Do the Ends justify the Means?
Yes or no?
I voted yes. The example that popped into my head was "Would you kill 100 to save 1000?"
The means is you have to kill 100 people, which is bad, but the end is 1000 people are saved. So it is a greater benefit. (no going on about "Maybe the 100 people were better then the 1000." No. They were equal.)
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I voted no. My logic is the following. Let’s say I kill 1 person to save 10. What if the 10 people saved become killers and kill 100 people? How much into the future should you go to define the ends? There is no way to know if your action was good or bad in the long run (1 day, 10 days, 1 year, 1 century ?). Having this uncertainty, at least you know that the action you’re taking now is the moral/good one.
One different way of looking at it is that future is a projection, the present is all that matters and what you do in this moment is all you can be certain of. Why trade certainty for future probability?
Ah, your moral rule is to examine each situation within the context it is given, according to whatever variables are perceptible. You were against the application of normative laws to particular circumstances, and you believe that answering the question of means being justified by ends creates those laws- strict formulaic prisons to confine thinking entities.
Your previous post begins to make a great deal more sense. ;D
The part you don’t understand was about people making choices even though they may already have the means-ends deal ‘figured out’ in their own minds. It was a subtle hinting at the inevitability of hypocrisy seeping into any such belief-based moral prison.
depends on the reasons…..is it a man made problem….if so i probably would save them.
if it was natural then no….whos to say who should live or die
…..id risk myself to save others….as i have chosen that… but to take the lives of a hundred people into my own hands and decide that they should die to save others….who were dying from something that was not in my hands….
well….its out of my hands.
@ Emil, the only thing you can know is past due to the speed of perception. I can understand why you would like to eliminate time this however is one of the dimensions we have to deal with.
A question may be now, any answer would be therefor in the future, if the answer would be the now the question must have been in the past.
We can know what happened as we can research results, and we can predict what may happen, what does happen is that time passes at a certain rate, there are predictions based on that which are true, any change in a parameter may influence the outcome however not make it less true.
The present is illusive, as any experience is the past. the actual now is unachievable if only due to the fact our perception takes time. What is the duration of now?
And for yes and no being the only answers could be true on certain questions, not on all as there is no absolute truth we know of yet.
Like I said, the judgement of positive and negative will always be subjective, but the rule of the ends justifying or not justifying the means is objective and does not vary from situation from situation.
The argument keeps switching back to if the outcome is really net positive, which is akin to calculating a chemical reacting and instead arguing over whether or not the constituent chemicals are 100% pure. For an experiment to work, you have to assume the variables/constituents are known and stable.
So the assumption would be that collective humanity considers the outcome to cause less harm than would have come out of the action NOT being taken.
We can make the hypothetical even more simple like this:
Either you kill 1 person or 1 billion people will die. The outcome is up to you and only you, and there is no other option or way to go about saving the billion. Do you kill the 1 or indirectly kill the billion?
If you’re thinking that this is an extreme, unrealistic case, do keep in mind that this is a scientific hypothetical where the variables are exaggerated to make them obvious.
I actually do think that the ends justify the means, BUT ONLY if the means can result in the end. The most obvious application of this thought it torture. Is it justified to torture someone to get information to save a life? The problem is, contrary to what Jack Bauer might have you believe, torture is a very sloppy way to get information. A person in pain will say anything to make the pain stop. In fact, I can imagine several ways this can backfire. If you have a terrorist with a bomb planted in a city, what’s to stop the terrorist from leading you on a wild goose chase just to buy time? The fact that you tortured him for the information will lead you to believe what he said was accurate even if it’s an outright lie.
Now, think for a minute what saying “The ends DO NOT justify the means” actually implies. Is it okay to lead a terrorist to believe he’ talking to a fellow terrorist when in reality he’s talking to a cop. Not if the ends don’t justify the means. Lying to someone is a bad thing to do. That’s a little facetious on my part, but I think it still makes my point. People always use the extreme to explain a philosophical argument. What about the common and mundane. If the ends do not justify the means, then we have to count on all the people of the world to be nice. And that’s something you can’t count on.
Thanks for the backup, @Johannes.
