Does the End Justify the Means? Analyzing Robespierre’s Rationale for Terror

Two quotes are relevant to our discussion and understanding of the TERROR during the french revolution:

“By any means necessary” and “does the end justify the means?”  Both of these quotes contain within them assumptions about ethical systems.  They both presume that if the outcome is good, then the way in which you achieve the outcome does not matter.  All that matters is creating the most good for the most people (utilitarianism..i’ll cover this in class!), and if doing so requires violation of ethics or morality in the process, it’s ok because the end result is what is truly important.

Download both a copy of Robespierre’s Speech to the National Assembly below as well as the corresponding Learning Helper (formative assessment) designed to aide in your critical analysis of the document:

Robespierre’s Speech to the National Convention

Robespierre’s Speech LH


Kantian Ethics vs. Utilitarianism

As an introduction to ETHICS, move through this incredibly excellent introduction to ethics, ethical hypocrisy, kantian ethics and utilitarianism:

One of the heaviest hitters in the philosophical world of ethics is German Philosopher Emanuel Kant.

Kant wrote at length on a variety of topics and is considered one of the great German Philosophers along with Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Schopenhauer.

Below is a link to a great summary of Kant’s famous, “Categorical Imperative” and his Deontological Moral Theory.

This is in contrast to UTILITARIANISM which is a philosophical perspective that places an emphasis on choosing behaviors and actions that have the most advantageous ratio of utility (value) to risk/disadvantage. John Stuart Mill was one of the most famous philosophical proponents of utilitarianism. Below is some information:

So…after you’ve read the above and contemplated each philosophy’s ramifications, answer the following questions: 

1.  Which moral approach do you follow, Utilitarianism or Kantian Morality?

2.  Which moral approach do you believe is BEST for society? Why?

3.  Is it possible for a society to adopt Kant’s moral beliefs?

4.  Which approach causes the practitioner to be in touch with more ways of knowing? Which ways of knowing does each approach rely on?