2011 – National 7th Grade 3rd Place Award Winner:

Lina Vignelli, New York.


The ends can only justify the means if the amassed positive outcomes outweigh the negative ones. Many a righteous end was brought about by impure means, but was accepted by a society as a necessary evil.

If one steps back and observes our actions, from an untainted, unbiased perspective, they will see the truth: by human nature, we are inclined to amend our moral codes depending on the situation and how it serves us. Once one recognizes this, it becomes possible to fairly judge the means by the ends. But, one must also realize that no sole “end” results from our actions; ultimately, multiple ends are born from our treacherous and heroic deeds.

To truly understand this, one must dissect every individual step involved in achieving our goals– our means– and then measure the positive or negative impact each step causes. Driven by religious vehemence, a plethora of terrorist assaults have been made recently. These terrorists believe their ends– goals– are justified in name of their God, but from their utterly brutal means come vast arrays of byproduct ends; incomplete families, destruction and madness, indescribable horrors only human hands can manufacture. And, most obviously, violence begets violence, frequently as retaliation or support. In this fashion, new ends– results– are produced, often unanticipated. As Socrates once said, “I only wish that ordinary people had an unlimited capacity for doing harm; then they might have an unlimited power for doing good.” We cannot choose whether or not we affect each other– we can only choose how.

The next step is measuring each deed’s wicked or scrupulous value, including the end achievement, then comparing each collective “side” and determining which mode of impact is predominant. For instance, one wishes to attain a passing test score. Fraudulently, they obtain a copy of the test beforehand, and fervently study until they have absorbed every last detail, and succeed. Upon further scrutiny, they did not involve others, ended up in the desired school, heightened their grades, and did retain knowledge. Though cheating is immoral, it produced, for them, beneficial results. But then, their sullied victory resulted in a hardworking peer who also passed to be ejected from the standings, as only a limited amount of spaces remained in the school they were testing for. They have cheated a comrade out of an equally bright future by denying him the same level of education. They deceived their community. In addition, this sets a low standard of morality for the cheater, and a lifelong pattern of unprincipled behavior could ensue. So, finally, when we measure each side’s presence, each action representing a different value that we as humans determine using our hearts rather than our minds, we can deduce that their cheating produced heavily negative results that outweigh the positive ones; consequently, their ends cannot justify their means.

In conclusion, our means can never be justified unless the positive consequences outweigh the negative. We must analyze each of our acts and their repercussions, measure their ethical value, and then compare the sum totals of each side: good and evil. Whether our means can ever be justified depends on to which side the scale tips.

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