As Catholics we believe that the ends do not justify the means. However sometimes I have trouble believing that. First of all, it seems there is no way to really justify that belief other than just asserting it. Also it seems there are some examples in which our moral intuitions seem to tell us that the ends do justify the means- what about, for instance, killing Hitler as a youth knowing that if you don’t he will kill everyone he does when he comes to power in Germany? The Church teaches us that since you would be directly killing Hitler it would be wrong no matter to what end you did so, but our moral intuitions seem to rebel against that- wouldn’t the fact that by directly killing Hitler you are saving over 13 million people justify killing Hitler?
No. Set in concrete. A hard teaching, certainly, but we must remember that, in all things, God sees all while we do not.
No the ends do not justify the means.
One, know one could know what Hitler would become. Therefore, until he acted in such a manner as to orchestrate the massive genocide he did accomplish we would have no reason to kill him at all. And we do need to remember that he did not accomplish what he did alone. Millions listened to him or he would have failed without even killing one person.
Now, once he and his armies started doing what they did, we would be called to act in defense of the innocent and even ourselves. And this is where we start dealing with what constitutes a “just war” or acts of self defense. The Catechism does allow for one to kill another IF there is no other way to protect society or themselves from such a person. But we are not called to kill at random or for the fun of it, or just because we feel like it…etc. It is a last resort.
Thus I don’t think fighting someone like Hitler, Stalin or the next fool like them, is really an example of “the means justifying the ends.” I could be wrong, but for me these type of situations just don’t fall into that category as I understand it. These are radical and extreme situations that stand outside of reason almost, and we certainly must have God’s help and intercession in such cases.
One could argue that Christians in general could have ignored the insanity of Hitler, but certainly millions more would have died. But could it have been possible that through such a horror Hitler and his followers would have simply ran out of steam on their own? With all the victims left to bury they would have had time for nothing else.
My own choice would have been to fight with all my strength, in anyway possible. I don’t know where that places me in God’s eyes, but I would say my conscience would be clear if I was fighting against such an evil danger as this man proved to be. I have no desire to harm anyone, but I can’t sit by and watch others be harmed either.
This is true. No one could know the full extent of his evil at the time he was elected.
Yet plenty of people were very wary of him. This is why the majority of Catholics did not vote for him, yet a majority of Protestants did. In 1932 Chesterton said the stupidest thing done anywhere that year was the German election of Hitler. Indeed, the Church arranged a special concordat with Hitler because the Churchmen feared that he meant to destroy the Catholic Church, a policy that he began to pursue as soon as he signed the Concordat.
Where the ends does not justify the means applied is exactly what Hitler did to the Jews.
He wanted to rid Germany of them, and the ones he couldn’t scare out of the country he slaughtered.
Thought experiments aren’t always meant to be something that could happen. The point is, we can conceive of a situation in which we know directly killing someone could save millions of people, if we were to know that that person would end up killing all those people if they stayed alive. And I can’t see how to refute it- the answers I’ve gotten have not helped, all I have gotten are assertions.
From the CCC:
1759 “An evil action cannot be justified by reference to a good intention” (cf. St. Thomas Aquinas, Dec. praec. 6). The end does not justify the means.
Then why bother with thought experiments?
One of the reasons I have never much liked science fiction.
How does this square with the just war theory?
How about a more realistic example? Little white lies, which are ,of course, still lies…
As mentioned in the above, I’d do it again.
I don’t see that anyone answered me after my last post…
(hope the above works, by the way… )
I just found this article in CA about the Just War doctrine. It’s well worth reading, but can be summed up with this quote “In broad terms, Christians must not love violence. They must promote peace whenever possible and be slow to resort to the use of arms. But they must not be afraid to do so when it is called for. Evil must not be allowed to remain unchecked.”
The Catholic Just War doctrine is found in paragraph 2309 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It says:
The strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force require rigorous consideration. The gravity of such a decision makes it subject to rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy. At one and the same time:
*]the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;
*]all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;
*]there must be serious prospects of success;
*]the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.
These are the traditional elements enumerated in what is called the “just war” doctrine. The evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good.
Along the same lines, the church also recognizes that there are times when a person must protect themselves or their family, even if it results in the death of an evildoer…
It’s not a matter of the end justifying the means, which presumes that anything is permissible if the end result is a moral good. The church says we must do everything in our power not to resort to violent means unless there is no other option.
It is not evil to stop evil.
Were Hiroshima and Nagasaki a just exercise of a just war?
Suppose there is a train and a mile down the track there are 100 innocent people tied to the track. You can divert the train to another track where there are only 10 people tied to the track. Would you divert the train?
Suppose you are hiding Jews in your attic, in Nazi Germany. The ss knocks on the door and asks if there are Jews in your house. If you say nothing the ss will know that there are Jews in your house. Do you lie to save innocent lives?
Suppose you are in a cave and the water is rising. Suppose that there are also 100 people standing next to you. If you stay there you and the hundred will die. There is only one way out, a hole at the top of the cave. Unfortunately, there is a person stuck there, making it impossible for anyone to escape. That person will be safe because his head is on the outside of the cave. You have a stick of dynomite (the only way to remove him). Do you kill one person to save 101?
I think double effect means it’s okay to divert the train tracks or lie about the Jews, but I’m struggling with the third example.
When confronted with two inevitable evils, always choose the lesser evil.
You have still chosen an evil, but you will be more condemned for choosing the greater evil.
This doesn’t really address the OP. The question concerned good consequences, not good intentions. Indeed, the question is basically asking whether it even makes sense to call an action evil if it has overwhelmingly positive consequences.
Anyway, I concur with the OP’s sentiment that the assignment of moral value without reference to consequences feels arbitrary. The truth is that most of our sense of right and wrong is derived from what “works” in a society. For example, violence doesn’t work; if people can’t feel safe around one another, they can’t cooperate, and we can’t reap the rewards of cooperation. Thus violence is discouraged.
Contrast this with a less intuitive moral, such as “masturbating is wrong”. Why is it less intuitive? Why does it feel more arbitrary?