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Why The Ends Can't Justify The Means

jat93
Posts: 1,440
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9/1/2012 3:52:22 PM
Posted: 4 years ago
I have 2 major problems with consequentialist theories of morality which assert that good, noble, beneficial ends could justify bad, violent, harmful means.

1) How do you know that your proposed ends are really as beneficial as you think they are? Doesn't it just boil down to a subjective opinion about what's good for humanity/society? It's important to recall that people like Hitler really believed in the righteousness of what they were doing. If you're using force/violence against innocents to achieve something you deem a righteous goal, that's just your opinion, you might be wrong; the solution for this is that since we all have differing opinions about what is good and just, we should all do what we want with respect to our lives and our bodies but not aggress against those of other people. But if this is true, consequentialism is false, because aggressive/violent actions not in self defense could not be morally justified.

2) This is, I believe, the strongest objection to the idea that "the ends justify the means." Simply put, how do you know your means will achieve the ends? Human society is very complex and to some extent unpredictable. For example, consider communism. Let's say for the sake of this discussion that communism is a good, noble, beneficial goal to work toward. Now let's say there is a group of communists that is operating under the philosophy that the ends justify the means. They successfully stage a proletariat revolution against the bourgeoisie, and now society is operating under "dictatorship of the proletariat", a socialist state. Marx predicted all this would happen, but he also said the state would wither away and only then could a true classless society ever exist.

However, Marx's predictions are seriously flawed because if there was a dictatorship of the proletariat, it would turn into its own state, perpetuate its own power, and it would not simply wither away naturally, so communism as Marx thought it would develop is highly unlikely. Marxism underestimates the power of governments and statism and their natural tendency to grow and corrupt.

Now here's my point... The people working towards communism might not ideally support violent revolution to create a violent socialist state with the end goal of a non-violent communist society. But they are predicting that all this violence and power would eventually wither away. Well, that's just a prediction, and though all consequentialist theories of morality are based on predictions about what the "means" will achieve, human events and interaction can be random and uncertain. So one would be on quite shaky grounds to justify violence/aggression against people on the grounds that it will lead to a certain situation, when it's likely that you're wrong about the desirability of the situation and about your predictions that the situation will even come to fruition.
socialpinko
Posts: 10,458
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9/1/2012 4:07:26 PM
Posted: 4 years ago
While I generally agree, I think your second point is flawed. The Marxist program of assuming State control wasn't entirely based on a means-end basis. It was based on the categorical characterization of what the State actually was. Marxists think the State is only an instrument for class oppression. Thus, as classes wither away, so to does the State.

Now obviously we now know that what actually happened was the creation of a separate State class who simply replaced the capital class. Of course a defense could be made surrounding the makeup of socialist states which never corresponded to the Marxist conception of dictatorship of the proletariat. Marx didn't mean dictatorship in the literal sense. What he supported was something akin more to the Paris Commune then the Soviet Union.

So I agree with your conclusion that pure consequentialist reasoning is severely flawed. It's just that your example just made me cringe a bit so I felt obliged to jump in.
: At 9/29/2014 10:55:59 AM, imabench wrote:
: : At 9/29/2014 9:43:46 AM, kbub wrote:
: :
: : DDO should discredit support of sexual violence at any time and in every way.
:
: I disagree.
jat93
Posts: 1,440
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9/1/2012 4:40:36 PM
Posted: 4 years ago
At 9/1/2012 4:07:26 PM, socialpinko wrote:
While I generally agree, I think your second point is flawed. The Marxist program of assuming State control wasn't entirely based on a means-end basis. It was based on the categorical characterization of what the State actually was. Marxists think the State is only an instrument for class oppression. Thus, as classes wither away, so to does the State.

Very interesting, thanks for correcting me. I thought that in Marxist thought, since the state is primarily an instrument for class oppression, it was necessary to do away with it first before achieving a truly classless society, aka pure communism. Anyway, this was just an (apparently poor) example of how even intelligent predictions don't necessary occur as we think they will because human society is so complicated and unexpected, with so many interrelated factors constantly working together at the same time.


