The ends do not justify the means but do the means justify the ends?


#1

You know everyone, I have always heard the saying “The ends do not justify the means.” and I agree with that. But I was just wondering about the reverse which is “The means justify the ends.” To be honest, I know this probably sounds like an incredibly stupid question but I have been thinking about this for a few minutes and I just flat out cannot figure it out. Can someone please enlighten me on this?


#2

No. Both means and ends must be morally permissible.


#3

Interesting question. I like reversing things too in order to just see what comes up.

I think that devoutchristian’s answer is quite the best…but just for our edification I thought i’s “unpack” it a bit.

“The ends do not justify the means”. This means that the desire to achieve some good cannot be used as justification for doing something bad.

“The means do not justify the ends”. I don’t think that this sentence really works too well. maybe I’m just not seeing something…
The means (actions taken) will portend some end (consequence). So maybe if we restate it as… “The actions taken do not justify the consequences”…Is this more clear?
hhmmmmm
OK…If we act in a morally correct way can the consequences be morally not good?
Certainly…
However, our acting in a moral way would not be with the intent of producing an immoral outcome…so the immoral consequence would be unintended.
Are we culpable for an unintended immoral consequence if we acted in a “good” way?
No…

So - Going something good will not guarantee the “good” of the outcome…

I probably just confused it more…:shrug:

Peace
James


#4

The end is actually the only thing that ever can justify the means. Without any end, the means wouldn't even exist as means in the first place. The popular saying in question really just means that good ends cannot justify evil means.


#5

Thanks, James, for trying to unpack it. I tried to do so in my head and got confused as well. :p :o

Perhaps if we try to come up with examples to illuustrate each phrasing:

The ends do not justify the means: We could not steal an iPod from the electronics store (immoral act/means) in order to give our Mom a birthday gift (good end).

The means do not justify the end: We could not give away our entire life savings to the poor (moral act/means) if it would result in us not being able to take care of our family (bad end).

That's me taking a shot at it anyway. :o

I think devoutchristian's concise answer is the best, though. Both have to be moral.


#6

[quote="Joe_5859, post:5, topic:325471"]
Thanks, James, for trying to unpack it. I tried to do so in my head and got confused as well. :p :o

Perhaps if we try to come up with examples to illuustrate each phrasing:

The ends do not justify the means: We could not steal an iPod from the electronics store (immoral act/means) in order to give our Mom a birthday gift (good end).

The means do not justify the end: We could not give away our entire life savings to the poor (moral act/means) if it would result in us not being able to take care of our family (bad end).

That's me taking a shot at it anyway. :o

I think devoutchristian's concise answer is the best, though. Both have to be moral.

[/quote]

I think it may be better to say that the means must be moral, and the ends, (to the best of our predictive ability, if we want to talk about go that route,) must be at least acceptably bad.

I say this because 1) we can't always be certain what the ends will be, and 2) there may be no good ends available to us. (Voting in an election with no good candidate comes to mind, or perhaps various ways of reacting to a hostage situation or a declaration of war.)

I'm tempted to claim that consideration of likely outcomes and aiming for the best should be considered part of the means, so then that a "good means" would mean that the action was permissible or good, and that a reasonable amount of time and effort was spent trying to get to the best ends. Then the ends are whatever actually happens, but whether that is bad or not, so long as you did good trying to achieve good, your actions were justified given the knowledge and reasoning ability you had.

But that might just be my tendency to mess with things acting up, and it does change it to a question of subjective instead of objective morality. (IE whether one acted admirably given known information and such rather than whether one made an objectively good choice.)


#7

[quote="Iron_Donkey, post:6, topic:325471"]
I think it may be better to say that the means must be moral, and the ends, (to the best of our predictive ability, if we want to talk about go that route,) must be at least acceptably bad.

I say this because 1) we can't always be certain what the ends will be, and 2) there may be no good ends available to us. (Voting in an election with no good candidate comes to mind, or perhaps various ways of reacting to a hostage situation or a declaration of war.)

I'm tempted to claim that consideration of likely outcomes and aiming for the best should be considered part of the means, so then that a "good means" would mean that the action was permissible or good, and that a reasonable amount of time and effort was spent trying to get to the best ends. Then the ends are whatever actually happens, but whether that is bad or not, so long as you did good trying to achieve good, your actions were justified given the knowledge and reasoning ability you had.

But that might just be my tendency to mess with things acting up, and it does change it to a question of subjective instead of objective morality. (IE whether one acted admirably given known information and such rather than whether one made an objectively good choice.)

[/quote]

Good point.


#8

I don’t think I’m trying to any anything new here. I’m just trying to restate things in a different way.

When talk about means and ends we usually imagine that the “End” is chosen first and then the “Means” are deliberately chosen with the objective of causing the “End”. However in common usage the phrase, “The end justifies the means,” is often applied to cases where the result was was intended and where it was not.

Morally speaking it doesn’t really matter because if the means were immoral perpetrator is guilty of them.

However now look at the opposite case:

We have to consider “The end”. There is a subtle difference between an objectively evil end and an immoral end. An objectively evil end would be something like the death of hundreds of people due to a tsunami. An immoral end would be something like the subjection of a nation to a God-hating dictator. It is impossible that there can be an evil outcome without a cause. We do not usually consider events such as acts of nature to be “means” but we cannot discount them.

