the end doesn't justify the means?

when does this apply?

i’ve heard it used a lot when talking about aborting a baby to save the mother’s life.

what about other situations?

stealing ot feed a starving family for example.

or lying to keep jews from getting killed from the nazis

or stealing a murderer’s weapon to prevent im from killing someone.

i know some f these situations are permissible, i would like ot knwo why. they are using sin to prevent something bad. what’s the difference?

Abortion is never OK, even to save a mother’s life. The unborn child’s welfare and life must not be sacrificed for this reason.

Stealing is still stealing. However, I think there might be less culpability since desperation may remove some aspect of free will. There would still need to be a confession and of course consideration of other avenues to help a family. But here in the USA I would not think stealing would be a frequent response to this need. There is just too much help out there. I would certainly give up my own food first, even if I had to go hungry.

I don’t know just how culpable lying under the circumstances would make someone. I would certainly not have a personal problem with lying to save an innocent person’s life. It would be a worse sin to allow, as in this case, a Jewish person to be captured and murdered, than to lie and save their life.


The end does not make just an evil means.

Such can simply -be not stealing.

Due to the universal destination of goods (see Catechism under that commandment.

The only one I can give an answer on is the second. Way back when I was in Catholic school, a priest told us it would be o.k. to steal bread to feed a starving family. :shrug:

The phrasing of your post title is incorrect.

To say “the end doesn’t justify the means” would rule out anything we do for the sake of any end because a good end would never, on its own, justify any means. Clearly, this is false because ends do justify means. The end of keeping my family fed does justify my working hard to earn money to do so. Means are justified precisely by the ends towards which they are undertaken.

The actual principle is that “a good end does not, on its own, justify any means whatsoever,” in particular, evil means. In other words, do not actively undertake evil that good may come about. This is different, in principle, from the post title because goods ends do justify many means, in fact, are precisely why we do undertake those means in the first place.

U might want to read what it says here in the Catechism about the THE MORALITY OF HUMAN ACTS.

I think it’s noteworthy to point out that it says that lying is “intrinsically disordered”. So I’m assuming it’s always a sin. :shrug: But I’d imagine a person would be more or less culpable depending on the circumstances around it.

To address your examples

The Church’s position is that natural justice entails the right of all individuals to have sufficient food to live. If someone has more than enough food while others are starving, justice would require a redistribution of food to those who are starving. This means someone who takes food to feed a starving family is acting justly and not stealing because the extra food does not “belong” to the one who has more than sufficient for his needs but is unjustly in his/her possession.

This is a simple matter of moral priority. The right to life of one person is more valuable than the right to truth of another. We are not morally justified in equating the two or weighing the right of the Nazi to the truth higher than the right of a Jewish person to their life.

This is also positively abetting evil - the murder of the Jewish person which we have no obligation to do, in fact an obligation to resist.

Same issue. It is protecting the life of an innocent person. We have no reason to justify the right of someone to property over the right of another person to their very life. It is a “no brainer,” morally speaking.

I think my explanations answer this.

I agree with that, and I think you would be hard pressed to find anyone who does not agree with it!

A good article by David Oderberg on the Doctrine of Double Effect which covers the idea of intended ends. A tad technical, but worth the work.

I believe it is not then called stealing.


Neither should we believe that the Church teaches we may choose the lesser of two evils.

But it does teach we may not do evil to achieve good.

Actually, I am not sure that choosing the lesser of two evils is against Church teaching. The doctrine of double effect would seem to imply that IF the only two viable choices left to you are both evil, you would have a moral duty to choose the lesser evil.

So, for example, a surgeon who removes a cancer patient’s leg chooses the lesser of the two evils by removing the leg (an evil) to save the life of the patient (a greater evil.) The intention of the doctor is not to remove the leg to positively do harm to the patient, but as an unintended consequence of removing the cancer in the only way possible to keep the patient alive. So we can choose the lesser of two evils as long as the evil is not intended but is the only means available to prevent the greater evil.

I would suggest you read the Oderberg article I cited.

Intrinsic evil is never justified.

The problem with your “stealing” examples is that stealing is “taking that to which you have no right.” The right to property is not absolute–property is held in trust for the common good. So in extreme instances, like the ones you mention, the person who “owns” the object has lost all moral right to it, so taking it is not stealing.

