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The ends justify the means

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 2/17/2013 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 4 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 30,208 times Debate No: 30345
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (43)
Votes (1)




In this debate, I will be arguing that the ends justify the means while my opponent will be arguing that the ends don't necessarily justify the means.

Definition of 'The ends justify the means' : "A good outcome excuses wrongs committed to attain it."

In this debate, nihilism (or apathetic views toward morality) may not be used as a talking point agaisnt or for the resolution.

Important : Voters will ignore all other categories other than ' made more convincing arguments,' when voting. It is the responsibility of voters to counter any votes for other categories with a vote for the other party in the same category It is also the responsibility of the voter to comment that they have done so.


This opening round is for definitions and acceptance only. I will give the Pro case at the start of the second round.

Standard debate conventions apply. I list them here for the benefit of new debaters and readers. I believe there is nothing tricky or eccentric. Both sides agree to the following rules, and that violating the rules is a conduct violation, with anything contrary to the rules to be ignored by readers judging the debate:

DR 1. All arguments must be made in the debate. Evidence may be cited or linked from the debate, but only in support of arguments made in the debate. Arguments made in Comments are to be ignored.

DR 2. Source links or references must be included within the 8000 characters per round limit of the debate. No links or sources are permitted in comments.

DR 3 Any term not specifically defined before use is to be taken with the ordinary dictionary definition of the term that best fits the context of the debate.

DR 4. No new arguments shall be made in Round 4. Pro may rebut previous arguments using new evidence solely for that purpose, but no new arguments are allowed. Con may not present any new evidence in R4.

DR 5. DDO site rules always apply. Neither side may add or modify rules for the debate once the challenge is accepted.

By responding to this proposal you accept this debate. By accepting this debate, you accept all terms provided. Failing to comply with the above rules means a loss for the offender.

I look forward to an interesting debate!
Debate Round No. 1


I thank my opponent for accepting this debate.

Among the most important things humanity faces is the philosophy of ethics. What should we do? Why should we do it? The answer to these questions is cardinal to the development of humanity. Morality is a complex issue, and sometimes it's not necessarily clear if there are even definite answers to these questions.
When one sets out to determine if something is moral or not, one must first conclude what should be included for analysis. For instance, most people would agree that pushing a random person off a cliff would be an immoral act. However, it is only immoral if one looks at the results of that push, not the push itself. Thus, when one determines if an act is immoral or not, it is necessary to look at the full ramifications of an action rather than the intrinsic action itself. I argue that the ends to an action justify the means, because the morality of an action lies in the ramifications. If the 'means' produce lasting negative effects that outweigh the 'good' of the ends, then the 'means' to that situation become the ends. One has to remember that the 'ends' of a situation include the 'means,' so if the 'end' of a situation is morally preferable to the alternative of the action not happening, it is apparent that the action is moral and justified.

I pass the debate to Con.


Before going into what I believe are the flaws in the theory Pro proposes, it is useful to review what a more classical approach to the problem of morality says on the matter.

Moral Framework

  1. Freedom makes man a moral agent. Deliberate actions, made freely after a judgement of conscience can be judged morally. These actions can be qualified as good, evil or neutral.
  2. Morality of acts depends on three elements, taken together
    • Object (not to be confused with objective): what is being done (the means)
    • Intention: why the person chooses to do it (end)
    • Context: morally relevant circumstances that can increase or decrease goodness or evil of an action or even affect the responsibility of the person who realizes the act in question. It cannot however make a good act evil or an evil act good. Here, we will limit ourselves to the object and the intention, the means and ends in the language of the resolution.
  3. There are other factors to take into consideration, such as formal vs material cooperation or mediate and immediate cooperation which, for the sake of clarity, I hope will not need to enter this conversation. In case they eventually do need mention, I mention them in passing.
Intrinsic and Extrinsic Evils

There are certain actions, such as rape, murder or slander that are everywhere and always wrong, not because of they are ordered to, but because the act itself is intrinsically evil. These violate respectively a person's sexual integrity, life and honor, each one of these Goods valued as such due to a consideration of human dignity, the basis on which morality itself is based. Whether you base this human dignity on the fact that mankind are made in the image and likeness of God or, as secular humanism does, on the extraordinary quality of mankind as a rational being this is such a primary consideration that to violate this principle in whatever degree cannot be justified by a given circumstance.

