Objectivism Online Forum

The Ends Justifying the Means

Rate this topic

Recommended Posts

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?

Generally, there seem to be two answers to that question:
1. ends achieved by unjustified means are morally unjustified (immoral and nonvaluable) ends
2. ends achieved by unjustifiable means are morally unjustifiable (amoral but possibly valuable) ends

The former is "simply" a matter of justifying specific means.

In terms of the latter situations (and not the former) IMO the end does justify the means. If I choose to act in a particular way in some emergency or forced situation, I am justifying/validating/absolving/choosing my action by some determining factor. If not chosen by the end, what else can my action be chosen on? I can see it being moral/immoral, but if I am acting to gain a value, how can my actions in the emergency/forced situation be amoral and unjustifiable?

I suppose my thought (and possible error ) is that: if some action is valuable (i.e. a means to one's ultimate value), then it is moral, and if it is not valuable (by the above usage) then it is immoral. Problem being, if a particular course of action X (in an emergency/forced situation) is a means to one's ultimate value and other courses of action Y aren't, then I would think that action X would be the moral choice in the emergency, and action Y would be the immoral choice.

...unless it were argued that there is no way to determine (in an emergency/forced situation) which courses are X actions and which are Y actions. But, if principles/justifiable standards can be determined in non-emergency situations, why couldn't they be determined in emergency situations?

Anyone here played Metal Gear Solid 3?
Hell yeah! *waits for MGS4 and goes off in search of copy of Tactics Ogre...*`

Share on other sites

OK I hate silly hypotheticals as well, however -- Iam going to put one out there.

Stealing is evil.

If I am starving and someone has left there extra food outside and I take it (which I would to live) I have committed an evil act, however ... because I know that I would not choose death I would say my evil act justified the means.

Taken to the extreme however, this becomes an argument for socialism, and that scares me. So I think the answer here is that certain situations we face we use unjustifiable means to an end. It is still morally wrong.

Share on other sites
Taken to the extreme however, this becomes an argument for socialism, and that scares me.
But it doesn't. Your hypothetical is rather sparse, detail-wise, so let's throw in some specifics. Due to humungous pilot-error and a plane crash, you're suddenly smack in the middle of Cornwall Island in Canada (top of the world) and it's mid-December. You are faced with a metaphysical given: steal or die (such a lucky guy to land near some guy's food in the middle of BFC!). This is an emergency. It does not mean that the food is yours by right, and you must pay the price when you get back to the world -- as a moral man, you will compensate the owner, without question. But your choice to live in this situation is wholely beyond the scope of the metaphysically normal for man's existence. Your choices are simple: live (by stealing), or die.

Socialism, on the other hand, is the grand-scale denial of reality and therein lies the immorality. It is the systematic, knowing false declaration that another man's property is yours by right; it is the fiat declaration of a permanent emergency situation to excuse bad choices; it is the willing embrace of death over life when choosing life is a realistic and viable alternative. It is never evil to act in order to live: it is always evil to evade reality in the faked hope of living. That is the difference.

Share on other sites
But it doesn't. Your hypothetical is rather sparse, detail-wise, so let's throw in some specifics. Due to humungous pilot-error and a plane crash, you're suddenly smack in the middle of Cornwall Island in Canada (top of the world) and it's mid-December. You are faced with a metaphysical given: steal or die (such a lucky guy to land near some guy's food in the middle of BFC!). This is an emergency. It does not mean that the food is yours by right, and you must pay the price when you get back to the world -- as a moral man, you will compensate the owner, without question. But your choice to live in this situation is wholly beyond the scope of the metaphysically normal for man's existence. Your choices are simple: live (by stealing), or die.

Socialism, on the other hand, is the grand-scale denial of reality and therein lies the immorality. It is the systematic, knowing false declaration that another man's property is yours by right; it is the fiat declaration of a permanent emergency situation to excuse bad choices; it is the willing embrace of death over life when choosing life is a realistic and viable alternative. It is never evil to act in order to live: it is always evil to evade reality in the faked hope of living. That is the difference.