Now obviously we now know that what actually happened was the creation of a separate State class who simply replaced the capital class. Of course a defense could be made surrounding the makeup of socialist states which never corresponded to the Marxist conception of dictatorship of the proletariat. Marx didn't mean dictatorship in the literal sense. What he supported was something akin more to the Paris Commune then the Soviet Union.

So I agree with your conclusion that pure consequentialist reasoning is severely flawed. It's just that your example just made me cringe a bit so I felt obliged to jump in.

Haha okay. Again, this thread isn't supposed to be about Marxism, just used it as an example that even intelligent predictions are ultimately arbitrary/impossible to confirm... To use violent means for just and noble ends, even if those goals could somehow be proved to definitely be just and noble, one should be required to scientifically demonstrate that the means will very, very probably result in the desired ends.
socialpinko
Posts: 10,458
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9/1/2012 4:52:57 PM
Posted: 4 years ago
Your point regarding epistemic limitations I think was spot on though. Consequentialism runs into an extreme knowledge problem. As opposed to like deontology where there are just certain rules to follow (and you always know whether some action conformed to a rule regardless of time), under consequentialism one is made to attempt to predict successfully whether or not the outcome of such an action is 'good'. The problem is there's no way to do that. At what point do you no longer compare the current state of something with your action?

For instance, let's say I give someone $50 because I think something good will come of it. In a month they've turned it into $800 so I think it ended in a good consequence. All is fair and well. But let's say nine years later the person has gotten back to nothing. Was your action still good or simply neutral? Or if your action originally has a good consequence but later on in the road it has bad ones? Are you morally responsible? The fact that it's impossible to predict the effects of one's actions I think is an underrated objection to consequentialism.
: At 9/29/2014 10:55:59 AM, imabench wrote:
: : At 9/29/2014 9:43:46 AM, kbub wrote:
: :
: : DDO should discredit support of sexual violence at any time and in every way.
:
: I disagree.
The_Fool_on_the_hill
Posts: 6,071
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9/1/2012 10:46:46 PM
Posted: 4 years ago
The Fool: Anybody here want to have a debate about consequensm. I will defend it as the best moral system and you have to share the burden, on another system. FAIR..
"The bud disappears when the blossom breaks through, and we might say that the former is refuted by the latter; in the same way when the fruit comes, the blossom may be explained to be a false form of the plant's existence, for the fruit appears as its true nature in place of the blossom. These stages are not merely differentiated; they supplant one another as being incompatible with one another." G. W. F. HEGEL
R0b1Billion
Posts: 3,733
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9/7/2012 12:02:15 AM
Posted: 4 years ago
How do you know that your proposed ends are really as beneficial as you think they are?

Simply put, how do you know your means will achieve the ends?

If your means are subjective then there's no need for the second question, is there?
Beliefs in a nutshell:
- The Ends never justify the Means.
- Objectivity is secondary to subjectivity.
- The War on Drugs is the worst policy in the U.S.
- Most people worship technology as a religion.
- Computers will never become sentient.
mattrodstrom
Posts: 12,028
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9/7/2012 11:59:38 PM
Posted: 4 years ago
At 9/1/2012 3:52:22 PM, jat93 wrote:
I have 2 major problems with consequentialist theories of morality

Neither are serious, important, objections...

Both can be answered by the fact that it makes sense to act upon that understanding which you have... that understanding which is available, and seems to make sense.

if it would seem that certain things would lead to certain better/good things.. it makes sense to do it.
"He who does not know how to put his will into things at least puts a meaning into them: that is, he believes there is a will in them already."

Metaphysics:
"The science.. which deals with the fundamental errors of mankind - but as if they were the fundamental truths."
mattrodstrom
Posts: 12,028
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9/8/2012 12:00:35 AM
Posted: 4 years ago
At 9/1/2012 3:52:22 PM, jat93 wrote:
Doesn't it just boil down to a subjective opinion about what's good for humanity/society?

and.. Sure.

but it makes sense to pursue what you would care to have happen.
"He who does not know how to put his will into things at least puts a meaning into them: that is, he believes there is a will in them already."

