ISSUE-031

If a goal is worthy, then any means taken to attain it are justifiable.


Write a response in which you discuss the extent to which you agree or disagree with the statement and explain your reasoning for the position you take. In developing and supporting your position, you should consider ways in which the statement might or might not hold true and explain how these considerations shape your position.


In the D.C. comic book Watchmen, Ozymandias achieved his goal of world peace by fabricating a series of deadly attack on world’s largest metropolises and led people to believe that Dr. Manhattan was behind such attacks. Feared by the power of Dr. Manhattan, world governments for the first time united against a common enemy and the looming crisis of nuclear annihilation between the United States and the Soviet Union was effectively solved. In the case of Ozymandias, there is no doubt in the worthiness of his ultimate goal, but is the extreme means he took to attain that goal justifiable? From my point of view, the answer to this question is negative for two reasons. First, from a theoretical perspective, accomplishing a goal is not only about the goal itself; instead, the process to achieve that goal is also important. Second, in practice if we only consider the value of a goal, it will become a slippery slope towards immorality.


To begin with, I believe that the means to achieve a certain goal is as important as the goal itself. Some may immediately object my statement, arguing that the goal is the crown jewel of our endeavors and the means to attain it is just secondary. Although this counterargument seems reasonable at first glance, it mischaracterizes the importance of the means. More fundamentally speaking, the gist of the problem is that whether certain means can be justified purely based on the goal or the motivation. Clearly this is not valid. Conversely, if a means itself is not ethical, then the moral integrity, and hence the worthiness, of the goal will be adversely affected. This is why in legal system, evidence collected by illegal means such as unauthorized wiretapping cannot be used to indict a suspect, because the justifiability of the method does not depend on the goal.


Moreover, from a practical point of view, if we justify any means based on the goal such means attempt to achieve, a dangerous situation will likely occur because the people could possibly claim their goal to be noble. However, because it is hard to verify people’s true purpose and intention, eventually the worthiness of a goal cannot be practically evaluated. In other words, one can always find an excuse for whatever crimes he or she commits. The European settlers in North America justified their slaughtering of the Native Americans by the name of the God. They claim that in order to fulfill the noble cause of Christianity those who refuse to convert must be terminated. Looking back today, such acts of violence are clearly horrible and not in any way justifiable. This example illustrates my point that if we only use the goal to justify our act, it will become a slippery slope leading towards a moral crisis.


To sum up, the justifiability of an act in theory does not come from the goal it serves. Even if it does, adopting this philosophy shall lead to horrible crimes in the name of a noble cause. Due to such considerations, I cannot agree with the claim that any means to achieve a goal can be justified if a goal is worthy.


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