Ends/Means Confusion


I know that the end does not ever justify the means. I tend to get confused when applying it to actual scenarios, though. I understand that it is okay for someone to be given morphine while in the hospital. I would have thought that is not okay, assuming that pain reduction is the end, and getting high on morphine was the means. I guess another way to look at is pain reduction being the end and taking morphine the means. But, if that were true, could someone drink alcohol to the point of getting drunk if they were using it as a way to get to sleep and treat insomnia?


I think “the ends doesn’t justify the means” would apply to intrinsic evils. Taking a drug, such as morphine or alcohol, is not intrinsically evil. It depends on the intent of the user. Intense pain can increase the heart rate and blood pressure. Reducing pain and lowering those numbers might help a patient recovering from illness. Drinking a glass of wine with dinner is perfectly fine; drinking a case of beer to get drunk is not.

Maybe a little alcohol would be okay, say 2 drinks before bed, but drinking lots of alcohol doesn’t give a good sleep. Yes, the person will sleep a long time, but they usually won’t feel that great after waking up. Insomnia likely has a cause. If the cause is treated, the insomnia should go away.


I don’t know anyone who has had post-OP pain-killers who felt high on them. I’m sure it’s possible, but a good health-care professional will monitor the dosage very carefully.

Alcohol is a stimulant. It doesn’t treat insomnia. Passing out from drinking is not really sleeping.


That is correct.

OP, the act of taking morphine or drinking alcohol is an “amoral” act; it has no positive or negative moral value by itself. If a person abuses either of these things, it has a negative moral value, and if it has a good effect, a positive moral value.

The phrase, “the end does not justify the means” refers to the occasion in which one uses evil means to obtain a good end. This phrase basically says that an act must have good means, circumstances, AND end in order to be a good act; if any of the three are evil, the act itself is evil.


Well no, it’s a sedative.:shrug:


Using morphine is not necessarily a sin. It would be a sin if we used it to " get high. " But in the case of a serious injury or illness there is no question of " getting high, " for when someone is in terrific pain one will not " get high " when using morphine. But perhaps a better explanation is that taking morphine is not in itself one of those acts which is evil in itself and always to be avoided. It would only be evil if we continued using it after the situation of pain had been resolved. In other words, because of the danger of addiction, one is not free to take morphine or any other addictive drug in the normal course of our daily lives.

I had morphine once for a medical issue and all I remember is that I passed out and felt nothing. And it seemed that a second later I woke up. No harm done, issue over. On the othe hand my nephew had morphine to eleviate pain during an in patient operation procedure. He got no high and he still experienced extreme pain. Perhaps the doctor didn’t give him enough!

One may never engage in an act which is evil in itself to accomplish some good. We may never intentionally take an innocent life to achieve some perceived good. We may never engage in a fobidden sexual act to achieve a perceived good. We may never become intoxicated to achieve a perceived good - to get some sleep or to escape from the stressess of daily life. There are other ways to solve insomnia, we may take a sleeping pill.



Pete wonders : "I know that the end does not ever justify the means."

I have never heard that stated before. In fact, it doesn’t make any sense.
If you want to get to Heaven, you will hear within the Church that the means to get there is to go to Church *(along with other things),
The END : Heaven . . . . . . The MEANS : be a Christian, worship God

The correct aphorism is : The ends do not always justify the means (used to attain it).

In your example of the morphine for pain control, you are badly misinformed.
Most people who take long-term morphine do not get “High” on it at all.
And, one benefit of not getting High on it is, that person will usually not become addicted to morphine.

Alcohol too, can be used medicinally, or recreationally.


Taking prescription medications AS PRESCRIBED and under the care of a healthcare professional is fine. Abusing drugs or alcohol to the point of intoxication in order to sleep or dull emotional pain is problematic and, under many circumstances, is also sinful. If you suffer from insomnia or anxiety, consult a physician. Self-medicating is never a good idea even if it doesn’t (initially) rise the the level of sinful.


The ENDS do not justify the MEANS. This simply indicates that both the MEANS and the ENDS must be justified on their own.

Taking pain medicine is not wrong in and of itself. So because the MEANS is now neutral, it can be either bad or good based on the ENDS. That doesn’t mean that the MEANS don’t still need to be justified, just in this case, they were so now the ENDS determine whether or not the act should be taken.

Hope that helps!


I don’t think this is always the case.

Some means (which cannot be justified as an end in themselves) can be justified by an end. e.g. a censor viewing possibly pornographic material.


Two principles are involved here. One my never do something that is evil in itself ( i.e. abortion, contraception ), or which is so because of circumstances, or which is a near occasion of sin for the actor, to reach a good end. In your example, if the censor knows he will commit a serious sin by viewing such material, he may not view the material even though the end, catching a perpetrator, is good. Most people should not view possible pornography for any reason, since, for most people, it would be a near occasion of sin.



Well you have may have clouded the conversation with but I believe you have agreed?

(1) an act which is not evil intrinsically may, under very specific circumstances, be made good by reason of a good end.
(2) intrinsically evil acts can never be made good by a good end.
(3) watching “potentially pornographic material” is not intrinsically evil.

However, as L2 states, most of us would be culpably sinning by watching the above material because:
(a) it is not our civic duty to do so
(b) it would be a near occassion of sin to do so
© 99% of us would in fact know we would be sinning culpably anyhow.

I am sure this is obvious to most viewers but good to repeat just in case.
Christianity is surely far more than just avoiding intrinsically evil acts.


Your response is confusing. I stand by what I have said.



Come on L2,
when you say “One may never do something that is evil in itself because of circumstances” I think I know what you mean but, theologically its a complete contradiction hence confusing!
If something is intrinsically evil in itself, then by definition, no external circumstances need ever be considered to change its intrinsically evil nature yay or nay.

Which of the following statements did you find incorrect:
(1) an act which is not evil intrinsically may, under very specific circumstances, be made good by reason of a good end.
(2) intrinsically evil acts can never be made good by a good end.
(3) watching “potentially pornographic material” is not in itself intrinsically evil.


considering there are pill for insomnia i would say yes, and considering you might get a hangover, i would say it would not be smart also.
You know, the stuff about sin is lots of times the intention, there are some people here that say that watching porn is always sinful, yet think in an officer checking porn sites looking for pedophiles or another illegal stuff to catch the criminals, would you say that watching porn for him was sinful? maybe there are actons which might never be legal to do, but lots of others depend on what your end is.


Basically, this is a partial statement of the main principle of Catholic ethics.

Which is:

If any one of the three aspects of an action is sinful, the action itself is sinful.

The three aspects are means, intent (or end), and circumstance.

Basically, saying the ends does not justify the means is saying that if the means used (say murder) is wrong then it doesn’t matter how good the intention is, the action is still wrong.

Does that help make things clearer?


Just a slight tweak: its really “the object chosen” (ie the objective behaviour) rather than “means”.


“objective behaviour” vs “means used to attain the end” same thing really :shrug:


As one’s “chosen object” can itself be “the purpose (end in view)” then the concept is to be understood a being something more (and so slightly different) from simply “the means.”

As I say it is a fine tweak but an important one.
The relationship between these two sources of a moral act are related more as matter/form rather than means/end.

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