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The Ends Justifying the Means

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Ends and means are concepts? What kind of concepts? How do these "concepts" relate to someone's intent?

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from dictionary.com

end-

Something toward which one strives; a goal. See Synonyms at intention.

means-

To design, intend, or destine for a certain purpose or end: a building that was meant for storage; a student who was meant to be a scientist.

n 1: how a result is obtained or an end is achieved; "a means of control"; "an example is the best means of instruction"

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whether something is designated as a mean or an end, depends on what a person's goal is. to define a goal, one needs intent. therefore, it is implicit in both concepts

If your definitions are different, please let me know what they are

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You're not looking at the total end. Yes, a government that takes taxes through coersion to pay for education can create a better educated population, but that means has also created theft, and loss of rights for everybody.

Really?

Decades of public schools have created a situation where American high schoolers are completely lacking in math and science and quality of education is nil.

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Really?

No, not really.

I was responding in more of a "what if" fashion. If government education resulted in a more educated populace, it still wouldn't be a good end nor would it justify the coersive means.

I was refering to the scenario presented by valjean of an "excellent public university" and "top-notch education."

Edited by TronDD

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Cake,

Ah, I see. For some reason (I think because you said "Things like ends..." rather than "Terms like...") I thought you were talking in the sense of concrete ends and concrete means, in which case they aren't concepts.

Given this context, your argument does make perfect sense (with the slight corrections DavidOdden provided). And, it is a good argument. In a nutshell: Evil is evil because A is A, and no amount of B that comes afterwards changes A into non-A.

Edited by source

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Really?

Decades of public schools have created a situation where American high schoolers are completely lacking in math and science and quality of education is nil.

I was responding in more of a "what if" fashion. If government education resulted in a more educated populace, it still wouldn't be a good end nor would it justify the coersive means.

I was refering to the scenario presented by valjean of an "excellent public university" and "top-notch education."

The quality of education in the US is extremely high for those students that want to learn and excell. Any student in the US can go from kindegarten to having their Ph. D. if they want to at the public's expense, and that Ph. D. represents the same level of education as it would in any other country or if the student had not benefited from public money. I can also see that the public school system wastes billions of dollars annually, but that's mainly money it throws away on those that don't want to learn. High school is not for everybody--but everybody's forced to go, or at least lured because of the free breakfast and lunch for the poor.

I still have failed to see an argument that can stand up to what the majority of Americans consider "common sense." Sure, I can see that taxing the public for education is "unjust" and "evil" and "perpetuates evil." It also perpetuates a higher standard of education, and although educational reform needs to take place, public education seems to most people to be something that's worth stealing for. Now I'm not trying to argue--I do see an answer to my original question--but it just doesn't seem powerful enough to counter most of the evil we see in modern society.

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I still have failed to see an argument that can stand up to what the majority of Americans consider "common sense." Sure, I can see that taxing the public for education is "unjust" and "evil" and "perpetuates evil." It also perpetuates a higher standard of education, and although educational reform needs to take place, public education seems to most people to be something that's worth stealing for. Now I'm not trying to argue--I do see an answer to my original question--but it just doesn't seem powerful enough to counter most of the evil we see in modern society.

valjean, your question was answered.

Immoral means are no means to an end, and no end justifies its means.

You are now jumping into a different story, which requires a broader context. To the extent that your previous question can be applied to it, I will only say that tax as a means to public education is immoral and unjustified. Why? Because once you've been robbed (nevermind whether through tax or otherwise), it wasn't just your money or posessions that were taken. There is no knowing what kind of fututre you've been robbed of, but it is certainly better than the one you will fall victim to now. Taxing is a robbery sactioned and performed by the government.

So, tell me what sort of mentality considers this "common sense?"

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Immoral means are no means to an end, and no end justifies its means.

I think the real take home message is that in morality you must have abstract principles that you apply to determining what is right and wrong. This, I think, is one of the most difficult points to really get. Think about the alternative if it helps. Without defnite principles that determine right and wrong, any action can be justified by taking a poll, or invoking god's will or any such whim.

The other really difficult point to realize is the difference between what is "reasonable" and what stands up to logical inquiry. Things that are reasonable are really better termed fashionable, as they are a reflection of the mindset of the time. What stands up to logical inquiry is much more permanent.

