Published by the Center for the Study of The Great Ideas (founded in 1990 by Mortimer J. Adler and Max Weismann)
In association with the The Adler-Aquinas Institute and Aquinas School of Leadership
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Monday, August 2, 2010

Does the end ever justify the means?

5 comments:

  1. Shouldn't the ends justify the means - that is, as a rule or for the most part? All moral action is for the sake of some end, and the means are the choices and actions employed to attain this end. Since the ultimate end is the happiness of the individual or the group, then the end should justify the means insofar as the means chosen to attain this end are chosen with reference to the true good for man.

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  2. Scott,

    If you ask people, if they think the end justifies the means, what do you think they would answer? (try it).

    You say, "All moral action is for the sake of some end . . .", do you see much moral action in the world around you?

    Max

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  3. I don't think the end justify the means. Any end, as it is properly understood on the grounds of its objective and moral caliber, dictates and/or restricts the means.

    In sports like basketball and hockey, for example, where the objective is to earn the most points before the allotted time runs out, players are penalized when their means of scoring are outside the established rules and guidelines.

    In other words, one cannot win in these types of sports in any way he or she chooses, no matter how effective the option is.

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  4. POST by Jay Gold:

    Whenever means are justified, they're justified in relation to a certain end. When I drive down Midvale Blvd. this morning, it will be because that's the most direct way for me to get to work. The means (driving down Midvale Blvd.) would not be justified were it not for the end (getting to work).

    That being said, there are means that would lead to a certain end but would not be justified because the means are objectionable in and of themselves. Say my child needs an operation and I don't have the money. Obtaining the money for the operation is a good end, but it would not justify my kidnapping your child and torturing her until you gave me the money.

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  5. >If you ask people, if they think the end justifies the means, what do you think they would answer? (try it).

    I suppose many would assume the ends do not justify the means because this observation is usually applied to situations which involve failure to recognize the "inalienable" rights of citizens or the dignity of persons. Examples include the detention of Japanese-Americans during WWII for the sake of national security; or the use - or threat of use - of torture, again means sometimes justified for the end of national security.

    >You say, "All moral action is for the sake of some end . . .", do you see much moral action in the world around you?

    Yes. Such action is not often virtuous, but it is certainly moral.

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