General Question

phoenyx's avatar

Do ends justify means?

Asked by phoenyx (7380points) May 31st, 2008

In general? Specific instances where you think they do or don’t?

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9 Answers

whatthefluther's avatar

In general, ends do not justify the means. Winning an Olympic gold medal is a great but only if done fairly without cheating. Getting a promotion is great but not if the cost is betraying coworkers.

jlm11f's avatar

If the means cause anyone any kind of harm (emotional/physical/material etc), then the end cannot justify the means.

El_Cadejo's avatar

It really depends on the situation for instance the ends justify means if you spend a lot of time training in some sport and then win. On the flip side cheat your way to victory ends dont justify the means.

wildflower's avatar

It very much depends on the scale and impact. On a small scale, like overriding a company policy to resolve a customer’s issue and get customer satisfaction, yes, it’s justified. On a larger scale – oh lets say…..a maniacal hunt for WMD on (at best) flimsy evidence….where you override various ethics policies, international treaties, conventions, etc…..not so much justified.

Harp's avatar

The problem with “the ends justify the means” is that the “ends” are often too narrowly interpreted. The “ends” are not simply the intended consequences; they include the entire constellation of consequences. foreseen and unforeseen.

I think specifically of how the US has managed the internment and interrogation of “War on Terror” suspects. The stated “ends” of the policies, incapacitating terrorists and uncovering their networks, are indisputably worthy. But the actual global consequences of those policies, the real ends, go far beyond that to include an undermining of our most cherished priciples of human rights and justice.

So the “ends” must be viewed realistically, not myopically, before deciding whether they justify the means. The problem is that we can rarely envision the full consequences of any action, since cause and effect ripples out through the world in unexpected ways. This is why we’ve come to rely on institutionalized codes of conduct, whether religion-based or legally-based, that proscribe actions that have been largely found to have nasty long term consequences. While we don’t know that doing these will always turn out badly, we’re probably better off assuming that it will.

marinelife's avatar

The ends never justify the means. If you have to look for justification in the first place that is an indication you are violating an established code of ethical, moral or legal conduct.

If the code itself is flawed, then you work to change it (legal) or move outside of it as a member (religion).

phoenyx's avatar

What about classical examples like dropping the bomb on Japan during World War II or conducting tests on animals that may result in reduced pain or suffering for humans?

marinelife's avatar

I personally do not believe that either of those is justified. I think they were the easy way out dressed up with crap talk about the greater good.

Harp's avatar

phoenyx, hard questions. We are occasionally confronted with situations where any action (even inaction) will result in great suffering. Where suffering of that magnitude is in the balance, I don’t think we should ever resort to formulaic answers based on general rules. If such matters ever come down to cold calculations (which the “greater number” principle can become), then we’re in danger of defaulting on our moral obligation. Some decisions should be excruciatingly difficult, and answered only by long and profound questioning down in our most elemental humanity. And…alas…we may still be wrong.

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