As was well demonstrated by source, common sense breaks down if one rephrases an argument, while logic should not, because common sense uses a "gut-feeling" as its ultimate test of truth. (there's nothing wrong with using a gut-feeling, but only as something to clue you in that you need to think about something more)

One more thing: the argument about taxation ultimately resulting in more evil may be true, but its appeal is still to common sense, because we don't have an "evil calculator." This is why we need abstract principles of justice. But no one belives in principles anymore, so arguments of this nature don't tend to go well.

lgk

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Now I believe, as Mr. Delaney said, that defining an action as a group of actions is arbitrary.

I don't even understand what this means, so most likely I didn't say it.

I go to an excellent public university which costs a fraction of what an equivalent private university would, but I think Rand would say it's immoral to coerce taxpayers to pay for some people's education; nevertheless, I think that the end is positive because a much larger number of people get a top-notch education this way and that's good for society--probably even the individual taxpayer who, although he is being coerced by the government in that his money is taken, probably does benefit from living in a society in which a much larger number of people are educated.

My simplest answer to this is: Who "benefits" from living in a statist society?

This, of course, is exactly what you're proposing when you speak of any program to extort wealth from certain individuals in order to aid others, however legitimately needy said "others" may be.

Wait a minute, you might be saying, we're not advocating full-blown socialism here — we just want to pick a few people's pockets to send some poor kids off to college! But that's the problem with statist policies, and all immoral plans of action: as I said earlier, evil begets more evil, and given its destructive nature it cannot do otherwise. No matter how small and localized the dosage may be in the beginning, once you introduce a principle such as the initiation of force into a society, it's just a matter of time before you start seeing it everywhere.

The answer doesn't stop here, of course — one could talk about the inferiority and ever-deteriorating condition of state-sponsored education, that what constitutes an "education" (as well as who is worthy of receiving one) is left squarely to government bureaucrats — the fact that the more socialist a society, the more its brightest and most productive members will be burdened and persecuted — the many scholarships and grants which currently exist without the aid of public money, and the presumably many more which would exist, if individuals and companies had more of their own money to voluntarily fund them — the reality that more and more, success is becoming the prerogative of the self-made, self-reliant and self-educated innovators and entrepreneurs — not the sheltered, parroting, diploma-ed drones which formal education is so expert at churning out.

All of these arguments are really quite superfluous, though, once you grasp what I stated in my previous post: that the immoral is immoral — that evil can never be excused, justified or explained away, regardless of how allegedly "noble" one's results or intentions may be.

The Ends-Means dichotomy is really just a variant of the theory/practice dichotomy, which itself is a variant of the moral/practical dichotomy. The Objectivist answer to "the ends justify the means" is the principle that, in every possible sense of the term, the moral is the practical. One cannot separate means from ends, just as one cannot separate reason from morality, or morality from practicality, or practical goals and ends from the full context of man's life and his long-range happiness on earth.

Although the "ends justify the means" crowd like to imagine that they are exhorting a sensible, big-picture view, they're in fact dropping context in the worst possible way. If one can only arrive at a good end, so the argument goes — or at least if one can claim to be acting toward achieving a positive result — any and all crimes one commits in the process will be miraculously absolved. Objectivism's thorough refutation of any split between the moral and the practical demonstrates that no such results, and no such forgiveness, are ever possible.

I still have failed to see an argument that can stand up to what the majority of Americans consider "common sense." . . . I do see an answer to my original question--but it just doesn't seem powerful enough to counter most of the evil we see in modern society.

The "answer," in broadest terms, is to educate people to take ideas seriously, and to learn to think in principles. A single statement or answer may well not be enough to convince someone to go beyond his bromides and really think about an issue — not if he's been raised with the view that ideas are for ivory-tower intellectuals, and that "common sense" (i.e., the uncritically accepted views of those around him) is all he really needs.

This is why it's essential always to answer intellectual questions in terms of basic principles, and why one should always trace philosophical issues down to their roots, seeking to understand them from the ground up. Despite all of the "political" yammering you hear these days, most of it is extremely superficial, and amounts to little more than name calling, finger pointing, with the occasional oddball conspiracy theory thrown in for good measure. We Objectivists really have our work cut out for us: we know it's not just the correct views or conclusions that are important, but the proper method of arriving at them. We have to teach the world not what to think, but how to think — no easy task, especially given the foothold that the brigade of unreason has had for many centuries.

