In a discussion yesterday with a certain very tall Germanic-type fella, the question was raised whether “the end justifies the means” is a principle, such that social justice advocates are principled in their approach. I was of the view that this is not principled, but am I wrong?
I took the position that this was the antithesis of principle, where one chooses the outcome one prefers, then sets about rationalizing it. It may be a logical basis or just a matter of feelz, but it is not grounded in a consistent and overarching adherence to a position. For example, I support the First Amendment, which means that protected speech spans speech with which I agree as well as somebody calling me names. That’s the price of principle.
My figuratively little shit Bentham-licker replied by noting that this was the foundation of utilitarianism.
- the doctrine that actions are right if they are useful or for the benefit of a majority.
- the doctrine that an action is right insofar as it promotes happiness, and that the greatest happiness of the greatest number should be the guiding principle of conduct.
Put aside whether this is limited to the greater good, or the majority, as it appears that everyone claims that mantle largely because it can’t be proved they don’t. Much as I am of the view that many of the putative goals of social justice serve the greater good, such as racial equality, the devil is in the details.
Having already explained my Bastardized Herzberg Theory of benefit and detriment, the ends sought exceed the eradication of detriment and go well beyond, demanding the majority accept detriment for the sake of those who suffered historic discrimination. That’s not going to fly. People will not take the food out of their children’s mouths to give to someone else. They surely won’t do so because others shriek at them.
But that doesn’t mean it’s not a principled position, even if the outcome always ends up being whatever their feelz dictate. So, I pose the question: Is it principled to embrace the ideology that the ends to achieve whatever one believes to serve the greater good are all that matters? Or does principle apply to the means, and the ends will be what the means demand?
Or to put it differently, did I just get schooled by my German son?