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Ionstormsucks August 29th, 2008 13:19

Does the end justify the means?
Remus and I stumbled across a rather interesting topic lately which I thought might be worth a further discussion. It all began when I posted my opinion about the movie “Gone Baby Gone” in the movie thread on these boards. I thought that it is a pretty good movie. On many levels it deals with the question of morality and if it is ok to commit a crime if it serves the right purpose. Imagine you could save life, but you had to commit a crime to do it… would you stick to the law or bent the rules of jurisdiction?

For those who want to read it, I wrote up a small summary of the movie, but you don’t have to read it to participate in the discussion… be alert, it contains spoilers:

****** Spoiler Alert *****

The movie is about two private detectives, Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro who are partners in more than one way and are hired by Beatrice 'Bea' McCready to find her four year old niece Amanda who has been abducted. Angie does not want to investigate the case because both of them have no experience in child abduction, but Kenzie, who is a local boy that grew up in the rough Boston area is able to convince her anyway. Police officer Capt. Jack Doyle, who lost his own daughter many years ago and is in charge of the investigation is not really happy with the two detectives meddling in his business, but nonetheless assigns the officers Remy Bressant and Nick Poole to give them the necessary support. After interviewing the addicted low life mother of Amanda, Helene McCready, Kenzie goes to a bar and discloses that Helene was on the streets with her boyfriend Skinny Ray Likanski dealing and using drugs on the day Amanda disappeared. At first the police and the detectives think that a child molester might have abducted Amanda, but later on their investigations lead them to the drug scene – it seems that Amanda’s mother and her boyfriend have stolen money from a local drug boss they were dealing for.
Over the course of the movie a rather sad and violent plot unfolds. Two drug dealers are shot by Bressant and Poole, a child molester (and murderer) is shot in cold blood by Kenzie (an act which he later regrets but which was the right thing to do as Bressant assures him) and Poole is shot in his throat, a wound that he eventually succumbs to. In the end it turns out that neither a child molester nor drug dealers were responsible for Amanda’s kidnapping, but that Amanda’s uncle (Beatrice’s husband), Captain Doyle and the two officers Bressant and Poole had constructed a cleaver plot to get Amanda out of her defunct environment for her own sake. Kenzie find’s her living with Captain Doyle and his wife. The young girl has obviously accepted them as her new parents and seems to be quite happy. Although Angie asks him not to, Kenzie calls the police which arrests Doyle and gives Amanda back to her mother who hasn’t changed a bit. She still does drugs and drinks and leaves her daughter alone at home while she goes out at night to party. The movie has no happy ending – Angie breaks up with Kenzie because she cannot forgive him that he has called the police to arrest Doyle and Amanda’s future looks as bleak as before she had been “abducted”. In the final scene we see Amanda and Kenzie, who seems to feel some responsibility for the girl, sitting together on a couch watching tv, while Amanda’s mother is out with friends. But they do not speak and, as Remus said, it becomes quite clear that Amanda will probably, ”grow up among non-family members or neigbours anyway (or worse with delinquents or strangers) instead of her real mother who excited about going to party/date.”

****** Spoiler End *****

So what do you say? Does the end always justify the means… or just sometimes or maybe never?

JemyM August 29th, 2008 14:01

The end always justify the means.

The problem is that we humans are not always capable of predicting the end.

Toaster August 29th, 2008 15:37

In theory I'm a fan of utilitarianism but looking at the broader consequentialism gets more viewpoints in. Applied to this question it means that I think the end justifies the means if the total result of the actions is better than for any other path of actions. The problem is of course what JemyM said and the basic, huge flaw of utilitarianism, that you can't accurately predict the consequences of all possible ways to act in any situation.

A compromise which is usable by humans is to have a rule system based on what rules, if followed, generates the maximum amount of "good", with exceptions possible to situations where it's OBVIOUS at first sight that breaking the rules clearly generates a greater amount of total "good" than following the rules does. Of course it is hard to legislate about those exceptions so law should stick to the first part of the compromise IMO (as opposed to law based solely or mostly on values).

I'm in no way an expert on philosophy, but this is one of my favorite parts of it, so it'll be interesting to see where the discussion goes!

Cm August 29th, 2008 17:17

I guess, based on the definitions, that in most cases I believe the ends do not justify the means. But it would a very complex decision, based on using my moral compass to examine the ends. I would have no problem breaking a law about speeding to save a life. The unknown factor of deciding to take any means is just too dangerous.

I think the movie sounded like a tragic no win, but not seeing it, the short review brought to mind lots of lost chances to change the problem by using the systems we have, IE calling child protection every time the women left the child alone until they take the child out of the home. I don't think anyone can peg hole themselves into being only one way or the other. You can always find some situation that will make you pick the other way.

Alrik Fassbauer August 30th, 2008 12:40

I have read during the last two years several biographies of HSPs in the forum about it I'm active in.

One was extremely bad: A female member told of living with her mother (I think) most of the time, who did really cruel things to her.

Her father worked out of town, so he couldn't take care for her as much as he wanted to.

At one point, she was given to her grandparents, which made life easier for her.

It is incredible what children sometimes must stand.

Because she lived in kind of constant fear of her mother, she also lived more with relatives and non-family-members druring growing up.

She could withstand everything, though, and seems to be quite normal nowadays.
There's a special kind of people who just can resist such behaviour because of some special kind of "inner strength". I don't remember the psychological term for that.
Anyway, she seems to be one of this kind.

Prime Junta August 31st, 2008 11:59


Originally Posted by Toaster (Post 93543)
The problem is of course what JemyM said and the basic, huge flaw of utilitarianism, that you can't accurately predict the consequences of all possible ways to act in any situation.

But you can assign odds to the outcomes, and base your decisions on that. That's pretty much how medical ethics work. You can't accurately predict the result of any given treatment, but you can have an idea of the odds. There are certainly dilemmas, but most of the time it works pretty well.

Toaster August 31st, 2008 20:35

Yes, that's much what the "rule utilitarianism" I mentioned is about, having a perception of the possible outcomes beforehand. Of course you have to simplify it to a very large extent to make it usable, if you look at medicine it is a much, much more limited field than "everything", and it takes many years of education to be able practice it properly.

titus September 1st, 2008 18:54

I would say yes it does. But who are you to deceide what is a good consequence?
I mean what is good for one, can be bad for an other. Who decides wich group is better?

So there are to many questions to live this way, or to aply this in reality

JemyM September 1st, 2008 19:15

Is there an alternative to "the end justify the means"?

If you believe you have a reply to this question, ponder for awhile if the alternative you are suggesting isn't just another attempt to justify a better end by different means. In that case, isn't it true that the end justify the means?

Ionstormsucks September 1st, 2008 21:38

For me this is a rather pragmatic question. I'll give you an example: We had an interesting case over here a few years ago when a young boy was kidnapped. The police was able to catch the kidnapper (and they were pretty sure that they had the right guy), but the delinquent was not willing to say where he had hidden the child. So a high ranking police officer gave the order to threaten the kidnapper and eventually use violence (torture, whatever) to force him to tell them where he was holding the boy captive. As it later on turned out the boy was already dead at that point in time.
If you look at the facts in this particular case we can say that pretty much everything spoke in favour of breaking the rules. The police knew this was the kidnapper, they knew that torture might save the child's life - nonetheless it's wrong what they did… at least according to the law.

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