Friday, March 16, 2007

Which is More Important: The Means or The Ends?

It depends.

Absolutists who say means are the only thing that matters (deontologists) can be found moralizing about how "wars, regardless of their aims, are always wrong, if even a single innocent person is killed."

Absolutists who say that the ends, or outcomes, are what matters (consequentialists) can be found moralizing about how "equality of wealth must be achieved, regardless of how much the rich are taxed."

Very often, the same people can be both absolute deontologists and consequentialists in the space of two sentences, as illustrated above. These people can fluidly go back and forth between philosophical poles in order to rationalize their predetermined conclusions.

In the first example, it would be interesting to ask the question, "Can a single person be killed if it can be demonstrated that one billion could be saved by such an action?"

In the second example, it would interesting to ask the question, "Would it be desirable to annihilate all but the poorest people in order to achieve equality?"

To be ideologically consistent in each case, while remaining indifferently oblivious to their own internal inconsistencies, they might very well answer "Yes" to both questions.

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