Other things are not intrinsic evils, but are configured as just or unjust by outside factors, extrinsically. This is where the aforementioned framework steps in. To push someone is not in and of itself evil. You may push someone out of anger in order to intimidate them or you may push them playfully in order to show trust and affection. Even pushing someone off a cliff can be a morally neutral act, depending if your intent is to kill the person or force them to defeat their fears and finally experience the thrill of bungee-jumping. In this case you can say, in a sense, that the intention, or end, justifies the object, or means. It gives positive or negative moral character to a neutral proposition, but it cannot make a direct violation of the fundamental moral principles, intrinsic evils, good.

Even in the former case -- in which we discount intrinsic evils -- to say that it is the intention which makes the action good or bad would be a reductionist view. The nature of good is perfection, and the nature of evil is to be flawed. For an act to be good, both the object and the intention must be morally acceptable. A morally acceptable, or even a morally good object, such as doing volunteer work, may be done for morally unacceptable (for vainglory) or even evil reasons (to fend off suspicion of criminal activity and elude justice). In the same way, a morally good intention (defending the environment) does not constitute a morally positive action if the means are intrinsic evils (murdering the owner of a coal mine).

The problem comes, in many people's minds, when the good that is intended is comparable in importance or even apparently greater than the evil that is to be done. The circumstance is sometimes mentioned by moral philosophers or psychologists in which a large boulder is rolling down towards a group of 15 hikers who would surely die if you do not shove a rather fat man between them (large enough to stop the boulder) therefore killing him. Surely, they say, the life of the one is worth sacrificing for the good of the many. In violating that primary moral principle (the inviolability of innocent human life) in directly participating in the murder of the large man, one has so thoroughly betrayed the very source of the goodness of the intention that it brings into question the integrity of the act itself. While the fact of the death of 15 people is doubtless tragic, we cannot do evil that good may come of it.

Flaws in Pro's position

The definitions in my opponent's line of thinking constitute a form of equivocation. Pro argues that "If the 'means' produce lasting negative effects that outweigh the 'good' of the ends, then the 'means' to that situation become the ends". In saying this, Pro seems to define, rather arbitrarily, the terms to mean something completely different to their common understanding. To Pro, the 'means' are any morally neutral methods to accomplish something whereas 'ends' are both the intention behind actions and the morally relevant methods used to accomplish those intentions. This equivocation empties the original phrase of all meaning as it could be rendered as "The morally relevant component of actions justify the morally irrelevant ones". This is clearly not what is originally meant by the adage. In addition to this, there seems to be some confusion to what the word "ends" is intended to mean. The "ends" in this context are to be taken to mean the outcome worked towards, the purpose. This is not the same thing as result. We cannot know the result, nor can we make moral judgements based on them, we can, however, consider the worthiness of a purpose or objective. More on that later.

This is also a reductionist view of a matter which Pro himself admits is rather complex. It ignores components of the action which can clearly be differentiated and weighed separately.

It is a position which lends itself to subjectivism. For instance, getting a degree is a morally worthy intention, or end. Two different people may choose different means to attain this end. One may choose to study hard and the other may choose to cheat off the one who studies. The person making the choice may say that, in judging the relative moral weight of the means and ends, and thinking of the ramifications this could lead to, he has decided that all in all the result of him passing is morally preferable to the result of not passing. This, then, would constitute a moral act for that person. Some may argue that this is not the case, as the end result is that an unqualified person is given the same degree as a hard-working and qualified one, however, the fact is that the position can lend itself to far too much interpretation and rationalization ("I am just not good at tests, but I know my stuff and would be a marvelous doctor" OR "Who cares? A degree in law is just a prerequisite to get into my uncle's company, I'm never actually going to need to use this" etc). A moral framework that does not serve to guide moral decision-making is simply not useful.

