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The Ends Justifying the Means

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#1
Nxixcxk

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In Milton Friedman's book Capitalism and Freedom, he states that


"a common objection to totalitarian societies is that they regard the end as justifying the means. Taken literally, this objection is clearly illogical. If the end does not justify the means, what does? But this easy answer does not dispose of the objection; it simply shows that the objection is not well put. To deny that the end justifies the means is indirectly to assert that the end in question is not the ultimate end, that the ultimate end is itself the use of the proper means. Desirable or not, any end that can be attained only by the use of bad means must give way to the more basic end of the use of acceptable means."

I disagree. In any case I do not think the end can justify the means because the end is a consequent where as the means is a cause, and a consequent, because it comes after a cause, cannot logically be a basis for justifying something that has preceeded it in time. In other words, justification would be too late. Furthermore, if one looks at the corrolaries of the ends justifying the means, one will see that it does lead to Nazism and other undesirable forms of government.

However, my dissent does not name what justifies the means...and I'm not really sure what does. It would seem that one ought to regard the means as ends in themselves, judging whether or not they are rational...But then in doing so, it seems like that reasoning is out of context.

"To deny that the end justifies the means is indirectly to assert that the end in question is not the ultimate end, that the ultimate end is itself the use of the proper means." It seems to me like Friedman is playing some semantical game here, but I'm not able to reveal it. Sounds almost as if he is begging the question...

"Desirable or not, any end that can be attained only by the use of bad means must give way to the more basic end of the use of acceptable means."

He gives no reasoning for his above statement and I cannot think of any argumentation for his proposition here.

Thoughts, suggestions? WIsh I could right more but I'm on a public computer and am running out of time.
Chains are a more honest form of slavery than the specious liberty enjoyed by our countryment.--Edward Cline, Sparrowhawk, book 1

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If the moral is the practical, then there must be a way!

#2
The Durande

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what most people don't understand is the fact that means [/I]are ends. In other words, if enslaving me is a means to a better society, it is also ends in my perspective. I end[I] up a slave. Anyone saying that the ends justify the means definitely aren't the ones being marched into gas chambers, starved in the Ukraine, or sent to jail for violating anti-trust acts.

#3
stephen_speicher

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IIn any case I do not think the end can justify the means because the end is a consequent where as the means is a cause, and a consequent, because it comes after a cause, cannot logically be a basis for justifying something that has preceeded it in time.  In other words, justification would be too late.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Clearly, as you say, the actions -- the means -- precede the ends in the causal temporal sense, but one need just imagine the ends, and then determine the means based on that, in a causal mental sense. So I do not think that the causal temporal order really addresses the issue.

The common meaning of "the ends justifies the means" is that some special good or noble end itself is justification for any means by which that end is achieved, even if those means be immoral. In a sense this view itself is somewhat amoral in that it is only by reference to morality that one can properly determine an end. In another sense, though, "the ends justifies the means" is altruistic, in that one, in effect, sacrifices morality itself for some greater end, but there is no greater end without morality. In yet another sense, then, this latter indicates that "the ends justifies the means" is really an instance of a stolen concept, since no morality can justify the sacrifice of itself.

Anyway, in Objectivism, man's life is the only end-in-itself, and it is by reference to this one end that the principles of morality are determined. These moral principles are then the means which guide our choice of, and actions towards, the ends which we value.
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#4
Inspector

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Yes, basically what Stephen said is accurate.

To add: When someone uses the expression "the ends justify the means," they are saying that some "end" result is justified no matter what other ends occur as a result.

Friedman is saying that "ends justify the means" when one does not blank out all of the other ends that accompany one's desired end. Which is true, but kind of pointless to say.

#5
Free Capitalist

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Basically what Friedman wrote is right; denying that the ends justify the means does imply that there's some ultimate end (that is being moral and thus being happy) which supersedes any particular end one is trying to achieve. I don't see anything wrong with that.

But Friedman is wrong in his earlier claim that "if ends don't justify the means, what does?" because this phrase assumes that alternative to be right without providing basis for that particular choice. On the other hand, he does make a very good case for the opposite alternative, the choice he rejects, namely that ends don't justify the means.

