For purposes of definition we can say that "the end justifies the means" is an example of consequentialism: the idea is that the outcome determines basis for the "rightness" of the conduct. A classic modern example of this perspective is Bill Clinton's presidency. While involved in various ethical distractions (such as Monica Lewinski) during his presidency some supporters viewed the overall presidency as a success because he increased employment and reformed welfare.
Consequentialism says that regardless of what might have happened along the way the outcome was a success hence the moral validity of any steps taken along the way must be viewed as "morally correct" because the outcome was the right one, i.e., a morally right outcome must be the consequence of morally right steps to achieve it. So, for example, Lewinski could not be "harmed" by the process of achieving increased employment and reformed welfare.
At its extreme consequentialism says that, for example to save a dozen people, its ethical to kill one in order to harvest twelve sets of organs to be used to save the dozen.
The opposite of consequentialism is deontological ethics. This category of ethics differentiates "harm" as follows: harm can only be caused if and only if it is a consequence of the greater good.
An example here will help. A town draws water from a river which is polluted and causes many people of the town to get sick and die each year. To reach a new source of water a tunnel must be drilled through a mountain. In the process of that drilling to create the new tunnel for water some workers are killed.
Now from the consequentialism perspective let's say that there is a person who owns a "bypass" that would allow a simple channel to be dug around the mountain but that person is unwilling to sell his land. So we kill him and take his land for the "greater good" - fewer innocent towns people die so the act of killing the land owner is of no consequence.
Today there are numerous examples of consequentialism exercised by the government: The use of eminent domain to take land to use for a new Pfizer corporate R&D center. The attempts by the US Government to prosecute Kim Dotcom by manufacturing new "criminal" law. The creation of the "fracking debat" in order to stop natural gas drilling.
In each of these cases it is the outcome that is driving the actions of those involved along the way.
In the case of the Pfizer R and D center, for example, the idea was to condemn family homes with "eminent domain" so that Pfizer could create many new jobs and remove what were considered ugly old houses from a waterfront area. But less than ten years later Pfizer has decided to leave - literally leaving the town of New London holding the financial bag to the tune of more than a hundred million dollars.
The original home owners were "forced out" for the "greater good" - new jobs, an unblighted river front, new corporate taxes, and so on.
But that has now evaporated given Pfizer's departure.
In the case of Mr. Dotcom the governments perspective seems to be that because Mr. Dotcom's company Megaupload was thought to be "stealing movies" ("thought to" because so far no direct evidence has been provided) it was seized outside the borders of the US. (The image above ostensibly shows that Mr. Dotcom's company was not a significant player in pirated Hollywood and RIAA content - so why was his company selected for prosecution?)
The US is now attempting to mold criminal law into a quasi-criminal/commercial law so that the lax standards of proof on the commercial side can be used against Megaupload (freezing the companies US assets without due process).
In the case of fracking an industry practice, conducted safely for many years, has suddenly become the target of environmentalists. As such a "witch hunt" has begun for scientists that have deemed the practice safe.
Yet medical research, with its unbelievably low rate of reproducibility, appears to be of no interest to anyone regardless of the consequences to human life.
Here a well intentioned industry has become "evil" overnight as a result of marketing by environmental groups (I am not aware a of a single case where a gas drilling operation set out to intentionally pollute grown water).
The question we must all ask ourselves is do we really want to live in a society driven by consequentialism?
Consequentialism divides the society into those for which the greater good must be provided and those whose property and rights must be taken away to provide that "greater good" regardless of the ethics of the process involved.
Clever marketing can be used with virtually any cause under consequentialism to create a demand by society for "justice" - social, moral, criminal, corporate, and so on.
Consequentialism acts as a set of "blinders" on how that outcome is achieve, i.e., by hiding or discounting unethical behavior to reach that goal.
As long as the unethical behavior does not touch the "believers" in that justice all is well because they have no concept of what was done to achieve a given "end."
But as a society we have a double standard in this regard. We don't like "big companies" using child labor in foreign countries to make our products.
So why is it okay for our government to bend the law in a case like Mr. Dotcoms?
The only answer I can see is that its the result of "marketing" in a society without any ethical compass.
Given a people that only believe in outcomes there really cannot be an expectation of ethical justice - only "mob rule" outcomes.
This double standard extends into other areas as well: take the concept of "evolution" and education.
If one believes in evolution and teaches it in school, why don't we as a society practice it?
For example, killing the infirm, the malformed infants, the weak and so on?
Isn't evolution about the survival of most fit?
Yes, but those who market it to schools don't think beyond the basic reasons they wish it to replace religious dogma - so they create this ridiculous paradox.
This duality of mind is becoming a serious impediment to our survival as a society and country.
Without children educated in discriminating between these two ethical perspectives we can only expect that, as we age, the consequences to be inflicted on us by our uneducated children.