The End Justifies the Means: A Moral and Religious Evaluation

(Fr Anadu Hilary, Cmf Writes From Ghana Mission)

The essential aim of this write up is to appraise the maxim that states “the Ends justify the Means;” originating from Nicolo Machiavelli who separated politics and morality. For Machiavelli, “politics is purely mechanical play of forces without ethical values”. What counts for him is success in the execution of political power irrespective of the means. In other words, the ends justify the means.

This Machiavellian approach to politics is not far from what we experience in all facets of life in Ghana, Nigeria and other African countries where people intentionally separate morality from business; morality from politics, religious belief from their actions and virtually separating morality and religion from all facets of their daily living.

It  is on this  note that I undertake  to evaluate  the   above maxim  using ethical theories such as : Deontologism, Personalism, Existentialism, Comprehensive Doctrines (CDS) like Ten Commandments, Kant’s Ethical Imperative and  finally Humanism as moral   paradigms of   my  judgment. Thus, the aphorism, the “Ends justify the means” is found mostly on the lips of philosophers and political thinkers like Machiavelli and his proponents.

Hence, this aphorism tends to distort and thwart the traditional idea of hard work and success since it places emphasis not on the means of succeeding but on the end itself. Hence any means could be employed provided that a better result is achieved.

The emphasis is on the outcome, on the result, on the goal and never on the source, or the means or the way or the process it is achieved. At this point one would rightly ask: What actually is the meaning of the term means in this particular write up? What actually does the term end denote? What actually are the social and moral implications of the above maxim?

Will it enhance positive competition in any given society or fan into flame negative competitions? Will it encourage earnest and sincere effort towards success or breed dishonesty and hooliganism as far as success is concerned?  Will it encourage right attitude towards work and success or encourage dubiosity or dubious character towards work and success? Summarily, what would be the moral and religious implications of the above maxim?

(A)The Term Ends: What it Denotes

The term Ends in Aristotle’s ethics denotes the ‘telos’ of a given action. It implies or denotes the result of a given action. For Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, the term ends, denotes the purpose of an action or the aim of a given action.

For Encarta Electronic Dictionary, the term, ends denotes a goal, object or purpose of an action. For Thesaurus Electronic Dictionary it denotes purpose, result, reason, goal, intention and design of an action. From the above definitions one notes that the term ‘ends’ entail aim or purpose. On the other hand, what does the term “means” entail?

(B)The Term ‘Means’: What it Entails

According to Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, the term” means”, denotes an action; an object or a system by which a result is achieved; a way of achieving or doing something. For Encarta Electronic Dictionary the term, means denotes something enabling somebody to do something; something that is available and makes it possible for somebody to do something.

For Thesaurus it entails the way, method, measure, process, agency, channel, instrument and finally course. From the above definitions of the terms: means and ends, one underlies a great connection between the two terms. Hence, there is neither ends without the means nor means without the end.

Thus, for an action to be completed, it must entail the means and the end coming together. The two terms are highly connected.

Having seen the meanings of the terms: ends and means, one would ask these fundamental questions: Can it be possible for a bad means to bring about a good end?  Is the maxim, ‘the ends justify the means Christian? Could it be justified at all through any of the ethical theories or religious code of life? To what extent can one justify such? Could it be morally acceptable at all?

To what extent could one accept such? Before I would answer these afore-mentioned questions via ethical theories, I would like to x-ray Ghana’s and Nigeria’s situations from the standpoint of the above maxim. In Ghana, Nigeria and other African countries, for instance, the above maxim is highly practised and lived out in everyday living since people are eager to make it either by hook or crook. Hence, anything could happen provided a maximum result is achieved.

This maxim accounts for many atrocities in Ghana, Nigeria and many other African countries. For instance, in Nigeria many people become rich through kidnapping and nobody cares about the means or sources of their wealth. One thing is important here, he/she has made it. Moreso, many have become well- to- do through money ritual and sale of human parts and nobody cares.

What is important is he has money and nobody cares about the means. Furthermore, many prophets, prophetesses and men of God in Ghana and Nigeria have become so powerful to the extent of performing miracles   and healings; and people still ignorantly rush to those prayer houses without asking for their source of power.

Thus, whether they killed to possess such   power in order to cure them; it doesn’t matter. More so, many people loot and empty the treasury of the public fund and attend churches for thanksgiving without the priest or Evangelist or man of God asking for the source of it. What is important is we need money to build the house of God; thus, the way it comes about we are not interested.

Similarly many people engage in illegal businesses in order to acquire money, power and fame; and nobody sincerely cares for the sources of such wealth, power and fame. One thing is importantly pronounced, He/she has made it and people consequently admire him/her. Thus, if it entails killing someone or looting public fund, it does not matter; provided that one is successful.

