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. The way i thought about it was is that there is always more than one solution. Obviously in a hypothetical situation one can create the perimeters to limit the solutions. In your example, “you have to kill 100 people.” In reality i think people could come up with a solution to save those thousand lives in a moral, ethical way. I think it interesting that you also create the perimeter that the people in your situation were equal to ensure the benefit of saving the many over the few. Again, in reality, it is entirely possible that those hundred people would go on to live more beneficial lives to society, possibly developing cures to diseases which would save hundreds of thousands. Anyway, my point being, the ends do not justify the means because the means have more flexibility than the ends. In other words, there are many ways of going about solving one problem.
Well considering it’s a yes or no question (and it is, it either holds true in every situation or none) then a hypothetical with parameters is the only way to determine the correct answer. I used the same hypothetical as Bryan, which is why I voted yes. If there is absolutely NO other option other than killing 100 people to save the 1000, then do ends do justify the means?
I was very surprised at ‘no’ winning out so far. However I do think that if it’s thought about in the way described above, the results will be different.
I think it can and must. Either the ends do justify the means, or they don’t. It does not depend on the situation. Either you believe that a positive outcome that outweighs the negative causes = a justified and positive overall outcome, or you do not.
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 – 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.
The only reason I can imagine that people would vote no is if they either:
1) Didn’t fully understand the question, or did not think about it in the right way
2) Have some moral code necessitated by religion or something else that makes any and all negative action forbidden even if it prevents more harm than it causes.
Nay-sayers, speak up! I’d love to hear your arguments.
@Pikachu — well would the elimination of every evil person really result in a more positive outcome? That’s debatable. What are your thoughts on the hypothetical put forth by Bryan? I really think that the only way to soundly answer this question is to apply your logic to a hypothetical with clearly defined variables and outcomes.
Obviously a smile does not outweigh the negative of killing an entire family.
The hypothetical has to have an outcome that clearly outweighs the negatives of the causes.
Let’s make this easy: the situation is killing 1 person to save 1 billion people. What say you? If you say that the ends do not justify the means, then you would not kill that person and the billion would die.
Any end can be achieved through moral or immoral means. The ends do not justify the means if an immoral path was taken, but like people have said, there is always more then one way to do things. As long as the moral path is taken, then yes, the ends justify the means. If the only way to achieve the end you had in mind was an immoral path, then end is immoral as well. I cannot think of a scenario where the only way to reach a moral end was through immoral means.
(I hope someone else can….)
EDIT:: Or Jordan can throw that example out. As the assassins say, “Kill one to save a thousand.”
EDIT EDIT:: I’ll expand on the example Jordan put. Say you killed one person, and saved the life of a billion people. You are now in court for the murder of that man. Is “I had to kill him to save the lives of a billion others” a fair defence statement?
If you think you should free of charge for killing that man, the ends justify the means.
If you think you should go to jail for murder, the ends do not justify the means.
But that is by society’s / government’s standards. That’s like saying that gay marriage is not right because it’s illegal in most states. Government morality is bullshit.
We’re talking about this on a personal level. Do YOU believe the ends justify the means?
The first problem is that we have no way of verifying if the end result is good or not.
Using Bryan’s hypothetical where killing 100 people saves 1000 people:
That means it is ok to do a little evil as long as your net effect is positive. NO!
If that were true, people would have a license to cause as much chaos, death and destruction as long as afterwards they work to do more good stuff than bad stuff.
Also, nothing is so black and white and things are not purely good or purely bad. Your stipulations and hypothetical have turned this into a debate about a world that doesn’t exist.
What if my ends are killing everyone except myself? since I am the only human left alive, my own opinions become justice. Everything I do is good, regardless of how evil others may have thought it was
What if my end result is to be taller than everyone else? that end is neutral… which doesn’t exist in your hypothetical… and what if I go about it by killing everyone who is shorter than I am (clearly bad)? Does a neutral end justify good/bad means or does it not matter? Means are the actual things you do and those actions are what have morality.
Hitler was using the ends justify the means mentality. His definition of good and bad were different than yours, but he was using the same logic that you are. Context should not affect logic. Logic ether always makes sense, or it never makes sense.
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?
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 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.
Lets say it like this. If the way to save the planet was to kill all Swedish people and the rest of the world will survive. Then yes ends justifies the means. There is nothing positive or negative.
There is only a goal and you choose the straightest way to that goal. The straightest goal for survival in that instant is yes the end justifies the means.
There is always a goal/reason for everything we want. (Except the answer to the BIG why!?)
Haha it’s kinda funny. Really this is one of those questions that teachers make you have an opinion on. I remember hating it so much cuz I knew it could go either way. Some people really just don’t realize that there is no yes or no but really a massive stew of yes, no, maybe, never, ever, and hopefully.
@Syn. Ther: Yes, I agree with you. You need a subject(goal) to wrap this around.
Do the ends justify the means. Ends here has to change into a goal (saving the planet), means (kill 1 to save 100).
You need an example. Otherwise it’s useless to say like that. Anyway I say yes. Since I have to.
As long as there is no definite objective valuation process the answer will be no.
Adolf thought his means were justified, many thought different,G.W. Bush thought his means were justified, many think different. It is impossible to say yes to this objectively as objectivity in the human realms is an impossibility.
Subjectively it is possible for the statement to be true however.
There are no objective assumptions ;)
So this question made everyone else think about killing people?
I thought about something much more common and less extreme when I voted no. I thought about the pursuit of happiness and how people will put off their current happiness in order to be happy in the future.
I have no idea where I would stand if i had to kill people in order to save other people.