing if he hadn't that Glory would continue to terrorize the world.
* Once on ''Series/{{Angel}}'' when the gang was on Pylea and making battle plans to free the downtrodden humans.
-->'''Gunn:''' Those men you sent to [[WeNeedADistraction create a diversion]] are going to get killed.\\
'''Wesley:''' Yes, they are. ''[{{beat}}]'' You try not to get anybody killed, you wind up getting everybody killed.
* In ''Series/PowerRangersLightspeedRescue'' an early episode has Carter, the Red Ranger, forced to put out a fire instead of saving a child from getting injured by falling debris, under orders from his superior. At first he is angry, but eventually it is revealed that if the fire had not been put out, it would've reached a flammable liquid, causing an explosion that would kill everyone in the area rather than injuring just one person.
* Averted in ''Series/MalcolmInTheMiddle'' in the episode "Reese's Party". The morning after, the party guests refuse to leave and have kept the large Craig to torment. Malcolm, Reese, and Francis want to just hide out at Craig's house until their parents return, with Francis using the quote "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the guy that can't run fast." Dewey had been having fun with Craig all weekend, so he refuses to leave the poor guy behind, and tattles to the guests' mothers to force them to leave.
* In ''Series/{{Torchwood}}'', [[spoiler: Jack (under emotional stress) agrees to sacrifice his grandson to save the 10% of Earth's children who would be subject to a FateWorseThanDeath otherwise.]] This is especially jarring as the entire season leading up to that point had portrayed sacrificing a few to save the many as an unacceptable evil that the protagonists were willing to do anything to prevent.
** In ''Small Worlds'', Jack turns over a little girl to the [[TheFairFolk fairies]], knowing that they are willing to kill mercilessly and excessively if their Chosen One is taken or harmed, and that he has no way of stopping them. [[DownerEnding The mother is distraught, and the team refuse to so much as look at Jack as they leave]].
* ''Series/DoctorWho'':
** In ''The Evil of the Daleks'' the Second Doctor is willing to sacrifice himself, his companion and a few others in his plan to stop the Daleks infecting humanity with the Dalek Factor. Jamie calls him out on this.
** The Doctor has had to deal with this decision quite a few times. Typically, for the Doctor it's "the needs of the entire planet/universe outweigh the needs of the many", though:
*** Detonating Vesuvius and destroying Pompeii to stop the Pyroviles from taking over the world.
*** Ending the Time War by destroying the Daleks and the Time Lords, to prevent the use of the Final Sanction which would destroy all of creation.
** In ''The Day of the Doctor'', Kate Stewart (daughter of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart and new holder of [[TheBrigadier the title]]) is prepared to destroy London to prevent the Zygons from using the technology in the Black Archive to take over the world.
** Sometimes, though, the Doctor ''doesn't'' do this - more than once he's passed up the chance to stop the Daleks once and for all because it was between that and saving the world. It's eventually revealed, though, that some of his darker actions are because of his guilt over the things villains he ''didn't'' stop by [[IDidWhatIHadToDo any means necessary]] went on to do.
* In ''Series/KaizokuSentaiGokaiger'', [[spoiler:the team finds out that they can use the [[MacGuffin Greatest Treasure in the Universe]] to RetGone the [[TheEmpire Zangyack Empire]], but doing so will also RetGone the Franchise/SuperSentai. After debating whether they have the right to make that kind of decision (including [[Series/KyoryuSentaiZyuranger one former Ranger]] encouraging them to do it), the team eventually decides that the Super Sentai's legacy of inspiring hope, courage, and strength in humanity is too important to throw away.]]
* In ''Series/BabylonFive'', Delenn admits to G'Kar that she more or less pulled this with regard to the Narn; she could have confirmed G'Kar's story about the Shadows and probably saved his world from invasion, but had she done so, the Shadow War would have started before the younger races were ready to fight it.
-->'''Delenn''': We had to choose between the deaths of millions and the deaths of ''billions''--of ''entire planets''.
** In a previous episode, G'Kar had received a similar lesson from [[spoiler:Kosh, posing as the image of his father, or possibly G'Quan.]] Not long after Delenn's revelation here, he proceeds to quote it:
--->'''G'Kar''': 'Some must be sacrificed if all are to be saved.'
