I think it's safe to assume that most people here are familiar with Serenity
Consider The Operative. He's pretty much an asshole. He does a lot of bad stuff and we don't like him for it. But despite that, there's something about him that doesn't seem entirely evil. He believes that he's working towards "A better world. A world without sin." And he does so knowing full well that he won't benefit. Essentially, he sacrifices his morality, so other people don't have to make tough choices and endure suffering. He is a consequentialist moral martyr. And we feel strangely towards him.
Now, there are obvious problems with The Operative. For one thing, even a consequentialist might argue that the means by which The Operative builds his "better world" will not maximize happiness. We see at the end of Serenity that the means used by the Alliance Parliament to pacify Miranda had unintended yet very negative consequences. It isn't hard to believe that The Operative is not justified in killing the people he kills because Miranda's secret is not one worth keeping.
Still, I think that the concept of a moral martyr is an interesting one. It really gets to the core of the debate between consequentialism and deontology. I should say that I'm pretty much dyed-in-the-wool consequentialist, and my moral intuitions are heavily coloured by this, so my expostion and defence of deontology won't be particularly strong. Hopefully somebody else can step in and do a better job.
But I digress. The tension between consequentialism and deontology is of course all about ends and means. Consequentialists are concerned with ends alone. They focus on what happens
rather than on what one does
. Deontologists take the opposite view.
There are numerous thought-experiments which bring out this distinction. Imagine that you're a doctor and you have five patients that have been poisoned and will die if they do not have an organ replaced (any organ will do). Now, here's Bob the janitor. He's healthy and can provide the requisite organs (and the patients will accept them and survive - how we know this I can't say). The question is, do you kill Bob?
A consequentialist ought to say yes since five people dying is worse than one. A deontologist should say no because a person's life is inviolable, and since you the doctor didn't poison your patients, you won't be doing anything wrong by letting them die, whereas you will be doing something wrong if you kill Bob. Most people's intuitions do, I think, lean towards deontology in this case.
Another thought experiment runs along similar lines. Imagine that you've set a bomb somewhere. If it goes off, five people will die. Then you have second thoughts and you want to stop those five people from dying. But, in order to do so, you'll need to kill one person. Say that the bomb is in a secure area and you had paid off a security guard to let you in, but his shift is over, and the person who took his place, and who you'll need to bypass is uncorruptable so you'll have to shoot him. The consequentialist and deontologist advices are the same as in the doctor case, but our intuitions I think tend to go the other way.
Now, for the moral martyr. Imagine that in the doctor case there's a guy who overhears you debating what to do about Bob. He decides that he's going to simplify matters and he shoots Bob in the head. Now it's an easy choice, use Bob's organs to save the poisoned patients. And in the bomb case, imagine that the guy sees you agonizing over what to do and he shoots the security guard for you. Again, you know what to do. The question is, what do we want to say about this fellow? He's not a good person on account of the bad things he's done. Yet, somehow, we're almost (or perhaps not even almost but entirely) grateful for what he's done. He's made our lives easier, he's done something which will bring about an overall better state of affairs, and he's allowed us to keep our moral purity. It's an odd situation to say the least.