• Pfhorrest
    2k
    So you’re saying “don’t use that ‘logic’ stuff on me!”? I’ll take that as conceding the argument then.

    :up: :victory:
  • ovdtogt
    667
    ]What if those that were "sacrificed" were against creating the Utopia as imagined by Stalin, Mao, Hitler, etc.?[/quote]
    Well, it would have not been so bad if all these millions slaughtered had brought about a Utopia. Where is this Utopia?
  • Harry Hindu
    3.1k
    Your point about my post is true, however, the point I was making was just that situations need future context, as I assumed but did not write that past context is readily available, nor did I think very much of it. Thank you for pointing that out. ( I also assumed I was not a murder or rapist, which I am in fact not either of those)Lawrence of Arabia
    Read the rest of my post. Its not just about future and past contexts. It is about subjective moral contexts that might disagree about what is good and what is bad. If what is good or bad is subjective, then what does it mean to say there are good or bad means and ends?
  • Pantagruel
    801
    The 'ends' are all the consequences to all people over both the short term and the long term as a result of the action taken.A Seagull

    I think "ends" most properly does refer to "objectives", while "results" might better characterize the net consequences. The goal being that ends and results should be equal. Realistically, there usually are unintended consequences/results.
  • Spirit12
    26
    Realistically, there usually are unintended consequences/results.Pantagruel

    What function does blame achieve when it come to result or consequence?
  • TheMadFool
    5.8k
    The ends justify the means.Lawrence of Arabia
    is said only because, sometimes, we have to do what is clearly bad in other situations but necessary to achieve what is clearly good in another situation. I think the trolley problem gets to the heart of this issue but with no clear answer except a vague understanding on our intuitions.

    Personally I endorse this view fully but reluctantly so. Fully because it isn't too hard for the trolley problem to become a reality. Reluctantly because I feel there's a fundamental problem with such scenarios which is brought into relief by the fact that situations where one says "the ends justify the means" are those where there is no alternative but to do something bad to achieve the good. What I mean is that such situations are crisis events where choices collapse to one single morally questionable and yet necessary action and that too for the good.

    In "normal" conditions there are many choices and at least one among them will satisfy the condition that both the means and the ends are good.
  • Spirit12
    26
    Depends on how many different means can have same ends. These violent delights have violent ends.
  • Pantagruel
    801
    What function does blame achieve when it come to result or consequence?Spirit12

    Not exactly sure what you mean by function?
  • Spirit12
    26
    Function to mean what purpose does it contribute to and what are the consequences of blame itself?
  • Pantagruel
    801
    Blame is the "feedback" that ensues from those undesired/unintended consequences, and it does reflect responsibility for those consequences. We assume responsibility in a positive sense for the desired outcomes we produce, as "reward"; blame is the downside of that I think.
  • Spirit12
    26
    @Pantagruel I think punishment is the downside of reward and praise is the upside of blame

    As for responsibility how much accounting is there for individual or contributive control of consequences?
  • Pantagruel
    801
    As for responsibility how much accounting is there for individual or contributive control of consequences?Spirit12

    Do you mean are you responsible for things you cause that are beyond your control? Personally, I think if you do something, then you should make every effort to fully understand the scope of impact. If you act under the assumption of full responsibility, presumably you would minimize unintended effects.
  • Jim Grossmann
    10
    Both means and the characteristics of the agent tend to condition the ends.

    one: The availability of the means varies with circumstance. A person whose life might be saved outside a war zone might have to die under combat conditions. Availability of means may also reflect ideological restrictions in the agent's society. Witness the Catholic doctrine on artificial birth control. In a Catholic country, you might find no condoms in the drug store--just ovulation calendars.

    Hence the old proverb: "If a hammer is the only tool you've got, pretty soon every problem starts looking like a nail."

    two: The tendencies of the agent in this scenario condition the means, which in turn condition the ends. Everybody says they want law and order, but a militaristic dictatorship uses slightly different means to achieve that goal than a moderate representative government. The results tend to contrast, as anyone who has fled a fascist or communist dictatorship knows. Similarly, an aggressive parent will use different means to get compliance from his or her children than a more empathic parent--or a more negligent one.
  • Jackson Hanford
    3
    If hypothetically, your goal was to find the cure for cancer, but when you were talking to the researchers they wouldn't give you the information, so you threatened them with a gun, the means by which you obtained the cure are bad, but the end-product of that bad action is good. I believe that in ethics one action cannot cancel out another, that they are two different actions individually. If the means were bad but the end was good, the end does not justify the means, but the means take away some of the sincerity of the end.
  • Noah Te Stroete
    2.6k
    Not all ends justify any means. Some ends justify certain means. No end is so noble as to justify any means possible.