* In the second season finale of ''Series/{{Primeval}}'', Lester is just about to bring Leek's plans to a stop. Leek however still has Cutter catured and threatens to have him killed if Lester does not back down. Lester refuses but does show some regret over it.
* ''Series/{{Attila}}'': Desperately needing an alliance with the Visigoths to take on Atilla and his Huns, Flavius Aetius agrees to have his Roman-raised daughter, who was sired by King Theodoric (both Aetius and Theodoric were once married to the same [[TheLostLenore late woman]]), handed over to the Visigoths. Aetius looks dead inside when it happens, and he ensures that Theodoric is killed in the course of the battle in retaliation.
* Parodied in ''Series/{{Quark}}'' when The Head and Dr Palindrome decide to send Quark on a suicide mission to stop a NegativeSpaceWedgie from wiping out the system.
-->'''The Head:''' This is a tough one, Palindrome. But as you know, one of the responsibilities of those in charge is to order the sacrifice of the few, for the sake of the many.\\
'''Palindrome:''' Yes, sir.\\
'''The Head:''' Particularly when those in charge, are among the many.
* ''Series/TheGoodPlace'': Chidi gives Eleanor a lecture about utilitarianism, and the issues which it faces, such as if torturing one person to death so a hundred more are saved is moral. Jason puts in his own more selfish scenario-framing an innocent person who would otherwise break up a band and cause more (supposed) unhappiness.
* ''Series/SpaceAboveAndBeyond'': In ''Mutiny'', the ship the 58th faces destruction by the chigs if they don't divert power from one section to get away. That section happens to be where the [=InVitro=]s are being stored, and the [=InVitro=] crewers refuse their orders. A mutiny occurs, but eventually they're persuaded to stand down because if they don't do this, ''everyone'' will die. In the end, they do it.
* ''Series/TheHandmaidsTale'': Fred justifies what the Republic of Gilead does based on this, saying they wanted to make the world better, but that never means better for everyone--it's always worse for some.
* ''Series/{{Arrow}}'': In "Streets of Fire" Oliver is briefly torn between escorting Laurel to safety or [[spoiler:getting the cure to the Mirakuru serum]], which he will need to stop Slade. To make matters worse, the two goals are in opposite directions. She makes the choice for him:
-->'''Laurel:''' I don't need you right now. Everyone else does. So go. Go save the city.
** In "My Name is Oliver Queen", Felicity tries to get Roy to abandon his work on [[spoiler:an inoculant to the Alpha and Omega virus]] to save Oliver. Roy quite rightly refuses, pointing out that thousands will die if he stops. She insists ''again'' that he save Oliver instead, only for him to refuse again. [[spoiler:He then realizes that [[TakeAThirdOption he can work on the inoculant, and she can use his ATOM suit to save Oliver.]]]]

* In the musical ''Theatre/{{Starship}}'' by Starkids, this is a major philosophy on the Bug homeworld. [[spoiler: Bug also sacrifices his human body in the end to save the rest of the Starship rangers, finally understanding what it means.]]

[[folder:Tabletop Games]]
* ''TabletopGame/Warhammer40000'': This trope is played straight by various factions...
** Imperium of Man: Sacrifice plenty of Imperial Guard to win back a planet or successfully defending one. In some cases sacrifice the planet for the millions of other planets... okay, let's just say sacrifice [[AMillionIsAStatistic a few billion]] for even more trillions.
** Eldar: They flip this trope, sacrifice the billions of non-eldar for the few eldar.
*** Played straight when manipulating monkeys isn't gonna cut it and eldar have to enter the fray. Sure, they will abuse every dirty trick from their HUGE bag, but they still take losses even on successful raids and eldar expeditions end in disaster more often than one would think. All while being fully aware that AndIMustScream doesn't even begin to describe the posthumous experience of an eldar that got his soulstone broken or captured. Despite this, the survival of a craftworld or attempt to recover the soulstones always take higher priority.
** Tyranids: Subvert this by a long shot, lose billions but in the end they win and eat the planet dead and all. And those they lose? They just eat their corpses and recycle the biomass.