For all means to an end be good but result in an evil end we would have to suppose that the end was objectively evil rather than immoral. The only way an end could be immoral would be if at least some of the means were immoral.


#9

the way you do something doesn't make something right.

if you do something well it doesn't make the result right.

if you do something poorly it doesn't make the result wrong.

if you massacre everyone well it doesn't make the massacre right.

if you massacre poorly it doesn't make the massacre wrong.


#10

[quote="SMHW, post:8, topic:325471"]
When talk about means and ends we usually imagine that the "End" is chosen first and then the "Means" are deliberately chosen with the objective of causing the "End". However in common usage the phrase, "The end justifies the means," is often applied to cases where the result was was intended and where it was not.

[/quote]

Yeah, it's always a good idea to distinguish the internal, potential (or "ideal") end from the external, actual (or "real") end. The former is the intention; the latter is just the outcome or end result. And as we all know, good intentions do not necessarily translate into good acts or ends.


#11

Well, I'm confused.... :o


#12

[quote="Holly3278, post:11, topic:325471"]
Well, I'm confused.... :o

[/quote]

your question made me feel, for a while, like my head might fall off. thankyou.

The ends do not justify the means but do the means justify the ends?

if the ends are a final state of moral good, like for example, you regain your kingdom from your enemies hands and relieve the suffering of your oppressed subjects.

if the means you propose to achieve this end are that you will drop 25 Atomic devices on your kingdom and get rid of all your enemies but also 60% of your subjects.

in the usual way the phrase goes most people would agree that in this case the ends do not justify the means and as a matter of principle the ends can never justify the means in any example no matter how innocuous. the means themselves must be moral and the end not considered in the question of their morality.

"...but do the means justify the ends?"

the way you do something doesn't make something right.

if you do something well it doesn't make the result right.

if you do something poorly it doesn't make the result wrong.

if the means you propose to achieve this end are that you will drop 25 Atomic devices on your kingdom and get rid of all your enemies but also 60% of your subjects.

does that justify the ends..

if the ends are a final state of moral good, like for example, you regain your kingdom from your enemies hands and relieve the suffering of your oppressed subjects.

does how you get it, [beg, borrow or steal], justify excuse] what you want.

if he how you get it is immoral, [beg, borrow or steal], it does not make [justify] what you want immoral or moral.

the 'what you want' is independent of the 'how you get it'.

your peaceful kingdom is what you want, and a peaceful kingdom in itself is moral.

but, dropping 25 atomic devices on your enemies to get your peaceful kingdom doesn't objectively make 'a peaceful kingdom' an immoral thing.

so, the means don't justify the ends. the means have no effect on the objective morality of the ends.

you might drop 25 atomic devices on your enemies, and succeed or you might try to tickle them into submission with a feather, and fail.

either way has no effect on the objective morality of 'a peaceful kingdom'.

maybe a simpler way of saying it would be that even a bad man might desire good things, but the bad mans 'badness' has no effect on the 'goodness' of the things he desires.

a good man might desire good things and his 'goodness' has no effect on the 'goodness' of the things he desires.

a good man might desire bad things and his goodness has no effect on the 'badness' of the things he desires.

:hmmm:

to recap, for my own benefit.

do the ends justify the means?
does some good desired justify the bad mans bad means of getting it. No.

do the means justify the ends?
does the bad mans bad means of getting it justify or have any effect on the something good he desires. Objectively, no.


#13

Choose good means to a good end.


#14

The problem with looking at either statement is that we are almost certainly looking at subsets of both means and ends. If you examine a complex event you really should not be matching a single factor with a single result when the factor is not a sufficient cause of that result.

For moral means to result in evil ends there must be other factors that we are ignoring. And there are probably good ends that we are ignoring too. For evil means to result in good ends there are likely good means that we are ignoring as well as evil ends that we are ignoring.

Now if we ignore means which are miraculous acts of God and means which are acts of nature it is possible that evil human means could result in a good end. Likewise it is possible that good human means could have a bad end. But in all probability evil is begetting evil and good is begetting good.

Unless a mean is a sufficient cause for an end it doesn’t really make logical, let alone moral, sense to say either can justify the other.


#15

Thank you everyone for answering your question. I’m not sure why I asked the question. I was just sitting here at my computer one morning thinking about that phrase and then all of a sudden I thought of the opposite of the phrase and so I wondered what you all thought of it.

So, if I understand things correctly then it is fine to desire an objectively good outcome but we may never choose evil means to gain that good outcome. Also, even if someone does choose evil means to gain a good outcome it does not make the good outcome any less good. However, a person who does evil means to obtain a good outcome has likely committed a grave sin in choosing the evil means to gain the good outcome. Am I understanding things right?


#16

If we mean well, then I think our ends are justified. If we mean ill then our ends are justified too. At least I think God judges us by what we really meant to do, not the result. The result is someways is happenstance. We don’t really know what will come of our good or bad intentions. Sometimes bad things will happen when we mean good things to happen, and vice versa. But I think intent is very important in God’s eyes.


#17

I would also note that neither good means nor good ends *NEED *to be justified.

Now there may be an argument as to whether or not something is truly good because it comes with an evil price.


#18

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