As evidenced by our past writings, we have always denigrated the ersatz “wisdom” of aphorisms. They are predictably, erroneous, errant in their ultimate and universal application, and substitute warmed over, outmoded faux wisdom, for reason and objective empirical experience. A few are harmless, some even, to a degree, sensible nevertheless, all are, by their nature, misleading, since they prescribe fixed, or specific behavior on a universal basis regardless of nuance. An example of the latter is the prudent aphorism, “A penny saved, is a penny earned.” While it is wise to conserve one’s assets, strict adherence to this instruction, may, conceivably, cause one to fail to make a wise investment or to buy a family residence. Another seemingly harmless one is, “A stitch in time saves nine.” It is wise to act seasonably, but in a given circumstance, patient waiting might turn out to be preferable.

Aphoristic recommendations are analogous to frozen, pre-packaged, T.V. dinners, sometimes eatable, more often, not. They ill-advisedly, substitute the use of Man’s reason, for lazy, populist, Hallmark-style doggerel and can be significantly harmful.

 In our view, the most misleading and dangerous, of such traditionally roasted chestnuts is, “The ends justify the means.” The latter determinative, non-judicial statement evinces a lapse of judgment and a suspension of moral compass; and may well be the worst, but without any doubt, the most dangerous of all aphoristic, bogus wisdom.

This “hazmat” recommendation is inarguably, ignorant and reductionist in its a priori, or presumed, assumption, of the existence of universally, desired ends. It requires little argument to assert that not everyone shares identical aspirations or beliefs. Like all inane aphorisms, it thoughtlessly assumes the universal acceptability of the actor’s intended results and excludes personal or situational nuance.

The fact that “the means,” to any degree, need “justification” is an undeniable admission of their wrongful or improper character. There is no presidential pardon for improper means under any circumstances, let alone, by the assertion of subjectively acceptable (and possibly disputed) ends. Putin’s end to restore the U.S.S.R is not approved of, by Ukrainians who, (understandably) also oppose the means. The positive need to study and cure syphilis did not at all, render acceptable, the inhuman means employed, in the infamous, “Tuskegee Experiment.” The desire to limit street crime does not legitimize violation of the citizen’s right of privacy, by invasive policies such as “stop, and frisk.”

From our readings of history, we cannot find a violent revolution (ex. France, Russia) that resulted in a pacific or acceptable outcome. If the means were bloody, the ends will likewise, not be free of violence and death. The only “revolutions,” which have benefited humankind, are the peaceful advancements, by Man’s empirical advances in knowledge. The urgent need of the human species to cure polio was met by the revolutionary development of an effective inoculation. The means, scientific study, and the universally desired ends, each, were their own justification.

To, permissibly accept a miscreant’s plea that he (subjectively) intended a “justifiable” result, is to foolishly, arm the criminal with the franchise to perform anti-social or immoral acts, with the confident assurance of an acceptable defense. In the religious context, the medieval torture and burning of “heathens” or “non-believers,” would thus, be excusable, by the claimed, positive ends (at the time), of turning people to God, so that they will be “saved,” and, ultimately, go to heaven, instead of the alternative venue.

We would issue a challenge to any reader, to locate any “means” consisting of a violence, [N.B. the American Revolution was an international “War,” as distinguished from a revolution] in which violent means, did not precede violent ends. We would go further and assertively, declare that the means, themselves, effectively, and ultimately, are reflective of the ends. Anti-democratic means, consisting of autocratic action and policies, ineluctably, lead to autocracy.


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Retired from the practice of law'; former Editor in Chief of Law Review; Phi Beta Kappa; Poet. Essayist Literature Student and enthusiast.

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