Regarding Ends and Means

Regarding Ends and Means

A Chapter by Paul

Thoughts on decision making


Regarding Ends and Means


Do ends justify means? That would depend on what the ends are and what the means are, right? Or is it more important to understand what is meant by justify? It certainly would seem easier if specifics were given: your children are alive today because you stole food last night when they were in danger of starving. I can see an end, and the means used to attain that end, so it allows me to say that I believe this end justified the means. And how about: the community is safe from those who steal because you had the person, who stole from you, arrested. Again, I see the end and the means used to attain the end and so I can say that I think that this was justified. I then realize that if the person arrested in the second case is also the parent in the first case, then all is justified. A parent believed they were saving their children from starvation and stealing cannot be tolerated in a law-abiding community. The children did not starve and the community has been made safe from thievery.

If everyone can justify means, by attaining a desired end, then this becomes a trite thing to say; yet it is at the start and finish of so many decisions. I want to make it really count. If you are going to use this statement after you have made a decision, or acted on a decision, then you must be willing to deal with all the consequences, all the ends. Yes, saving your children from starvation is a worthy end and so stealing is justified for you and your children. And now you are justifiably arrested because stealing cannot be tolerated in society. Arrests and jailing are the means at societies disposal to keep a community safe. So now the store owner is justified in their action of prosecuting the thief and justifiably vilified for taking a parent from their children. A parent who was trying to save the children’s lives. Did the two parties really think the end through? Was the end they envisioned different? Are they left unsatisfied with the end that occurred? Perhaps the parent is satisfied that the ends have justified the means. If they knew they were going to jail, and felt the situation was so dire that they still stole the food, then it was a sound decision. If the store owner knew he would receive scorn from the community, but sincerely believed that he was making the community safe, then it was a sound decision.

For me, there is only one way to be sure that the ends justify the means in a way that can be satisfying. The individual must be willing to accept all the consequences, all the consequences must be part of the end. Using an example that has become familiar: if a person thinks that a captive has information that could save thousands of lives and they decide to torture that captive to get the information, then they must be willing to turn themselves in and accept the consequences of attaining the information illegally. This constitutes a sound decision. The result of thousands of lives saved, at the cost of one person tortured and one person jailed for torturing a captive, justifies the means to an end. But if this individual tortured a captive with the idea that they would not have to face any consequences, then they did not make a sound decision. This way of thinking about these issues is a buttress against individuals using the statement, “the end justified the means”, lightly. Individuals will want to be sure they are getting what they desire, the end they want, before they employ means that are illegal, or means deemed unethical, by an accepted code. They will do this because they know they will have to face all the consequences. This is why the rule of law is so important. Any person who knows that someone tortured a captive to get information, even if it saved thousands of lives, must honor the rule of law. This person must alert authorities so that charges are brought against the person who illegally tortured a captive. This is the only way to ensure that the statement, the ends justify the means, is not a capricious statement. It is a statement laden with responsibility to see that the ends are reached for all parties. It is the best protection against being the means to someone else’s ends. So that I can expect some kind of protection from being tortured for information that I may or may not have; even if the only protection is that the torturer knows that they will go to jail for the means employed. Faithfulness to the rule of law ensures that means are not put above the law simply because they have a desired outcome, a desired end. 

Today, many interest groups are so sure of their righteousness, that they have little hesitation saying the ends justify the means. The rule of law is the only defense against this onslaught. America is a nation built upon the rule of law because our forefathers dreamed it was possible. We are well aware that, in practice, they did not often live up to those standards. That does not matter, it is important that we know that this should be America, and always be working to make it so. 

© 2021 Paul

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Added on March 19, 2021
Last Updated on October 20, 2021



I am writing in the Mid Atlantic area of the United States, mostly non-fiction at this time. I am a song writer as well. Also of interest could be- http://bookstore.trafford... more..

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A Book by Paul