The full ramifications cannot be the source of the moral character of a situation. It is simply unreasonable to believe that a person can truly know the full ramifications of his actions. Pro mentions elsewhere that he states his belief that the premise assumes that the person must know that the results would be "net-positive". This is, however, assuming too much. It would essentially make this an empty theoretical discussion of the morality of omniscient beings. We cannot ever know the full ramifications of our actions because we are not omniscient. We do not know the location and trajectory of every atom in the universe, we do not know whether the rain will make it likely for a person to slip and break his neck when we playfully push them away, we do not know how others will react to something we say. We can only judge our actions by what is presently true: by the action we will make and by the objective it aims towards. Never by the results which have not (and may never be) achieved.
Debate Round No. 2


I thank my opponent for his thorough response.

The moral framework my opponent is suggesting leads to pain and suffering at the hand of an ethics that claims, in effect, actions cannot be judged for the results they produce nor the intentions behind them. This philosophy greatly limits the extent of which we as a society can curtail suffering, because it limits the actions we can take to curtail. If an action's morality is defined only by its intrinsic nature, and not by the ramifications nor the intention, any 'good' that is only possible via an intrinsically 'immoral' action will only be possible if the society either drops this limiting philosophy of intrinsic moral analysis, or is forced to change its morals to make the action moral, in which case neither the intention nor the results apply to this action which is now intrinsically 'good,' (which is actually an immoral action if taken intrinsically)

When one considers if 'The end justifies the means,' one must realize that this statement is not nor does it claim to be a normative ethical system itself. It cannot be, for it does not define what a 'good end' is nor if the means to achieve it 'outweigh' the end. This statement is merely an extension of preexistent morals, further extending the reach of these morals and the extent to which they can be achieved. If society defines human life as something to be protected, and places a higher value on it than the life of a tree, then it follows that even if this society places a tree as a value, it would be moral for one to cut down trees to make a log cabin to survive harsh winter. Thus, the ends (human life) justify the means (the death of a tree).

Examples of society justifying the means with the ends is all around us-- and for good reason. I wouldn't live in -- nor would I wish upon my worst enemy-- a society in which no 'good' can be justified with any amount of 'bad.' This society would go extinct with this limited morality. In a society such as the one mentioned, punishment (prison) would be illegal for it is immoral to lock up a human being against his or her will. It's easy to see that this is absurd, for the criminal broke the law and the public needs to be protected from further crimes, but that is what the results of denying the simple fact that the ends do justify the means causes.


"One may choose to study hard and the other may choose to cheat off the one who studies. The person making the choice may say that, in judging the relative moral weight of the means and ends, and thinking of the ramifications this could lead to, he has decided that all in all the result of him passing is morally preferable to the result of not passing."

Cheating for personal gain is already considered an intrinsically immoral act in society. So in this case, 'The ends would not justify the means' for the ends are immoral. 'The ends justify the means' is not necessarily a subjective morality. It is only subjective if the morality of a society already is subjective. Murder in our society is considered immoral, even if it benefits someone, so to say 'The ends justify the means' would claim murder was moral if the person doing the murder knows he or she will benefit is just false. The 'Ends' of a situation is the analysis of the morality of a situation according to the morality of the society.

" It is simply unreasonable to believe that a person can truly know the full ramifications of his actions. "

'The ends justify the means' morality does not claim people should act according to arbitrary whim. If you saw an infant being attacked by a dog, would you kill the dog if you had to if you wanted to save the infant? What if by doing so the owner of the dog committed suicide because the dog was all they had? You couldn't have foreseen that, and you were rationally justified to act, so would you be considered immoral? 'The ends justify the means' is simply a moral ethic that says 'The most possible good is good.' Striving for the most possible good (The ends justify the means) is more moral than the illogical notion that any 'bad' actions cannot be justified by any results.

" The circumstance is sometimes mentioned by moral philosophers or psychologists in which a large boulder is rolling down towards a group of 15 hikers who would surely die if you do not shove a rather fat man between them (large enough to stop the boulder) therefore killing him. Surely, they say, the life of the one is worth sacrificing for the good of the many. In violating that primary moral principle (the inviolability of innocent human life) in directly participating in the murder of the large man, one has so thoroughly betrayed the very source of the goodness of the intention that it brings into question the integrity of the act itself. While the fact of the death of 15 people is doubtless tragic, we cannot do evil that good may come of it."

This notion is nonsense.