    Rich privilege, power, and comfort seems to justify any means possible according to the rich, however.
  • ZhouBoTong
    837
    Not all ends justify any means. Some ends justify certain means. No end is so noble as to justify any means possible.Noah Te Stroete

    This is pretty much exactly how I have always felt on this. It has always seemed obvious to me, and yet it is a strangely uncommon opinion. Glad to hear it from another human.
  • Noah Te Stroete
    2.6k


    Yeah. Unfortunately many of the world leaders don’t see it that way.
  • creativesoul
    8.1k
    -Actions are considered good or evil (right or wrong) based on their goal which is being accomplished by the consequences of that particular action.
    -If the goal being accomplished is good then something is considered right.
    - As I stated earlier, we need context to judge an action.
    -That context is a goal, which shows why someone did something.
    -Therefore, we measure actions based on the goal being accomplished.
    -The ends justify the means.
    Lawrence of Arabia

    With practical matters that have little or no relevance to moral ones, sure. If one wants to do X, and doing X requires doing A, B, and C, then X 'justifies' doing A, B, and C.


    There are problems with the argument presented in the OP.

    Why someone did something is personal motive. "Why" is a question about one's own reasoning, psychology, and/or motivation. That said, it takes learning the context to determine one's motive. The extenuating circumstances, should there be any, are relevant to the goal, but they are not equivalent to it. Context is not equivalent to the goal. So, there's something amiss with saying otherwise.

    The context in which a goal(the ends) was imagined is not the goal. The context in which the plan for reaching, meeting, achieving, obtaining, and/or otherwise satisfying that goal is not the goal.


    Generally speaking...

    If the ends justify the means, and the goal can be anything whatsoever at all, then to hell with what's good, what's right, what's best, what's fair, what's considerate of others, what's moral, etc.

    It's also commonly used ex post facto to gloss over previously clear wrongdoings by diverting attention to some purportedly 'net positive' consequence of the wrongdoing.
  • Athena
    735
    Isn't the end the cause of the next thing? We could passively kill the homeless just by denying them the right to meet their human needs, or more overtly kill all the Jews, and lynch the Blacks to resolve the immediate problem, but that is not where things stop is it?
  • 180 Proof
    1.1k
    :up:

    From a prior discussion:

    I don't accept "ends justify means" arguments in ethics. Means and ends must be adjusted to one another so that the latter is not undermined or invalidated by the former while the former is calibrated to enact the latter. A version of reflective equilibrium.180 Proof
  • Congau
    171

    The reason the dictum “the ends justify the means” is usually dismissed, is that it would allow for an action that are unequivocally bad in itself if only it produces an ultimately good result. For example, killing a million people to produce Utopia. Jumping off a cliff is not bad in itself, like your example shows (you could be safely diving into water). Killing a million people is always bad, but jumping off a cliff is only sometimes bad.

    How about killing just one person to produce Utopia? That one killing is still bad, although one might argue that it’s worth it.

    What if it was only a matter of hurting your toe to reach Utopia? Hurting your toe is still always bad in itself (not like the jumping off a cliff example), but few people would have a problem with it.
    Obviously, the ends justify some (bad) means.

    Is there any end in the world that would justify any means however horrible? A yes to that question would make you an extreme supporter of the phrase.

    The utilitarian standpoint is that an end would justify some means that may be immoral considered in itself. It’s ok to lie to save a human life, for example.

    The deontological standpoint denies that: It’s never ok to lie even if it saves a human life.
  • 180 Proof
    1.1k
    Is there any end in the world that would justify any means however horrible?Congau
    No. Not without undermining its end (i.e. 'destroy the X to save the X' (Ben Tre 1968), 'just following orders' (Nuremberg 1945-46) ... etc).
  • Congau
    171
    Is there any end in the world that would justify any means however horrible?
    — Congau
    No. Not without undermining its end (i.e. 'destroy the X to save the X'
    180 Proof
    Well, that would be merely a practical consideration. Obviously, destroying your goal in the quest for that goal would be a rather imprudent strategy regardless of its moral content.

    The question was rather if there is an end that is so great that if you could actually achieve it, it would justify any horrible action. Say you could reach Utopia, your perfect society, by cutting off ten million heads. Let’s assume for the sake of argument that Utopia would be reached for sure if only you made that sacrifice. (In reality, of course Utopia could never be reached but in this thought experiment a successful outcome is a hundred percent certain.) Ten million killed and a hundred million get to live in a perfect society: Would it be worth it? Would it be moral? It still sounds horrible, doesn’t it?

