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Monday, January 19, 2004

Ends and Means Discussion

There are a few posts below (for example here, here and here), discussing Machiavellian principles. I have quite a lot of thoughts on this. But before I start spewing, I'd like to focus on a specific example. To do so, I'll present a statement and define it in detail. I think that the statement is implicit in some of those posts I just linked to. Here's the statement:
Bush intentionally deceived someone regarding Saddam's WMDs to help him achieve certain ends, someone was deceived, lying and deceit are considered wrong in the chosen moral framework, but the ends could plausibly have been expected to provide increased utility to the United States.
I'll start from the end of the statement and work backwards. If the intended ends weren't good, then no means, even perfectly moral ones, could possibly be justified by them. For example, if Bush's intended ends were limited to benefiting friends at Haliburton, then there aren't any means, even those completely principled, that could be justified by such ends. Even if other things were accomplished, for example the beginning of a glorious and peaceful era in the Middle East and the rest of the world, if those ends weren't intended, they wouldn't justify any means under any moral framework. On the other hand, if Bush's ends were noble, but implausible, they still couldn't justify any means in any objective sense. I think that the intended utility (the expected gain minus the expected cost of every possible (foreseeable?) outcome) for the U.S. had to plausibly be positive for us to say that the intended ends were good. Therefore, I have to assume, for purposes of discussion, that Bush's intended ends in Iraq plausibly had beneficial utility for the United States.

I think it should be obvious that lying and deceit are wrong. However, moral relativists would disagree. They would say there is no objective good or evil and the way that each culture defines those sorts of things are morally equivalent. By their logic, Saddam was simply acting within his culture's (or sub-cultures) moral framework, and his actions, such as killing 300,000 Iraqi civilians and putting them in mass graves, could not be said to be objectively evil. That may be, but clearly for this dicussion we need to pick a moral framework where lying and deceit are wrong.

For the purposes of this discussion, we also have to assume that Bush intentionally attempted to deceive someone. Clearly, if he wasn't lying, or trying to deceive, or trying to mislead, then there are no potentially unprincipled means to discuss. The deception also had to be targeted at accomplishing the ends. Otherwise, there is no way to discuss whether or not these particular ends could have justified these particular means. So let's assume that Bush intentionally practiced deception in order to achieve particular ends. I'm far from sure this is actually true. In fact, I'm actually hoping it is true, because the alternative is that Bush actually believed that there were substantial WMDs to be found, which implies a serious failure of intelligence, which I think is pretty scary. In other words, I'd much prefer that Bush lied to me rather than find out he is actually clueless. Unfortunately, I find the latter more likely.

We also have to assume that the deceit succeeded and actually helped achieved the ends. In other words, the lies had to have been a necessary condition for achieving the ends. If the lies weren't a necessary condition for achieving those ends, then they weren't really means to those ends, and therefore would also undermine any potential debate about ends and means. Again, I'm not sure this is actually the case. I'm not sure how many people who had a say in the matter were fooled by the lies. I'm also not sure that Bush lying about WMDs was a necessary condition for the Iraqi invasion. Nonetheless, let's assume that the lies were a necessary condition for the Iraq invasion.

Okay, I think I've put together a coherent example with all important details defined. Any discussion? Do you agree with the analysis of the statement?

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