#6
Evangelical Capitalist

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The problem with the phrase, "The end justifies the means," is that "the end" is generally taken to be some narrow, specific, concrete goal. The full context of the total effect of "the means" is ignored.

I'll take Friedman's question, "If the end does not justify the mean, what does?" and run with it. The fact is that the end, properly considered and in its full context is the only thing that can justify the means. All purposeful action, and certainly all justified action, is goal-directed. The agent has a purpose, an intended end. Take away the result of an action, the effect of the enacted cause, and you're left with pointless action. A reality-oriented philosophy cannot justify a pointless action.

According to the Objectivist ethics, all ends except one, one's own life, are themselves the means to further ends. So when are the means not justified by a particular end? When they contradict the further ends that the immediate end is aimed at achieving. (It is important to note that the failure to achieve the intended end does not automatically invalidate the means, as this would require omniscience on the part of the agent. It is sufficient that the action should result in achieving the end within the context of the knowledge available to the agent.)

The Objectivist ethics is based on the principle that the end justifies the means. Specifically, the standard of man's values (and thus the justification of his actions) is his own life. That is the end that justifies all his subordinate ends. The important caveat that Objectivism adds is that no end can be considered out of context. Just as knowledge is hierarchical, so are values, or ends, hierarchical. No end is justified, and thus no means to achieving it, without reference to a more fundamental end or to an ultimate end, mans' life.
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#7
Marc K.

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If my end was happiness, would that justify productive work as a means?
-------


p.s. -

It seems to me like Friedman is playing some semantical game here, but I'm not able to reveal it.  Sounds almost as if he is begging the question...

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

As a piece of friendly advice: better to provide concrete examples of fallacious argumentation before insulting the integrity of a man I consider a genius.

#8
Nxixcxk

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Evangelical, thanks for the response and elaboration, it was really helpful.
Chains are a more honest form of slavery than the specious liberty enjoyed by our countryment.--Edward Cline, Sparrowhawk, book 1

A boy adopts a hero for two reason: because a hero capivates his soul and serves as a projection of his innermost self; and because a hero seems to have solved many problems that may worry a boy, or at least demonstrates the capacity to solve them.--Edward Cline, Sparrowhawk, book 2

If the moral is the practical, then there must be a way!

#9
valjean

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[Moderator note: Merged related thread with earlier one. -sN]

Why don't ends justify means? I know that this is an important principle in Objectivism, and it's one I've neglected to be skeptical about until recently. I don't have much literature myself at the moment, so I was hoping I could find a good answer here.

If the answers I get don't make sense to me, I may follow up the question for clarification, but I don't intend to 'debate' or 'argue' about it.

Thanks

Edited by softwareNerd, 05 August 2006 - 10:15 AM.


#10
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What does it mean to say "the ends justify the means"? Does it refer to situations where the means and ends are contradictory?

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#11
valjean

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To say "the ends justify the means" would be to say that "the ends justify the means" in all situations, hypothetical or real.

I'd like to exclude 'emergency situations' such as when one is stranded alone on an island and would have to take food from someone else's food store to survive.

One example in which many argue "the ends justify the means" would be redistributing wealth to increase the overall happiness of a population. Please don't dwell on that example, though.

#12
DavidOdden

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Why don't ends justify means?

Justification involves evaluating an action, which should be undertaken for a purpose, given some knowledge. The statement is therefore incomplete, because pure ends-based justification says that no consideration is needed to determine whether the action can reasonably be expected to accomplish the goal. It would be better to say that the ends determine the means. Case in point: life. If you accept life as your goal, then there are certain things you should do and other things that you should not do. So given that goal (end), certain actions are justified. You cannot justify the goal itself -- the choice between existence vs. non-existence is outside the realm of reason. What needs to be justified is what you do in service of that goal.

Dave Odden


#13
valjean

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Thanks DavidOdden. I agree with and understand what you said, but it's not what I was looking for.

Sorry if it wasn't clear earlier. I am specifically concerned with situations in which the means are not held to be moral.

So, I will rephrase the question:
"Why don't ends justify immoral means?"

(This comes specifically from the context of Machiavelli)

A more general example I will give is: why isn't it okay to use coersion if it creates better ends?

