Means and ends

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Quotations about the ethical proposition that "the ends justify the means:"


  • To say that corrupt means corrupt the ends is to believe in the immaculate conception of ends and principles.
    • Saul Alinsky, Rules for Radicals: A Practical Primer for Realistic Radicals (1971), p. 24
  • The Ninth Rule of the ethics of means and ends is that any effective means is automatically judged by the opposition as being unethical.
    • Saul Alinsky, Rules for Radicals: A Practical Primer for Realistic Radicals (1971), p. 35
  • The first sign of corruption in a society that is still alive is that the end justifies the means.
  • A man wants to earn money in order to be happy, and his whole effort and the best of a life are devoted to the earning of that money. Happiness is forgotten; the means are taken for the end.
  • Does the end justify the means? That is possible. But what will justify the end? To that question, which historical thought leaves pending, rebellion replies: the means.
  • Perfection of means and confusion of goals seem, in my opinion, to characterize our age.
  • He who chooses the beginning of a road chooses the place it leads to. It is the means that determine the end.
  • Given the means, we hang on to them and often forget the ends.
    • Eric Hoffer, Reflections on the Human Condition (1973), Aphorism 121
  • ... had I taken the line, so often adopted by strong men in controversy, of justifying the means by the result.
    • St. Jerome, Letter 48: "To Pammachius" (393 or 394 A.D.)
  • The end justifies the means. But what if there never is an end? All we have is means.
  • I can imagine no man who will look with more horror on the End than a conscientious revolutionary who has, in a sense sincerely, been justifying cruelties and injustices inflicted on millions of his contemporaries by the benefits which he hopes to confer on future generations.
  • As my poor d'Artagnan used to swear, the importance of the end justifies the meanness of the methods.
    • Paul Mahalin (published under the name of Alexandre Dumas), The Son of Porthos: or, The Death of Aramis (1883), ch. 12: "Any Port in a Storm"
  • Exitus acta probat.
    • The result justifies the deed.
    • Ovid, Heroides (The Heroines), II, 85
  • Often it is means that justify ends: Goals advance technique and technique survives even when goal structures crumble.
    • Alan Perlis, "Epigrams on Programming", #64, ACM SIGPLAN Notices 17 (9), September 1982
  • A means can be justified only by its end. But the end in its turn needs to be justified.
  • This concept of "national defense" cannot be deemed an end in itself, justifying any exercise of legislative power designed to promote such a goal.

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