The Ends Justify the Means Meaning
Definition: A good result is worth a bad way of achieving those results.
People will sometimes say this phrase in a question, Do the ends justify the means?
Origin of The Ends Justify the Means
Most people attribute this quote to Niccolo Machiavelli. He was the author of The Prince, which was published in the first half of the 1500s.
This work, however, never directly uses this expression, in English translations or the original Italian. It is possible to summarize several paragraphs in the book to hold this meaning, so we can’t completely rule out this as the original source.
Another mark against Machiavelli as the origin is that his work may have been satire. This is supported by the fact that he wrote several other satires. Also, the family to whom he dedicated his book, The Prince, arrested him.
Another possible origin is that of Heroides, by the Latin writer Ovid, who lived from 43 B.C. to 17 A.D. His poem does contain a line that can be translated as the result justifies the deed or the ends justify the means.
It is impossible to say with certainty exactly where this expression comes from, but it seems like it has been a recurring idea throughout history and philosophy.
Examples of The Ends Justify the Means
This example dialogue involves a husband and wife who are discussing the problem of homelessness.
Jennie: I saw so many homeless people on my way home. I wish that the government would help them.
Bobby: I think that the government should force them into camps and force them to work for their meals.
Jennie: Doesn’t that seem wrong? It reminds me of the internment camps.
Bobby: No, it’s totally different. Besides, the ends justify the means. Yeah, I agree it’s not totally fair to force them to go, but in the end they’ll have warm food and a place to sleep, and we won’t have to see them anymore.
Jennie: That’s a horrible solution to the problem!
Two friends are discussing the use of pesticides in agriculture.
Andrew: I only eat organic food.
Aaron: Really? Pesticides and herbicides are necessary if we want to feed the billions of people on the planet.
Andrew: But is it worth all the damage to the planet?
Aaron: I think the ends justify the means since it means children won’t go hungry.
This excerpt is from an article about inhumane practices at a jail.
- “It goes back to that statement, ‘Do the ends justify the means?’” he told the Times. “In the end, you get the contraband, but is there a better, more humane way to do it?” –OC Register
The second excerpt is about why politicians lie.
- Similarly, Jennifer Mercieca, a Texas A&M professor of communications who studies political rhetoric and teaches fact-checking, said politicians such as the late Sen. Joseph McCarthy, R-Wis., “convince themselves that the ends justify the means” and “the reasons they are doing it are more important.” –New York Post
The phrase the ends justify the means means it is okay to do something wrong if the final result is something very good.