#14
DavidOdden

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So, I will rephrase the question:
"Why don't ends justify immoral means?"

Again, because ends alone can't justify anything. You have to combine a goal (ends) and other knowledge (of efficacy towards a purpose) to have a justification. But with a bit of qualification such as "immoral", it's obvious. A moral choice is one that follows those principles which you know will accomplish a goal; an immoral choice thwarts that goal. Justification (in the positive sense) means "does accomplish the goal", so you have a conceptual contradiction.

A more general example I will give is: why isn't it okay to use coersion if it creates better ends?

That's a very different question, which doesn't have anything to do with ends justifying means, as far as I can tell. It has to do with the business of identifying what actions are necessary to accomplish a goal. Wanna hold off on that until this means / end business is sorted out. But just to keep things on track, what do you mean by "better ends"? You have a basic choice between "existence" and "non-existence". What's this "better" thing you're talking about? Or, are you saying, assuming the choice of life, what is better to for reaching that goal?

Dave Odden


#15
Kevin Delaney

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It's not that ends don't justify means; it's that one cannot separate means from ends — at least not in the way that the saying implies.

To put it another way: You cannot achieve a positive end by immoral means. Evil is evil, and begets evil, not good. (That the "means" are immoral is obvious; one does not need to "justify" the good.)

Do please give any examples that may be confusing you, and I will gladly demonstrate why this is so.

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#16
valjean

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I had written a long response to DavidOdden's last post, but Kevin Delaney beat me to posting, and I think his point gets directly to what I'm concerned with (assuming that DavidOdden and Objectivism itself would agree with what he said):

"You cannot achieve a positive end by immoral means."

I would like you to demonstrate why this is so. I will give you a counterexample. 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.

Edited by valjean, 23 September 2005 - 04:58 PM.


#17
TronDD

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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. Once those well educated people start working, they'll bet stolen from, too.

Unjust means result in undjust ends.

#18
valjean

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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. Once those well educated people start working, they'll bet stolen from, too.

Unjust means result in undjust ends.


I don't think this is really a sufficient response, because although it's a good point, most people would say, "What's a little stealing compared to a highly educated populace?," and I might be inclined to agree with them.

#19
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I don't think this is really a sufficient response, because although it's a good point, most people would say, "What's a little stealing compared to a highly educated populace?," and I might be inclined to agree with them.

What's a little education compared to legalized theft?
The problem here is who is to say what is more valuable? Who is to say that some people have to work for the education of others? Who can claim the right to know better than all the rest of the world what to do with their money? You have to leave it to the individual what to do with his money.
Besides, 'free education' is way worse than paid-for education.
Too many people want free education and paying for it becomes a big burden. In addition to that the quality of service goes down (to keep the burden payable), thereby creating a less educated population.
And lots of people with an education they don't need or would want if they had to pay for it.
Besides, what is moral about uneducated people paying for the education of educated people?
Nothing stands in your way in free capitalism. You can get a loan, study, get a better job and pay the loan off.
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#20
DavidOdden

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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.

You have to establish a connection between the action and the goal. When you speak of the benefit to society, with only a secondary consideration of the individual, this points towards a collective goal, for example "the fundamental goal of action should be the greatest common good". This isn't a coherent goal -- I don't know how to phrase such a goal because it can't be coherent. I really don't know what the goal is supposed to be, if you subscribe to such a morality. Are we aiming for a high average income within a society? One way to accomplish that would be to reduce the number of members of society (via summary executions). But wait, a simple average could result from many people having a bit of money, or one person having a lot of money and everybody else having no money. So do you want a high average income and a low s.d. from that average? Which is more important -- income equality, or the absolute average? If you can achieve a much higher average at the expense of a slightly wider range of actual incomes, should you work towards that higher average, or towards earning-equality? The collectivist goal is fundamentally flawed in this and myriad other ways. Why? Because the facts about humans are not all identical. Some people are tall, and some are short. So what? Shoving a 6' 5" tall guy into a tiny corner to do welding for hours is not as smart as shoving a 5' 5" tall guy into the same tiny corner. Some people are color-blind and don't do well on paint-matching; some people are color-blind and are better at reading topographic maps. As they say, one man's meat is another man's poison.

