The speaker asserts that if a goal is worthy then any means of attaining that goal is justifiable. In my view this extreme position misses the point entirely. Whether certain means are justifiable in reaching a goal must be determined on a case-by-case basis, by weighing the benefits of attaining the goal against the costs, or harm, that might accrue along the way. This applies equally to individual goals and to societal goals. Consider the goal of completing a marathon running race. If I need to reduce my working hours to train for the race, thereby jeopardizing my job, or if I run a high risk of incurring a permanent injury by training enough to prepare adequately for the event, then perhaps my goal is not worth attaining.
Yet if I am a physically challenged person with the goal of completing a highly-publicized marathon, risking financial hardship or long-term injury might be worthwhile, not only for my own personal satisfaction but also for the inspiration that attaining the goal would provide many others. 119 Or consider the goal of providing basic food and shelter for an innocent child. Anyone would agree that this goal is highly worthy -- considered apart from the means used to achieve it. But what if those means involve stealing from others? Or what if they involve employing the child in a sweatshop at the expense of educating the child? Clearly, determining the worthiness of such goals requires that we confront moral dilemmas, which we each solve individually -- based on our own conscience, value system, and notions of fairness and equity.
On a societal level we determine the worthiness of our goals in much the same way -- by weighing competing interests. For instance, any thoughtful person would agree that reducing air and water pollution is a worthy societal goal; dean air and water reduce the burden on our health-care resources and improves the quality of life for everyone in society. Yet to attain this goal would we be justified in forcing entire industries out of business, thereby running the risk of economic paralysis and widespread unemployment? Or consider America's intervention in Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. Did our dual interest in a continuing flow of oil to the West and in deterring a potential threat against the security of the world justify our committing resources that could have been used instead for domestic social-welfare programs -- or a myriad of other productive purposes? Both issues underscore the fact that the worthiness of a societal goal cannot be considered apart from the means and adverse consequences of attaining that goal. In sum, the speaker begs the question.
The worthiness of any goal, whether it be personal or societal, can be determined only by weighing the benefits of achieving the goal against its costs -- to us as well as others.