The End does not Justify the Means

By Christine Smith

Published on January 1, 2010

In the many issues facing society, a common rationalization for committing wrong, immoral, unjust or unethical acts is that if the greater good is served the relative harm necessary to gain such a supposed good is justified. In essence, people say doing bad can result in good, thus they assert bad becomes good. This has become commonly accepted in politics (as well as within people’s personal and business lives).

Consider issues such as immigration, taxation, abortion, capital punishment, torture, and the use of military force. All present a multitude of possible scenarios and situations in which the use of force is argued or disputed. Must we, then, live our lives in a state of flux, constantly having to analyze each and every situation to determine what is ethical? Are there times when commission of a wrong act is the best choice because the result may be better for the majority? Is morality relative? Can an immoral or unethical act sometimes be the right thing to do if the outcome is deemed favorable?

The final result of an action cannot and must not be the determiner of right or wrong. To allow your mind to begin to accept this falsehood to any degree permits corruption to enter. Do not arrogantly think you are capable of compromising what you know is right and wrong in a situation just because it is difficult, for many well-intentioned people have done so only to later find themselves having accepted degrees of inflicting harm upon others they would never have thought themselves capable. And the core truth is that committing any evil, regardless of the circumstances, is always wrong. Consider history, every horrible inhumanity man has committed against others, was justified in their own mind(s).

The truth is no evil action is justified by having a good end in mind. This is true for a nation, as it is for you as an individual. Intention does not detract from the gravity of committing a wrongful action.

To accept commission of evil against other human beings for a supposed favorable end for other human beings is to defy ethics and morality completely. A recurrent example of this is of the United States’ targeting civilians for some geopolitical “end” it wishes to achieve (resulting in the tragic death and suffering of millions). Whether during the invasions of sovereign nations (without congressional declaration of war), deliberate bombings of civilians during war, or covert operations worldwide in which civilians die for some advantage as perceived by our government – every instance assumes moral justification for the widespread death and destruction.

Take the bombing of Dresden, Germany by the U.S Air Force and the Royal Air Force during the last days of World War II which is now viewed and accepted by many as a targeting of innocent civilians (not a military target) for the sake of instilling terror. With casualties in the tens of thousands, it destroyed morale, yes, but was of little if any military significance (targets nearby of a military industrial nature were not bombed while civilians were). Certainly, the unnecessary bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are more glaring examples. The internment of Japanese Americans is yet another example of where our government felt the end justified the means. But they were wrong.

Decades of history show the U.S. government does not value human life – it values only power. And the government uses fear to manipulate the people into supporting its actions no matter how horrendous.

Because so many accept the falsehood “the end justifies the means” they become capable of endorsing evil they would otherwise have rejected.

One example of this is the consensus of many Americans that to ally our nation with dictators and tyrants is acceptable, or the acceptance of implementation of cruel embargoes upon innocent people if it furthers U.S. presence in parts of the world with resources our nation wishes to avail itself of. If the result is desired, any means to obtain it has become acceptable to the U.S. government, and sadly many Americans believe this as well.

The widespread acceptance of the use of torture to possibly obtain information from suspected terrorists is another example where as a nation we are becoming depraved. Torture, regardless of the situation, can never be justified. It is the identical evil nature we claim to abhor. It is one of the most un-American practices possible (if we define “American” as reminiscent of the values we once proclaimed and were regarded favorably by the rest of the world for). But so many Americans have let fear do the choosing between right and wrong.

Justifying evil because of a sought-after result is also frequently used in people’s private lives. People lie to themselves to go ahead and do what they want, but rather than consciously acknowledging that an action is wrong and doing it anyway, they craftily lie to themselves by convincing themselves that the good for themselves (or even another) in the end warrants their own wrongdoing because a wrong was done to them. Making it even is viewed as making it right, but vindictiveness for even real persecution which has been suffered does not justify a wrong action.

I believe, to do so even in the smallest of matters puts one on a dangerous slippery slope as they say, for once a little corruption is accepted, more serious opportunities of corruption will surely follow. Do not delude yourself into thinking that “just this one time” you can put your values aside, for in doing so you’ve fallen much deeper into darkness than you realize.

As the Bible warns, “Keep your heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.” (Proverbs 4:23, KJV). Keeping our heart requires diligence as the examples I gave above illustrate, for once we allow even a small degree of acceptance of doing wrong to enter, we become capable of even more. No amount of wrongful actions, no matter how measured, can be justified by one who values ethics, integrity, and morality. Though we may err from always doing so, we can certainly choose to never willingly unjustly cause harm regardless of the positive consequences which could be derived from it.

In any dilemma, the choice you make will either be motivated by love or by fear. Love is bold, strong, and courageous. It will never suggest commission of evil for a desirable outcome. But fear will always try to make you question the decision your conscience first came to; fear will whisper rationalizations to try and make you feel not so bad about doing something you know is wrong – it will lie to you. It will even make you worry that a decision based on ethics and morality may make you become an outsider in the group(s) you affiliate with. Fear will give you all the “good reasons” to compromise what you know is in your heart.

Good is accomplished, and liberty achieved, to the degree one refuses to compromise what they know within is right and wrong. As an individual, you must determine this for yourself. As a nation, the majority of the people’s characters will determine the nation’s actions. On the personal and political, let your will, your character, and your decisions be of integrity – no exceptions.

Never compromise. Listen to your conscience, and all will be well.

The Author

Christine Smith is a writer from Colorado. You may visit her website at: This article was originally published by The Future of Freedom Foundation.

Article picture: guy_dugas via Pixabay


Law & Philosophy