No one in the history of the World has presented a valid reason why pushing the fat man in that scenario is immoral. 'It is immoral because murder is wrong,' they say. If life is defined as a value (we shouldn't kill the fat man), then saving more of it (15) is more of a value (1). Following your logic, we should let the a billion humans die if it was necessary to murder someone, for it would be immoral to do so. Is that morality useful? For whom? This scenario only stresses the point and makes it very obvious, but it's no different than any other. Any time we pass up good for a lesser good in the name of being good, I consider that evil proportional to the amount the latter is less than the former.

" In the same way, a morally good intention (defending the environment) does not constitute a morally positive action if the means are intrinsic evils (murdering the owner of a coal mine). "

'The ends justify the means' is not a equivalent to 'Do what you want as long as you believe it's good,' for it is immoral of people to assume they are completely rational. One should not assume because they believe an end is moral that it truly is moral any more than people, under my opponent's philosophy should assume so. For instance, would it be moral of someone to get high on meth and kill someone, claiming they thought they were rational and justified, and that the other person was attacking them? However, if the person in your scenario for some reason knew the 'ends' of killing owner outweighed the costs (means) of his deaths, why shouldn't she kill him? Why would that be immoral if it produced results which were morally preferable to the alternative and was done so in good conscience.

In conclusion, morality must be defined as what is the most moral -- morals being defined as what individuals rationally consider to be moral (excluding the morality of intrinsic morality (this debate)) . If we are limited by defining an action's morality in a vacuum -- we are left with exactly that: a morality designed for a vacuum. A morality useless for this World. A morality that is objectively immoral.


I'm afraid my opponent seems to entirely miss the point, which makes his objections rather ineffective. We should try to clear up the confusion. To do so I will address the points he brings up and point out the key issue he has neglected to address.


Rebuttals to Assertions

1. Pro characterizes my position incorrectly as that "morality is only defined by its intrinsic nature" or that "actions cannot be judged for the (...) intentions behind them". I mentioned in my argument that both the object and the intention must be morally acceptable in order for the action as a whole to be deemed good. This is not an "either or", but a "both and" proposition.

2. Pro also says that given my view certain goods would only be achievable if a society "[changes] its morals (...) to make the action moral" thereby changing an intrinsic evil to an intrinsic good. This is patent nonsense. If something is intrinsically good or intrinsically evil it depends on nothing outside of itself (much less public opinion) for this to be true. If a society ignores morality and cries out "evil be thou my good" it does not make it so, it simply makes that society an immoral one.

3. Pro then goes on to make a rather odd remark about the cutting down of trees. This seems to reaffirm my conclusion that the differentiation between intrinsically evil and morally neutral or positive means was simply not registered. Cutting down a tree is not an intrinsic evil. We recognize the beauty of nature, and have a certain degree of responsibility to be good stewards of nature, but a tree is not a moral agent, and cutting down a tree is not intrinsically evil whereas cutting down a tree for the pure pleasure of destruction or out of envy for a neighbor's orchard would be. This is because while the object is neutral the intention is negative. This falls completely in line with the framework I set forward and I thank my opponent for the example.

4. Pro makes the rather bizarre claim that under the framework I propose we would not be able to send criminals to prison, as he decides to call imprisonment an intrinsic moral evil. Unjust imprisonment (taking freedom away from the innocent) certainly is, however imprisonment itself is not. Imprisonment of criminals is comparable to holding back the fist of an aggressor so he may not strike his victim or sending a child to his room to "think about what he has done". For it to be just it must seek 1. the safety of society and 2. the rehabilitation of the delinquent. The fact that a situation causes discomfort does not make it an intrinsic evil.

Rebuttals to Rebuttals

1. Cheating. Pro claims that, as society deems cheating an intrinsically immoral act, this means that the ends are immoral. This once again confuses the ends (whether considered as the intention or, more erroneously, as the result) and means (the object, the act itself). The act is cheating, the intention is to get the degree. Getting a degree (the ends) is a good thing. The means, however, are problematic. The fact that they are problematic do not automatically make them ends, there is simply no justification for this misuse of the terms.

