Ends and Means

February 3rd, 2009



“They say the means are after all just means. I would say means are after all everything. As the means, so the end.” — M.K. Gandhi

From time to time, we become so focused on the end goal that we lose sight of the path; the ends override the means. It’s rarely the case where the means are separable from the ends. Even if we can artificially extract one from the other, doing so leads to undesired consequences. We only need to look to recent history to see a prime example of the foolishness of justifying the means via the ends. Profit motive drove numerous questionable decisions in the trading of mortgage-backed securities in the financial sector. Focusing on the end goal of profit led to greed instead of sound business practice and eventually led to the sharp economic downturn we are currently experiencing.

That’s not to say that the ends never justify the means. There are unique instances where the benefit of the ends can outweigh the downside of the means. Arguably, the choice to use the atomic bomb in WWII saved many lives. At the same time, the atomic bomb was devastating for its victims and initiated a world fear of nuclear holocaust. Though the ends can sometimes justify the means, the means are still intimately intertwined with the ends.

Ultimately, it’s not a question of ends versus means. One necessarily affects the other. The ends and means are fundamentally interconnected.

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