** Tau: Their main philosophy, the so-called "Greater Good", is essentially this. All Tau are expected to act in benefit to as many of their kind as possible, and screwing over others to benefit yourself is seen as one of the greatest sins you could commit. [[BlueAndOrangeMorality While personal ambition is a sin, ambition on a galaxy-wide scale is considered a virtue.]] Curiously, the idea of sacrificing yourself to benefit others isn't seen as a virtue either- a commander who lets the situation degrade into a last stand clearly wasn't very competent to begin with.

[[folder:Video Games]]
* ''VideoGame/MassEffect2'''s ''Arrival'' DLC has Commander Shepard [[spoiler:ram an asteroid into a Mass Relay. The resultant explosion wipes out the entire system it's in, obliterating 305,000 colonists and [[ZeroApprovalGambit Shepard will be put on trial for his/her actions]]. Justification? It delays a [[EldritchAbomination Reaper]] invasion, which would have wiped out all sentient life in ''the entire galaxy''.]]
** A recurring theme in ''VideoGame/MassEffect3'': If the galaxy is to survive, nobody can afford to stand by their own grudges (and there are ''many'' grudges, going back a thousand years or more) Also subverted multiple times: several leaders are forced to flee from battle, often leaving their own troops to die without them, because their leadership is needed by their people as a whole. At one point Shepard can be [[SadisticChoice forced to choose which of two entire alien races is more worth saving]]. [[spoiler:(Though if a [[OldSaveBonus save from the previous games in which certain choices were made is imported]] Shepard can convince both sides to lay down their arms and make peace.)]]
*** The same reveals that this is the ultimate "logic" behind [[spoiler: the Reaper cycle. The Catalyst eventually decided that, since organics and synthetics cannot be made to get along, it is better to harvest all sufficiently intelligent species every 50000 years to prevent a RobotWar that could result in destruction so great that no life would survive it.]]
** This is also Shepard's logic for saving Admiral Koris over [[TheMenFirst his men]], arguing that Koris's survival is the only hope to get the quarian fleet out intact.
* In ''VideoGame/InFamous'' Cole is faced with the sadists choice of saving the one or the many; [[spoiler: his girlfriend Trish or half a dozen doctors who could save many lives themselves.]] It's a Karma-Moment, so the player gets to decide and is rewarded good or evil karma for a selfless or selfish decision respectively.
** Of course, [[spoiler: it's programmed so she's doomed no matter what you choose, to prove a lesson either way. If you go after the doctors, which brings good karma, then it turns out Kessler told the truth and Trish really ''is'' the girl in the opposite tower, and she dies. Kessler congratulates you for making the selfless choice. But if you choose to save Trish and earn evil karma, then it turns out Kessler lied and the girl you save was just some random civilian; Trish was actually was actually one of the doctors, and they all die. Then Kessler berates you for being selfish and putting your happiness above potentially several lives.]]
* In ''VideoGame/AlphaProtocol'', choosing to save either [[spoiler: Madison St. James or a whole room full of innocent people]], and the choice between [[spoiler:saving Ronald Sung by giving him the assassination plans or saving hundreds of people by foiling a plot to incite nation-wide riots.]]
* A major theme of ''VideoGame/DragonAgeOrigins''; it shows up in the Redcliffe and Circle quests, the whole concept of the Grey Wardens, and [[spoiler: the endgame]]. The Qunari (not so much a race as a "religion" / philosophical movement) is also built on this, to the point where its adherents give up personal names and refer to each other by [[HisNameReallyIsBarkeep their role in society.]] They view their society as a single creature that they must all work to strengthen and protect. Dissent is not tolerated under the Qun; those who question their role in society are tortured or killed. Those who escape are regarded as psychopathic monsters who have damned their own souls.
** In addition, [[Franchise/DragonAge for the franchise as a whole]], this theme is greatly mixed with the question of Freedom vs. Security, with the Chantry and Templars advocating locking up all of the mages in Thedas in towers and watching them 24/7 and arresting/executing any out of this system for things that they ''might'' do, in order to keep the greater population of the continent more secure-feeling in their safety. This is a ''heavily'' debated topic, both in ''and'' out of universe.