Thus morality or religion does not count; what counts is one’s cleverness to obtain a desired end irrespective of  the means or method or channel .Hence, for such people, the end justifies the means and might is right.  Summarily, this maxim leads to the survival of the fittest, insecurity of all kinds, crime of many types, human degradation and a rising tide of atheistic secularism.

No wonder one observes in Ghana, Nigeria and other African countries the gap between the rich and the poor.  Hunger and sufferings are boldly written on the foreheads of fellow Nigerians and fellow Ghanaians while wealth, power and excess wastages are colourfully displayed on the very few dubious and heartless fellow Nigerians and Ghanaians.

Hence, for such people, business should be devoid of morality. Having seen the manifestations of the maxim in various aspects of our lives; one would ask: how would one evaluate the maxim “the end justifies the means “via ethical theories and religious codes?

(C).The End Justifies the Means: Ethical and Religious Evaluation

By ethical theories one means the moral framework through which an action is judged as good or bad, right or wrong, moral or immoral. Thus, the above maxim could be evaluated with these ethical theories: Kant’s ethical imperative, Personalism, existentialism, CDS: Comprehensive Doctrines like Ten Commandments, Deontologist and Humanism.

First is: Kant’s ethical imperative states that “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal norm” and “Act as if the maxim of your action were to become through your will a universal law of nature”; and finally,” Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of another, always at the same time as an end and never simply as a means”.

Hence, Kant’s imperatives would judge the above maxim morally wrong since it would not pass the test of becoming universal law of nature and universal norm since the maxim is in itself bad and is oriented towards selfish interest. And self-centeredness by its own nature cannot be a universal norm or universal law of nature. Thus, for Kant, the above maxim is morally and ethically wrong and should be discouraged.

It is also bad since some could employ the use of human persons to secure what they need or want if it entails killing or shedding human life.  Similarly, the Personalist would see the above maxim as morally wrong since it could employ the use of human person abusively to achieve a desired goal.

Thus, Personalists like John Paul 11 and Mother Theresa of Calcutta would judge the above maxim morally bad since it manipulates the human person and sees the human person as objects to be cheated. Next is existentialism, a movement that lays emphasis on the individual responsibility and freedom.

It was championed by Søren Kierkegaard and Martin Heidegger. For the existentialists the above maxim could be morally wrong since it undermines the true responsibility of an individual. More importantly is CDs: which stands for Comprehensive Doctrines, it forbids covetousness of all kinds and types. Hence, CDs would see the above maxim as morally wrong since it encourages over ambition which could lead to all kinds of atrocities in order to obtain what one desires.

Thus, the above maxim is intrinsically evil since it is greed oriented. This maxim is bad since it connotes no morality at all. In addition, no religious codes of life would rationally and morally approve such a maxim. Next is Deontologism which is the ethics of duty and goodwill. Thus for the deontologist, it is not the duty of any human being to secure his or her goal by all means irrespective of the method adopted and the above  maxim has no room for goodwill at all. Thus, the maxim is morally wrong since it lacks goodwill which is the same as love in Christian terminology.

(D). The Effects of the Maxim: The End Justifies the Means

It would be pertinent to note that the effects of the above maxim are innumerable and inimical to the growth and development of any given rational state. It leads to all kinds of atrocities in order to secure inordinate desires and wishes. It could lead to kidnapping as we experience daily in Nigeria or “sakawa” as we experience in Ghana.

It leads to prostitution, ritual killings, obtaining by Tricks (OBT), assassination, theft, illegal businesses such as drug trafficking and human trafficking, cheating, fraud, yahooism or cyber-theft and finally it could lead to all forms of modern evils such as:”cyber-theft”, money laundry and” bank account defrauding;” provided that the target is achieved and goal is attained.  It does not matter how but the end matters most.

(E) Conclusion

The above maxim: the end justifies the means is atheistic, morally wrong, religiously sinful and practically pugnacious since it separates our actions from morality and religion. Hence, any action that is separated from morality and religion should be morally considered wrong since it aims at selfish interest and achievements.

It should be discouraged since it could ignite unnecessary struggle and tensions as people of Abia State and other states experienced in couple of few years ago and other parts of the country where the above maxim is prevalent. I would like to end this write up with words of Bishop Hilary Odili Okeke:

He says or observes that” the Hobbesian might is right, Machiavellian means justifies the ends, prevalent in our society today are antithetical to the correct understanding of Justice”. “They are not and will never be right paths towards the preservation of law and order; development and growth of a nation and its inhabitants’.