I think, though, that you're being a little too pessimistic. Sure, lots of people don't care about ideas, and maybe they never will. The good news is that those people don't matter. My experience has been that Objectivist principles are so inescapably true (assuming they're presented right), that virtually any honest and intelligent person can and WILL be persuaded by them — at least eventually. For this reason, I entirely support the Ayn Rand Institute and its goal of philosophic revolution, a mission at which it has already made some extremely respectable headway.

If enough individual people discover the ideas of Objectivism, and decide that Ayn Rand actually had something good to say — and more people are doing so, every day and year— then the philosophic revolution is as good as won in our favor.

Edited by Kevin Delaney

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[Mod's note: Merged with earlier, related, thread. - sN]

I am almost sure I have read this topic discussed at some length by Ayn Rand in one of her essays, but I can't remember which essay, or even which book. Does anyone know? I didn't have success with the search feature.

If I am mistaken and she only mentions it (like I found on the ARI site) but doesn't go into detail, is anyone able and willing to give me an overview on why the end does not justify the means?

I appreciate it.

Edited by softwareNerd

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(Mod's note: merged with earlier thread. sN)

I'm sorry, I know there is a post about this somewhere on this forum... or at least I think there is, but I am in a hurry to get to class and I don't have time to sift through the 12 pages that come up when I perform the search.

Anyways, I know Rand has talked at some point, I can't remember where though, about the ends justifying the means [or how they actually don't]... Does anybody know what she said/where I can find it?

Thanks

Edited by softwareNerd

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I've deleted Grant's post as unnecessarily rude, but he does have a point . . . considering the lag time in getting a response to most questions on this forum, isn't it more likely that you will have time to do the research before someone could point you in a useful direction?

In any case, the ends/means split is simply another manifestation of the false dichotomies present in more traditional (i.e. mystical) philosophies.

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... 12 pages that come up when I perform the search.
I guess this is a "teachable moment"! When you're searching on the forum, try a restrictive search first. For instance, since you were searching for "ends justifying the means", I would recommend the following, in the Search function:

1. In the Keywords area, do not just enter the two words. Instead, prefix each with a plus sign. So, enter +End +Means. Also, in the "Search Where" option, select "Titles only"

2. If that doesn't return what you want, stay with the "titles only" but remove the plus signs.

3. If that doesn't find anything, switch back to using the plus signs, perhaps adding in another word like "justify", but this time search entire posts, not just the titles.

In general, try very restrictive searches and then narrow them down. Following this procedure, you'd have come to this post as the only one in the search result from Step 1 of the search. Now, that's what I call "lucky" :lol:

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I think things will become a LOT more clear if we use examples.

I'll give an extreme/ exaggerated example.

Example: You must kill a certain innocent girl to save everyone elses life on this planet.

Let's say that's all there is to that equation, so we don't have to factor in alternative actions, who/what's behind this problem, and so on. There is no alternative action.

How does that end not justify the means?

Normally killing an innocent girl would be completely evil, but with the given end it seems to completely justify the means.

Example: You must murder an innocent girl to gain $10,000.

Even if your goal is $10,000, it does not justify your means in this situation.

So it seems to me that it's really a matter of weighing the means and the ends. If the immoral means are the only way to reach a needed end, then its justified. If the immoral means reach an end achievable my moral means, then it is not justified.

I'm still a bit unclear about this topic, so I'm hoping this quote helps clarify things for me. I still think I'm missing something.

-Brando

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You must kill a certain innocent girl to save everyone elses life on this planet.

Let's say that's all there is to that equation, so we don't have to factor in alternative actions, who/what's behind this problem, and so on. There is no alternative action.

This is exactly the kind of case where Objectivists rightly denounce the use of hypotheticals. These are entirely implausible assumptions, so no answer that accepted these assumptions would be of any value in understanding ethics. Why not assume "And furthermore, the law of the excluded middle is suspended"? I'm gonna do that: my solution is to not kill the girl and still save the planet. You are allowed one outrageous, arbitrary assumption, and so am I: I chose suspension of the law of the excluded middle, which allows me to accept your premises and still come to a happy ending.
I'm still a bit unclear about this topic, so I'm hoping this quote helps clarify things for me. I still think I'm missing something.
The first thing I think you're missing is a replacement for the slogan. The slogan itself is hopelessly flawed. Are you proposing a concrete claim: "If an immoral act is the only way to reach a needed end, then its justified." (simplifying by removing a redundant clause, changing the wording to give the statement clearer referents)? If so, all you need to do is understand the concept of "immoral" and "needed" -- what is the standard for judging what is "needed", and what does it mean to be "immoral"? When you get that, you'll see that the slogan represents a bang-splat logical contradiction.