OK -- I think I did not explain my -- logical reasoning. I am hungry and I steal food to live. The next day my car breaks down, and I have to drive somewhere -- You have three cars and why should I not "borrow" yours because you have plenty (never mind that you earned them.) The drive is important, thought not life and death -- I just think it becomes a slippery slope.

Kind OF On Topic -- Discussion with significant other tonight -=He this it should not be the "top agenda of the gov't to see to it I that the we-- wealthiest (IMHO those people who have created ands earned) -- to reduce the wealthiest people's taxes while cutting the Viet Vet benefits. I tried to explain the actual tax cuts and was ignored -- Much jargon about politicians being in someoneâ€™s pockets, which I am sure is true on all sides.

I, of course disagree and tried to explain that these "wealthiest" have created what I cannot. And that no one, has the ability to take what they did not earn to give it to someone else that "needs" it. In short -- " I swear by my life and my love of it, that I will never live for the sake of another, nor ask another to live for mine." Quote might be wrong it is off the top of my head.

Scary thing is -- the man is not stupid, but seems to live in a pretend world where everyone should be happy -- be happy -- regardless of their ability, or desire to live I reply -- from each according to his ability TO each according to his ability. He has still not read Rand, and I stick around because I KNOW he knows it because I believe he will get it -- just needs some detoxification from the college experience that teaches us that we are selfish to want own achievements. Once he gets a couple of books under his belt -- I truly hope he comes along!

(Fixed quote tag - sN)

Edited by softwareNerd

Share on other sites
If I am starving and someone has left their extra food outside and I take it (which I would to live) I have committed an evil act, however ... because I know that I would not choose death I would say my evil act justified the means.
The way I'm thinking of this: by stealing (in the above emergency example), one is attempting to gain/keep one's life (IMO a rational and moral value, even during an emergency); what value would one be attempting to gain/keep by not stealing?

Taken to the extreme however, this becomes an argument for socialism, and that scares me. So I think the answer here is that certain situations we face we use unjustifiable means to an end. It is still morally wrong.
Hmm. When you say "it is still morally wrong," you don't mean that one shouldn't do it?

I don't think one position (that there is morality in emergencies) would condone socialism any more than the other position (that there isn't morality in emergencies.) For one thing, I don't see any reason why either would have to apply to non-emergency situations. For another, while the former position might end up saying that stealing was right during the course of an emergency, the latter position would definitely say that stealing wasn't wrong during the course of an emergency.

In terms of emergencies, tacitly allowing stealing (but absolving it from any moral judgement, positive or negative) is about as much of a pro-socialism argument as saying the theft is unquestionably either moral (should be done) or immoral (should not be done.)

This is an emergency. It does not mean that the food is yours by right, and you must pay the price when you get back to the world -- as a moral man, you will compensate the owner, without question.
Why?

But your choice to live in this situation is wholely beyond the scope of the metaphysically normal for man's existence.
But, is it proper to limit ethics to the metaphysically "normal?"

Share on other sites
Why?
It is acting in recognition of reality: that the stolen goods were not yours by right.
But, is it proper to limit ethics to the metaphysically "normal?"
Yes. What is the purpose of ethics?

Share on other sites
It is acting in recognition of reality: that the stolen goods were not yours by right.
But you wouldn't say that stealing in a non-emergency situation was okay so long as the goods are paid back?

What is the purpose of ethics?
Offhand, I was going to say the purpose of ethics is to provide (man) a standard of action, determine what he should and shouldn't do.

A quick OPAR (p.206) check says that ethics provides "a code of values to guide man's choices and actions - the choices and actions that determine the purpose and course of his life."

From either, I don't get that the only time ethics can possibly provide guidance is in normal situations... assuming "normal" was objectively defined in the first place.

