[Answered] With regard to the morality of actions, one view is that means is of paramount importance and the other view is that the ends justify the means. Which view do you think is more appropriate? Justify your answer.

Demand of the question
Introduction. Contextual Introduction.
Body. What is more appropriate- End or Means?
Conclusion. Way forward.

The means-ends debate is a paramount ethical dilemma of modern world. Ends justify the means (Machiavelli) refers to a situation in which the final aim is considered so important that any way of achieving it is acceptable. Whereas, people like Gandhi firmly rejected the rigid dichotomy between ends and means to the extent that they believed that means and not the ends provide the standard of reference.

What is more appropriate- End or Means?

  1. The answer to the question depends on what the ends or goals are and what means are being used to achieve them. If the goals are good and noble, and the means we use to achieve them are also good and noble, then yes, the ends do justify the means.
  2. The ‘ends justifying the means’ usually involves doing something wrong to achieve a positive end and justifying the wrong doing by pointing to a good outcome. There are certain things to consider in such a situation: the morality of the action, the morality of the outcome, and the morality of the person performing the action.
  3. The reason the means are important, maybe more important than the ends, is how we get to our goal is just as important as getting there. In other words, destiny tells us what we are to the world, but journey tells who we are; it’s the journey that unlocks our potential and establishes who we are as a person and what motivates us towards action.
  4. Thus, it can be said that both the views are appropriate depending on the situation and therefore there is no one size fits all approach. For example, when police carries out fake encounters of criminals; the means is not ethical. Although they were criminals and a threat to society, the police does not have right to kill them. So, here ends achieved is unethical because means is not justifiable.
  5. But during certain situations means may not be ethical, but ends matter more, like physical torture of a terrorist to know where he has planted bomb in the city. Here, although means (use of torture) is not ethical, but it is essential to know the whereabouts of bomb to prevent death of innocent people. Thus, the situation influences ends as well as means.
  6. A civil servant has to maintain the delicate balance between what they’re trying to accomplish and the means that they use to get there, such that in certain circumstances a particular means is ethical but the same means in other circumstances would be unethical. He cannot compromise the one for the other because his actions are watched by the society-he being a role model for them; he has to be upright in both in every possible circumstance, which can be analysed as follows:
  7. If a civil servant goes out of the rules and regulations (legality) and helps a needy out of compassion, it may bring a huge burden on the exchequer and also encourage others to approach him, but this was not as per the law (right things in a wrong way).
  8. If a civil servant uses his power and authority to take revenge from someone he had biases against, like through repeated raids on his premises or holding him accountable for any wrong in his area etc (wrong things in a right way).

Saul Alinsky said “One’s concern with the ethics of means and ends varies inversely with one’s personal interest in the issue”. But for a civil servant it is not his personal interests which matters, but the public interest and the authority he is reposed with because he is a public servant and implements policies for the larger welfare of the society, and in doing so he cannot compromise on either- the means or the ends.

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