phrases, sayings, idioms and expressions at

Phrases, Sayings and Idioms Home > Discussion Forum

Re: The end justifies the means

Posted by Smokey Stover on December 13, 2005

In Reply to: Re: The end justifies the means posted by ESC on November 07, 2005

: : What do they mean when they say "the end justifies the means"?

: END JUSTIFIES THE MEANS -- "The Greek playwright Sophocles wrote in Electra (c 409 B.C.), 'The end excuses any evil,' a thought later rendered by the Roman poet Ovid as 'The result justifies the deed' in 'Heroides' (c. 10 B.C.)." From "Wise Words and Wives' Tales: The Origins, Meanings and Time-Honored Wisdom of Proverbs and Folk Sayings Olde and New" by Stuart Flexner and Doris Flexner (Avon Books, New York, 1993).

: Another source explains the phrase as meaning: "Anything is acceptable if it leads to a successful result." First use in the United States: "Diary" by Michael Wigglesworth (1631-1705), American clergyman and poet. "The means justify the end" is a variation. From "Random House Dictionary of Popular Proverbs and Sayings" by Gregory Y. Titelman (Random House, New York, 1996).

It is often used in a negative way. If the end justifies the means, then spurious ends, such as the supremacy of the third Reich, and justify unethical means, such as destroying anyone who gets in the way of this end. Or, the if the glory of God and the fulfillment of His wishes is the end, then burning people who are in the way of this is justified. Or if spreading the word of the Gospel is the end, then using deceptive and other questionable means to achieve this end is justified. Thus, people may say, when disputing certain well-publicized efforts to forward goals they don't share, "Uh-huh. The end justifies the means." (That is, you are relying on the same arguments that have justified every horror known to man.)