But Now You Know

The search for truth in human action

Why the End Does Not Justify the Means

Why don't we torture accused criminals in order to find who is guilty? Because the end does not justify the means.

It has become clear that many politicians and lawyers, and a few real people, don’t understand what is meant by The End Does Not Justify the Means.

They act like people are saying the desire to have pancakes cannot justify making batter. But this is more specific. It’s about good versus evil. In their unfortunate perspective, caring about what is right must seem insane.

But the truth is that this phrase sums up one of the most important principles of ethics and morality:

It means that there are certain fundamental principles that are “right”, “good”, et cetera, that are essential to those conditions…and you cannot justify violating them because you have some “right” or “good” goal in mind.

For example, you cannot have justice, unless you adhere to the principles of justice; It’s not OK to do unjust things to people simply because you have a just goal in mind.

This is a basic philosophical rule that is ignored or denied by almost all evil people you will find out there, and supported by almost all good ones. Marxists coined the modern use of the phrase “the end justifies the means”, and naturally they and their socialist spinoffs were responsible for the vast majority of all great evils, for the past century.

Evil Men

Joseph Stalin, for example, justified the deaths of tens of millions of his own people, by saying that the population was too large for (relatively inefficient) Communism to support. The mass death left Soviet society more sustainable. Did the betterment of millions of peoples’ lives justify the murder of millions of other people? According to Consequentialist socialists; yes.

Previously, the Dominican order of Catholicism was an advocate of the idea that the end justifies the means (in spirit), and it just so happens that they went on to conduct, among other great evils, the Inquisition. It was literally claimed that you may be saving the soul of the man you tortured or murdered in the name of God, so it was OK. All the ways the current Pope is less popular than his predecessor appear to center around his being of that Dominican mindset. In fact, the position he held before becoming pontiff was the Head of the Office of Inquisition, I kid you not…it had simply changed its name for PR reasons.

Likewise, when Machiavelli used that phrase in his satirical indictment of the evils and abuses of Feudal government, The Prince, he succeeded in hitting the nail on the head as to what is most wrong and unjust.

Required by Good

In reality, the end does not justify the means, in part because the long-term outcome of ignoring principles in order to buy short-term results is a failure of your own goals.

The idea that the wise principles override the short-sighted goal (a form of Deontology, if you like them thar fancified words) is why courts will overturn convictions on technicalities, one of the few good and just things remaining in the US legal system. Any honest — or as close as they get –prosecutor will tell you that the reason they hate that condition is how it keeps them from breaking rules and simply gambling punishment, in order to convict people they think are guilty. They are restrained from unjust acts, by this absolute enforcement of the principles of justice, even though it may let a guilty man walk in the short term.

When you have a principle, like “do not violate someone else’s property”, it cannot be overridden because you have some end in mind like “but the wealth I steal from his safe will benefit several other people who deserve it more”.

Like setting aside money for bills and emergencies instead of partying all of your paycheck away, sticking to the principles of what is good, right, and just produces the best outcome in the long run. You are investing in your ultimate goal by sticking to it when the going gets tough. When you panic and abandon your principles for a short-term benefit, you end up making things worse in the end.

THAT is why the end does not justify the means.

May 12, 2011 Posted by | Philosophy, Politics, Religion, Society | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments



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