Presenting Rationalization 13 A. “The Road To Hell”

hell

The post earlier today regarding three examples of ethics duncery (or worse) in foreign lands included three examples of Rationalization 13A at work. All could be, and in one case was, excused with the claim that “we meant well.” I checked: this infamous rationalization wasn’t among the seventy plus rationalizations on the Ethics Alarms list, which proves just how sinister these little buggers are. As its name suggests, Rationalization #13A is named after the famous quote, “Good intentions pave the road to hell,” or, alternatively, “The Road to Hell is paved with good intentions,” which nobody seems to know who was the first to utter it.

It was a major omission, and I’m thrilled to rectify it.

13A. The Road To Hell, or “I meant well”

This sub-rationalization to the Saint’s Excuse is related to its parent but arguably worse. Rationalization 13 is one of the really deadly rationalizations, the closest on the list to “The ends justified the means”:

 The Saint’s Excuse is that the ends justify the means, because the “saint” has decided that the ends are worth any price—especially when that price will have to be paid by someone else. 

But while the wielder of the Saint’s Excuse typically at least has a beneficial or valuable result to claim as justification for unethical and inexcusable acts, the desperate employers of 13A only have their alleged good intentions, which may be the product of emotion, misunderstanding, ignorance or stupidity. How a bad actor intended his unethical conduct to turn out is no mitigation at all. The underlying logic is that the wrongdoer isn’t a bad person, so the wrongful act shouldn’t be held against him or her as harshly as if he was. The logic is flawed (it is the same logic as in The King’s Pass, #11, which holds that societally valuable people would be held to lower standards of conduct than everyone else) and dangerous, encouraging the reckless not to consider the substance of a course of action, but only its motivations.

The Saint’s Excuse attempts to justify unethical actions that accomplish worthy goals The Road to Hell attempts to justify unethical conduct even when it does undeniable harm, just because it was undertaken with admirable intent.

 

10 Comments

Filed under U.S. Society

10 responses to “Presenting Rationalization 13 A. “The Road To Hell”

  1. Michael

    Direct origin: St Bernard de Clairvaux
    Indirect: Virgil

    • One has to be careful however not to mistakenly assume that negative outcomes of moral luck following an actually ethical decision is blamed on this new rationalization.

  2. dragin_dragon

    Personally, I like “The road to perdition is paved with good intentions”. But all will do.

  3. Wayne

    It sounds like Obamacare would be a good example of this rationalization.

  4. I am sure it is just my rapidly aging eyes, plus the fact that it’s Friday and I have been reading too much this week: Those letters on the gate look like “AECD” to me.

    But then, I guess hell is deceptive like that. Like unethical rationalizations. Like people, when they use and depend on such rationalizations. Oh, the things we choose to believe, once we self-blind to how we deceive.

  5. Just when I was preparing the next family of rationalizations to publish.

  6. Wayne

    “People never lie so much as after a hunt, during a war or before an election.” ~Otto Von Bismarck

  7. It brings to mind this evergreen – and unfortunately all-too-relevant quotation from the geat CS Lewis:

    “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

    To mean well is no excuse for bad actions.

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