    Now instead of ten million, make it just one single person. To reach Utopia only one insignificant human being would have to be sacrificed. Wouldn’t it then be quite unethical not to kill that person? What right does he have to steal the happiness of a hundred million?

    But then, what’s the difference between one and ten million? If in principle it’s ethically acceptable to kill one person, why not ten million?
  • 180 Proof
    1.1k
    The link in my previous post (scroll down past "amoral egotism") is to an old thread where we discuss justifying "an end so great". Asked and answered. What say you?
  • ZhouBoTong
    837
    I feel like "the ends justify the means" is more colloquial than much of this discussion implies. I can agree with those that are saying "an end can never justify a mean"...of course they are right, in what way would an end JUSTIFY a mean?? It barely even makes sense as a statement from that perspective.

    However, when I hear "the end justify the means", I think what is actually being said (or intended) is typically something along the lines of "the means do not invalidate the end". From this perspective, is there still a problem?

    @180 Proof As the most recent defender, and a consistent strong proponent of "ends never justify means", what do you think? If my post is not clear enough, let me know and I can try giving examples.

    @Noah Te Stroete As someone whose view I agreed with (and still do), I just wanted to make sure you do not disagree with my concessions (I like to think my overall point is still 100% in agreement with what you said earlier in the thread).
  • Noah Te Stroete
    2.6k
    If I understand you correctly, then I agree with you.

    My position can be illustrated with an example. Suppose a nation was deeply divided at the point or almost to the point of a civil war. Suppose the end goal is to unify the country, a very good goal. Then suppose the ruler of this country decided the quickest and easiest way to unify the country was to vilify a minority group, convincing the populace that ridding the country of this minority would solve nearly all of their problems. The country unified and exterminates the vilified minority. Let’s even say that afterwards there were decades of peace.

    Not even then do I agree that the ends justifies the means.

    However, some ends can be brought about by many different means, provided the means aren’t exactly evil.
  • ZhouBoTong
    837
    My position can be illustrated with an example. Suppose a nation was deeply divided at the point or almost to the point of a civil war. Suppose the end goal is to unify the country, a very good goal. Then suppose the ruler of this country decided the quickest and easiest way to unify the country was to vilify a minority group, convincing the populace that ridding the country of this minority would solve nearly all of their problems. The country unified and exterminates the vilified minority. Let’s even say that afterwards there were decades of peace.

    Not even then do I agree that the ends justifies the means.
    Noah Te Stroete

    Well I think your example shows we are in agreement. I would say that is a good example where the means DO invalidate the ends. However, if I just have to kill one person for that lasting peace, PERHAPS the ends are worth it? And if that one person is me, then problem solved, the most morally admirable behavior would be to kill myself (whether I can live up to these lofty standards is another question).

    However, some ends can be brought about by many different means, provided the means aren’t exactly evil.Noah Te Stroete

    Agreed. I MIGHT (would need details of each situation) even accept a little bit of "evil" if it brings about a lot of good.
  • Noah Te Stroete
    2.6k


    I suppose there is all at least a little evil in working towards any end, whether intended or unintended. Also, if killing myself brought about world peace, then I would line up in front of the firing squad tomorrow. I’m usually not all that thrilled about life most days anyway, but in reality I fail to see how this would bring about world peace. My example about exterminating a minority, unfortunately, is all too common a situation in the history of humanity. Except, of course, peace never followed and the intended ends were never realized. Much like almost anything in the politics of a nation. the ends are almost never realized.
  • ZhouBoTong
    837
    Also, if killing myself brought about world peace, then I would line up in front of the firing squad tomorrow.Noah Te Stroete

    Haha, my thoughts exactly (although whether I would go through with it is still unknown - I like to think I would).

    in reality I fail to see how this would bring about world peace.Noah Te Stroete

    Yes, probably not a very realistic scenario...just using extremes to simplify the morality.

    My example about exterminating a minority, unfortunately, is all too common a situation in the history of humanity. Except, of course, peace never followed and the intended ends were never realized. Much like almost anything in the politics of a nation. the ends are almost never realized.Noah Te Stroete

    And this fact (that ends are rarely realized) just further adds to our analysis of which means are acceptable - we had better lean toward not using "evil" means as we will likely fail to reach our desired end anyway.
bold
italic
underline
strike
code
quote
ulist
image
url
mention
reveal
youtube
tweet
Add a Comment

Welcome to The Philosophy Forum!

Get involved in philosophical discussions about knowledge, truth, language, consciousness, science, politics, religion, logic and mathematics, art, history, and lots more. No ads, no clutter, and very little agreement — just fascinating conversations.