* A recurring theme in ''VideoGame/{{Battlefield 3}}''. In one level the player plays a member of a Russian special forces team trying to prevent a nuclear attack in Paris. The team at the beginning discuss that they may come into a firefight with French police, but that it's far more important to [[TheNeedsOfTheMany stop the nuclear attack than worry about the fate of a few police]]. Later playing as an American forces they come under fire by Russian military who are basically after the same thing but fight back due to no other choice, the player character later says he held nothing against the Russians and doesn't consider them his enemy despite them killing much of his squad. Near the end of the game it comes in full force when the player character [[spoiler: guns down his commanding officer to allow a Russian special forces soldier to escape as the only hope of preventing a nuclear attack.]]
* The TropeNamer phrase is quoted word for word in the scrolling text on the intro screen to ''VideoGame/{{Lemmings}}''. Rather appropriate, as the gameplay involves sacrificing the smallest number of Lemmings as possible so the rest can reach the exit.
* The [[EarnYourBadEnding Conquest Ending]] of ''VideoGame/HyperdimensionNeptuniaMk2'' deals with the [=CPUs=], [[MoeAnthropomorphism humanized]] [[PhysicalGods goddesses]] of various consoles and handhelds, trying to stop TheEndOfTheWorldAsWeKnowIt. [[spoiler: To do such, they find a sword that can slay a GodOfEvil before she awakens and kickstarts said apocalypse, however the sword itself [[PoweredByAForsakenChild needs the soul of a CPU to be effective]]. Because of this Nepgear, the protagonist, decides against killing her friends to use the sword, and suggested that everyone pools their [[AppliedPhlebotinum shares]] into one nation, (Planeptune, the nation where she and her sister are the [=CPUs=] of) so that she and Neptune can defeat the Deity of Sin. Nobody else goes along with this plan because it could destroy their nations in the process (and also because at least one of them wants the shares funneled to their nation instead). The resulting conflicts leads Neptune and Nepgear to kill the [=CPUs=] of Lastation and Lowee, as well as their sisters in their ICannotSelfTerminate moments while Vert, the CPU of Leanbox, attempts to invert this trope by taking the sword and the lives of its wielders so that she may live for her sister figure, but ultimately dies when one of the villains kill her after her fight with the protagonists]].
* ''VideoGame/TheTuringTest'': [[spoiler:TOM is willing to sacrifice the entire crew to protect the rest of humanity back on Earth.]]
* Played with and ultimately deconstructed in in ''VideoGame/TalesOfBerseria''. "The many outweigh the individual" is the core of Shepherd Artorius's rhetoric, urging people to live their lives according to pure reason. The masses lap this up, seeing him as a messianic figure. At least, right up until RealityEnsues and people realize that merely ascribing to the Abbey's cause and rules doesn't automatically make them part of the many, and if the Abbey decides that protecting them from daemonblight is an ineffective use of resources, they are literally expected to accept being hung out to dry without question. Velvet takes this further in one conversation, pointing out to a pair of true believers that "benevolent" Artorius doesn't give a single solitary damn about anyone. People can die in droves for all he cares, as long as humanity benefits. (She's absolutely right, but VillainWithGoodPublicity that Artorius is, people have a collective blind spot to this bit of logic.)
* This was the logic behind creating the [[SuperSoldier SPARTAN-II program]] in ''Franchise/{{Halo}}''. Faced with a galaxy-wide civil war that threatened to completely destabilize the UNSC and fighting terrorists who were willing to [[NukeEm use nukes in populated areas]] to achieve their goals, which would result in millions, if not ''billions'' dead, ONI authorized Dr. Catherine Halsey to create a fighting force that could stop them. Said process involved taking kidnapping 75 children around 6 to 7 years old, subjecting them to TrainingFromHell, giving them physical augmentations that ''killed'' or crippled at least half of them, and committing them to a lifetime of battle. Noticeably, while the survivors were a resounding success against the Insurrection and would become humanity's best hope against the [[ScaryDogmaticAliens Covenant]], Halsey always carried a great deal of guilt about the process and resolved to do right by them as best as she could. As she told Cortana herself [[Literature/HaloFirstStrike once]]:
-->"I'm tired of sacrificing others for the 'greater good.' It never stops, Cortana...and we're running out of people to sacrifice."
