Charles Gutjahr

Melbourne, Australia

The Ends Justify The Means

24 Feb 2019 — a 1 minute read on opinion

Recently I argued with a friend over the concept of 'the ends justify the means'. I think its bad reputation is unfair. A common argument against the concept is that Hitler justified the horrors of the Holocaust by the ends of achieving the Third Reich. I think that argument fails because those ends would be appalling. When the ends are unjustified it does not follow that any means are justified.

The material question that 'the ends justify the means' poses is what should we do when the ends are justified? Does that justify less-than-ideal means? I think it does.

I think we should strive for a peaceful world of equal rights and opportunity. I think those are justified ends. If we can get to those ends through means that are always good and ethical, then great! But the world is not that simple and sometimes it throws up a choice between ideal means or ideal ends. The right choice there is to pick the ideal ends. Are means actually ideal if they lead to a worse outcome for the world? I think not, and so the ends are more important than the means.

Every argument I have heard against the concept of 'the ends justify the means' mistakenly blames means when the problem is unjustified ends.