Monday, November 11, 2013

Means And Ends

To my son Tommy,

In attempt to break from the norm, which includes basic medical posts and situation reports, I will again try to delve into the depths of the philosophical.  Perhaps using my mind for some thinking on a greater than normal magnitude will clear the cobwebs induced by the cold remedies I am taking.  At the least it will be a welcomed diversion and might be quite entertaining to read when I am not hopped up on NyQuil or Sudafed.

Would you murder one innocent person to save one million people?
Would you murder one innocent person to save just one other person?
Would you murder one innocent person to save five people?
Would you murder 200,001 people to save 378,543 people?

If you ever start exploring questions like these, you are exploring the question if ends justify the means.  You are exploring if you are willing to do something inherently bad for a good result.  You are also exploring if you are willing to forgive someone for the evils they did if the result is sufficiently good.

In my limited human capacity, I occasionally believe there are times when the end results justify the means, but I temper that with the end results don't excuse the means.  This means if I choose to do something wrong for a greater good, I must also be willing to accept the consequences and realities of that choice.  In my thinking, the ends don't necessarily eliminate the punishment for my actions.

Say for example that I am a police officer.  I have the chance to get a very bad guy off the streets and make the world a safer place.  But in order to accomplish this, I have to trample over some laws and some of his rights.  Would you do it?  It almost seems like a no brainer?  But if I chose to do it, I should also be willing to lose my job and face a prison sentence myself.  If the ends are so great that I am willing to compromise my own moral compass than I should be willing to accept any results of my actions.  Many use the ends vs means argument to free themselves from repercussions.  Though end result might get you more mercy, you can't rely on this.  You have to be willing to accept the full punishment for any wrongful action regardless if the results were good or not.

Life isn't easy and we are faced with difficult choices day in and day out.  We fill our lives with little white lies and other harmless transgressions.  We temper our actions with rationalizations and reasons that invoke results "for the greater good" or future penances.  It begins us down that proverbial slippery slope.  The actions begin small but will get bigger and so will the questions and so will the grey area.

What man among us would fault someone for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his starving family?  Yet do we condone this action because of the dire need or because he stole only a little?  If he stole a priceless diamond to feed his family for years, do we apply the same leniency?  And what of the man who refused to steal even though he and his family were also starving?  Do we look better or worse upon such a man?  And where do we hold accountable the rich man who has plenty?

It is easy to see how the questions get murkier every time you decide to justify a bad action with a good result.  Once again, I don't have any answers for you.  Try your hardest and consider all things.  You will get this wrong from time to time, as all men do.  Do not shirk from the consequences of your actions nor hide behind the results.  Luckily our transgressions amount to a drop in the ocean that is the infinite grace and forgiveness of God which when sought by the penitent man will truly free us from ourselves.

Sincerely with love from your dad,

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