* ''VideoGame/SpiderManEdgeOfTime'': This is the primary source of conflict between Spider-Man 2099 and the present day Spider-Man. Miguel is only concerned with the grand scheme of things and stopping [[BigBad Walker Sloan]] from ruining the future, while Peter is [[ChronicHeroSyndrome obsessed with the human cost of his actions]] and refuses to abandon innocent people no matter what. At one point, the two end up in each other's time periods, and when Peter finds out that [[LoveInterest Mary Jane]] is destined to die that night, Miguel initially refuses to save her, stating he's got "enough to deal with," and only goes along with it when Peter outright begs him to do so. Even so, it doesn't stop him from snarking about it.
-->'''O'Hara:''' Hope the universe doesn't end while I'm trying to save one person.

[[folder:Visual Novels]]
* This is a recurring theme in ''VisualNovel/FateStayNight'', where the ArcWords appears to be "a hero must choose the people he saves". Shirou's personal conflict in each route involves him finding an answer to the conflict between his ideal of saving everyone and the reality of it being impossible.
** The actions of Counter Guardians fall under this. They are deployed by Alaya to prevent disasters that would threaten the continued survival of humanity by destroying everything involved in the danger. More often than not the danger is human in origin, so the Counter Guardian will destroy every human even tangentially connected to the threat. Alaya views destroying entire nations as an acceptable loss if it ensures humanity's survival.
** Choosing to obey or defy the trope is a key decision in the "Heaven's Feel" scenario. [[spoiler:Sakura]] has the potential to become a mindless monster that would kill hundreds, but can easily be stopped if killed before that happens, while she is in fact innocent of any crime. Playing the trope straight leads to a BadEnd where Shirou follows his father's path and becomes a miserable murderer, [[NecessarilyEvil killing innocents and even his friends]] to protect as many people as possible. Attempting to TakeAThirdOption and save everyone ([[spoiler:which results in hundreds of deaths]]) allows him to [[EarnYourHappyEnding earn a life with his loved ones]].
* One of the unlockable endings and Steam Achievement to ''VisualNovel/LongLiveTheQueen'' is named after this trope. [[spoiler: If you can summon a kraken to stave off an invasion you'll be faced with one of two options, spend years keeping it from causing massive death and destruction, leading your country to bankruptcy and future political instability.]] OR [[spoiler: Sacrifice your cousin whom you've been close with since childhood]] which unlocks this ending.

[[folder:Web Comics]]
* In ''Webcomic/{{Freefall}}'' [[http://freefall.purrsia.com/ff2200/fc02162.htm strip 2162]], Florence says, "There are over 450 million robots. There are only fourteen Bowman's wolves. If I have to choose, I have to go with the robots." Florence is a Bowman's wolf and would sacrifice her own race to save the robots. Later another character argues against sacrificing Florence because this sounds all very well until you're designated the few.
* ''Webcomic/{{Paranatural}}'': The spirit Forge goes on a rant against this sort of behavior, making it clear he had this mindset in the past.
-->'''Forge:''' We burn the present for the sake of a brighter future and act surprised when all it holds is ash!

[[folder:Web Original]]
* In ''Literature/{{Worm}}'', Dinah Alcott, the third most powerful precognitive in the world, begins to embody this trope following her captivity by Coil. She knows that the world is going to end in two years, and can give [[LudicrousPrecision the exact numbers down to the fourth decimal place.]] Therefore, she begins to orchestrate events to reduce the number of casualties-even if it means [[spoiler:[[TheUnfettered betraying the person who saved her from captivity.]]]] Keep in mind that she's ''nine years old.''

[[folder:Western Animation]]
* On ''WesternAnimation/SouthPark'', Stan quotes it to his father, claiming it's "[[AsTheGoodBookSays from a little book called The Bible]]." Kyle then corrects him and tells him it's from ''[[Film/StarTrekIITheWrathOfKhan Wrath of Khan]]''.
* This was Aang's final dilemma in the last episodes of ''WesternAnimation/AvatarTheLastAirbender'', when Aang was distraught over the thought of having to kill Fire Lord Ozai [[ItSucksToBeTheChosenOne in order to save the world]], even though his upbringing as an Air Nomad and monk taught him [[ThouShaltNotKill to hold all life as sacred]], [[TurnTheOtherCheek even the lives of people who might be morally evil.]] His friends try to brace him for this as best they can, while his past incarnations either agree with them or just say he'll have to stop agonizing and make ''a'' decision no matter what. [[spoiler: He might have gone through with it if there was NO other choice, but the Lion Turtle gave him [[TakeAThirdOption a third option]].]]

