Do the ends justify the means?

Discussion in 'Religion & Philosophy' started by Mirage, Jun 13, 2009.

  1. Mirage

    Mirage Administrator Staff Member V.I.P.

    What are your thoughts on the ends justifying the means?

    Are things ok as long as the greater good is accomplished or should we stick to principle 100% of the time?

    Feel free to give examples to back your opinions as well.

  2. ExpectantlyIronic

    ExpectantlyIronic e̳̳̺͕ͬ̓̑̂ͮͦͣ͒͒h̙ͦ̔͂?̅̂ ̾͗̑

    I'm not sure how you'd derive a decent set of principles to abide by without evaluating the common consequences of actions. Kant suggested we should evaluate the morality of actions by asking ourselves if we'd want everyone to do whatever we're considering, but I'm not quite sure how to evaluate acts accordingly in a way that Kant's theory doesn't seem absurd. So ultimately I think we should try to aim towards doing what gets the best results, but that often involves sticking to rules derived from the common consequences of certain actions, in lieu of infinite time, wisdom, and information to make perfect utilitarian assessments. Though, we should certainly try to make such assessments when possible.

    Edit: I suppose there should be some kinda balancing act. It would be harder to justify something with typically largely negative consequences on the grounds it might possibly have good consequences in a particular case, than it would be to justify something with typically positive consequences on such grounds.
    Last edited: Jun 23, 2009
  3. snelling101

    snelling101 Registered Member

    I think that this is very case dependent.

    I think that in a scenario where all crime is eliminated, but a few people die? i think that the ends do justify the means...
  4. PretzelCorps

    PretzelCorps Registered Member

    Officially follow principle 100% of the time, with a couple ends-justify-the-means thrown in here and there.

    Rarely is it wise to allow people to justify the means with the ends, since the ends can oft justify virtually anything --> Is it right to euthanize people with cancer, and their children, to cure cancer? What about AIDS; you wouldn't have to kill the children (unless they had it too). The human mind can be incredibly adept at justifying (or even just flat-out ignoring the consequences of) personal actions and depravity, if a particular outcome is desired enough; this is basically the very definition of "stupidity" (ie: to act without prior, reasonable thought)

    On the other hand, of course, acting on principle 100% of the time is idiocy, since there will always be a moral case wherein the world ends if you don't do a little evil.
    Last edited: Jun 23, 2009
  5. Impact

    Impact Registered Member V.I.P. Lifetime

    I think as long as the outcome achieved outweighs any negative actions taken to reach that outcome, then it is okay. But only if there is no ulterior motive behind the actions that have been taken, and the good outcome is in sight at all times. If the negative starts to outweigh the positiveness of the outcome, then it is not okay.

    For example, A president is assassinated for bad leadership which cause his people to suffer. One person has died to save an entire country. But if the person who organized the hit was to get some personal gain from said action, and it would benefit no-one but themselves, then it would be wrong.

    Well, that makes sense to me at least.
  6. ExpectantlyIronic

    ExpectantlyIronic e̳̳̺͕ͬ̓̑̂ͮͦͣ͒͒h̙ͦ̔͂?̅̂ ̾͗̑

    But a persons principles could consist of just about anything. People could easily say we should kill everyone with AIDS because killing the weak is the way of nature. And even if you don't believe that makes any sense (and it doesn't), why shouldn't we? I'd say it's because massive suffering is a surefire consequence of such an action, whereas it's not so clear you could even eliminate AIDS through such a means, much less that we wouldn't have found a cure had we not done as much. As for cancer: killing everyone with it absolutely wouldn't eliminate it, so y'know... :).

    Saying we should put principles over the consequences of our actions, would seem to be to say that we should put rules over people. I mean, it'd ultimately depend on what one considered desirable consequences, and what ones principles were, but how could someones principles be good if they weren't derived from the desire to bring about the best consequences in terms of promoting wellbeing and minimizing suffering? I'm cool with what's called "rule-based consequentialism", whereas it's said we should stick to principle; but our principles should be derived from a consideration of the consequences of our actions, but to mostly ignore consequence altogether would seem to require just not caring what happens, at which point what's the point of principles?
    Last edited: Jun 24, 2009
  7. Kazmarov

    Kazmarov For a Free Scotland

    Generally speaking, yes.

    However, the benefit derived in the end is often arrived at in a complex fashion. The kill one to save ten, or torture one to save a thousand are flawed examples that I can poke ethical holes at all day long.

    Deontology is a more followable philosophy, but has issues in which certain circumstances produces seemingly unethical results (say there's the idea that no matter what we should never lie. Well, what if a criminal comes to your door and asks if you've seen someone running past, and you have?). Utilitarianism is more complex (though it is often simplified to score points in debates) and involves things like values, respect of institutions, potential, suffering, and happiness. It's a mixture of various abstract things that perhaps can never be equitably compared. However, if viewed rationally it produces the best ethical results that seem logical.
  8. Steerpike

    Steerpike Registered Member

    Ends do not justify means. In ethics, there is to be ends-means consistency. Both ends and means are to be ethical.

    Eg: You do not uphold the ethical value of justice, which is the primary function of government, by arbitrary detention or warrantless wiretapping or enshrining bigotry into law. :rolleyes: (Anyone who supports such where others are being victimized are a priori unethical (evil)).

    For any individual who wishes to abandon ethical principle "when the going gets tough", their claim to even having ethical principle is meaningless. Therefore, such an individual is, at best, amoral.
    Last edited: Jun 26, 2009
  9. ysabel

    ysabel /ˈɪzəˌbɛl/ pink 5

    No, things aren't ok just because a greater good is accomplished.

    I often see people drop the line "ends justify the means" after-the-fact. In reality it's more, "the ends rationalise the means". We make excuses for things that have gone wrong by just focusing on a positive result. It's one thing to admit something was sacrificed and it's regrettable, and another thing to ignore/treat the mistakes as acceptable simply because there's a success to speak of in the end.
  10. Corona

    Corona Registered Member

    In general I lean fairly heavily towards consequentialism, or the end justifies the means, but only so long as the end is justified in itself. Certain acts I believe are so inherently wrong that nothing can justify it. However, strictly duty based ethics such as Kant's are, I believe, naive.

    I look at this like a line segment, one end being duty based (deontological) and the other end being consequentialist. (Utilitatarianism is probably the most famous consequentialist theory).

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