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.