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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@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.
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.
I answered yes too. In general if it can be avoided, I would avoid torture, murder and everything immoral you can think of. But if it is unavoidable, (and I think that this is unmistakably unavoidable, in other words there’s proof) then kill them and torture them, just don’t let me watch. i’ll probably still feel guilty about it after it happens, and I would commit suicide, but at least I would know that it was logically the right choice.
You said, “the answer is dependent on the means and the end.” Not necessarily. I agree that the outcome will seemingly justify the means in some cases but not others. But we are searching for the skeletal morality of action irrespective of retrospective justification. I agree that some ends seem to justify their means… the question for you is, if these means resulted in a different end would you change your opinion on the morality of the means? Any given outcome always has the potential to be intentional or ironic, does this suddenly change whether an action was right or wrong?
@Dustin: Nice post, and I’m sure that your professor was well-pleased with your paper. but Kant didn’t make direct claims as to what moral right and wrong were. His Grounding for a Metaphysics of Morals only sought to demonstrate that ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ are constructs determinable. For him, an action isn’t wrong simply because someone has wrong intention; an action has moral worth if it is made in a manner inconsistent with an intent that correlates with a subtle law (which to his credit he did NOT attempt to translate into concrete terms). Only if an action has moral worth can it be appropriately judged as ‘right’ or ‘wrong,’ which again are not given finite distinctions in Kant’s writing. That he sidestepped this bullet is telling of just how bright the man truly was. Admittedly it smacks of a neo-Platonic and relativistic notion of those labels which was decades ahead of its time (enter: phenomenology).
That said, Kant is still by my reading a Deontologist. What makes Kant a Deontologist is not that he gives a strict formula for determining ‘right’ and ‘wrong.’ It is that he states that there is a universally intuitable thread which determines moral worth, making ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ actual and universal constructs of our categorically judging sensibilities.
the only reason it is a yes or no question is because you limited the answers to ‘yes’ and ‘no’
if there were more available answers (like there are in reality) then a hypothetical with parameters is not not the only way to determine the ‘correct’ answer.
Basically my point is, there is no room for hypothetical situations like killing 1 to save 1 billion in the real world.
If you would like me to answer your question, you will need to be more specific. How will killing this one person save one billion people?
I answered ‘yes’. This is why:
First, we have to define morality. Sam Harris argues (http://www.amazon.com/Moral-Landscape-Science-Determine-Values/dp/1439171211) that the well-being of conscious creatures really is all that matters. I agree. Well-being and suffering is created in the brain, and there are right and wrong answers to how these states are produced.
When this is established (this actually a problem for a lot of people, I don’t understand why), the question is quite easy: the answer is clearly ‘yes’. The goal (good morality) is always to reduce suffering and increase well-being, and there are right and wrong ways to do this, even if we don’t know what they are. For example, using this logic, killing one person to save ten seems right, but it is not necessarily so. The killer might be tormented and traumatized to the point where the amount of suffering is higher and the amount of well-being is lower than if the killer hadn’t ended the lives of 10 innocent people. Or perhaps three of the ten people are psychopaths and are ruining the lives of 30 people combined.
There are answers to these kinds of questions, even if we don’t know them.
@Dustin, very interesting post (the one directed at Jordan). I do disagree though, 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 (at the level of the brain of the conscious creatures involved) than the alternative.
@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.
People seem to be oversimplifying this, there are all sorts of factors when I think about it. It can never be a “yes, always” or a “no, never” type of deal.
Would you kill 1 to save 1 if that one that was saved meant more to you? But perhaps more people loved the 1 you killed, then you’d be reducing the overall happiness.
Instead of kill 1 save a billion, how about kill 99 to save 100? Or even kill 1 to save 2? What about a child, would you kill a child to save 2 adults?
It’s very easy to look at it on paper, when you reduce humans to numbers, but if you had to look in the eyes of the one you kill. And maybe to you that 1 is just a number but I’m guessing to a lot of people that 1 is everything to them, they would probably argue against you.
Would you torture 99/100 innocents to get the info from that one guilty party? Or is it kind of like Dima said, the ends justify the means… as long as I don’t have to see it?
I’m intrigued. You must have some personal insight into the phenomenological experiences of non-human life forms to make such claims. It has been suggested by empirical testing that plants are not only conscious of their surroundings but that they communicate with other plants; they have allies as well as enemies, and they react accordingly to each. Is this not some level of consciousness, to recognize an ‘ego’ and an ‘alter ego?’ Other creatures follow suit. What’s more, though well-being and happiness may be measurable states of the brain (though I’m not entirely sure how all variables are accounted for), what conditions those states is not in all cases the same. We can assume that some hierarchy of needs (sans Maslow) had ought be met before these states may be attained, but that may be making too much assumption; the thing a being needs to experience such states is simply a body-mind which is working and ideally un-tampered with. When one plays havoc with the body-mind or kills the organism completely, that being is incapable of experiencing those things as such. Furthermore, any decision made which will conceivably detract from that experiencing of well-being or happiness in the long term would have moral implications. What I see in this equation is an attempt at quantifying well-being, happiness, and valuing axiomatically their worth as concerns other beings which aren’t human, of whose experience-unto-themselves we can say startlingly little and yet about which we can be so ready to make definite claims.
Perhaps when there is a concrete definition for consciousness I may be willing to concede the point, but as it stands now it seems to me that murder is both morally wrong and at the same time is at present necessary for the sustaining of human life. That’s not to say that sustaining human life is wrong. I’m not going to starve myself on behalf of another sentient life form, but I will treat the steps necessary for sustaining myself with the utmost reverence and think critically about what is being said any time someone bandies about the terms ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ as necessary opposites in a totally objective sense.
I’ll check out the book you mentioned when I get the chance. Thanks for the discussion. :)
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!?)
Again, I find it amusing that people are so quick to point to the most extreme case as the closing argument. “Would you kill 1 person to save 2?” Here’s a question, and I really want some answers:
“Would you LIE to 1 person to save 100 people knowing that lying is wrong?”
Yes and no are all the answers there are to it, all in-between answers are just less simple ways of saying either yes or no. By having the simplest answers, one gets the most truthful results. Like how Einstein talked about simple being truth or god.
You wouldn’t even be able to predict what the consequences of your actions may be, so the answer is always yes or no, because you can never know what consequences you cause.