2. Result-based morality. The dog example shows precisely what I am getting at. You cannot know the man is going to commit suicide due to the loss of his dog (result). You can only know your intention (to save the child) and the means used to seek that end (killing the dog). To say the result is what gives an action moral character is, therefore, a patent falsehood.

3. Killing the obese. There are certain moral goods the value of which are qualitative and not quantitative. Food is good because it feeds people, so more food is better, because it serves its purpose better. People, however, are not means but ends in themselves, and have infinite human dignity. We cannot quantify the value of people. If the choice were between saving one and saving 15, saving 15 would be the greater good. The choice however is between murdering one and saving 15 and the tragic death of 15 people. The murder itself would be an affront to the dignity of the 15 who were saved and would undermine the very foundations of any moral philosophy worth the name.

4. (I believe the issues here have already been addressed)

Rebuttal to Conclusion

"Mmorality must be defined as what is the most moral -- morals being defined as what individuals rationally consider to be moral" This definition is utterly meaningless. I could just as easily say "pickle must be defined as what is the most pickle, pickle being defined as what individuals rationally consider to be pickle". The core argument, however, is that morality must not limit reasonable people. In fact, Pro's main complaint about the moral framework set forth in my first intervention is the fact that it is limiting; but that is the roll of morality. Chesterton famously said that morality, like art, consists of drawing a line somewhere. This line may go against conventional wisdom, it may go against what is desirable at a certain moment. The problem is, though, that if we redefine principle to whatever is convenient in a certain situation, we really have little use for principle in the first place. If Pro considers my morality objectively immoral, I must say the one defended here is no morality at all.

Dropped Argument

There is a key issue which has been omitted in this round of debate: the problem of definitions. It is vitally important, as we must be speaking in the same language in order to communicate effectively. Pro has been using equivocal definitions of both "ends" and "means". He alternatively claims certain means are ends (when these are immoral) and certain ends are results (when it is more useful in building a utilitarian defense). This is not the commonly accepted use of these terms as found in the phrase "the ends justify the means" (the actual adage is the ends don't justify the means, of course, but in defying conventional moral wisdom he is making reference to it). If he is not able to differentiate between the intention and the act or omission by which this intention is to be achieved, it will be difficult for him to make a strong case in favor of this resolution.

As per his rules, he is not allowed to play semantics on this one, as he already defined the phrase as "a good outcome excusing wrongs committed to attain it". He cannot now claim that wrongs committed to attain the outcome are actually ends. Nor can he change the definitions now as per his own debate rule 3.

I hope that, in the following and final intervention Pro will be able to offer an explanation to clarify this equivocal use of the key terms of the debate. Otherwise we will be forced to consider his position to be based on either sophistry or a lack of comprehension of the issues at play.
Debate Round No. 3


I thank my opponent for his well-developed response. The resolution still stands, and I will set out to prove that in this round. This round is going to be a self-contained argument.

To adequately prove that 'The ends justify the means,' I must first dispel an unjustified misconception about what this phrase entails. As defined in the opening round, 'The ends justify the means' : "A good outcome excuses wrongs committed to attain it.'

The 'outcome' of an action i.e, the thing that is supposed to excuse the means in the resolution, includes the means to get there when it is defined as 'good'. This necessarily means if an action's results are morally preferable to the alternative, it can be deduced that the end must be so morally preferable that the 'immoral' actions of the means are excused if it is to be defined as 'good,' if 'good' is referring to the end result. 'The ends justify the means,' would not condone, for instance, someone driving someone with a gunshot wound to the hopital slightly more quickly if it meant on the way that they ran down and killed twenty pedestrians; for the 'means' ended up being the ends i.e., the consequence and outcome.

Now that I have shown that the 'ends' of an action's morality are a package deal, -- including all consequences of the action-- I will move on to address the more immediate issue.