To sharpen the focus substantially in the direction of education, the "it's for your own good" argument is simply an arbitrary assertion. It has not been extablished that "a highly educated populace" is an automatic and intrinsic benefit to all. I do receive a benefit from my son's education, which is why I paid for it, but I get no benefit from Smith's education, wherever and whoever the heck he is. He does not contribute to my life in any way, and there is no rational grounds for forcing me to sacrifice part of my life for his sake. The assertion is, to be sure, quite seductive, because for many people it is a benefit to be educated, so it is hard to imagine that an education is not an automatic and universal benefit.

There is a very good chance that Smith will end up doing something that will be an actual disvalue to me, for example literature, comparative studies, womyn's studies, history (you gotta see what those guys are doing), sociology, political science, communications, law (given where that is headed -- Matt's a bright-light exception to the blanket condemnation) and the list goes on. These guys are not just being useless to me, they are actually actively trying to snuff out my life, by laying claim to my property and by polluting the culture that I live in with their perverted ideas. I cannot think of anything more perverted and twisted than forcing a person to pay for his own destruction. I imagine they feel the same about me. I am not advocating making it a felony to major in womyn's studies -- I'm simply saying that someone who wants that kind of "education" should pay for that education themselves, and not force me to pay for their silly ideas about what constitutes an education.

The matter ultimately comes down to this: should man live by principle, or by whim? You have to decide that based on what your goal is. If your goal is a flourishing life, you have to live by principle. The individual is the only one who can rationally discover what ethical principles lead to this flourishing life, given the facts of his existence.

Dave Odden


#21
Cake

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I think I have the correct argument.

Things like ends and means to those ends are concepts relating to a person's intent. Such a thing exists only in a person's mind. What really counts in morality are actions. As a result, intent is not a morally important concept. Now there is some leeway as to how one may define an action (whether or not you consider the whole course of events or each action individiually). Now I believe, as Mr. Delaney said, that defining an action as a group of actions is arbitrary. Things that are arbitrary cannot be used as a justification. Therefore, each action must me considered separately. If it is evil, it is evil. Stealing is stealing no matter what action occurrs after it.

If you accept my premises, the conclusion follows from statement logic.
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#22
DavidOdden

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Things like ends and means to those ends are concepts relating to a person's intent. Such a thing exists only in a person's mind.

I think that "intent" isn't quite the right word to describe a goal, but let's let that be: a goal is a conceptualised state of affairs, which a person intends to reach. Means, on the other hand, are actions, and actions exist separate from intentions.

What really counts in morality are actions.

No, that misconstrues the nature of morality. Actions are certainly important evidence regarding morality, but ultimately morality has to do with a principled way of selecting actions (as opposed to randomly selecting actions, or selecting actions contrary to principle).

As a result, intent is not a morally important concept.

Purpose is, however (and in this context, it seems to me that putpose and intent are nigh interchangeable). If your purpose is death, that leads to one course of action; if you choose life, different actions would be the rational result. Morality relates action to purpose, thus purpose is very important to morality. In fact (plug for Tara Smith's book), relating morality to purpose is a fundamental contribution of Objectivism.

Now there is some leeway as to how one may define an action (whether or not you consider the whole course of events or each action individiually).

No, I don't see that at all. An action is what it is -- this isn't a matter of definition. What is true is that not all actions have the same effect on all beings, and if morality is defined in terms of effect on actor (as it is in Objectivism), then not all actions -- magically transplanted to different actors -- have the same moral evaluation.

Do you pronounce it "Cake" or "Coke?" Just wondering.

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#23
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Assuming that you mean that it is "good" ends which should somehow justify immoral means to such end, tell me first which immoral means ever led to what good ends?

On the other hand, if your immoral means ever get you to some kind of end, how do you know that this is the end? Just because you have stopped utilizing the means that got you to this end? What if there are consequences to your actions which you cannot predict because you know nothing of the position you are in?

