Sunday, January 26, 2014

Do Ends Justify Means?

This weekend I was going through our old computers and hard drives, consolidating alllllllllllll our pictures, when I found some papers I had written for my Intro to Philosophy class in college. One in particular caught my eye. The writing prompt was "Does any end justify 'any means necessary'?" 

The following is what I wrote. It is certainly lacking finesse, I'll readily admit that. Keep in mind I wrote this when I was 21, years before I ever heard of the non-aggression principle. I'm pleasantly surprised to see the ideas behind the principle came to me organically. I wish I would have applied this way of thinking to my parenting earlier, but I digress. (I realize I used male pronouns throughout, please replace these in your head with a gender neutral pronoun.)

"If one were able to do the world a great good, at the expense of certain people’s suffering, would it be justified? For example, if the world could be rid of disease but hundreds had to die in the testing and perfection of the cure, should it be done? There is no end, no matter how good it may be, that would justify ill means to be achieved.

The only end which would ever justify any means would be to rid the world of all pain and suffering. However, since pain and suffering are a natural part of human existence, and perhaps even necessary to the growth of the human spirit, it would be inconceivable to rid the world of it. Therefore, since this end is unattainable, any means claiming to be justified because they move toward this end are not only false but also unjustified. 

There are two types of people who would claim to be doing the world a great good at a certain expense. The first are those who want to use this claim as a tool of manipulation for their own gain. The second are those who truly believe they are benefiting the world. While the latter has good intentions, they are both still unjustified. The first is, obviously, because he has no one else’s benefit in mind but his own; the second because he has lost sight of the individuals who will be negatively affected in his quest for the greater good. When considering the amount of damage either of these men could do in the name of the “greater good”, the second is capable of far more than the first. This is because he truly believes he will achieve good through any means, and he is not acting out of selfishness. Because of this, other people will also believe he is justified and aid his cause. 

No one individual’s happiness is more important than another’s. Likewise, causing one individual’s suffering is no more justified than another’s. It is because of this fact, that no end which would bring happiness to one individual by means of another’s suffering can ever be justified. No one enjoys being caused pain by another, and so each person has the responsibility not to cause pain to others. Of course, pain is inevitable in every person’s life, but causing pain intentionally must be avoided. Intentionally causing one person pain for another’s gain must be avoided even more so. 

There are means which would achieve great good for the world, but which unfortunately require some individuals to suffer in order to come to pass. Even though the world would greatly benefit, it is not in anyone’s power to choose who should suffer and who should not. The only way such an end could come about in a justifiable way would be for an individual to choose for himself to suffer for the benefit of others, and not have been manipulated into choosing so. 

Some people believe causing a select few people pain or suffering can truly bring about benefit for the rest of the world, but they are mistaken. When someone is unjustly caused pain by another person, they remember it even after the pain is gone. Harbored with these memories is resentment. When a person has resentment in their heart along with the memory of being unjustly wronged, there can be a motivation to cause harm to others. Therefore when good is achieved through ill means, it is actually creating an equal amount of ill will as good. Being blessed with good fortune is not always a powerful motivator for people to bestow good fortune onto others. On the other hand, being dealt misfortune is a very powerful motivator for people to bestow misfortune onto others, because it makes them feel if they were wronged then they are justified in wronging others. 

Since the desire to deal ill will unto others multiplies itself at a higher rate than the desire to deal good fortune onto others, committing even the slightest wrong against someone in order to create any amount of good will ultimately result in more wrong in the world than any good which came from the wrongdoing in the first place. Therefore the only justifiable way to bring about any end is to do it through good means. If using “any means necessary” involves doing wrong to others, there is not an end in existence which would justify them. "

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