[PROLOGUE: While seated at the front portion of a NYC bus, trying, as best as possible, to tune out the absolutely, inane conversation of two riders, standing above, we, visibly, grimaced as we heard the recitation of the single, most egregious of all the tiresome aphorisms. The following essay is an attempt to rationalize and assuage our feelings of revulsion.]

We, as loyal devotees of John Locke’s empiricist theory of experiential learning and acquired reason, as the singular source of Mankind’s acquisition of knowledge, have consistently, denigrated, pre-fabricated formulae, purporting to be universal guides for appropriate or effective, behavior, known as “aphorisms.”  Our objections are primarily, based on the universal and eternal demonstration that the individual does best when he thinks for himself. Stated otherwise, reliance on inflexible, pithy statements of inherited, purported, wisdom is an irrational and reductionist choice; it is the lazy and erroneous, surrender of the use of individual reason.

Aphoristic advice is by its nature, erroneous and misleading, as being too general and not tailored to the nuance of the individual experience. Many frankly, are just plain idiotic or else, directly the obverse of other aphoristic expressions of pseudo-wisdom. Example, “The early bird catches the worm,” may amount to universal advice leading, to impulsivity. Some matters, by their nature, require adequate thought and deliberation. Aphorisms require little personal thought, and, as stated, often are gibberish, “wisely,” and confusedly, prescribing, inconsistent or opposite behavior. Example, “The early bird catches the worm,” or, “He who hesitates is lost” would seem to universally, advise immediacy of action and avoidance of hesitation.  Conversely, the admonitions, “Look before you leap,” and “Good things happen to those who wait,” appears to, universally advise prudent hesitation. The contextual point is that reliance upon such recommendations is hazardous. There are no fixed recipes for appropriate behavior, which, in truth, pragmatically and empirically, depend upon individual perception, almost as much as the situational setting and relevant facts. There are, as well, traditional trivia that, completely, defy all mortal understanding, such as, “Handsome is, as handsome does.” (What?) It may well be that aphorisms are, effectively, hazardous to human health, like “hazmats.”

Unless an individual counts himself as one of the rare, reincarnations of the cunningly, tactical and immoral, Niccolo Machiavelli, it would appear that the most repugnant, aphorism, and one, ultimately, deserving of the greatest censure, is “The end justifies the means.” The clear meaning of this drivel is that a good outcome (or the intention to bring it about) excuses any wrongful acts, committed to attain it. [This overheard, baleful expression of pseudo-wisdom was the stimulus for our above, introductory, reaction on the bus and, emotionally, provided the inspiration, for this essay.]

It should be incontrovertible, that the determination of an act’s morality depends upon the nature and quality of the act, itself, and not upon its outcome, the latter, often being unpredictable. An immoral or anti-social act, retains its quality as objectionable, even if it, subsequently, (possibly for unintended, reasons), does result in a positive outcome.

Moreover, there does not seem to be a universal consensus, concerning the many, divergent perceptions of the nature of a “good outcome.” The so-called, and clearly erroneous, “ends justify the means,” ignorantly and reductively presupposes, that in our diverse and polarized, Nation, there is universal, agreement as to the determination of “good” outcomes. This portion of the subject aphoristic statement is the most sophomoric, and reductive; and demonstrative of the uselessness and, indeed, the rank stupidity of the institutional utility of all “well worn” aphorisms.

The most societally egregious and troublesome issue, concerning this antique chestnut, is yet to be stated. How does society judge or punish wrongdoing, allegedly, performed, by a miscreant, who tactically and falsely, alleges the intention for a positive outcome or good purpose? Any criminal on apprehension by the authorities can indulge in the “chutzpah,” to allege that his motive in performing the serious felony, was with the intention to bring about a good, or societally positive, outcome.

As eternally demonstrated by history, not only does a good outcome ever justify bad means, but further,  history teaches that bad means, eternally, lead to bad outcomes; violent means lead to violent outcomes, unjust means lead, inevitably, to unjust results. Violent revolutions, ineluctably, have led to violent outcomes, like those, which took place in the France, Chinese and Russian revolutions, which, predictably, resulted in violent outcomes. It might empirically be noted, that the means shape the ends.

We would dare to go further. Our view is that there is little moral distinction between “means” and intended “ends.” In fact, it is our personal observation, that, not only does the nature of the means, define the moral nature of the ends, but, from an empirical, perspective, the means, effectively, are the ends.


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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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