The end justifies the means

The end justifies the means is a proverb of uncertain origin, though the philosophy behind it has been argued for thousands of years. A proverb is a short, common saying or phrase. These common sayings are language tools that particularly give advice or share a universal truth, or impart wisdom. Synonyms for proverb include adage, aphorism, sayings, and byword, which can also be someone or something that is the best example of a group. Often, a proverb is so familiar that a speaker will only quote half of it, relying on the listener to supply the ending of the written or spoken proverb himself. Speakers of English as a second language are sometimes confused by these pithy sayings as translations from English to other languages do not carry the impact that the English phrases carry. Some common proverbs are the wise sayings better late than never, early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise, an apple a day keeps the doctor away, haste makes waste, blood is thicker than water, and a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. One of the books of the Bible is the Book of Proverbs, which contains words and phrases that are still often quoted in the English language because they are wise. Many current proverbs are quotations taken from literature, particularly Shakespeare, as well as the Bible and other sacred writings. We will examine the meaning of the expression the end justifies the means, where it came from, and some examples of its use in sentences.

The end justifies the means is a sentiment that holds that if a desired result is important enough, the methods used to obtain that desired result do not matter. This is often held up as a political philosophy. One may commit any sin or evil act or use any morally unethical method to obtain a goal that is important or is morally good. In this argument, immorality is made virtuous by viewing moral philosophy in a pragmatic way. A proponent of the end justifies the means only measures the moral values of the end result, disregarding the immoral methods used to get there or the lack of morality that fueled his altruism. For instance, a politician might take a campaign contribution from a man who abuses women. The politician may know that the man who is giving him the money is morally repugnant, but the politician justifies it by vowing to pass legislation protecting abused women once he is elected. He is justifying participating in something morally wrong by promising to bring about something that is morally right. Most philosophers agree that one can not justify perpetrating an evil to bring about a good, though there is a philosophical doctrine called Consequentialism, which holds that the morality of one’s actions must only be judged by the consequences of one’s actions. The expression the end justifies the means is attributed to Niccolo Machiavelli, though he did not use that exact phrasing anywhere in his work, The Prince. Ovid, the Roman poet, wrote in his work, Heroides, in 10 B.C.: “The result justifies the deed.” The Greek playwright, Sophocles, expressed the sentiment in 409 B.C. in his work, Electra: “The end excuses any evil.”


That rule provides that there are no rules — anything goes, anything is fair — the end justifies the means, any means, and the end is revolution. (The Peoria Journal Star)

Umno was a secular materialistic political party whose leaders’ modus operandi was: the end justifies the means. (The Sun Daily)

Remarkably, he addressed head on the “no harm, no foul” rhetoric we’re hearing in 2020 in the context of Ukraine scandal, by telling a Congressional committee: “The doctrine that the end justifies the means is pernicious enough.” (The Irish Echo)

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