Of course there is subjectivity in answering this question. I am saying that in order for us to agree on an answer, we have to come up with an objective hypothetical situation or else we would be arguing whether or not the outcome is positive enough rather than if ends justify means in general. Please re-read my previous posts if this is not clear enough.
You can’t cite Hitler as an example if you do not subjectively think his ends would have prevented more suffering than his actions required to reach those ends. You have to use a situation in which you clearly think that the outcome is far better than what would have been without the action.
So, once more, would you kill 1 person to save 1 billion. Yes or no? That is all there is to the question.
Sometimes the means appear to justify the end, and sometimes it does not. I personally hold all human life at the highest value, and would have a difficult time agreeing to kill anyone.
This very type of decision is made often without notice or chance for debate.
For example: Genetically modified food has saved thousands from starvation; its disease resistant grows in multiple climates, and in some cases it has its own insecticide engineered into its DNA.
This is a good thing right? It’s completely safe; the FDA doesn’t require food manufacturers to list any genetically modified food on nutrition labels.
Only a few people have died from severe allergic reactions caused by GM corn, and just think of all the countries we can feed who can’t grow enough food, that is if GM food wasn’t banned in most other countries.
This is a very difficult topic to just say yes or no to. I am glad that the Universe will unfold exactly how it should, without needing my opinion.
True enough. I’ll rephrase my thoughts then.
I’ve always thought that “Pursue pleasure, avoid pain” is the best way to go. Pleasure = anything positive, pain = anything negative. Do things that cause the maximum pleasure to the mist people, and cause the least pain. Therefore, as long as the end causes more pleasure then the pain that the means caused, it was worth it.
@James — How would me telling you exactly how killing 1 person saves a billion change the question? For the sake of fun, the person that is being killed is about to set off a detonator that will wipe out most of Europe.
So you’re trying to say that there is also a ‘Maybe’ answer to this question? I’d like to hear an example of when ‘maybe’ would be your answer.
For both @Jason & @Syn. Ther, here is a hypothetical that you cannot argue against:
Would you do something that you personally find immoral in order to cause a positive effect which you consider to be drastically larger in effect than the negative action you had to commit to necessitate it? In other words, you personally feel that much more harm would have come from you not committing the immoral or negative action.
Would you do it?
@Dustin, thank you for a great answer.
I don’t understand why you find it hard to link good morality with less suffering, though? Torture clearly is immoral, isn’t it? Some level of suffering is inevitable, sure, but that does not mean we should not strive to keep it at a minimum.
When I said “the question is not whether or not we should hold people responsible for their actions, it is whether the action can be deemed “right” if the outcome is better than the alternative.”, I meant in this particular question: “Do the ends justify the means?”. I didn’t find responsibility to be part of the question, but I guess we defined the question differently. It is of course utterly important that people are held responsible for their actions otherwise, to a certain degree that is. We should not let the metaphysical notion of free will fool us to punish perpetrators the way most countries (especially the US) are ruthlessly doing today.
I don’t really believe in governments or political systems at all, but knowing that we are forced to live with them for some time, I find your unifying thesis quite acceptable!
@Remedium, as I said, well-being and happiness are measurable states of the brain. Simplified examples: stress is bad, euphoria is good, and yes, this basically entails the same thing in all human minds. The “hypocrisy” you’re describing isn’t hypocrisy, it is a challenge. The challenge is to find out how we can build a society that is best suited to minimize suffering and maximize well-being. And of course, a mouse isn’t capable of feeling the same amount of pain as a human being, nor is it capable of feeling the same amount of happiness – therefore, we don’t emphasize the well-being of a mouse as much as of a human being. This is all part of the equation. Plants are not conscious creatures, but that does not mean tearing down rain forests is morally defendable (no need for elaboration i hope..).
I could (should) go on, but it’s late and I’m tired. I hope this answers some of your questions. I must recommend Sam Harris’ book “The Moral Landscape”, where this is explained in detail by an excellent. Great book.
@Dustin — Thank you for that brilliant and thorough response. I’ve really been trying to embrace ‘not knowing’ recently and you’ve brought me a great exercise in doing so. I usually hate being wrong but I really enjoyed your explanation of my error.
Should I start a new poll with same question, but additional answer choices? This topic is really fascinating.
@James – Well said, that was awesome.