[[folder:Real Life]]
* This is the basic principle behind [[https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Utilitarianism Utilitarian ethical philosophy]].
* The Trolley Problem is a thought experiment which forces the subject to choose [[SadisticChoice between actively sacrificing one for the many or allowing the many to die through inaction]]. The thought experiment involves a scenario where a runaway train is barreling down a track towards a group of five people who are immobilized, and a fork between the train and the group leads to another track on which is one immobilized person. The subject has to decide whether to toggle the switch that will move the train onto the other track, and kill the person on it. The thought experiment is used in psychological studies to gauge the degree of utilitarian thinking in the test subject and how various variables such as age, sex, and degree of fatigue affects it.
** A common variation of this is to make the subject decide whether to personally murder by pushing someone into the path of the oncoming train, assuming that the person has the mass to stop it, to save a group of people ahead. This variation is intended to invoke more personal involvement, and experimentally less people are willing to take this option in this variation.
* Weighing the needs of the many is intrinsic to any government decision and policy, where hard decisions have to be made to ensure the greatest prosperity and well being of society. A most direct example of this is in hostage scenarios. Acceding to the demands of the hostage takers can potentially endanger more people in the future because the criminals emboldened by the success may attempt more hostage takings and are more capable from having acquired the resources. Refusing will result in the death of all hostages, and [[TakeAThirdOption Taking A Third Option]] in trying to attack the hostage takers is likely to get at least some of the hostages, and maybe some of the police, killed.
** Considering the needs of the many is also present in scenarios less directly involved with life and death, such as whether to cut the funding to the senior citizen assistance programs, and therefore depriving the most vulnerable senior citizens of health and financial aid, to fund infrastructure projects that will aid a regional economy.
* This is the reasoning the Nazi party used in their propaganda to justify the sterilization of 400,000 German citizens in the period 1933-45 and the extermination of Germany's 70,000 remaining mentally ill and disabled in the period 1939-45. Interestingly, the sterilizations were not carried out by government personnel or under orders, but by regular doctors with government encouragement and approval. In fact, the Nazis had a slogan, ''Gemeinnutz geht vor Eigennutz'': "The common good goes before individual good." See [[UsefulNotes/TheHolocaust UsefulNotes/TheHolocaust]] and the article on [[https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aktion_T4 Aktion T4]] on Wiki/TheOtherWiki for more on this.
* The ultimate reason why the lower levels of warfare must always be subordinated to the higher levels - [[StrategyVersusTactics tactics to operations, operations to strategy, and strategy to Grand Strategy]] - to avoid disaster.
* This is the rationale for war and military mobilization in a War of Annihilation (''Vernichtungskrieg''), such as the Soviet-German War: better the country be impoverished and many people die than the entire people be exterminated. It can still apply to ordinary wars in which the survival of the civilization itself is not at stake, such as Germany's war with the rest of The Allies, but the cost-benefit is not so obviously clear-cut.
* On a debatably positive note, this is part of the 'logic' behind assassinating a tyrant - kill one obviously evil person (and those loyal to him) so that thousands or even millions may live free of his oppression.
** On the other hand, Terry Pratchett noted that there's a flaw in this logic: "Shoot the dictator and prevent the war? But the dictator is merely the tip of the whole festering boil of social pus from which dictators emerge; shoot him and there'll be another one along in a minute. Shoot him too? Why not shoot everyone and invade Poland?"
* {{Zigzagged}} with the communist ideology. At first, it is seem to be easily interpreted that the massive wealth and goods of the upper class (the capitalists) should be taken away and redistributed among the working class majority,[[note]]A large majority of Europeans at that time period were lower class laborers working at textile mills and factories.[[/note]] something that UsefulNotes/KarlMarx himself advocated. Ironically enough, Karl Marx himself ''opposed'' utilitarianism (at least Bentham's version of it), stating that human nature is too dynamic to be limited to a ''single'' utility and said that Bentham and other utilitarians failed to take into account of the changing character of people.
* Utilitarian philosophers, most notably Jeremy Bentham and Peter Singer, have argued for animal rights on the grounds that sentient animals are capable of suffering and thus their needs must be taken into account.