Some Catholic ethicists argue that this is the case with lying as well: that lying is telling a falsehood to a person who has a right to hear the truth. So if a tyrannical government is committing genocide and sends its minions to ask you to hand over innocent people, telling them falsehood is not “lying” in a moral sense. (Similarly, killing those minions in defense of innocent people would not, in the majority Catholic opinion, be murder.)

Others, however, believe that speaking falsehood is always evil, no matter the circumstances.


It most definitely is Peter.

I believe you will find no Magisterial document or even the CCC ever condoning the popular misconception that one may at times “choose the lesser of two evils.”

In any case the simple point I was making is that most cases can be resolved by standard principles of material cooperation in evil or by accurately determining exactly what it really is that we “choose” or “intend”.

The doctrine of double effect would seem to imply that IF the only two viable choices left to you are both evil, you would have a moral duty to choose the lesser evil.

People tend to forget there is usually a third choice as well - allowing others to do evil unto oneself. In rare cases that choice is required of Christians. Those who fail in these cases usually do so without full culpability (if any). But it is still an objective wrong if they do fail.

So it is NOT permissible for a surgeon to remove a leg to stop cancer, then?

You would have to show that either removing someone’s leg is not evil or somehow the surgeon ought not act to remove the leg even if it means saving the life of the cancer patient.

You can’t just claim it is never permissible to choose a lesser evil because Catholic doctrine forbids it. Provide some evidence of your position.

I think you are mistaken in your view.

If the choice is between two evils, which are the only two viable options, the imperative is to choose the lesser evil.

Basically, that is the doctrine of double effect which is pretty much settled in Catholic moral teaching.

You think removal of a leg is always an intrinsically evil act of mutilation :shrug:.

I don’t - what did I say to make you think I would?

You may not be clear on the distinction between a moral act and the object of a moral act.

There’s a difference between “an evil” (i.e., something that is undesirable, like Peter’s example of cutting off a leg) and “evil” (something that is intrinsically contrary to the moral law). In the former sense, it is often necessary to choose the “lesser of two evils.” In the latter, it isn’t.


So removing a leg is not “an intrinsically evil act of mutilation?” Then neither is killing someone by putting a bullet in them? It is merely an act of mutilation that is not intrinsically evil so therefore it could be allowed in self-defense. Is that your point? Anything - like killing someone in self-defense - is not intrinsically evil, just an act of mutilation.

This seems a rather bizarre notion. Name something, then, that is intrinsically evil according to you. We’ll see if we can make it acceptable as an act of mutilation that is not intrinsically evil. I confess, I cannot make a distinction other than to dismiss everything, formerly called evil, as merely a mutilation of the natural order and, therefore, not intrinsically evil.

Even torturing and carving up a human being is merely mutilation in this sense. Even the person doing the carving might claim the evil that exists in his soul is merely a mutilation of the form of his body and, therefore, not intrinsically evil.

I think this notion of yours leads to rather odd conclusions.

Evil, by definition, at least in the Catholic readings I have done is a “perversion” of the good - the natural form of created things that naturally are ordered towards their teleological end or purpose for which they were created. When “mutilation” hampers the achievement of that end, it is considered an evil. When the mutilation positively stops achievement of the end good it is an intrinsic evil.

I am open to learning new things, so please do explain what “intrinsic evil” is, what are some examples of it and why mere mutilations are not intrinsically evil. I simply don’t get your concept of evil and how it can make a viable distinction between “evil” and “intrinsic evil” with anything like a reasoned argument.

I do understand, for example, that the surgeon does not intend the evil of removing the leg but must accept it as an unwanted effect of saving the life of the patient, but merely to claim that losing a leg is not an intrinsic evil because it was not the intended end is merely to put another word on the distinction between evil intended and evil permitted, which I suspect is what you mean by intrinsic, i.e., intended, which isn’t the position of ethical philosophers as far as I can tell.

Name something that is “intrinsically contrary to the moral law,” then so we can see if it might not be worked into a situation where it could be the lesser of two evils. I am not sure your distinction is sufficent to exhonerate the difference in the case of “intrinsic evil,” but I am open to being convinced.

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