The ‘means’ vs the ‘ends’

By Herman M. Lagon

The ethics of “the means justifying the ends” vs. “the ends justifying the means” is an age-old dispute that inspires deep thinking within the complex web of social conventions and individual ideals. This discourse shapes our country, which has strong roots in community ideals and collective accountability, affecting our integrity.

The idea that “the means justifying the ends” implies that the journey itself is crucial is worth emphasizing. It is the belief of this school of thought, similar to Immanuel Kant’s ethical consistency, that an action’s morality should be upheld independent of its outcome. The emphasis on academic honesty in schools is a reflection of this. The value of learning and the genuine effort pupils put into their work is emphasized in schools, discouraging shortcuts like plagiarism and cheating. The goal is not to pass a test by dishonesty but to learn while completing the assignment.

On the other hand, “the ends justifying the means” might appear in pragmatic political maneuvering when the goal’s justification for the means is the intended outcome. Political landscapes display this Machiavellian approach when candidates’ use of misinformation, disinformation, bribery, and even coercion to win elections is discussed in the media and denounced by more morally sound citizens.

Ethical behavior in the workplace promotes settings where good corporate governance is practiced. Globe Telecom and Ayala Corporation are examples of companies prioritizing long-term sustainability over short-term profitability by setting standards for corporate ethics that stress transparency and fair transactions. Everyone, from employees to customers to community members, can benefit from this philosophy’s emphasis on building trust and loyalty.

On the flip side, there are notorious cases where business scandals have shown that the goal justifies the means, resulting in temporary advantage at the expense of long-term credibility and financial security. The early 2000s pre-need company collapse impacted thousands of Filipino families, serving as a stark warning about the perils of putting results before ethics.

The “Bayanihan” spirit is well-known in community relations; members frequently lend a hand to one another for the common benefit without seeking personal gain. The spirit of cooperation and mutual aid is embodied here, where the means justify the end. The temptation of a good end can corrupt good intentions, as shown, for example, in local politics or public office, when community leaders may use their position for personal benefit.

The controversies surrounding implementing the K-12 educational reform show a complicated scenario in the national government. Opponents pointed to the immediate financial and logistical difficulties faced by families and teachers as evidence that the long-term advantages of conforming to international education standards did not justify the sudden and challenging implementation process.

The administration of environmental restoration projects like Manila Bay also exemplifies this duality. Everyone agrees that we need a cleaner, more sustainable environment in the long run, but how can we get there—by forcibly removing informal settlers, enforcing rules, and scandalously spending public funds amid the pandemic—raises serious questions about good governance.

The reaction to national disasters, like Typhoon Yolanda, is also a topic of contention. A choice that was lauded for its immediate effectiveness and criticized for its lack of openness and accountability was made possible by the urgent need to deliver relief, which led to some procedural red tape being cut.

Emmanuel Levinas’s ethics of responsibility to the Other finds profound philosophical resonance in all these cases. Ethical actions, according to Levinas, are those that prioritize the needs of others before one’s own, which is a concept that could contribute to the current ethical discussion.

As we wade through these murky conceptual waters, we are constantly reminded that how we get outcomes matters as much as the ends when judging our actions’ morality. This discussion should continue so that people may think about what they stand for and what kind of society they want to help create.

Finally, when we consider “the ends justifying the means” vs. “the means justifying the means,” we find the conversation profoundly relevant to our daily lives and collective efforts rather than just theoretical. It forces us to think about the process as much as the result, ensuring that our approaches align with our principles and goals.


Doc H fondly describes himself as a ‘student of and for life’ who, like many others, aspires to a life-giving and why-driven world that is grounded in social justice and the pursuit of happiness. His views herewith do not necessarily reflect those of the institutions he is employed or connected with.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here