Essay Sample on Ethics: The End Justifies the Means

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Wesleyan University
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Ethics refers to the moral principles that determine and govern people's way of conducting activities, and behaviors in their day-to-day lives (Fischer & Kothari, 2011). It involves the systematizing, and recommendation of concepts that determine wrong and right conduct. In the ethical study, different theories aid in the explanation and understanding of people's behavior, the reason behind certain behaviours, and the effects of various actions on an individual and the society (Fischer & Kothari, 2011). This paper, therefore, focuses on addressing the significance of Machiavellian and Utilitarian ethical theories, the characteristics that accompany the theories, and the main ethical issues identified in Jon Ronsons stories and the most applicable ethical theories in explaining his actions.

The Machiavellian approach involves the significant focus of the principle of the end justifies the means.' The prime focus is on achieving individual goals at the expense of others, and all means necessary are undertaken to achieve the personal goals (Hammersley & Traianou, 2011). Machiavellianism, therefore, means that an individual can go ahead to cause harm or deceive, steal, or manipulate others to achieve satisfaction and attain personal goals (Jain & Bearden, 2011). Utilitarian theory, on the other hand, focuses on making greater good for the greatest number. In utilitarianism, an action is morally right if it results in the greatest good for the greatest number and takes into consideration the interests of all in equal measure (McGee, 2014).The scenarios about teenagers throwing stones to fell apples, and the truck driver that pulls out without indicating show adherence Machiavellian theory. First, upon realizing that the teenagers were throwing stones to fall apples from his tree, Jon finds a way to stop the teens. His goal is to have quiet time as he sunbathes in his compound, and that involves stopping the teenagers from throwing stones in the house. Machiavellianism comes into play when considering the method Jon used to stop the teenagers from throwing stones. He screams bloodcurdlingly, saying that a stone has busted his head open and he is bleeding heavily. He then instructs Elain, who is not around, to call for an ambulance. The false call creates a sense of fear amongst the teenagers who stop throwing stones and flee. Through deceit, Jon successfully gets quiet time to sunbathe, free of stone throwing. The method of deceit points out Machiavellianism whereby the means used to stop stone throwing doesnt matter (Jain & Bearden, 2011). Secondly, on his way to the airport, Jon encounters a truck driver that pulls out in front of him without indicating and this prompts him to apply brakes to avoid a collision. Adherence to Machiavellian theory comes out when Jon decides to get payback/revenge for being obstructed (Hammersley & Traianou, 2011). He, therefore, deceives the truck driver that there is a tire blowout, making the driver pull off to check a non-existent blowout.

In my opinion, the actions undertaken by Jon Ronson in both teenagers and truck driver scenarios are not justified. Jon possessed Machiavellian traits which mean that he took unfair means in getting his desired outcomes. For instance, he had to feign injury that required an ambulance to be called, in a bid to stop the teenagers from throwing stones. This approach was unnecessary in getting the teens to stop throwing stones, and instead, he should have talked to the teenagers to stop throwing stones. Talking would ensure that the teens to do not go back home feeling guilty and depressed for causing bleeding to someone in his compound. Secondly, the action of duping the driver to pulling off to check a non-existent tire blowout was uncalled for and would have otherwise signaled the driver to use indicators next time. Revenging for being made to apply emergency brakes was not necessary, and the action Jon undertook was not justified.

In the process of making of decisions involving the teenagers and truck driver scenarios, Jon Ronson did not use elements of rational thought and logic. Logic includes the proper and reasonable understanding and thinking about something, whereby rational thought involves the state of being reasonable in thinking, by reasons and facts (Fischer & Kothari, 2011). Jon Ronson did not require logic and rationality in reasoning because this would have resulted in the making of decisions that did not include the use of deceptive and revenge tactics to put the message across. Had Jon Ronson used logic and rational thinking, he would have used a different approach to inform the teenagers that throwing stones in his compound was not allowed, instead of deceiving and imparting guilt on them for hurting him and leaving him in need of an ambulance because of excessive bleeding. Secondly, the use of logic and rational thought results in making decisions that do not bring about the sense of regret. Through rational thinking, being objective and factual, the behavioral approach and decision made are well thought out, and no regret arises from the decision (Fischer & Kothari, 2011). This is not the case as observed in Jon Ronsons reaction after deceiving the truck driver that he has a tire blowout. He felt guilty for revenging on the truck driver for pulling out in front of him without indicating. Feeling guilty for deceiving the truck driver is a clear indication that Jon Ronson did not reason and involved the use of logic in making decisions relating to dealing with the truck driver.