Consider that the end is you becoming a doctor. Consider the immoral means to this end being faking a diploma and other neccessary papers. So, you become a doctor. Is this the end? How can it be if your problems are just about to begin? How are you supposed to treat a patient, since you don't know the first thing about medicine? What if someone finds out your papers are fake?

The end is only reached when you have, or can have, complete control of the situation you are in and nothing can take away that control (except perhaps a disaster).

What I'm trying to say is that immoral means lead to no ends. They only lead to perpetual torment and eventual failure.
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#24
Cake

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What I'm trying to say is that immoral means lead to no ends. They only lead to perpetual torment and eventual failure.



I agree completely, and in fact this may be a more correct argument than my previous one. But I still think my arguement is a good one.

I think that "intent" isn't quite the right word to describe a goal, but let's let that be: a goal is a conceptualised state of affairs, which a person intends to reach. Means, on the other hand, are actions, and actions exist separate from intentions.


The point i was trying to make is that an end is a conceptualized goal, but a mean (in this context) is defined relative to an end. One cannot separate the action "reaching and end" from the action "using a mean" without using the concept of mental intent. It is an implied concept in both mean and end. I think that the terms ends and means have an action and a conceptual component implied in them.

In any case, this argument still works even if I grant you that ends are only mental entities.

No, that misconstrues the nature of morality. Actions are certainly important evidence regarding morality, but ultimately morality has to do with a principled way of selecting actions (as opposed to randomly selecting actions, or selecting actions contrary to principle).


It is true that morality is a "principled way of selecting actions." There is no morality without action. How can we judge the morality of others? I cannot know (in general) all of somone else's philosophical priciples with complete certianty, because they exist in his mind, which I cannot completely know, and which is subject to change (notable exception of John Galt). I also should not have to completely deduce your philosophy before I judge an action as wrong or right.

My point is that a philosophical principle is only good or bad if it is translated into action. A book on Marx is amoral even though it contains a philosophical principle because it cannot act.

Purpose is, however (and in this context, it seems to me that putpose and intent are nigh interchangeable). If your purpose is death, that leads to one course of action; if you choose life, different actions would be the rational result. Morality relates action to purpose, thus purpose is very important to morality. In fact (plug for Tara Smith's book), relating morality to purpose is a fundamental contribution of Objectivism.



I totally agree with you here. Purpose is absolutely paramount when one is choosing a course of action. But action needs to occurr in order to have it evaluated by a set of abstract principles. Nothing moral happens without some kind of action (even if that action is thinking), but a thought, in and of itself, is amoral.

I hope this clears up my point which was grossly oversimplified in my previous post.


No, I don't see that at all. An action is what it is -- this isn't a matter of definition. What is true is that not all actions have the same effect on all beings, and if morality is defined in terms of effect on actor (as it is in Objectivism), then not all actions -- magically transplanted to different actors -- have the same moral evaluation.


I agree with you here also.

I think my point here was to create a constructive dillema that could easily be posed by a non-objectivist. I was trying to shoot down the idea that the whole course of action that was undertaken could defined as a single action. For example, i could say (incorrectly) that my curing cancer is the action and killing a half dozen healthy and innocent people was just a part of that action. Compare this to buying a steak from the butcher where reaching into my pocket is a part of that action, and you might see what sort of argument I was trying to prevent.

My point is that every time you have a moral interaction it needs to be separately considered.

I think my logic still works although my premises may now take a slightly different form.


Do you pronounce it "Cake" or "Coke?" Just wondering.


I almost forgot.

My real last name and my name in here are pronounced the exact same way -- CAKE (caps only added for clairty :) ). Im glad you asked. If I ever get famous, I dont want people walking around talking about cack, khaki, cakey, cocky, or cock. This was a real pain growing up, so i take some pains to set the record straight when I can. :lol:
Think it, then make it happen. Better just takes work.

#25
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I agree completely, and in fact this may be a more correct argument than my previous one. But I still think my arguement is a good one.

I'm afraid I don't quite follow the logic of your argument. I stumble on the first sentence:

Things like ends and means to those ends are concepts relating to a person's intent.

Ends and means are concepts? What kind of concepts? How do these "concepts" relate to someone's intent?
"It is easy in the world to live after the world's oppinion; it easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude."
Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-reliance 1841
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