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A more realistic version of Ehre's example would be saving 20 people by sacrificing one person's life.

Anyone here played Metal Gear Solid 3? There's a part in the game where The Boss reveals why she's doing what she did. She explains that the government needed someone to blame for the event to prevent a cold war (an insane terrorist fired a bomb at a russian military base, i think it was nuclear). The Boss used to be a military hero and she sacrificed herself completely for the greater good. Now she will be remembered as an traitor. I think that's an example of the use of the ends justify the means by the government.

Another example, in another videogame (I'm a geek), Tactics Ogre you get a moral choice at one point to between doing what the Duke told you to do and not to do it. The Duke wants you to get people of a town to join your cause and these people are pacifists and will not join. This result was known in advanced by the Duke and a higher up tells you that the Duke had the intentions of killing them all if they would not join. If you choose not to kill the townspeople they are killed by other soldiers, but you get a price on your head and you're blamed for the massacre. The event was all a plan by the Duke to gain the support of neighboring anti-government groups to have a more unified liberation movement. Another example of the ends justifying the means.

Both examples are of authority using their own people as a means to an end (for peace).

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A more realistic version of Ehre's example would be saving 20 people by sacrificing one person's life
Yes. A decision would be impossible without knowing more: who are these people and of what value are they to you? if they are strangers, then how does this figure in your life's values (e.g. are they citizen whom you have made it your mission to protect).

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Yes. A decision would be impossible without knowing more: who are these people and of what value are they to you? if they are strangers, then how does this figure in your life's values (e.g. are they citizen whom you have made it your mission to protect).

I should've left that line out, it's the only one that got attention.

I was suggesting that a situation where saving the lives of 20 people by sacrificing one would be a more realistic situation than sacrificing one to "save the world". I didn't intend to expand that situation any further, since it doesn't really change anything so nevermind.

DavidOdden: Well in one of my examples the rebel leader decided to use one loyal soldier so that an entire nation could progress towards peace (and take out the current totalitarian rule); the other example, the leaders order a legendary war hero to become a traitor and take the blame for using an american nuclear bomb, because they needed to offer proof to the enemy that THEY didn't use that bomb (they didn't, it was someone who stole it), so they can secure peace and avoid a nuclear war. What did you think of those situations? Are they justified or moral?

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What did you think of those situations? Are they justified or moral?
Such situations are outside of the sphere of moral evaluation. It is immoral for there to be a totalitarian dictatorship in the first place, so the entire foundation for judging the propriety of choices is broken to begin with. Your description of the scenario makes these be a choice of self-sacrifice in the line of duty vs. continued or future slavery. Although you express this as the leader doing such and such, the context as you have stated it makes it clear that the person slated to die does in fact choose the particular proposed action put forth by the leader. These men are responding in the only possible way, given their values and the facts in front of them. Some people are willing to endure a miserable slave life perhaps because they only think of "non-death" as their goal. Others who value life qua man will choose death over life qua animal. Military heroes tend to be of the latter type, so it seems to me very likely that their choices in this context are justified.

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You're right about the war hero, The Boss (letting you know that's her name, in case it's confusing) knows and obeys the leaders decision on her own will because she's the ultimate patriot. The game is a staged assassination where your mission is to kill The Boss.

But my other example the hero (an idealistic youth) is only told the plan at the moment it needs to be carried out, and you get the choice as a player to either obey and go the lawful path or disobey and go the chaotic path (later on you get another choice if you go the chaotic path, to join back with them and go the neutral path, which is an example realpolitik). The pacifists (townspeople) in the game were people who are willing to endure a miserable slave life so they could live in "peace". You're part of a minority rebel army going against a totalitarian state. The ideals of the hero are up to you, that the ends (massive gain in support, followed by peace, no more totalitarian rule - at least the current one) justify the means (massacre of the townspeople/pacifists who do not want to join the Duke's revolt) or not is up to you. The Duke thinks so (and the ones carrying the orders).

Edited by Lateralus

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