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Quora Answer : Do you think that the ends justify the means?

Mar 23, 2017

Yes, of course.

When you act, you act towards a goal. This is just a basic principle of rationality.

It's irrational to act without having an end in mind. Acting without a goal is either an automatic "reflex". Or an ingrained habit that you don't question and can't modify. Or literally "just doing random shit".

All rational action is justified by its ends.

"Yeah, yeah", you say, "but we're talking about ethics here. Not reason."

Same difference.

Of course we take intention into account when making moral assessments of other people's behaviour. That's why we make a distinction between murder and manslaughter. It's the basis of all those horrible "TrolleyProblems" in moral philosophy that try to disentangle how "the ends justify the means" should be applied in awkward edge cases.

As I write, yesterday, a crazy guy with a knife tried to attack the UK parliament, stabbed a policeman to death and was then shot by another armed cop.

So why did the guy with the gun shoot the guy with the knife? What "justified" that violent act? Only the proposed "end" of stopping the knifeman and preventing him from hurting anyone else.

"The ends justify the means" is so obviously true. And universal, it would hardly be worth commenting on. The only time people complain about it, is when they DON'T think that some specific ends do justify the specific means. Usually because they don't like the ends.

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