Do Ends Justify the Means? 

Source: Liberty Blitzkrieg blog, by Mike Krieger 

I think the U.S. citizenry is being afflicted by a sort of mass insanity at the moment. There are no good outcomes if this continues. As a result, I feel compelled to provide a voice for those of us lost in the political wilderness. We must persevere and not be manipulated into the obvious and nefarious divide and conquer tactics being aggressively unleashed across the societal spectrum. If we lose our grounding and our fortitude, who will be left to speak for those of us who simply don’t fit into any of the currently ascendant political ideologies?

– From February’s post: Lost in the Political Wilderness

Given our increasingly hysterical, polarized and downright rabid political environment, I think it’s important for those of us who see ourselves as relatively conscious individuals to reflect upon our principles and how they play a role in our everyday lives. As such, today’s piece will examine the concept of whether “the ends justify the means” when it comes to achieving ones objectives, political or otherwise. It’s an extraordinarily important philosophical exercise to undertake, particularly since the turbulent period we inhabit is likely to get far more insane and divisive before it gets better.

I think many people will quickly answer the question “do the ends justify the means” without putting enough thought into it. The question is meant to be considered when it comes to premeditated voluntary actions of questionable ethics taken with a defined objective in mind. It has nothing to do with matters of self-defense, or anything in that category. For example, if someone is coming at your family with an intent to inflict harm, the ethical decision might be to harm the aggressor to protect your family despite the fact that harming another person in itself is an immoral act. Pretty much everyone can agree with this, so it doesn’t add anything to the argument of whether the ends justify the means.

That case is obvious. What about if you’re walking down the street and you see someone come from behind an old lady, hit her on the head and then struggle with her on the ground in an attempt to take her purse. You aren’t being directly attacked, so should you intervene with violence if necessary against the perpetrator to help an innocent bystander? Again, I think the right and ethical decision here is to step in to try to help the victim if possible.

In both these cases the negative “means” of violence you might be required to use against violent aggressors do indeed justify the ends — in the first instance the protection of your family, and in the second a vulnerable old lady. Given these examples, one might be led to believe that the ends can often justify the means, but I would argue that this only holds true in extreme examples such as the ones described above, and that for a principled person, the ends almost never justify the means.

When people seriously consider whether the ends of a particular action justify the means, it’s almost never in relation to scenarios like the ones described above for two reasons. First, those are extremely rare situations that many people (in the developed world at least) will only experience a few of times in the course of a lifetime, if that. On the other hand, many of us face constant but often overlooked ethical dilemmas on a daily or weekly basis. We all face situations where we are confronted with the choice to do something we know is wrong, but perhaps do it anyway either for instant gratification or in the pursuit of a larger goal. This post is focused on the latter.

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