2011 – National High School 5th Place Award Winner:
Anthony Saya, New York.
Do the Ends Justify the Means ?
Throughout history there have been those within mankind that have harbored the belief that accomplishments eclipse the morality of the actions utilized to reach them. Ovid wrote “Exitus actus probat.” – The result justifies the deed. The Italian philosopher Machiavelli championed in his treatise The Prince the desirability of a ruler to act upon the same principle. But is the only path to progress paved in an ignorance of the welfare of one’s fellow man? Does achievement truly excuse avarice and atrocity?
Consider the Great Wall of China, which stretches over 4000 miles in length. The hulking artificial border can be regarded in terms of size and scale alone as one of the most significant accomplishments in the history of mankind. But all too often we forget that it also serves as a grand testament to the suffering and toil of thousands of peasant men. These respectable, working-class individuals were unceremoniously plucked from their lives. Many of them never saw their families again, who in turn suffered both the emotional loss of a loved one and the practical loss of their means of food procurement, their ultimate fate to be buried within the contemptible wall they drained their life force constructing. Yet the immorality of their involuntary sacrifice is subordinated to the triumph of realizing the wall, which ultimately failed to serve its indented defensive purpose. In this instance mankind demonstrates its subordination to the vortex of materialism, content with directing droves of its fellow men to their deaths for the end result of an ultimately functionless mass of stone, a glorified expression of power valued for, all of frivolously things, its historic aesthetic. Equivalently, we are advocating the sacrifice and slaughter of a dozen men for a banner stitched from their finest clothing, a child for a colorful cake. For it is by attempting to quantify the worth of a human being that we demonstrate our deepest ignorance, and no miraculous feat, materialistic or otherwise, can justify such subjective and lowly practice.
It is also ignorance to uphold the ideal that mankind must never consider the morality of its decisions to attain productivity, to fly in the face of the potential to achieve a desired end via ethical means. Is it not possible to be both efficient and benevolent? Consider the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Acting under the principals of peaceful protest advocated by Mohandas Gandhi, King waged a war paved in civil disobedience rather than physical sacrifice. He successfully organized the necessary manpower to challenge accepted ideals of racial segregation, and ultimately achieved the desired end of “colorblind” equality.
Although under certain circumstances one may find it difficult to discern a path to the realization of a desired outcome that does not lie in acting unfavorably toward one’s fellow man, it is a wisdom characteristic of the noblest of individuals to recognize that all such righteous ends are attainable within the means that needn’t be justified by the end result itself.
Philosophy Slam Home Page