Share on other sites
But you wouldn't say that stealing in a non-emergency situation was okay so long as the goods are paid back?
No, I would not say that. And I also don't say that theft is "okay" in the emergency situation where you are faced with the choice of death or theft. As you know, such circumstances are outside the domain of moral principles.
Offhand, I was going to say the purpose of ethics is to provide (man) a standard of action, determine what he should and shouldn't do.
I suppose I should have also included the question about what man's proper moral standard is. But assuming that, then you just have to consider how emergencies relate to your fundamental choice, existence. Hence (VOS, p. 54):
• An emergency is an unchosen, unexpected event, limited in time, that creates conditions under which human survival is impossibleâ€”such as a flood, an earthquake, a fire, a shipwreck. In an emergency situation, men's primary goal is to combat the disaster, escape the danger and restore normal conditions (to reach dry land, to put out the fire, etc.).
• By "normal" conditions I mean metaphysically normal, normal in the nature of things, and appropriate to human existence. Men can live on land, but not in water or in a raging fire. Since men are not omnipotent, it is metaphysically possible for unforeseeable disasters to strike them, in which case their only task is to return to those conditions under which their lives can continue.

Share on other sites
I also don't say that theft is "okay" in the emergency situation where you are faced with the choice of death or theft. As you know, such circumstances are outside the domain of moral principles.
By "okay", I don't mean that you would say that they ought to do it, but that you would not say that they oughtn't do it. You would condemn stealing in a non-emergency (even if it was paid back), but you would not condemn stealing in an emergency even if it was paid back?

In an emergency situation, men's primary goal is to combat the disaster, escape the danger and restore normal conditions.

But you don't say "moral goal" or "ethical task." If by this you meant that it is moral to (attempt to) get out of a state of emergency, and immoral to not do so, I would totally agree - but, this would at the least create a minimal standard of morality within emergency situations.

Share on other sites
By "okay", I don't mean that you would say that they ought to do it, but that you would not say that they oughtn't do it. You would condemn stealing in a non-emergency (even if it was paid back), but you would not condemn stealing in an emergency even if it was paid back?
If I sifted the negatives correctly and we are really talking about an emergency, then that is correct.
But you don't say "moral goal" or "ethical task." If by this you meant that it is moral to (attempt to) get out of a state of emergency, and immoral to not do so, I would totally agree - but, this would at the least create a minimal standard of morality within emergency situations.
That's the nature of Rand's quote. She didn't say "moral goal", and I didn't mean anything by what she said. Are you talking to me? Let's say yes. In which case, the question is whether there is a moral principle that obligates you to take another person's property in an emergency; or, is there a moral principle that unconditionally obligates you to take another person's life in an emergency (if doing so would save your life)? I don't believe that there is such an obligation, and there are some people in the world who I could not kill in order to save my own life.

Share on other sites

Whether one can universally and unequivocally determine what one should do (i.e. form and act on principles) in a given emergency is IMO secondary to whether gaining/keeping one's values (in an emergency ) requires a specific course of action.

In an emergency, there are some courses of action with which it is unclear as to whether they will ultimately be beneficial or detrimental (perhaps e.g. doing what an armed robber tells you.) I'd agree with the amoral status of these.

But IMO there are also courses of action that are definitely wrong (e.g. staying in the path of a river of lava) and some that are certainly moral to me (refusing to beat up a significant other to take the only parachute on a crashing plane.) Surely these courses would have ethical status - if not necessarily universal, then at least personal?

Even if some courses of actions in an emergency are morally ambiguous, there are some that are more clear-cut, and those clear-cut courses seem to warrant moral status.

Share on other sites

(humour break) When I was a teenager, I used to say the "Means Justifies the End"...not realizing my funny mistake. Sometimes now I think that is a more accurate statement. Evil means can only equal an evil end. I guess that is highly debatable.

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

• Topics

• 28
• 1
• 0
• 22
• 44
• 0
• 0
• 0
• 7
• 10
×
• Create New...