@Jordan – If there are no other options, then you aren’t making a choice at all. How could ANY means justify even the greatest of ends? If I want to bring about the perfection of the human race (who wouldn’t want that?) and I go about it by killing everyone who is imperfect, that clearly does not justify what I’ve done. The path you took, the actual actions you performed define the morality of the situation. We have morals for specific events, so it’s all about the means. That’s all that matters. If the means are all good (if you do all good things), then how could the end be bad?? If anything, the means justify the ends.
Actually all answers are maybe until there is a 100% certainty of the result and as there is individuality.
Therefor on your hypothetical it is the question of how selfish I would be, the measurement of moral. As the harm is not directed towards me i would have no personal gain from doing anything except for an invalid justification. If the harm would be directed at me the decision could be other but then there is no question of a negative action as it would be self defense. An essential selfish reaction and not connected to any other result then the will to be a little longer.
So in your example maybe, or may not be.
Not sure if anyone else said this but..
the answer is dependand on the means and the end. I can ruin anyone who voted “yes” with my following words, I remember it from somewhere a while ago.
3 men are ill in hositpal, all of them have a failing organ each. There is a man in the waiting room whos a match for all three men. Would you take that mans organs to save the three ill men?
Of course you wouldn’t. Anyone who said anything other than “answer is dependable on ends and means” is a little off in my opinion. Some case it would be justified, in others it wouldn’t.
I can see your point but making one part of it objective is not a fair comparison.
If the disqualification of subjectivity would be in order, there would be no means or end.
Simply as objectively we have no clue what objectivity is.
The validity based on profitability is a (human) character flaw, the means to any end have relevance to those valuing the end.
Finally, we disagree on something. My answer is certainly No.
This is a teleological vs deontological philosophical question. I had to write a paper on in and it is more involved than it seems at first.
Here’s a quick example of why many philosophers believe that the end does not justify the means… (Imagine a man walking down the street and a person bumps into him. He gets angry and stabs him in the chest. Clearly this is an over-reaction, right? Well what if the man he stabbed was Adolf Hitler? Does this new ‘end’ justify the ‘means’ to that end?)
A deontologist (Emmanuel Kant, for example) believes that the morality of an action primarily rest in motive and intent: ie we can only be held morally responsible for what we know in the moment of action… stabbing the man is still murder, the fact that the murdered man turned out to be Hitler is irrelevant with regards to ethics (it may be a nice coincidence but it does not justify the intent/means).
A teleologist/Utilitarian (John Stewart Mill, for example) believes that the best actions are those that lead to maximum happiness for the maximum amount of people. This limits moral judgment of an action until the outcome is known. A Utilitarian can justify the man who stabbed Hitler because it would be better in the end.
The ‘ends justification’ can justify endless atrocities. It only cares If the outcome is good for many… any type of action, regardless of how horrific, can be morally justified with this philosophy.
Here are some interesting questions to consider. All of them have means which can be potentially justified by various ends.
1. Is torture okay at Guantanamo assuming it prevents US loss of life.
2. Would you shoot a stranger to save 2 strangers lives? 3, 4, 10, 100, 6000000? Where is the line?
3. Is it morally acceptable to drop an atomic bomb on the families of our enemies, with the hope to prevent the greater loss of life which would result in direct combat with the enemy.
These are tricky questions… A deontologist (ends do not justify means) would say no to each question.
I would not as it is not my right to do so.
Done the test and was consistent.
A good decision may have terrible consequences, ask any poker player ;)
Profitability is one value, the disconnection to morality would render any end meaningless
as well as its means.
I can not come to another conclusion then that there must be relevance.
I cited for the purpose of comparison, there is no difference in any of those examples it is the justification of the outcome. And for that there can not be any objectivity.
If this one to make this decision would be anybody and the one to die would be anybody, would they switch sides if they knew? What is right and what makes sense, what if it were you?
What would you benefit from this, and is that important?
Perspective and subjective.
After all all is relative.
I didn’t mean to imply that you made an error… many of the greatest philosophers and politicians have said the same thing you have. Just defending the other side.
The poll is a great idea and I think it is fine as it is. This is an issue that can break off on too many tangents; trying to have an answer choice for every opinion would be overwhelming. I like the bluntness of the poll question; it forces people think through all aspects of the issue.