Your View

Logic 101: End of Term Exam -“Means and Ends”

This is a guest post from S.O. Muffin

There are four questions. Each question carries equal weight.

1. You are a leader of an international organisation promoting human rights and monitoring human rights abuses. Your credibility is critical to your mission since, once you are perceived as unreliable or biased, your reports of alleged human right abuses will not be taken at their face value. Mr Cicogna is an acknowledged expert in a part of the world important to your work. However, in his past he was a founder and a leader of an organisation committed to the destruction of one of the main states in that part of the world and which is on record as supporting a particularly brutal act of terrorism against it. Do you appoint Mr Cicogna as the lead reporter on human right abuses in that part of the world and what does it do to your credibility?

2. You are the editor of Dumtidningen, a leading newspaper in your country. An activist for a pro-Zendan group brings you an article that claims that Ruritanian soldiers kidnap Zendan children, remove their brains and eat them lightly grilled on toast. There is absolutely no evidence for the claim, which, however, is an almost-verbatim repetition of a long-standing anti-Ruritanian prejudice, wildly acknowledged as racist. Your standpoint (as you tell all and sundry) is not a hate of Ruritanians but a wish to help the people of Zenda. Do you publish this claim, which (unless you are drunk – and, given the price of alcohol in your country, you are unlikely to be drunk) must be clear even to you is complete nonsense? A nonsense which, however, is bound to stir anti-Ruritanian racism and increase further Ruritanian–Zendan hatred?

3. You are responsible for the legal system of your country and, let us not mince words about it, you are a self-acknowledged paragon of civil liberties and human rights. Mr Katil has been condemned to a life sentence by a court of law for a particularly heinous terrorist outrage. He is now terminally ill yet his release will be seen as a triumph to terrorists and will close forever the chance of finding those responsible for mass murder, in which Mr Katil was in all likelihood a bit player. Influential voices round the world claim that internal cooperation, civil-liberties and rule-of-law frame of mind is ineffective in dealing with terrorism – what is required according to these voices are acts of exceptional severity that disregard the rule of law and erode civil liberties. Do you prove them right by releasing Mr Katil?

4. There are two schools of thought in explaining apparent conflict between means and ends. The first, the School of Conspiracy, claims that actors know perfectly well what they are doing, yet they are lying to us, lesser humans, through their teeth. Thus, the editor of Dumtidningen is a racist who wishes to spread blood label about the Ruritanians, while the potential liberator of Mr Katil really intends to exploit a major commercial opportunity for his country. The second is the School of Folly, claiming that those in decision-making positions are often stupid, daft, ignorant, out of their depth, and make idiotic decisions – and then need to defend them, cover them up and, when in a hole, keep digging. Discuss.