The moral ethics of my opponent is illogical, unjustified, and most importantly mystical i.e., beyond human reason and understanding. If murder is to be defined as something that is intrinsically evil, one must ask himself, why. Why are any actions deemed as moral or immoral without reason and inquiry. According to my morality (including the resolution), murder without reason is defined as evil for the ramifications and intentions behind the action (loss of human life and evil intentions, respectively). An action cannot be defined as immoral if the action does not have immoral intentions (Necessarily meaning the offender is a human or intelligent being) and that the ramifications are evil and immoral. For instance, it wouldn’t be immoral if an asteroid wiped out the human race without notice (for a rock cannot be deemed as immoral), and it wouldn’t be immoral to ‘kill’ someone if it meant they’d respawn within a second, untouched, and the ‘murderer’ knew these results ahead of time (if you think this is still wrong, ask yourself why. If it’s because you think murder is wrong, ask yourself why) . Murder is defined as immoral in human society because of the consequences, but I argue once those consequences are nonexistent, murder cannot be reasonably qualified as immoral. How could it? According to whom? And most importantly, the question that has rendered illegitimate philosophies through the ages illegitimate: why?
You might be asking yourself, “How does this relate to the resolution.”
The answer to that question lies in the morality of ramifications.

As I have already addressed, murder is only immoral for the immoral results and immoral intentions. If the latter is nonexistent, it wouldn’t be murder by definition. And if the former is non existent, why is it immoral? Let me provide a more concrete example : according to my opponent’s philosophy, it would be immoral to kill someone if it was necessary to save one hundred others even if you knew they’d be saved (also let’s assume not acting would result in everyone, including the lone person, perishing). If an action’s morality is defined by its ramifications and intentions, killing one to save a hundred is obviously justified (according to those parameters of morality). According to my opponent's morality, however, it wouldn’t be moral, and therefore, by definition, one should not kill the lone person to save the hundred. This is a mystical notion -- to assume it is immoral to ever kill anyone --because it doesn’t really have an answer as to why. If it is immoral to kill someone because human life is a value, it would, assuming the correct philosophy is being utilized, be moral to act in the way that preserves the most human life. How can morality be intrinsic without concern for the results? How is this justified? With what logic is this concluded? The answer to these questions are: it’s not, it’s isn’t, none. Everywhere one looks, moral and immoral actions are defined as such as if the results (ramifications), are the sole thing being considered. Just because action’s and their corresponding moralities have become woven into our cultures is not to say that they are intrinsically moral or immoral, without regard to consequences. For I argue, the consequences are the fountainhead for an action’s morality, and to argue otherwise lacks appropriate justification.

Along with my opponent's philosophy being mystical, it is also arbitrary; defining actions as immoral for simply the sake of the action. Let’s go back to my example of the ‘saving one vs hundred.’ Let’s change the rules a bit, and assume that you don’t have to actually kill the lone person to save the hundred. Rather, you must choose one group to save, and by doing so, the other group will be killed in the same manner as you would have had to in the original scenario. If you do not choose a group to save, both groups will die. My opponent’s philosophy here breaks down into an arbitrary mess that does not correspond to reality. I would expect my opponent to claim that it is now not immoral to save the hundred, for you are not the one doing the killing. If he claims that this is still immoral (he might), he must answer as to why. I have my reasons (human life is valuable), he better have his. But wait, didn’t we already conclude that an action’s morality rests in its ramifications? Choosing to kill the lone person in both scenarios produce exactly the same results i.e. one person dead, and intentions are the same i.e., trying to preserve human life. Why would my opponent claim that one scenario is different than the other in terms of morality? By what right? By what logic?

Denying the fact that the ‘Ends justify the means,’ is to deny the morals of saving someone’s life should they need an amputation, and you have no medical supplies save a carving knife. If inflicting pain on another is an intrinsically immoral act (is torture okay if we don’t care about consequences, as you have demonstrated) , then according to the philosophy ‘the ends do not justify the means,’ it would be immoral to help. If my opponent claims that it would be moral to help, he will be in effect arguing for the resolution.

In conclusion, the ends justify the means because it is an extension of morality, an advanced philosophy, that looks into the future, not at mystical intrinsics nor the arbitrary. If the ends justifiy the means...ever, then they always will if the ends truly are morally preferable to the alternative. The ends justify the means is the correct philosophy to live by. You claim it's not? Why not?


It is too bad Pro has not condescended to addressing the apparent contradictions in his definition of "the ends justify the means" and his defense of it. I cannot use new arguments in this round, but in neglecting to address my previous statements, Pro makes it unnecessary to do anything more than to point to what I have already said and devellop it.

