the end justifies the means

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English[edit]

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Alternative forms[edit]

Etymology[edit]

Widely attributed to Machiavelli's The Prince,[1] which does reflect this philosophy but does not use the phrase in this wording. A possible source is Ovid's Heroides (ca. 10 BC), which says exitus ācta probat (the outcome justifies the deeds). However, its use there is quite likely to have an opposite meaning of outcome proving means were unjustified, based on its context.

Proverb[edit]

the end justifies the means

  1. Morally wrong actions are sometimes necessary to achieve morally right outcomes; actions can be considered morally right or wrong only by virtue of the morality of the outcome.
    • 2010, Naomi Oreskes; Erik M. Conway, chapter 5, in Merchants of Doubt:
      Marxists were often criticized for believing that the ends justified the means, yet these old Cold Warriors were now the ones using ends to justify means—attacking science in the name of freedom.
    • 2010, BioWare, Mass Effect 2 (Science Fiction), Redwood City: Electronic Arts, OCLC 865290061, PC, scene: Tuchanka:
      Shepard: You honestly think the experiments you did here are justified?
      Maelon: We committed cultural genocide! Nothing I do will ever be justified!
      Maelon: The experiments are monstrous... because I was taught to be a monster.
      Shepard: Mordin, did you ever perform experiments like this?
      Mordin: No. Never taught you this, Maelon.
      Maelon: So your hands are clean! What does it matter if the ground is stained with the blood of millions!
      Maelon: You taught me that the end justified the means. I will undo what we did, Professor. The only way I know how.

Usage notes[edit]

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References[edit]

  1. ^ “Machiavelli: The end justifies the means”, in publicbookshelf.com[1], 2002