Means and Ends

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Origin (means)

Late Middle English, the early sense of being 'intermediary'.

Definition

  • 1: a thing that is not valued or important in itself but is useful in achieving an aim: a computer is merely a means to an end.

In philosophy, the term means to an end refers to any action (the means) carried out for the sole purpose of achieving something else (an end). It can be thought of as a metaphysical distinction, as no empirical information differentiates actions that are means to ends from those that are not—that are "ends in themselves." It has been incurred that all actions are means to other ends; this is relevant when considering the meaning of life.

Immanuel Kant's theory of morality, the categorical imperative, states that it is immoral to use another person merely as a means to an end, and that people must, under all circumstances, be treated as ends in themselves. This is in contrast to some interpretations of the utilitarian view, which allow for use of individuals as means to benefit the many.

The theory of satyagraha sees means and ends as inseparable. The means used to obtain an end are wrapped up in and attached to that end. Therefore, it is contradictory to try to use unjust means to obtain justice or to try to use violence to obtain peace. As Gandhi wrote: “They say, 'means are, after all, means'. I would say, 'means are, after all, everything'. As the means so the end...”

Gandhi used an example to explain this:

If I want to deprive you of your watch, I shall certainly have to fight for it; if I want to buy your watch, I shall have to pay for it; and if I want a gift, I shall have to plead for it; and, according to the means I employ, the watch is stolen property, my own property, or a donation.

Gandhi rejected the idea that injustice should, or even could, be fought against “by any means necessary” – if you use violent, coercive, unjust means, whatever ends you produce will necessarily embed that injustice. To those who preached violence and called nonviolent actionists cowards, he replied: “I do believe that, where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence....I would rather have India resort to arms in order to defend her honour than that she should, in a cowardly manner, become or remain a helpless witness to her own dishonour....But I believe that nonviolence is infinitely superior to violence, forgiveness is more manly than punishment.”

Quote

Much of your past life and its memories, having neither spiritual meaning nor morontia value, will perish with the material brain; much of material experience will pass away as onetime scaffolding which, having bridged you over to the morontia level, no longer serves a purpose in the universe. But personality and the relationships between personalities are never scaffolding; mortal memory of personality relationships has cosmic value and will persist. (112:5.22)