At the end of the story involving the truck driver, Ronson states that he feels guilty. The guilt has arisen from the fact that he deceived the truck driver that he has a tire blowout just to waste his time by pulling off to check a non-existent tire blowout. The issue of Jon being guilty of deceiving the truck driver fits into utilitarianism. Utilitarianism focuses on emphasizing having outcomes that pose greater good to a larger number. In determining whether an action is morally right or wrong, the implications and effects of the action on persons equally are considered (McGee, 2014). The consequences of an action are the standards of determining right and wrong, and the sense of regret and guilt portrayed by Jon Ronson shows that he feels that he is wrong. Utilitarianism comes in here whereby the outcome of the action undertaken by Jon result in consequences whereby the truck driver pulls off to check non-existent tire blowout. The false call on tire blowout wastes time for the truck driver and have adverse effects on the truck driver as well. The negative consequences of the action undertaken by Jon Ronson have caused wastage time as a way of revenging. The implications of the actions are standards of right and wrong, and the consequences creating a sense of guilt on Jon means that they are harmful effects. The action, therefore, is termed as wrong according to the utilitarian theory of ethics, because it has adverse effects on the truck driver.

There are various criticisms posed by different philosophers and scholars to challenge the utilitarian theory of ethics. The theory focuses on the achievement of a greater good for the greatest number, and the consequences of an action serve as the main determinant of it being right or wrong. In utilitarian theory, the end is used to justify the means, that is, the consequences of an action are used to determine the rightness or wrongness of the action (McGee, 2014). Utilitarianism has encountered major criticisms as a theory of ethics, and these include:

Utilitarianism focuses on the consequences having the greatest good to the greatest number. An action under utilitarianism is considered right provided it provides happiness and good to the greatest number (Harcourt, 2013). The criticism comes about because focusing on happiness and good to the greatest number results in injustices to the minority.

Secondly, utilitarianism focuses on happiness an action causes to the highest number. There is no specified way of measuring the level of happiness resulting from an action of the people, and there is no defined way of measuring the suffering of some against the happiness of others.

Another criticism of utilitarianism is that it is not easy to easy to prevent actions on the basis on having negative implications/consequences in future. In utilitarianism, consequences determine action's rightness or wrongness, and this means that bad actions are noted after the negative consequences are felt (Harcourt, 2013).

The criticisms of utilitarianism are justified because had it been possible to identify the consequences of duping the truck driver of tire blowout prior, Jon would not have revenge on the truck driver for pulling out in front of him without indicating. For instance, deceiving the driver results in wasted time, delayed cargo, and shortages in the industry. This, in turn, affects a larger number. Had Jon known about this prior he wouldn't have taken the action he did, and at this moment the criticisms of utilitarianism are justified.Utilitarianism and Machiavellianism are ethical theories that run on the principle of the end justifies the means. The means used to reach the goal in Machiavellianism do not matter provided the individual gets the desired goal. In utilitarianism as well, the consequences or the outcome of an action are used to determine the rightness or wrongness of the action.


Fischer, A., & Kothari, U. (2011). A CHALLENGE FOR RESEARCH IN DEVELOPMENT STUDIES ON VALUES, ETHICS AND MORALS. Journal Of International Development, 23(6), 767-770. doi:10.1002/jid.1816

Hammersley, M., & Traianou, A. (2011). Moralism and research ethics: a Machiavellian perspective. International Journal Of Social Research Methodology, 14(5), 379-390. doi:10.1080/13645579.2011.562412

Harcourt, E. (2013). Happenings Outside One's Moral Self: Reflections on Utilitarianism and Moral Emotion. Philosophical Papers, 42(2), 239-258. doi:10.1080/05568641.2013.809867

Jain, K., & Bearden, J. (2011). Machiavellianism and Overconfidence. SSRN Electronic Journal. doi:10.2139/ssrn.1774523

McGee, R. (2014). Applying Utilitarian Ethics and Rights Theory to the Regulation of Insider Trading in Transition Economies. SSRN Electronic Journal. doi:10.2139/ssrn.2419827

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