CAN END JUSTIFY MEANS?
A friend posed a question: Does the end justify the means (when the end is deemed noble)? I replied as follows: Gita advises against it. We can only try to do or achieve something. But the final result is not within our control. We have no control over the other effects that may change the outcome. For this reason, if we deviate from the normal path to achieve something, we may succeed, but the trail of our actions would generate different inertia to create other collateral effects that may not be evident soon, but will definitely affect us in future.
Then the fried questioned more on the principles vis-à-vis its practice in different cultures and in different epochs. This was my reply from the Indian point of view.
The Gita stresses the importance of doing one’s duty to the best of one’s abilities, without fixing the eyes on the goal. This means, first consider all aspects of your goal and the means to achieve that goal. Choose the best method under any given circumstances. Take necessary steps to execute that plan of action in the best possible manner. If the goal is not achieved, it means either there is a deficiency in your plan or its execution; or something beyond your control is obstructing it. In the first case, start again with renewed vigor after review. In the second case try to remove the obstacle or wait for the opportune time.
But the above statement has certain inherent loop holes and contradictions, which needs to be resolved. For example, what is “one’s duty”? It will differ from person to person and situation to situation. Though there are guide lines for each such situation, the general principle is: whatever is good for creation (universe), or is harmonious with the creative process of the universe, without obstructing or overpowering other’s rights, is the duty. To put it in another way: everything belongs to the God. Hence, take your pick without disturbing or encroaching upon the other’s share (TENA TYAKTENA BHUNJITHAA), because God belongs to everyone. The principle here is: we all are in Gods image. However, God has absolute freedom, while we all are confined – with reduced freedom. But since God is full, we also are full – though in reduced quantity. If we take something more, we have to give up something else. Suppose you have a full cup of tea without milk or sugar. If you want some milk or sugar to be added, you must remove equal quantity of tea from the cup. Otherwise it will not enter the cup. If you force-in, some tea will be forced out.
Then, what is the right course of action? This also differs from situation to situation. Killing someone is neither right nor wrong. In fact, sometimes violence is recommended as Dharma. The determining criteria is the intention behind such action. Killing the enemy in the battle field, or killing in self-defense is not treated as bad. Killing someone to protect and uphold a noble cause is Dharma.
Telling lies is generally considered bad. There are examples when the king protected a wounded bird from the hunter. The hunter demanded the bird back. But the king refused, as the bird has taken shelter under him. He offered compensation. The hunter demanded his flesh of equivalent weight. The king agreed and fulfilled his demand. He is remembered even now for such sacrifice. But not everyone is as brave as him. Hence there are five cases, where telling lies is permitted. These are: when a vexatious situation cannot be resolved with logical arguments, 1) to such person, or 2) to one’s wife. 3) When one is in dire want of something essential for life, 4) when life is endangered, and 5) when you are going to lose everything.
These are universal principles that do not vary from epoch to epoch and from society to society. This is because though our longevity, culture, habits, food, etc. differ from epoch to epoch and from society to society, the basic human instincts are the same: food, shelter, rest, reproduction, which common even with animals. The only thig that differentiates humans from animals is intelligence – we plan for the future in addition to respond to situations based on instinct. Animals cannot plan for the future. A purely consequentialist ethical framework is animal like, because it relies totally on determinism and submitting to it.
In the present case, an anti-vaxxer woman was influenced (this was achieved more or less by a lie) so as to eventually agree to let her child being inoculated. Here the problem is straight forward. The intention was noble. But it was achieved in a wrong process. The Doctors should have reasoned with her to get her convinced. They did not try sufficiently, but tried to do a short-cut by telling her a lie. They are wrong on two counts: 1) they did not own the child – the mother did. Hence they were doing something for other’s though with a good intention. They should have tried in the proper process or stopped at certain level. 2) Unless the life of the child is endangered, they should not have tried to lie.