Saturday, April 27, 2013

The End does not Justify the Means

In a recent criminal case, the judge sentenced an industrialist to three years in prison, although what he had done he considered a good thing. The judge said he could not justify unlawful means to achieve a good end. In the words of the editorial in the Catholic Times, echoing a well-known moral principle: The end does not justify the means.

This is a basic principle of Catholic teaching on morality. If the means to achieve a goal are not good, no matter how good our intention may be and no matter how good the end to be achieved may be, the means to achieve that end is morally not permitted.                                                     

We often see many cases where we justify what we do by the good end we hope to achieve. A Korean proverb states: Earn your money like a dog and spend it like a prime minister. This seemingly puzzling advice can be understood in at least two ways. Positively: No matter how humble the work you do to earn a living, spend it wisely. And not so positively: It doesn't make any difference the way you earn your money but spend it wisely. This second interpretation is the way many understand the proverb and justify the use of questionable means to achieve their goals.

This understanding can be seen by the way we look upon life issues and the influence on our thinking of a materialistic mindset. That the judge affirmed by his sentence that the end does not justify the means is a good sign for our society, and should be highly commended. Not to be concerned with the means we use to achieve a goal is not a sign of a healthy society. The end, no matter how worthwhile it may be, does not justify a means that disregards the moral code, and we as citizens should be working to see that this principle is upheld in society.

We are bombarded with all types of theories that often justify any action, provided that our intention is good. This is a reason for many of our problems in politics, education and religion. As long as our focus is only on the perceived good end, ignoring the morality of the means to achieve that end, we know what is likely to result from acquiescing to this way of thinking.  With some serious thought, forgetting the self and thinking of the common good, we can arrive at a proper understanding of ends and means that would easily clear up the confusion surrounding this sometimes contentious issue.


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