2011 – Most Philosophical 7th Grader in America:

Lily Xu, Texas.

Do the Ends Justify the Means ?

In society, there are many different cases and defenses that people use to justify their actions. If we use ends or goals to justify our means, then we need to be certain that the ends are reachable; if they are not, then the means cannot be immediately justified or named “immoral”. It is not the goal that justifies the means; it is the nature of the means themselves that allow for the means and the ends to be evaluated for morality.

Though laws are passed in order to keep the public safe, and even if we will never reach that “perfect” society “end”, these means are justified by their own morality and how effective they are in moving society closer to “perfection.” Society trades off personal happiness for personal happiness, following utilitarianism. Land can be legally confiscated by the government to provide for public good. Even if these means may bring much pain to one person, it will still bring some happiness to many other people. Though the happiness of one individual in the public does not offset the pain of that person, the addition of all the pleasure in the public will surpass the pain of the individual. This utilitarian approach may be able to justify almost all of society’s laws; if the overall resulting pleasure is greater than the pain, then the means are not “evil”.

If more evil is done than good to reach the ends, then that end is no longer a justifiable end. Because good society wants justice for all, governments which cause injustice defeat the end they try to serve. We cannot have good ends for bad means any more than we can build good houses from bad materials. Often, we fail to ask whether the end is truly “good” and forget to examine how the means affect the ends. This happens frequently in politics and war, where the only criterion is success, and anything that is successful is justified. If a politician was corrupt and lazy, but was able to fix things in the country, should we vote for that person? Or, should we vote for someone who is moral and upright, but cannot balance the budget, keep the country safe from war, etc? Nowadays, most people would choose the leader who could benefit the people most, regardless of their means. However, if a religious leader could rally people to do well but was morally wrong; most people would not support his means. Success might be the base which measures the profit of the means in politics and such, but expediency is one thing and moral justification is another.

Therefore, we cannot use our ends to justify our means. In society, the laws and restrictions (means) that are placed for public good (ends) can be justified by the utilitarian approach and the judgment of morality of means. If the means cause less pain than pleasure to every individual in society, then both the ends and means are justified.



Kids Philosophy Slam Home Page