First, he says a good outcome, or a good result, excuse wrongs committed to attain it. He has already all but acknowledged that it is not possible for s person to know the full ramifications of an action before they occur (as in his killing a dog to defend a toddler example, in which the owner of the dog commits suicide), therefore it is not so much the consequences which are morally relevant, but the intention and foreseen consequences.

Then, Pro tries to sell us a "package deal" which renders the adage meaningless. If the ends include the means, then whenever we consider that a means of attaining a desirable result are so morally undesirable that they do not justify the action (as in the case of the person who cheats in order to get his degree) we can merely say that the end result (a cheater getting a degree) is the end. This does not describe the results excusing or not excusing the wrongs committed to attain it, but rather the consequences justifying the action in its entirety.

J' Accuse le Mystique!

All of this, (the equivocal use of terms and the fact that the explanation defends a completely different position from the one formally proposed and defined) by itself would be enough to negate the resolution, but I will further defend the alternative view I proposed in the previous rounds from the rather odd accusation of "mysticism".

I find nothing wrong with mysticism per se (whoever doesn't admire the poetry of the Spanish mystic saint Theresa of Avila either has not read it or lacks human emotion), I simply don't agree that this is descriptive of the position I set forth, much less as defined by Pro: "beyond human reason and understanding". It is, in fact, descriptive of what is the intuitive position for most.

Why is murder wrong?

I am rather surprised my opponent asks this question without so much as acknowledging the explanation set forth in the previous rounds, which makes my opponent's position something of a straw-man. Murder is wrong, not because of the action (stabbing a guy), and not because of the consequences (he's dead), those consequences are immoral because they go against a deeper principle, the dignity and infinite value of the human person. This principle may well have a mystical foundation, as that of the Judeo-Christian tradition to which I hold, which bases itself on the idea that we are all made in the image and likeness of Godf, or a secular one, secular humanism among other philosophies uses different justifications for this, but they all hold to the general principle. To attack this axiom of moral thought is an attack on all human beings, to degrade the basis of our value is to degrade us all. Principles are not distant ideas for philosophers and tea rooms, they are practical as potatoes. Without them we do start to run into trouble.

It is precisely this incapacity of grasping the general principle that leads Pro to the troublesome conclusion that to amputate a patient's leg or even to perform a surgery would involve committing intrinsically evil acts. I am rather surprised at his insistence because this is the same fallacious argument that was used when he claimed that under the view I proposed incarcerating someone would be immoral. Pain itself is not contrary to the dignity of a person. Pain and discomfort can be quite useful: it warns us when there is danger of further harm, in some circumstances it builds character when we learn to bear it, and in the case of operations and amputations, it can be necessary to grit our teeth and get through it in order to live another day. Torture, which inflicts pain either because the torturer takes a sadistic pleasure in causing it or to attain from the victim something he does not want to give (information or a confession, usually), is an attack on human dignity and therefore is an intrinsic evil.

Kill a man to save a hundred

Pro sets forth a scenario in which one must alternatively choose between saving one life or a hundred or kill one man to save a hundred. As, in his view, the result is the same, he postulates the moral character of these situations is identical. This is not so. Without going into the idea of mediate and immediate collaboration or formal and material cooperation to which I pointed in round 2, the principles at play are quite obviously different. In the first case inaction (which is itself a moral choice) would lead to the deaths of 101 people. In this case the object, or means, is opening a door (with the knowledge we will not be able to open the other) and the intention to save the lives of the 100 people in the room. The means are not contrary to human dignity in such a way as to render them intrinsically evil, and so it is a moral choice. In the second case the object is the murder of the single person (let us call him Fred, or Annie, or Mother) who is of infinite dignity and value who cannot be quantified. This attack on innocent life is so contrary the fundamental principle of human dignity as to render the act intrinsically evil. The intention is identical (to save the life of the others), the action cannot be considered to be on the same moral grounding as the other.

