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StrictlyLogical

Means and Ends - False Dichotomy or Just False?

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"Ends" and "means" are often invoked in a non-strict way to indicate respectively the result of action or an action's goal i.e. the ends, and the particular manner, the particular "how" one acts toward that end, i.e. the means.

As you probably already can see this is somewhat superficial and sloppy, as it characterizes the action towards the ends vaguely, in the context of the ends, but then attempts to characterize the action in the context of means, as particular.  Also it is somewhat clear that the ends are superficially treated.

The sloppiness leads to a sort of dichotomy divorcing the actual connection between all that make up the particular means and all that make up the particular ends, or equivalently a false understanding of the relationship between means and ends.

 

When someone says the "ends do not justify" the means, at first blush it seems they are saying "what is achieved is good, but HOW you've achieved it is bad, therefore the how is unjustified".  The upshot is that It counsels one to choose a different means, one supposedly more "justified" to achieve the ends.  This is a type of error which ignores the identify of action and its consequences... and fails to completely take cognoscence of causality. 

There is a direct relationship between ALL the ends (the totality of the result) and the particular actions taken, so what REALLY is meant by "the ends do not justify the means" is that ALL of the ends which result, because their sum does not amount to the good, dictate taking a different course of action(s).

For example:  "Possessing a MountainDew does not justify stealing it."  Observe however, it is not the possession of the MountainDew simple, which are the ends of stealing it.

Threatening a convenience store clerk into placing a MoutainDew in your possession and paying the clerk to hand you the MoutainDew are not two different means to the same end.  One is a means to 1. keeping money in your pocket, 2. getting a mountain dew, 3. psychological stress on the clerk, 4. a loss for the owner, 5. a witness to two or more crimes, 6. a police investigation, 7. possibly jail time etc., the other is a means to I. trading your money away, II. receiving a mountain dew, III. a profit for the owner, IV. reaping the value of an increase in wealth by an exchange, etc..

 

Contrary to the popular saying "ends do not justify the means", ends (ALL of them) can be the ONLY justification of, various means, various actions, from which one may choose.

 

All means and action have identify, and due to causality they result in particular ends (also having identity), and there is no dichotomy between means and ends, only sloppy thinking surrounding them.

Particular means have corresponding particular ends and can only ever be justified by those particular ends.

 

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9 hours ago, StrictlyLogical said:

All means and action have identify, and due to causality they result in particular ends (also having identity), and there is no dichotomy between means and ends, only sloppy thinking surrounding them.

I agree.  There is a thread here discussing Consequentialism as the category of moral theories holding that morality lies in the ends not the means.  Deonotological moral theories hold that morality lies in taking certain actions, i.e. the means not the ends.  The two together form a category of Intrinsicist moral theories.  As intrinsicism is entirely false, ends versus means is a false dichotomy.

Recapitulating what user gio reminded us of in that thread Morality guides action, and actions are means.  Thus in Objectivism morality is about means and so cannot be characterized as Consequentialist or compatible with Consequentialism.  But Objectivism does not tell us what actions to take.  No actions are intrinsically good in Objectivism because Objectivist ethics are not Deontological (or intrinsicist of any type). 

Objectivism is based on identity and causality, thus the appropriate actions to take are the ones that cause the consequences desired.  The full appreciation of the problem of morality is that multiple actions may bring about the desired consequence, and each action will have multiple consequences in addition to the desired consequence.  It's just too much to deal with, it's an epistemological overload. 

Objectivist ethics then, goes on at length about values and codes of values and the standard of value in order to deal with the epistemological problem of morality.

Edited by Grames

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17 minutes ago, DavidOdden said:

I have never understood the use of "justify" in that slogan. The ends determine the means, when a person is being rational. Why would I need to "justify" my means?

When there are people around you starting to feel a little squeamish about the amount of blood being shed, you remind them that the end justifies the means.  Then raise your eyebrow at them.

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On 11/9/2018 at 6:33 AM, StrictlyLogical said:

"Ends" and "means" are often invoked in a non-strict way to indicate respectively the result of action or an action's goal i.e. the ends, and the particular manner, the particular "how" one acts toward that end, i.e. the means.

