Quidnovi: Means and Ends    
 Means and Ends0 comments
picture1 Oct 2003 @ 10:49, by Quidnovi

It has become almost a sacred dogma in our age of apathy that politics, centered on power and conflict and the quest for legitimacy and consensus, is essentially a study in expediency, a tortuous discovery of practical expedients that could reconcile contrary claims and secure a common if minimal goal or, at least, create the conditions in which different ends could be freely or collectively pursued.

Liberal thinkers have sought to show that it is possible for each individual to be used as a means for another to achieve his ends without undue coercion and to his own distinct advantage. This occurs not by conscious cooperation or deliberately pursuing a common end but by each man pursuing diverse ends in accordance with the “law” of the natural identity of interests, a “law” that is justified if not guaranteed in terms of metaphysical or economic or biological “truths”.

Authoritarian thinkers, on the other hand, justified coercion in the name of a pre-determined common end, the attainment of which cannot be left to the chaotic interplay of innumerable wills. The end may simply be the preservation of a traditional order, or the recovery of a bygone age of glory, or the ruthless reconstruction of society from the top to secure some spectacular consummation in the future.

It appears to be common to most schools of thought to accept a sharp dichotomy between ends and means, a distinction that is deeply embedded in our ethical and political and psychological vocabulary, rooted in rigid European pre-suppositions regarding the very nature of human action. Distinctions have been repeatedly made between immediate and ultimate, short-term and long-term, diverse and common, individual and social, essential and desirable ends, as also between attainable and utopian goals. Discussion about means has not ignored questions about their moral implications and propriety or about the extent of their theoretical and contingent compatibility with desired ends or widely shared values. But despite all these reservations, the dangerous dogma that the end entirely justifies the means is merely an extreme version of the commonly uncriticized belief that moral considerations cannot apply to the means except in relation to ends, or that the latter have a moral priority.

---Raghawan N. Iyer: Means and Ends in Politics


Related Topic: The Anti-Machiavel

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