Let's leave the realm of the hypothetical and see where the difference between the morality of outcomes and, you know, actual morality becomes clear. In the 1940s, American researchers in Guatemala infected 1,300 prison inmates without their consent (and usually without their knowledge) with different venereal diseases, mostly syphilis in order to test the efficacy of penicillin. The results were inconclusive, but as we have seen, the researchers could not have known the end result, but only the potential for positive results. Their initial calculation of the ethical issues involved, from Pro's standpoint was impeccable. The end result would be as follows: somewhere over Guatemalan 1,000 inmates would contract syphilis, some would live what is expected in those who have these diseases and others may have their symptoms controlled or even be cured by the penicillin. In contrast millions of people all over the world would face better prospects when facing this disease, and the cure may even be found. Overall, more lives are affected positively by this experiment than negatively and this positive result excuses the wrong committed to attain it. The story broke in 2011 and caused moral outrage in the vast majority of the American population and all over the world. Not because they explicitly defend the moral framework I have set forth in this debate, but because it is simply what intuitive moral sense tells us. This investigation was so grave an attack on the dignity of the inmates whose rights were trampled on that it constituted an attack on all humanity, including those who stood to benefit from the findings of the investigation.


Pro purports that his is an advanced moral philosophy. I must say that I am not sure what it is advancing towards, but a philosophy that can be used to defend the atrocities that it does (the case of Guatemala, the atomic bomb in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and even the London Blitz or Stalin's purges, as long as we are able to sell the overall outcome as net-positive). Any attempt to build morality while ignoring moral principles as a basis for it are doomed to fall like any house with no firm foundations. Those "intrinsic" which he described as mystical and arbitrary are the firm ground which avoids making morality meaningless. They are a line I do not set. A line I must recognize and force myself to
Debate Round No. 4
43 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by dylancatlow 4 years ago
I don't see how an action can be immoral if consequences are not considered... sorry. It really comes down to that.
Posted by TrasguTravieso 4 years ago
U suppose it does, but I fail to see the relevance. Incest also conflicts with my beliefs, but it is not necessary to adhere to my religion to rationally defend either position, and indeed none of the arguments used here were based on religion.

I do wish we had more than one vote, though.
Posted by dylancatlow 4 years ago
I'm sorry, I just cannot see where you are coming from :P

My theory is that it conflicts with your Christian belief in some way.
Posted by TrasguTravieso 4 years ago
I think your position is more than clear from the debate. I really have little more to say.
Posted by dylancatlow 4 years ago
A morality which claims killing one to save the entire human race would be an immoral action (and it would necessarily mean that), is a blind, arbitrary, mystical, useless, irrational, illogical, destructive, hideous evil ethic framework, for it places bad over good, death over life, one over the World.
Posted by dylancatlow 4 years ago
Also, if morality does not maximize 'good,' it's useless, and should NOT be used. If a morality claims it's immoral to preserve and maximize good, what is its use? Who does it serve? Why trade a lesser good for a good in the name of righteousness? I couldn't think of a morality more evil than that.
Posted by dylancatlow 4 years ago
If value of human life is the objective morality, then an action that preserves the most of it is moral.... Right?
Posted by dylancatlow 4 years ago
Also, I did not claim morality itself is arbitrary; I think it's objective. What is arbitrary is if morality is defined not by consequences but by intinsic action.
Posted by dylancatlow 4 years ago
Nur, how can an action be immoral? How is this determined?
Posted by dylancatlow 4 years ago
Your morality determines what is good or bad based on intrinsic action, mine bases morality on intrinsic consequence. Essentially, according to your morality, if consequences cannot be used to determine morality, an action that was deemed intrinsically moral (for whatever reason)l would not be immoral if the consequences killed a million people, because consequences don't matter. I call that a useless morality.
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by Nur-Ab-Sal 4 years ago
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Reasons for voting decision: Pro mistakenly assumes that Con's entire basis for morality is some 'mystical' or 'arbitrary' foundation, whereas he explained multiple times that morality can stem from purely objective facts, such as the infinite value of human life. Pro's insistence that 'the ends justify the means' is the only non-arbitrary means by which we should judge moral actions is not even intelligible considering that Con put forward a well-argued case, even if Pro disagreed. Anyway, there's no way that Pro's moral theory was sound, and it seems, as Con pointed out, that the same 'arbitrariness' that he sees in Con's judgement of moral actions is applicable to Pro's judgement of moral consequences. Arguments to Con; consequentialism could not be more flawed.