I've been thinking on this topic since your post. I largely agree with your central thesis, but there are a couple of (possibly minor) aspects I'd like to address...

On 11/9/2018 at 6:33 AM, StrictlyLogical said:

When someone says the "ends do not justify" the means, at first blush it seems they are saying "what is achieved is good, but HOW you've achieved it is bad, therefore the how is unjustified".  The upshot is that It counsels one to choose a different means, one supposedly more "justified" to achieve the ends.  This is a type of error which ignores the identify of action and its consequences... and fails to completely take cognoscence of causality. 

There is a direct relationship between ALL the ends (the totality of the result) and the particular actions taken, so what REALLY is meant by "the ends do not justify the means" is that ALL of the ends which result, because their sum does not amount to the good, dictate taking a different course of action(s).

I was thinking about why someone might say "ends do not justify the means"; I think it's potentially a mistake to address this statement by itself. Because here's the context I suspect gave rise to it: that someone, somewhere did some crappy/evil thing in the service of a supposedly noble goal. And when questioned about their crappy/evil actions, that person said, "Well, the ends justify the means." Meaning that, in the pursuit of some "end" of sufficient value (e.g. a noble goal), any or all other actions are morally justified for the sake of achieving it.

I expect that in the first case, at least, saying "the ends do not justify the means" is meant as a negation of the above. Not that it is meant as some general disagreement to the sort of moral calculation you describe, just that the proposal -- that the value or goodness of one's goal renders moral any action taken in its service -- is faulty. It is equally a spiritual response to the idea of "by any means necessary," which is often a precursor to the initiation of force, etc., because one considers one's purpose to be so lofty that other moral considerations may be set aside (and often this means that other people may be sacrificed for the cause).

As you say, all of the consequences of one's actions (insofar as a person can reasonably expect them, in context and to the best of one's ability) ought to be taken into account to assess the morality of that action, but I don't believe that "ends" in "the ends justify the means" is completely replaceable by "consequences." Rather, saying that "the ends justify the means" is an implicit recognition that there are undesirable consequences stemming from one's action; but it is a special plea that those undesirable consequences are immaterial or insubstantial when set against one's consciously held goal, which is the "end," and thus need not be considered for the purpose of the moral evaluation of the proposed action(s), which is/are the "means."

I think it's not incorrect to say that's wrong, and I think that's what's often primarily intended by "the ends do not justify the means," and reflects Rand's intention, for instance, when she wrote (in C:TUI):

"But there is no justification, in a civilized society, for the kind of mass civil disobedience that involves the violation of the rights of others—regardless of whether the demonstrators’ goal is good or evil. The end does not justify the means."

That said, I agree with you that the antidote required is no mere negation, but a fuller examination of consequence (which, in this instance, Rand provides both in that essay and more generally among her writings).

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35 minutes ago, DonAthos said:

I think it's not incorrect to say that's wrong, and I think that's what's often primarily intended by "the ends do not justify the means," and reflects Rand's intention, for instance, when she wrote (in C:TUI):

"But there is no justification, in a civilized society, for the kind of mass civil disobedience that involves the violation of the rights of others—regardless of whether the demonstrators’ goal is good or evil. The end does not justify the means."

That said, I agree with you that the antidote required is no mere negation, but a fuller examination of consequence (which, in this instance, Rand provides both in that essay and more generally among her writings).

I agree, and here Rand has chosen to speak in a manner such that she could be understood by the masses.

 

I think the main psychological takeaway here is that "intention" or "goal" or "intended consequences" are such a focus of common everyday non-attentive action, that people forget that WHAT they are doing most often achieves NOT ONLY what their goal happens to be... but with blinders on, thinking muted, and eyes on the "prize"... the interpretation then is that the action taken and the particular intended consequence are one and the same.

So much so, that a popular self-help writer of the 80s and 90s Steven Covey (Seven Habits?) had to explicitly state (and I am paraphrasing from foggy memory) "when you pick up one end of the stick, you pick up the other end of the stick too", something one might forget if only focused on picking up one particular end of the stick...

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