One of the major widely known political thinkers is Niccolo Machiavelli. He is well known for the phrase “the end justifies the means”, which is continually being the subject of discussions and discourses today (Adams and Dyson). With Machiavelli’s principles, we are now faced up to the fact that the desired ends are justified by the means used to achieve them. As for me, I will stand firmly on the position that if an end or goal is worthy for the individual, any means or actions taken by him or her to attain such goal is definitely justifiable. The issue will be explored in the light of Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Qualities of the Prince and Martin Luther King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail to ascertain the meaning of the phrase “the end justifies the means”. It cannot be denied that there are implications and difficulties when unworthy means are used to achieve worthy ends. However, the fact is that if an end or goal is worthy, any means used to achieve that end is justifiable, provided that both ends and means are good and noble.
The question whether the end justifies the means depends on the type of goal or ends a person wants to achieve and the means, used in achieving those goals. Thus, if both the means and the ends are equally noble and good, there is nothing to dispute, because the ends are really justified by the means. This is the stand, chosen and completely agreed with. Although there are different views about the meaning of Machiavelli’s expression, there is a belief that both the ends and means should be good.
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Individuals are known at times to use Machiavelli’s phrase or expression as an excuse when they try to achieve their goals. No matter how illegal, immoral, or unpleasant their means are, they still use the expression as an excuse. For many individuals, it does not matter what means are used so long as they get what they want. To justify their ends by some type of means sometimes doing a wrong thing when trying to achieve a positive end happens. In turn, they justify the wrong act by pointing to the outcome that was good. The wrong justifications can be seen in some horrific situations in human history, such as the Holocaust, the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the World Wars, and even the bombing of the World Trade Center. There are a lot of justifications made by many people about the ends that these events serve for, but the thing which is true is the ends are noble, but the means are not.
To compare what is considered to be wrong and morally right, some examples should be considered. One example would be lying about the qualifications stated in one’s resume when trying to get a good job. This individual would later justify the lying by saying that it is a means to receive a larger income to provide his or her family in a more effective way. Another example would be trying to justify the abortion to save the mother’s life. These two examples create a dilemma between what is done and what ought to be done. Machiavelli states, “Because how one lives is so far distant from one ought to live, that he who neglects what is done for what ought to be done, sooner effects his ruin than his preservation; for a man who wishes to act entirely up to his professions of virtue soon meets with what destroys him among so much that is evil” (The Prince Ch. 15). Considering these two examples, the lying and taking of an innocent life can be viewed as equally wrong. On the other hand, the end which is one’s own family fair provision and the saving of a woman’s life are both morally right. However, one must learn to distinguish what should be done in order to avoid the consequences of what is done. What if the individual, lying about the resume, was not given the job because his lie was revealed? What if the aborted baby could possibly in the future come out with an idea of how to cure cancer? The wrong means that were used can lead to ruin rather than prosperity.
It cannot be denied that we all in some situations in our lives have taken part in justification of the means that were used to achieve the positive end. As stated above to justify the means the ends must be exclusively noble and good. Thus, the means used must be ethically, socially, and morally upright. Therefore, if the means in itself is morally bad, it cannot in reality lead to an end that is good, even though on the surface it would appear to be good. Many people who are in power have make attempts to condone the use of their violent or fraudulent behavior introducing that their actions aw those that were socially accepted and therefore justified. Society is deemed good and is aware of the theory of justice for all. Any government that employs any means, including unjust acts, really defeats the ends that it is pretending to serve.
A goal or a purpose that is achieved through an upright approach is the justified thing, not the immoral, illicit, or wrong. One proof of a justified means is exemplified in the nonviolent demonstration against segregation fought for by Martin Luther King. There were a lot of ways for the African Americans back then to achieve equality and freedom in American society. They could have bombed the White House. They could have coerced the government through unlawful means and other immoral or wrong acts one can hardly imagine. However, Martin Luther King Jr. and his followers chose to gain freedom through a peaceful means. Here, we can see that both the means and the ends are noble and good. His famous writing Letter from Birmingham Jail laid down the agenda of their non-violent campaign. In his letter, Martin Luther King Jr. showed that the unjust treatment of Negroes and their segregation can be solved through peaceful means. A non-violent campaign however can produce tension, but it is up to the protesters to handle the tension. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and establish the creative tension that a community that has consistently refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. This may sound rather shocking. But the word "tension" Is not used to make anyone afraid. Earnestly worked and preached against violent tension can be compared to the constructive nonviolent tension that is occasionally necessary for the growth.
Martin Luther King Jr. died as a result of the demonstrations he started, but the ends that he aimed at were met. At the time his belief was opposed by the Whites, who uphold the idea that the end justifies the means. They said that what they did for the Negroes was done because of self-preservation. Moreover, the government worked to preserve the State so they acted on what to be done and to give the African Americans what they wanted. The death of Martin Luther King Jr. proved that both ends and means may be noble and thus justified. Martin Luther King Jr. is an example to be followed when using the phrase “the end justifies the means”. As stated by Thayer, “Be strong is therefore the first and last commandment for nations and princes to observe; and Machiavelli instructs them how to use their strength” (476). In this case, Martin Luther King Jr. knew what means to use for the desired end.
None can use bad means for any good end. It can be compared to a person trying to build a good house using bad materials— it does not work. The phrase “the end justified the means” can fool anybody if the implied mening of the phrase is not considered. What is hardly ever seeing in this statement is the end itself. Is it really good? People fail to see and carefully examine the means they use and the way they affect the ends. The use of unworthy means to achieve worthy ends brings a lot of difficulties and complications, such as Holocaust perpetrated by the Nazi regime (Gilbert 32). Is the end worthy after all the events that happened? Another example would be the two World Wars. Are the ends of such brutal means necessary? These complications are frequently seen in wartime situations and political issues. States do not care whatever means they employ being oriented on their victory, although sometimes it means losing a lot of lives, property, and even morale. In these two situations, the only judgment is success and any means that would contribute to success is thought to be justified, however, not by everyone. Any success can be used as the standard by which we all measure the benefit of the means. However, some benefits are superficial and do not last long. The misuse of the phrase “the end justifies the means” contradicts Machiavelli’s main point that a prince ought to think about the future events and prepare for potential problems. If a person really thinks in a Machiavellian perspective, he or she would use necessary means to achieve an end, avoiding possible future complications (The Prince. Ch. 14).
People who pursue their dreams and their goals are more likely to take a path that is filled with obstacles. It is known that goals are achieved through very hard work. The means to attain those goals are different from the goals themselves. One thing should be remembered though, that both means and ends must be noble and good. What was aimed to be shown in this essay is that the ends or goals of any individual can always be justified by the means used to achieve it if only they are worthy enough. As Machiavelli points out, “But to exercise the intellect the prince should read histories, and study there the actions of illustrious men, to see how they have borne themselves in war, to examine the causes of their victories and defeat, so as to avoid the latter and imitate the former” (The Prince Ch. 14). There are a lot of horrific examples in justifying immoral, wrong, and illicit means in real life. Machiavelli teaches us to learn from our past experience to achieve the ends through noble and good means.
In conclusion, we are all but humans who are allowed to make mistakes at times. The values that we have as humans are what make us those. Any means we use which violates our perception of morals and righteousness can never justify the end or the goals, no matter how worthy they may seem to be. As seen in the Martin Luther King Jr. example, there are, in fact, thousand ways to achieve one single end and it is up to a person whether to use the noble or the wrong means.
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