Its another way of saying, "The whole is greater than the sum of its parts." - Aristotle
You could look at all the bad actions that had to take place to come to a particular end, but would be overlooking the greater good that comes from those events having had taken place at all. The summation of all of those things can make for a better end result that you could have attained by conventional means.
The end result can justify doing some wrong things along the way. For example the only way to bring world peace is though force would you even if it meant the deaths of millions. You have to be willing to cross that line if it means for the greater good. Sometimes you have to look like the bad guys even if history will know you as such.
If the ends that you are trying to reach causes more good than the harm that would be causes working to achieve that end, then it is justified. If you were given the choice: Kill a million innocent people to save the rest of the human race, would you do it? I can say that i absoutley would. The amount of people saved far outweighs the amount you killed, and with that rationalization, I could make that decision and go to sleep with a clear conscience.
This is a semi-philosophical question. My high school physics teacher once said that in order to tell if something is correct, you must take it to the furthest extreme possible. If i have to kill 1000 6 month old babies, in order to save the human race...Do i do it? I probably would, but probably wouldn't be able to live with myself afterwords. You see its all about value and worth. I think so long as the net was positive, than its justified. Do i kill a man to save 2 more? At the end of the day we need to make those hard choices that are overall, a positive thing. This will be very important in the following centuries as great threats to our own species approach.
I would say that the end justifies the means if the end is beneficial to society. If you were to make "unethical" decisions to get to your end, but your end was helpful to the majority of society, then it is very well justified. Say for example, a doomsday disease is wiping out humanity, and in order to reach a cure, scientists have to make use of human testing on involuntary test subjects, killing several hundred people. They eventually find a cure due to this and save millions or even billions of lives. Are the means not justified, even if unethical?
Simply, entitlement does not exist. No one is entitled to an end result. There are multiple end results when there are multiple entities involved. Choosing ones fate because you want an end result doesn't make sense. This is different from necessity. The Vietnam war is a great example. Preventing the spread of communism was a necessary step in saving democracy, but look at what happened? Vietnam was consumed by communism yet communism still fell. Was it really justifiable to enact a draft that ended up killing thousands of people for a small political change that didn't even affect the outcome anyways?
I wouldn't say the end justify the means, because the means can be very unfair, and what do we fight for if not fairness? Im my opinion we have to try the best option without being non ethical or unfair to anyone. Also your end can be disastrous for another individual, take Hitler for example, if he have had conquered the Europe it would be a very good place to live for those who are aryans, yet it would be terrifying for other people. It is exactly the same thing, make some suffer to make others prosper.
Say your parents will be happy if you get good grades, but you cheat to get them. You made your parents happy, which is good, but you cheated to get the grades, which is bad. So the ends did not justify the means, even though you got the good ending.
There has been so many horrible things done in the name of the greater good. So many horrible things are suggested in the name of the greater good. The worse part is that the greater goal is often can be reach by less violent means. Some say to reach world peace you need to kill off the human race, yet world peace can be achieve slowly through diplomacy. I have heard that to save the environment you have to kill of the majority of humans, yet you could get people to help the environment.
From a biblical standpoint, of course, what is missing from this discussion is the character of God, God’s law, and the providence of God. Because we know that God is good, holy, just, merciful and righteous, those who bear His name are to reflect His character (1 Peter 1:15-16). Murder, lying, theft, and all manner of sinful behaviors are the expression of man’s sin nature, not the nature of God. For the Christian whose nature has been transformed by Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17), there is no justifying immoral behavior, no matter the motivation for it or the outcome of it. From this holy and perfect God, we get a law that reflects His attributes (Psalm 19:7; Romans 7:12). The Ten Commandments make it clear that murder, adultery, stealing, lying and greed are unacceptable in God’s eyes and He makes no "escape clause" for motivation or rationalization. Notice that He doesn’t say, “Don’t murder unless by doing so you will save a life.” This is called "situational ethics," and there is no room for it in God’s law. So, clearly, from God’s perspective there are no ends that justify the means of breaking His law.
Also missing in the ends/means ethics discussion is an understanding of the providence of God. God did not simply create the world, populate it with people, and then leave them to muddle through on their own with no oversight from Him. Rather, God has a plan and purpose for mankind which He has been bringing to pass through the centuries. Every decision made by every person in history has been supernaturally applied to that plan. He states this truth unequivocally: “I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please. From the east I summon a bird of prey; from a far-off land, a man to fulfill my purpose. What I have said, that will I bring about; what I have planned, that will I do” (Isaiah 46:10-11). God is intimately involved in and in control over His creation. Furthermore, He states that He works all things together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). A Christian who lies on a resume or aborts a baby would be violating God’s law and denying His ability to provide for a family and preserve a mother’s life if He purposes to do so.
Those who do not know God may be forced to justify their means to an end, but those who claim to be children of God have no reason whatsoever to break one of God’s commandments, deny His sovereign purpose, or bring reproach to His Name.
So if I were to try and prevent the titanic from sinking, all I'd need to do is go back in time and kill the captain...What the heck.
Just watch the show "Code Geass" (SPOILERS!!)
In the show, a princess is trying to find a revolutionary. She decides to start killing innocent civilians to draw him out.
Later, that revolutionary tries to kill the very same princess. To give his troops an excuse to attack her, he blows up his allies and blames it on her.