Metaphysics:
"The science.. which deals with the fundamental errors of mankind - but as if they were the fundamental truths."
OMGJustinBieber
Posts: 3,484
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9/8/2012 12:20:03 AM
Posted: 4 years ago
How do you know that your proposed ends are really as beneficial as you think they are? Doesn't it just boil down to a subjective opinion about what's good for humanity/society? It's important to recall that people like Hitler really believed in the righteousness of what they were doing. If you're using force/violence against innocents to achieve something you deem a righteous goal, that's just your opinion, you might be wrong; the solution for this is that since we all have differing opinions about what is good and just, we should all do what we want with respect to our lives and our bodies but not aggress against those of other people.

Before you understand normative ethics you need to get your meta-ethics in order. If you're going to deny that "goodness" is a proper or assert that it's completely subjective to the individual then IMO you have deeper bones to pick with consequentialism. The discussion about consequentialism only begins when certain premises (e.g. moral realism) are decided upon.

The consequentialist would say that utility is desirable, but I think this is a good question and I would ask it myself in a slightly different manner. However, I do think many consequentialist decisions are fairly straight-forward, no one really argues that saving a drowning child isn't + utility, but this brings me to your next point.

Simply put, how do you know your means will achieve the ends?

Well, that's an empirical question which could be addressed through empirical means. I believe the intellectual credibility of Marxism has been demolished, and many utilitarianism (the new ones, like Harris for instance) enthusiastically support a "science of morality." Sure, we may be wrong some of the times, but how much certainty are you demanding?
R0b1Billion
Posts: 3,733
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9/9/2012 12:49:52 PM
Posted: 4 years ago
At 9/8/2012 12:20:03 AM, OMGJustinBieber wrote:
no one really argues that saving a drowning child isn't + utility, but this brings me to your next point.

I'll debate you on that.
Beliefs in a nutshell:
- The Ends never justify the Means.
- Objectivity is secondary to subjectivity.
- The War on Drugs is the worst policy in the U.S.
- Most people worship technology as a religion.
- Computers will never become sentient.
OMGJustinBieber
Posts: 3,484
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9/9/2012 1:19:11 PM
Posted: 4 years ago
At 9/9/2012 12:49:52 PM, R0b1Billion wrote:
At 9/8/2012 12:20:03 AM, OMGJustinBieber wrote:
no one really argues that saving a drowning child isn't + utility, but this brings me to your next point.

I'll debate you on that.

When I say "no one" I don't mean it in a completely literal sense. I'm using the expression how it's often used.
MouthWash
Posts: 2,607
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9/9/2012 1:25:54 PM
Posted: 4 years ago
Deontology < Creationism.

Well, most of it.
"Well, that gives whole new meaning to my assassination. If I was going to die anyway, perhaps I should leave the Bolsheviks' descendants some Christmas cookies instead of breaking their dishes and vodka bottles in their sleep." -Tsar Nicholas II (YYW)
badger
Posts: 11,793
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9/11/2012 11:25:34 AM
Posted: 4 years ago
jat93, hello! now this is completely out of nowhere pretty much, but remember when you were wondering was dumbledore libertarian? well, he's obviously not... "help will always be given at hogwarts to those who deserve it" = obvious revision of "from each according to his ability to each according to his need," right? sorry, didn't have it for you then :P just in case you got away with it :P
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MouthWash
Posts: 2,607
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9/20/2012 6:36:22 PM
Posted: 4 years ago
At 9/11/2012 11:25:34 AM, badger wrote:
jat93, hello! now this is completely out of nowhere pretty much, but remember when you were wondering was dumbledore libertarian? well, he's obviously not... "help will always be given at hogwarts to those who deserve it" = obvious revision of "from each according to his ability to each according to his need," right? sorry, didn't have it for you then :P just in case you got away with it :P

Just noticed this lol. Actually, that was a revision from the book into the idiotic movies. He never said anything of the kind; they fucked up his character immensely.
"Well, that gives whole new meaning to my assassination. If I was going to die anyway, perhaps I should leave the Bolsheviks' descendants some Christmas cookies instead of breaking their dishes and vodka bottles in their sleep." -Tsar Nicholas II (YYW)