What got this post started? phadde2, who authors an excellent blog (The American Post-Standard), provided a series of comments on SURRENDERING TO THE ESTABLISHMENT? — PART 1 (starting here).Unfortunately, made the forgivable mistake of letting scout’s interpretation (here) of what he was trying to say stand without correction. So I commented (here) and suggested that he provide clarification. did so. Unsatisfied with his first three comments (here, here, and here), added two more (here and here). He also asked that I ignore his earlier comments. Of course, I am only human. So I cannot purge my mind of unwanted thoughts, but I certainly appreciated the latter comments.
What was doing with all those comments? He was wrestling with a very complex problem. He was trying to answer a difficult question. Does the end justify the means?
Those who believe the end does justify the means actually have a name for this philosophy, Consequentialism. If you are interested in reading about the philosophy of Consequentialism, here are some links.
- Consequentialism — Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- Consequentialism — Standford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- Consequentialism — The Basics of Philosophy
- Consequentialism: results-based ethics — BBC Ethics Guide
- Consequentialism — Wikipedia
Frankly, I only had time to scan all these articles. Some are fairly lengthy. Nonetheless, when I need a break at work (lunch), I suppose I will read the more interesting of them.
Some years back I wrote about this subject (PHILOSOPHICAL CONFUSION OVER ENDS AND MEANS), and I found myself surprised by two things.
- Does the end justify the means? In theory, the answer to the question is surprisingly simple. Christ commanded us to love others as we love ourselves. We fall into the trap of choosing inappropriate means when we have a selfish motive. Thus, the solution is to love others as we love ourselves.
- Unfortunately, we are too often concerned about our own feelings. Therefore, we rarely put theory into practice. Then we can unwisely choose means supposedly justified by the end. Then we can refuse to do unto others as we would have others do unto us.
In his comments, compared a politician with good intentions lying to the electorate with a spy lying to the enemy. At different times I have called politics warfare waged with ballots. So I suppose it might seem that I would sympathize with the comparison suggested. Real warfare, however, involves a real enemy. Real warfare involves hostile people committed to the subjugation or destruction of our family, friends, and neighbors. Politics just involves peacefully settling our differences with our sometimes disagreeable and deceitful fellow citizens. We don’t lie to our sometimes disagreeable and deceitful fellow citizens. The threat of war, however, may leave us no alternative except deception to protect our family, friends, and neighbors.
Something as dire as espionage must involve a strict adherence to a code of ethics. This code must force us to distinguish between friendly nations and potential adversaries. Because we have no automatic right to deceive friendly nations and pry into their secrets, we must clearly identify potential adversaries and fix in our minds what it is about those potential adversaries that makes them inherently dangerous. Then we must — if the threat is real — do what is necessary to protect our family, friends, and neighbors and no more.
The problem, of course, lies in the implementation. We do not have pure motives. When are we being selfish? When are we just doing what is necessary to protect our family, friends, and neighbors? Sometimes the answer is not so clear, but that ambiguity does not relieve of any responsibility. It just means we must do the best we can do.