What does ‘a means to an end’ mean and ‘the end justifies the means’ mean?



That was a mouthful for a title, but yeah, basically what I wrote in the title, can anyone explain, I can’t wrap my head around it. And could you use an example please? That helps a lot. Thanks 🙂

Edit: thank you guys for responding so fast! I think I get it now 🙂 how would you use it in a sentence using your examples?

In: Other

The end justifies the means would suggest the result is so good it doesn’t matter how hard or difficult it is to get there

“The ends justify the means” generally relates to doing something morally wrong to accomplish a moral goal.

“A means to an end” = a thing that’s not too useful on its own, but it helps you achieve a goal that you need. Like, for many people, a car is just a way to get from home to work – they treat their car as a means to an end.

“The end justifies the means” = a good outcome or result is worth the actions you have to take to get there, even if those actions are immoral, unethical, bad or “wrong”. An example is how politicians will lie and make promises they know they won’t keep in order to get elected. To them, the end (getting elected) justifies the means (making promises that they might ignore/forget about after being elected).

The “end” is one’s goal. The “means” is the method that one uses to achieve one’s goal. If something is a “means to an end,” it’s not valuable in its own right, it’s just valuable for helping you achieve your goal. If “the ends justify the means,” it’s worth it for you to do immoral things to achieve your goal, so long as your goal itself is moral.

This is really just a vocabulary thing, about the secondary meanings of “end” and “means.”

An end can mean a goal or a purpose. (Syntax: you take actions *to* or *toward* an end.) If you see someone doing something strange, you might ask “to what end are you doing that?”

A means (it has the S for both singular and plural) is a method, a tool, a way of doing things, or an ability to do things. You’ll see it in phrases like, “by means of,” or “by all means.”

The expressions you asked about are simple combinations of these meanings. “A means to an end” is just a tool to accomplish a task, and “the ends justify the means” is saying (sometimes not sincerely) that to achieve an important goal, it might be worth it to take costly or— especially— morally repugnant steps.

Sometimes the end *does* justify the means, and sometimes it doesn’t.

If someone is trying to kill you, you are justified in using deadly force to stop him. If you think he’s merely trying to rob you, you aren’t.

Usually “a means to an end” is compared with “means in itself”.

Take running. For me, I hate running, but I believe it improves my health. For me, running is a means to an end.

For some, the very act of running is enjoyable. For these…folks, running is a means in itself, meaning they enjoy the activity even if it doesn’t lead anywhere.

Driving is another example. Driving for me is how I get to a location (means to an end), but some people find driving relaxing and go for a drive just because (a means in itself).